Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

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The Pregnant Pause

pregnant mary“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  [Matthew 1:23]

Welcome to the great season of NOT CHRISTMAS!

Advent is that pregnant pause in the Christian’s road to holiday cheer. That makes it so very frustrating for many people … the world is already celebrating Christmas, why can’t we?

We can! We do! But not until the time has come. Don’t deliver the baby prematurely.

Advent is much like pregnancy. Pregnant parents really and truly are parents, but their parenting consists in mainly getting ready.  Remembering the family’s past, looking forward to the family’s future and making plans for the arrival. It is a reality that doesn’t always seem so real. In that way it too is a little frustrating. Why won’t the baby just come so they can all celebrate together? But before that little one (who is already there) comes in that new and exciting way, there are many questions to be asked and answered. How will this baby change their lives? Their home? Their hearts? These are not little questions. There is a reason why God gives new parents nine months to get used to the idea!

Advent is a reality that doesn’t always feel so real. In Advent we remember the Christ who came into our flesh, the Christ who comes even now in Word and Sacraments and the Christ who will come again in glory on the last day. It is a season full of preparation and planning. It is a time of “Yes” and “Not Yet.” and “Why won’t the baby hurry up and arrive so we can all celebrate together?” And that makes it a season that is all the more necessary for everyone.

Who is this child whose arrival we will celebrate? How does He change our lives? How will He? How can we share our home with Him? What adjustments do we need to make? What does it really mean that God is with us in Jesus Christ, this babe of Bethlehem? These are not little questions. But they are vital to understanding and celebrating this Christmas Child who is coming again.

It is not Christmas. Not yet. But the One to come is already here. Are you making the most of the time you have with Him now? As He is here for us now? But He is still coming. When He arrives will you be ready? Let the expectant joy of that saviour’s return grow and swell in your heart until His time is ready. There is so much wonder and miracle to see in the waiting and the preparing … don’t miss out on this pregnant pause in your rush to hold the baby. There will be plenty of time for that … just not yet.

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Taking Time to Ponder

ponderingBut Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. [Luke 2:19]

 Have you sat down and taken a deep breath yet? It is the season when you and I could really use one! Times of celebration are so full of joy and cheer, comings and goings, family, friends, food, and festivities … but what about reflection?

 Don’t get so busy making it all happen … cleaning up after its done … catching up once everyone is gone … getting back to normal once the holidays are over … that you forget to stop in the moment and treasure all these things up in your heart.

 For this season is truly something to be treasured. A gift from God’s own heart to yours. The gift of His Son, your Saviour. The gift of peace on earth that passes all understanding. The gift first given over 2000 years ago, but one who still keeps on giving today.

 If you must be overwhelmed at this time of year, why not take a quiet moment or two … when the meals are done and the button on your pants is comfortably undone. Yes, take a moment and sit down with your Bible and a warm drink of your choice (and an ant-acid if needed) and be overwhelmed by the love of God. A love so bold that He did not spare His own Son, but sent Him into that stable, to lay in that manger.

 A love that alone could satiate our hunger to know that everything will be OK. That our loved ones are indeed loved. That we will be taken care of. That God does not abandon us to the hectic din of this demanding world.

 A love offered up in the Bread of Life, laying in a feeding trough in the town of Bethlehem (the House of Bread). A love that treasures us more than we can ever know. A love worth pondering again, and again and again … in every gift, every loved one, every opportunity to gather before Him and hear again of that great love for us, stored there in the beating heart of that Babe in the manger, where you (yes you!) are quietly and joyfully treasured above all else.

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Through the Winter Wonderland

snow at nightDriving through the dark and in the wildly falling snow can be both terrifying, exhilarating, and breathtaking all at the same time. I know, because I did it again just last night. You’ve probably had to do it more than a few times yourself.

And like me you’ve probably been struck by how it can be so beautiful and so nerve-wracking at the same time. The flakes so big and bright, falling in gentle sheets that seem to wrap the whole world in a fuzzy white blanket. It takes your breath away. And a part of you could just sit and watch it for hours, reveling in the quiet spectacle.

But you can’t because you’re in your car, and you have to get home where everyone is waiting for you. And the road is quickly disappearing before your eyes so you are not entirely sure where you should be headed. And the other motorists are beginning to panic … Some basically shut down backing up traffic way behind them while others get frustrated and barrel through where calmer heads might think twice.

Sounds a bit like the holidays doesn’t it? Terrifying, breathtaking, exhilarating. The flurry of activities, and programs, and visiting and good cheer, and food, and plans, and decorations, and shopping, and cleaning, and gift-giving. And while, under certain circumstances, it might actually be kind of pretty, it often is lost on many people. Some will simply race through it with a sense of ever-building panic that they will lose their way. Others will panic at the thought and shut themselves down – shut themselves out. Others will become frustrated with the whole mess and bluster their way through, no matter who gets hurt along the way.

So how do we Christians get through the holidays? By remembering that the worst storms of this dark night, become the winter wonderland of tomorrow morning. By slowing down and allowing our breath to be taken away by the little moments of beauty in all that lies ahead. By letting the Lord lead us, by whatever kind of road He chooses, to stable and the manger and the love of the Lord God Almighty Creator of heaven and earth writ in flesh and blood. Held in tiny infant arms. Gently blanketed in swaddling cloths and hand delivered to you and your loved ones.

101_2812The King shall come when morning dawns

And lights triumphant breaks

When beauty gilds the eastern hills

And life to joy awakes.

The King shall come when morning dawn

And light and beauty brings.

Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:

Come quickly, King of kings!

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

I don’t know about you, but often when I look at the pictures of that first Christmas, they evoke in me a sense of loneliness. The young mother and father fending for themselves in a dirty stable. Oh sure, there are shepherds and animals … but there is always (to my mind at least) the hole left by family and friends. No matter how much activity goes on inside the stable, it still feels lonely and isolated, apart from the rest of the community.

Perhaps that’s how you feel as the countdown to Christmas races into its final days and hours. No matter how busy or full of activity your life has become, it is still possible to feel lonely and isolated. No matter how many well-wishers and visitors come by, if the family you need can’t be with you, it just won’t feel right. Lonely exile is how the hymn writer put it. It is a mournful thought indeed.

But whether such mournful loneliness is something the artists seek to stir up in us, or it is something we bring with us when we  celebrate Christmas … it isn’t really true. Christmas is the end of our lonely exile. Christmas is the end of our isolation, the beginning of true community.

The stable is not a picture of loneliness, but of closest and most meaningful communion. Emmanuel – God with us! Where sin once isolated us, removed us from the community of heaven, with the coming of God in the flesh that isolation is finally removed. God is here with us in the flesh. God is now a part of our human family. And because He has become a part of our earthly family, we are now a part of His heavenly one! A family bond that stretches back through the ages, stretches across all the vast distances of this globe. A family bond that not even death or grief can break.

As the angel hosts joined with lowly shepherds in praising this Emmanuel, be comforted dear Christians, for your praises join those of loved ones of all time and space. God is with us, and in Him we are together with those who went before and those who will come after! Rejoice! Rejoice! In Christ we are one blessed family with the greatest reunion already planned. And what a Christmas celebration that will be!

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

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O Come, O King of the Nations

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.

Violence and bloodshed seem to lead the evening news nearly every day. Our word is tragically divided, and splitting into greater violence all the time. International tensions, sectarian violence, resistance fighters and independence seekers … sometimes it is enough to make us ask if anyone out there even wants to get along, much less whether or not we ever will.

Even in our own relatively peaceful corner of the world there is little unity. Suspicion and mistrust of those with a different perspective, or a different agenda, are just a prevalent today as they were long before the ideas of tolerance and acceptance were being preached as the virtues of modern multicultural society. The man-made structures seeking peace and unity seem to have no power to accomplish it, while those who sow discord and disunity seem to do so with little or no restrictions.

Deep down, I believe that everyone wants peace … but just not enough to be willing to give up their autonomy to gain it. “We can have peace as long as you are willing to do it my way” in other words. Such a peace can never happen … will never happen. True Unity cannot be brought about unilaterally.

Well, that’s not all-together true. Such a peace and unity can be found unilaterally – but not at the hands of you or me. There is one Leader, one King, who can do it. Who has done it! One cornerstone upon which all our desires for peace and harmony have already been fulfilled – are being fulfilled even now. Jesus.

That unity crosses the boundaries of nation, and people, language, and race. It is a unity I see every Sunday when I look out over God’s people gathered in His house, around the Son and His gifts. Young and old, successful and struggling, men, women, and children of every colour, ethnicity, and background represented. People who otherwise would have nothing in common with each other, standing shoulder to shoulder before the King of Peace. Not by strength of conviction but in the shared experience of the peace that comes through the forgiveness He brings. And in that one glorious sight, in that promise of forgiveness for one and all alike, I have great hope for the coming of true peace and unity in our world.

 O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

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O Come Thou Dayspring

O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

There’s just something about all the lights at this time of year. In the cold and the dark of winter it does the heart good to see so many bright and festive lights festooning trees, and bathing front windows in a warm glow. The dark can be a depressing place to be. It can be a fearful place to be. It can be a lonely place to be. But a little bit of happy colour – a simple strand or two of well-placed lights, can make the dark seem safer, cozier, more friendly.

But many people know that there is a much deeper darkness that descends just around this time of year. The winter sun may be brightly beaming, but the world can still seem dark and gloomy for some. The holidays are a particularly tough time for many people facing illness, separation, grief or loss. There is nothing worse than the world telling you that you should be happy, when you can’t be. There is nothing more painful than watching others gather with family when you can’t.  There’s nothing harder than seeing others giving and receiving when your life feels like it’s been taken from you.

But that’s why Jesus came. For broken families, for broken lives, for the sick and the lonely, the doubting and the despairing. He came into our world, to be knee-deep in the reality of living here as you and I do.  Indeed, His life was so much like ours that at times it is downright depressing to read about. At times it must have seemed pretty dark. Born in a barn, not a palace. Placed in a manger, not a royal bed. Attended to by shepherds. Hunted and hounded by the powers that be. And eventually crucified like a common criminal, dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.

The story of this coming child is a very dark tale … until … on the third day the tomb is rent open to reveal a bright and glorious sight! The Sun of righteousness risen with Healing in His wings, as the prophet Malachi foretold! Glorious, wonderful, astonishing, light in the midst of blackest darkness. Sin paid for. Death undone. Hope and Life and Peace forevermore. And this is His promise to all who still sit under the darkness of their sin, and grief and pain … He will return with the light of everlasting life. He will come back and every last shadow of gloom and defeat and despair will be burned away forever in His glorious golden light. That’s a holiday light display I can’t wait to see!

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

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O Come Thou Key of David

O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

 The car door clicks and there is a sudden dread in the  pit of your stomach. Quickly you grab at your pockets and fish around in a frantic attempt to find them. But in your heart you already know that when you look back into the car you will see them there, still in the ignition or lying there on the seat where you set them down while you adjusted your list or your Christmas packages. Sure enough, there they are. Now what are you going to do? Make a phone call and wait. There is nothing else you can do.

For such a simple little thing a key excerpts such a profound influence upon our lives.   Just think about the last time you had to turn the house upside down looking for them. Or the time you lost one, or had it stolen, or left it in your locked car. How many times have you driven somewhere only to get there and realize you forgot the key, or grabbed the wrong one, only to have to go all the way back home to get it?

There are few feelings worse than being locked out of a place you really want or need to be. Can you imagine if that same feeling as you stand before the gates of heaven? It is a terrifying thought. How many people are searching their whole lives for just that right key that will grant them access? That right knowledge, or attitude, or work that will magically unlock the glorious door. How many, thinking they have it, are panicked time and again thinking that they may have lost it?

But what is the key to heaven? Where do you find it, and can you lose it? Will you be locked out of the one place you really need to be?  “Crux Christi clavis Paradisi” proclaimed John of Damascus. The cross of Christ is the key of paradise. The key of David, the scepter of the house of Israel came in the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of all. He came to unlock the doors of heaven once barred by sin, by paying sin’s price – a price of blood. He came to bring life and light to those who sit in darkness wondering if they will be left out. Once we were all of us locked out, without a key, without a hope, but now in this Holy Child born in Bethlehem the door of heaven is open wide – open to all – open forever. And the door to all fears, doubts, and misery is locked firmly behind us.

O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!