Advent: Of True Greatness

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant holy, Infant lowly,

For His bed–a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing

Christ the Babe, is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing,

Noels ringing, tidings bringing:

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Flocks were sleeping; shepherds keeping

Vigil till the morning new

Saw the glory, heard the story–

Tidings of a gospel true.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,

Praises voicing greet the morrow:

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Polish Carol, paraphrase by Edith E.M. Reed

Do you ever find yourself frustrated that you are not receiving what you believe you deserve?  Or relieved that you have not received what you know you deserve?  The human condition is bent toward self-exaltation.

The Babe in the manger confronts our self-idolatry.  We tell stories about ourselves to make us look better than we know we are.  We dress up vice to make it appear as virtue.   We jockey and canjole for esteem–in our own eyes and the eyes of others.

“Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all.”   He entered poor.  Lowly.  Humbled.  

As you meditate on the manger today, let the paradox of the most Holy One wrapped in swaddling recalibrate your idea of of true greatness.  Bend your knee to peer closely at the strength, majesty, and glory tucked amongst the hay of His makeshift bed.  Let the sounds of the first breaths and sighs of the Incarnate One woo your heart to humility. 

Is there some task or responsibility you feel is beneath you?  Is there a relationship in which you feel you are undervalued or disrespected?  Remember Jesus.

Advent: The Comfort of Hope

In 1742 George Frederic Handel’s Messiah played for the first time.  Although created to be an Easter reflection, it has become a Christmas fixture sweeping us up in the melody of hope. 

While Handel’s music was original, his words were not.  He borrowed them from the prophets of old. 

Comfort, comfort my people,
   says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
   that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
   double for all her sins.  Isaiah 40:2

When our hearts are troubled, we must speak hope to them.  If we were not anxious, burdened, grieved, and broken, we’d have no need for hope.  In needing hope, we recognize our true condition–we long for something that is not yet.  In Advent we do best what we ought to do always–anticipate with hope. 

Hope comforts us.  It relieves the heaviness.  It breathes breath to the weary.  It strengthens the weak.  Restores the fallen.  Binds up the broken.  Hope helps us to see beyond the immediate to the future’s possibilities. 

There can be waiting without hope, but there will never be hope without waiting.  Where are you waiting?  For what?  In whom? 

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  Romans 8:23-25

Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah and let hope speak comfort to your heart.

Advent: The Least of These

Ann Voskamp wrote this incredibly moving piece this morning about Christmas.  (You can read it here.) At the end she included this video..and everyone must watch it.

Christmas reminds of us God’s heart for the least of these.  Does your heart beat with His?  Will you continue to slumber in your indifference?

Advent: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He is the Source, the Ending He

Of the things that are, that have been,

And that future years shalle see,

Evermore and evemore.

O ye heights of heav’n, adore Him;

Angel hosts, His praises sing;

Powers, dominion, bow before Him

And extol our God and King;

Let no tongue on earth be silent;

Every voice in concert ring,

Evermore and evermore.

Christ to Thee with God the Father,

And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,

Hymn and chant and thanksgiving,

And unwearied praises be:

Honor, glory, and dominion

And eternal victory,

Evermore and evermore.

Amen.

Auerelius C. Prudentius, 4th Century

A King is born to us.  The Scriptures call Jesus the King of Israel (John 1:49), the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), the King of Ages (I Timothy 6:15), and the King Eternal (I Timothy 1:17).   Is He reigning in your heart and mind?

Jews, longing for their Messiah knew only the rule of earthly tyrants.  For centuries the burden of the government had rested heavily on their backs.   Yet, they knew the promise of their God–a liberator would come!  They waited for the Messiah to release them from carrots and sticks of little men ruling from over-sized thrones.

“Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them out of Egypt. I disregarded them, says the Lord, because they did not continue in My covenant.   But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be My people.  And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

A King of Love was born to them…and to you and me.   We have tyrants of our own.  Sin–our own and others–is seeking a throne somewhere in your life from where to taunt, tempt, and oppress you.  Your King has come to set you free!  Christ was born to give you mercy.

Yes, at Christmas we draw our attention to a baby in a manger–cute, cuddly and sweet.  But don’t forget:  The child is a King–strong and mighty!  Today, allow the anticipation of Advent to draw you into the wonder of the Father’s love for you expressed through Christ.  Let the new covenant of completed mercy school you in His rule and reign.  Long for Christ.  Live by His decree of grace.

Advent: Faithful in Our Waiting

I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods.

I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;

For You have magnified Your according to all Your name.

On the day I called, You answered me;

You made me bold with strength in my soul.

All the kings of the earth will give thanks to the Lord, when they have heard the words of Your mouth.

For great is the glory of the Lord, for though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.

The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.  ~Psalm 138

Waiting.  So many I spoke with yesterday are waiting for something seemingly impossible.  A new job, a restored marriage, a healed heart.  I, too, am waiting.  Waiting for God to do what I know only He can do.

I confess I get discouraged in the waiting.  Somehow God always seems so much more powerful if He acts immediately…but He rarely does.  He requires that we trust His power even when it is still.

If Advent teaches us anything, it is that in our waiting God remains faithful.  Faithful to us.  Faithful to His plans and purposes.  Faithful to working together His will and His way into a masterpiece of something beautiful, good, and true.

Are you waiting on God today?  Rest in His faithfulness.  He does not forsake us or His work.  Keep believing God for big, impossible things.  Let the story of Advent–its waiting and accomplishment–give you hope.

Advent: O Come, Divine Messiah”

“O Come, Divine Messiah”

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

You come in peace and meekness,
And lowly will your cradle be;
All clothed in human weakness
Shall we your Godhead see.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Simon J. Pellegrin (1663-1745)

Liberation.  It’s for what Christ came.  Thank Him for it.  Continue to trust Him for it.  Rob Lacey, in his book The Word on the Street, paraphrases key points of the Bible with modern language as to increase understanding of the redemption message woven throughout every page of the Scriptures.  (If you haven’t read his book, I encourage you to get it!)  I’ve been enjoying his writing, and have found the traditional Advent readings to be a helpful way for me to appreciate all that Christ has done for me.  Reflect on Lacey’s paraphrase of Isaiah 61.

The Spirit of God is coursing through every part of me.  He’s commissioned me to announce the breaking news–fantastic news for the poor!  He’s sent me to mend broken hearts, to liberate those slammed up in dark prisons, to announce the news that this is the era of God going gentle on His people.  It’s payback time for our enemies!  My manifesto is to get alongside the grieving–to swap their burnt-out hopes for beautiful crowns, to exchange their regrests for delight, to trade in their despair for celebration songs.  They’ll be like towering sculptures–chiselled out by God to be a constant reminder of His brilliance.”  (Rob Lacey, 2003)

Jesus enters our places of bondage to free us.  He gets right “alongside the grieving.”  He sets us free.  Liberates us!  What hope!  What comfort! May both be yours today.

Do you have a favorite scripture that speaks of God’s liberation?

First Sunday of Advent: Light Descendeth

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High! 
Edward Bairstow (1874 – 1946)

Light descendeth! Is that not good news?   Today, pause and thank Jesus for His light.  Imagine how thick the darkness would be without Him.  May your contemplation of His light lead you into heartfelt gratitude, and also compassion for those who have yet to know Him.

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.   O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!  Isaiah 2:1-5

What is your favorite scripture that speaks of Christ’s light?  Encourage your heart with the truth of His Word!

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

“The virgin will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel” Isaiah 7:4.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

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!

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by  Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high

And order all things, far and nigh;

To us the path of knowledge show

And cause us in her ways to go.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations, bind

All peoples in on heart and mind.

Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;

Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel,

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Latin Hymn, Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, 1710

Ransom captive Israel.  From Egypt, to Assyria, to Babylon, to Rome.  The Israelites were well acquainted with captivity.  Their hearts waited for their long-promised Messiah to come and bring freedom from their oppressors.

We have our prisons of our own.

Does your heart long for the second advent of Christ?  Do you long for His presence wherever you may be?  We’re well-acquainted with the captivitated places–the greed, envy, and deception of our hearts.  For some, captivity is experienced in broken places where healing and light are needed to break through the thick darkness of the soul–to a broken marriage, a grieving heart, the wounded survivor, or a diseased body.  “O come, o come, Emmanuel” to all the places today where your beauty, goodness, and truth hold the power to break the prisoners’ chains.  O come.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

“The Lord has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives” Isaiah 61:1

I grew up on hymns.   To this day their melodies–rich with truth–often serve as a pacemaker for my heart.  It has been said that Charles Wesley, the most prolific hymn writer of all time, taught the Church more through his hymns than did his brother John through his sermons.  How true it is that hymns have informed Christian lives with the deep truths of Scripture.  In my own life, their poetic melodies have served as tender chisels in my spiritual formation.

I miss the hymns.  You hardly hear them sung anymore.  Songs that shaped and saturated Christian community for centuries are now replaced with novel, inspirationals.  I miss the hymns because of their fixation on the person and character of God.  God inspires me.  In a hymn you sing along with the brothers and sisters of centuries past who fixed their hope on the only One that captured their heart’s devotion.   Your voice becomes one with those whose generation is silenced by death, but their faith sings on.  I miss singing in the great choir.

Each year as Christmas approaches, I love the hymns more and miss their absence from our celebration.  To remedy this, in part, I will be dedicating the month of December to reflect on Christ’s birth, and His great salvation, as expressed to us in the great hymns of old.  I know that Christmas is a frantic time of chasing your calendar by its tail…but slow down and don’t forget Jesus.  If you know the tune to the hymn–sing it, let it echo in your heart all day long.  If you don’t, meditate on the words–they will inoculate you from forgetfulness.  Let these hymns enrich your preparation for Christmas.  Let them tether you to their truth; we have a Savior!

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free.

From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a Child and yet a King.

Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit, Rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to They glorious Throne.

Text: Charles Wesley, 1744

Israel longed for their Messiah (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2).  Are you longing for yours?