Rethinking Advent – Joy

This week marks the lighting of the joy (pink) candle. This is the third candle lit, going from expectation of the coming Messiah to longing for His presence now to joy at His appearing. In this world, marked by conflict and division, anger and turmoil, disappointment and despair, we light this candle to proclaim “Jesus came to give us joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Like Mary, we can sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Each day this week we need to contemplate on what a great gift of grace has been given to us. The Holy Son of God came to take our sin guilt, came to pay the penalty we owed to the Heavenly Father, came to give us a new birth, a new life, a life to be lived in Him. It is for that reason we rejoice. Our salvation has come. We who believe have been given a new spirit and are being fitted for our new home with Christ.

Yes, life remains difficult. Yes, we mess up day by day. We are still on our journey after all; we haven’t arrived yet. But, we are confident that as we confess our sins and repent of them that we will be forgiven and the grace we ask for will be given to us. We will still encounter sin. We will encounter it in this evil ,fallen world and we will encounter it hiding in our own lives. When we encounter it we can bring back to mind the words of the angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21”

If you can’t rejoice over that thought this week, then you have nothing to be joyous about. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He found me. Has He found you?

Rethinking Advent Part 2

Advent, as we said last week, is designed for us to prepare our hearts and minds to truly celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is a time for us to reflect on what truly matters – not the glitz, glamour and gift giving of modern Christmas, but the giving of Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. Christmas is a holy holiday but that has sadly been lost in today’s society. I know I cringe when Santa visits the churches around my area during this season. It is sacrilegious to let a fictional fat guy get more attention than our Holy Lord in His church.

This Sunday, the 2nd of Advent, saw the lighting of the Bethlehem candle or love candle (some traditions call this the faith candle.) It is during this week we ponder and meditate on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. It would be in Bethlehem, where, according to prophecy, the Messiah would be born.

What a journey this must have been. Mary is very much pregnant and roads in 1st century Israel were not very good. Most likely they would have attached themselves to a caravan or group of fellow travelers for protection from bandits. Leaving their home, the journey would have been financially burdensome, but since Caesar had decreed it, they had to undertake the trip. Only 6 miles from Jerusalem, Jesus was born in the shadow of Herod’s fortress.

Today’s Scripture is Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose.”

Also, from Matthew 2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler  who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Phillip Brooks wrote a lovely Christmas carol that we can use this week to help us think about Christ being born in this little town in accordance with Scripture.

1. O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary,
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together,
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the king,
and peace to all on earth!

3. How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

4. O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

Rethinking Advent

I did not grow up celebrating the Advent season. My faith tradition saw Advent as “a Catholic thing” and avoided it completely. My first real encounter with Advent was while visiting Methodist churches during the holiday season and watching the lighting of the candles but I still didn’t understand what it was all about. I did think that an Advent calendar with candies or toys behind each window was cool ( I still would like a Lego one!)

Recently, though, I have been exploring Advent and trying to understand it. This Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, with the lighting of the Candle of Prophecy or the Hope Candle. The idea is for us to focus this week on the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and the Scriptures that foretold His arrival. In a world bereft of hope, to a people who were beaten and conquered, the longing for their Messiah was intense. For us today, we can look back and take joy that the Messiah did come just as predicted. We can look ahead to the prophecy of the Messiah’s return, to rescue once again a people beaten down and trying to hang onto the hope of His return.

Traditionally, during Advent, Christmas carols and hymns are not sung. Not until Christmas Eve, anyway. Then, for 12 days afterwards they are sung. During Advent, Advent songs are sung, like Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel or Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Quite a few churches I know sing both during the season though.

Advent seeks to refocus us on the true meaning of Christmas. The coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus Christ. In a modern, secular age where gifts are the focus of the holiday season, Advent calls us back to why we celebrate. A people living in great darkness will see the Light. Historically, the 4 weeks of Advent saw believers focusing on fasting, repentance and hopefully and prayerfully pondering the great gift God has given to us in His Son. Now that I can celebrate. To re-focus on God and His provision, that is a good thing.

I will still sing my Christmas carols prior to Christmas. I like them too much. I will grab some purple, pink and white candles and incorporate them at home, though, as a teaching tool and a reminder to myself. I will seek to understand more about the 2nd candle (Preparation or Bethlehem), the 3rd (Candle of Joy or Shepherd candle) and the 4th (Candle of Love or Angelic Announcement candle). Of course, the White Candle for Christ needs no explanation. I will seek to prepare myself spiritually for celebrating Christmas with even more meaning than before. So come with me on this journey of Advent and let me know what Advent traditions you have or the meaning it holds for you. Enjoy this week’s song lyrics below.

 

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 Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

 

 

Advent Musings

As I reflect upon the season of advent, I am constantly challenged by how deep in meaning this season is. Not only is it a time of looking back at the 1st coming of Christ in Bethlehem, but a looking forward to His return as King of Kings. As I reflect on the preparation of His first coming, I have to ask – am I truly ready for His second? I know so many people who aren’t, that it saddens me. Then, I get to thinking that I know even more who will celebrate Christmas without knowing what they are really celebrating. It is like going to a birthday party for the son of a neighbor of a friend of yours. You kinda know them a little, but you know you are out of place at the party.
That is what Christmas is for people who are not God’s children. They are at His Son’s birthday party, but they are outsiders, missing out on the real excitement and meaning.Only those of us in the family of God can truly celebrate Christmas. I guess that is why I don’t get too upset with the over commercialization of Christmas. People aren’t believers so why shouldn’t they behave as they do? They don’t ruin my Christmas – I am focused on God and His great gift.
As I wrote yesterday, we can take a lesson from Hanukkah and make sure our light is shining outward, as a witness this Advent season. Perhaps if we do, if we tell people of Christ’s first and second comings, they will be able to truly join the party.