Life Between Two Advents

Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
Psalm 73:25

The gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around the two Advents of the Savior:
The first when He came as the humble baby in Bethlehem’s manager. ~Philipians 2:6-8; The second when He returns as King of kings with power and great glory to establish His eternal kingdom ~Luke 21:27.

Christ’s first coming assures that we now have a God who identified Himself with us in every aspect of life from birth to death. The anticipation of His second coming assures that we will live and reign with Him forever. Such a hope keeps this life from becoming               “tedious and tasteless”—REGARDLESS of the seasons or situations.

The ultimate source of inner joy is God Himself, not our circumstances. Without an intimate sense of His daily presence, however, our lives can easily become wintry and frigid.

“BUT WHEN I AM HAPPY WITH HIM, DECEMBER’S AS PLEASANT AS MAY.”

“How Tedious and tasteless the hours” is another of the fine hymns by John Newton. [ Amazing Grace]

1.How tedious and tasteless the hours when Jesus no longer I see!
Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers have all lost their sweetness to me.
The midsummer sun shines but dim; the fields strive in vain to look gay;
but when I am happy with Him, December’s as pleasant as May.

2.Content with beholding His face, my all to His pleasure resigned,
no changes of seasons or place would make any change in my mind:
While blest with a sense of His love, a palace a toy would appear;
and prison’s would palaces prove, if Jesus would dwell with me there.

3.Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine, if Thou art my sun and my song,
say, why do I languish and pine, and why are my winters so long?
Oh,drive these dark clouds from my sky; Thy soul-cheering presence restore;
or take me unto Thee on high, where winter and clouds are no more.

God has made you a steward of this day, regardless of the weather or CIRCUMSTANCES. May it count for Him. Consciously practice His presence. Reflect on this musical truth—

Taken from “Amazing Grace” Hymns and stories for daily devotions by Kenneth Osbeck.

~Nick Laninga

Anticipating Advent: God Exceeds Our Expectations

So much of the advent season is built upon anticipation…

In a very practical way, we look forward to annual traditions. I always anticipate the breakfast casserole that my mom makes. I anticipate the lights, the smells, the sounds, and the family. Many of us are full of expectations (or others of us full of dread) about the songs, the presents, and the decorations. Often times these expectations are not all met in any given year… but we are full of them.

From the perspective of the church calendar, advent is a season of Anticipation for celebrating Christ’s incarnation and second coming. Throughout advent, there is a constant looking both backward and forward toward the coming of Christ. The Scripture readings from week to week build in a crescendo toward the moment of declaration: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.” We wait for this moment… at Wiser Lake Chapel, we frequently do this through the holy chaos that is the Hallelujah Chorus. After our season of patient anticipation we join with the angels, singing with all our earthly gusto “…and He shall reign forever and ever.”

But, the message throughout Scripture is not just of a God who meets our expectations… the message of Scripture is of a God who exceeds expectations. Even in our best Christmas seasons, the perfect twinkling of a light, the most anticipated of presents, the most fulfilling of family times are only small tastes of the plans that God has for us. The fact is that God is not simply in the business of meeting our expectations… through a baby birthed among farm animals, God disrupts and exceeds our expectations. The invitation of the Advent season is not only an invitation to anticipate, it is an invitation to have our expectations upended for the rest of the year… for the rest of our lives. The baby becomes a man who teaches and heals… and the man who teaches and heals, dies… and the man who dies has risen again. In Advent, we anticipate, but we also bring ourselves back to a place where we can be shocked and amazed…reminded that our expectations are too small for a God who is too good. Our earthbound, yet heavenward, hallelujahs are not geared simply toward a God who meets expectations, but to the glory of a God who exceeds them.
~Ben Gibson

 

Anticipating Advent: Holiness Descended

Excerpt from “Descending Theology: Christ Human” by Mary Karr:

Such a short voyage for a god,
And you arrived in animal form so as not
To scorch us with your glory.
Your mask was an infant’s head on a limp stalk,
Sticky eyes smeared blind,
Limbs rendered useless in swaddle.
You came among beasts
As one, came into our care or its lack, came crying,
As we all do, because the human frame
Is a crucifix, each skeleton borne a lifetime.
Any wanting soul lain
Prostrate on a floor to receive a pouring of sunlight
Might—if still enough, feel your cross buried in the flesh.
One has only to surrender,
You preached, open both arms to the inner,
The ever-present hold,
Out-reaching every want. It’s in the form
Embedded, love adamant as bone.

Amidst the peppy Christmas carols and scents of pine and peppermint, it’s easy to ignore the fact that the very first Christmas sounded and smelled very different from our festivities. I’m sure that the stable smelled pungently of manure and other body odors and was filled with the grunts and rustles of weathered animals. Jesus’ entrance into our midst was messy and raw and corporeal. He lacked the human trappings of royalty but was holiness descended. Mary Karr’s poem reminds me of both the earthiness of Christ’s birth and the phenomenon of his presence among us.

May we see Immanuel, God with us, the babe whose love is as “adamant as bone.”
~Hilary Gibson

Anticipating Advent: Waiting with Hope

“Did you secure the sheep pen?”

“Yes, Father.” It was only the second time Isaac had been allowed to be with his father and the other shepherds overnight in the fields. He wanted his dad to proud of the way he helped keep the sheep safe during the dark hours of the night. He quietly sat on the ground near his father so he could listen to the men talk.

“It might get cold tonight. The sky is clear and the stars are brilliant. Nights like this are rare and quite remarkable.”

The other shepherds nodded agreement and settled into a companionable quiet while the silence crept around us.

Ishakar boldly interrupted the silence, “Did you hear the rabbi speak about the prophecy this week in the synagogue?”

Isaac remembered being there with his father. They had a long discussion about it as they walked home and even talked about it with mother. The rabbi had taken the Micah scroll and read the part about Bethlehem being where the King would be born. The prophet was reliable but there always the question, when would this happen.

All of Israel waited and had been waiting for so long. The shepherds and those before them had waited just like they were tonight. Tending their sheep, of course, yet sitting around their campfire, thinking the promise had been delayed for some reason. Still waiting with hope, with expectation, with anticipation, that maybe this might be the year the prophecy was fulfilled and the Messiah would come to deliver Israel from the oppressor.

There was no suspense that went along with the anticipation, however just a faithful doing of what needed to be done, tending to the sheep, living well with their families, and looking after the widows and orphans. Living to bring God glory. What else could they do?

How are you waiting?
~Nancy Matheis

Anticipating Advent: A Kingdom Not of This World

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Coppo di Marcovaldo. Majestas Domini (Christ in Majesty). Battistero di San Giovanni. Firenze ITALY. second half of the 13th century

 

And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there…. 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in.
Judges 17:5-10

Even in the era of the judges, people who did as they pleased were simultaneously acting out God’s perfect will, as seen in remarks that Samson’s pursuit of a Philistine wife “was from the Lord” (Jg 14:4) and that Eli’s evil sons ignored their father’s admonition because “it was the will of the LORD to put them to death” (1 Sam 2:25). Nevertheless, the Israelite were particularly compassless and unstable without an earthly king. They asked God for a King “to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:20). God warned them that they were rejecting the Lord as king and that the king they sought would take their land and bind them in servitude. Alas, the kings of Israel and Judah often acted with varying combinations of faithlessness, idolatry, petulance, tyranny, cowardice, and ineptitude; their subjects were no better. The people eventually came under external control.

With this backdrop, God sent his Son to be born in Bethlehem as a King without fault, yet one who claims of us not merely the property with which he has entrusted us but also our hearts. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Co 10:5).   In fact, Jesus commanded us to be perfect (Mt 5:48). And “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (1 Co 5:10). But thanks be to God that his King provides what his law requires. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). He strengthens us and has sent his Spirit to guide us in obedience. And when we inevitably and repeatedly fail in spite of that, it is his sacrificial work alone that can make us right with God. We cannot and need not compensate him the way Micah paid the Levite from Bethlehem.

Jesus informed Pilate (and Jesus’ mistaken disciples) that his kingdom was not of this world. But we know that in a day to come, he will return with power, and every knee will bow to Him, the King of kings and Lord of lords. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb 12:28). Let us worship Christ, the newborn King!
~Nick Wonder

 

Anticipating Advent: A Season of Expectation

Advent is a season of expectation.
I know this intellectually, but in the day-to-day busyness of life, it can be far too easy to dwell on immediate and present struggles, and miss out on what should be a time of meditating on the promise of Immanuel–God with us.
Perhaps this is why God has seen fit to fill my life with reminders; gentle invitations to Advent reflection:
Shortly after I finished my student-teaching in December of 2008, God called me to teach in Japan.  It was a sudden, unexpected call, and as I spent the days leading up to Christmas preparing to embark on an adventure half a world away from home and family, I found myself looking ahead to Christmas in a new way, cherishing the comfort of familiar Advent passages.
The next year, December saw me in the thick of my first full year of teaching.  I was overwhelmed, tired, and sick as I boarded the plane from Tokyo to Vancouver, to spend my vacation with my family.  I’d been looking forward to the break–counting down the days, then the hours.  As I looked ahead to my much-awaited Christmas vacation, I leaned again on the truth of the Advent season, the promise of a celebration far greater than a two-week respite from a stressful school-year.
In 2013, I spent most of my December preparing to get married on the 28th.  Accompanying the joy and excitement that I would soon be making a lifelong commitment to my best friend was a feeling of unpreparedness–was I ready to be a husband?  Looking ahead to my wedding, too, drove me to Advent expectation.
This year, as my wife and I celebrate three years of marriage, we look ahead together to the birth of our first child, due in February.  We are filled simultaneously with joy and trepidation as we are transfixed by each new ultrasound, as we feel the kicks and flutters, and make a rudimentary list of what we need to do and acquire before the baby arrives.  Once more, I am comforted by the promise fulfilled in the arrival of another baby, millennia ago.  In Jesus Christ, God entered human existence to dwell with us.
We do not worship a distant God, but one who acquainted Himself with our struggles so that He could die for us.
Such a powerful truth should not need reminders, but sin makes us short-sighted and forgetful.
I am profoundly grateful that even when my attention drifts to the ground beneath my feet–to the aches and pains of the here and now–God patiently, ceaselessly, lifts my chin and fixes my gaze on what lies ahead.
~Nate Gibson, Tokyo, Japan

Anticipating Advent: A Fountain Filled

On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.
~Zachariah 13:1

Zachariah was the Prophet of encouragement.
With God’s word he sought to call God’s people back to holy living. He challenged them to finish building the walls around Jerusalem which had been untouched for some fifteen years since the original effort.  To encourage the people he prophesied of the coming redeemer. He said more about the coming Savior than any other Prophet.

In Chapter 12 he speaks of a coming time of mourning from the various family groups. Readying them for the Saviors coming, in chapter 13 he opens his prophetic vision of God’s plan of redemption with a startling graphic picture — a fountain opened to the house of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and iniquity.

Jesus was from the house of David and he was the source of cleansing for the sinful people of God. Zachariah speaks of Jesus’ cleansing blood as a fountain indicating the abundant flow of God’s sovereign love and mercy. That fountain of mercy and love is ultimately revealed in the shedding of Christ’s blood on Calvary to make a total cleansing from sin.

As a teenager I loved to sing and sang in in a quartet in the churches and I also sang in the Seminary quartet. In my teenage quartet we sang the old Hymn, “There is a Fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s vein and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”  The  hymn was removed from the Psalter in 1959 as being too graphic. I still sing it as it truly speaks to my heart of the cleansing power of Jesus blood available to all through faith in Him.
~Pastor Jack Matheis