The Week Between

2 Peter 1:12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory…

This year my Advent plans had a very different ending.  This was the first Christmas of my life I’ve actually been physically alone, thanks to a positive Covid test on December 22.  Alone by definition is “to be separated and isolated,” not words anyone would purposefully connect to Advent or Christmas.  The whole point of observing Advent has always been God’s reminder of His intervention to correct the condition of humanity; being “alone or isolated.” I’ve remembered that so many times over the years. 

What I will remember about Advent and Christmas 2022 is the very physical way I was reminded of the truth I already knew.  In the midst of the unpleasant, worrisome and murky details of Covid, family and friends used every opportunity and technology known to man to remind me I wasn’t “alone and isolated” and God chose their kindnesses to refresh my memory of His truth about the birth of Jesus Christ. I will remember this week in between 2022 and 2023 because I tested negative for Covid…AND was reminded of so many reasons I have to be positive about the truth of God!

Christmas Day — The Surprise of Likeness

urprise!  It’s Christmas morning and here we are in Romans 8, the most surprising of all places.  Advent has focused my thoughts on the birth of a Holy Baby, Jesus, the Son of God so it was a surprise to read these familiar words in a whole new way because of what “God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” — ?? Sinful flesh…us??  It took a beat for my heart to realize this IS just how far God went “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us.”  In order to do that, God filled that Advent cradle with Himself “in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” with the power to buy back our likeness to sin so we might “not walk according to the flesh.”  There’s an old story of a European ruler who would sneak away and walk among his people incognito.  It drove his security people nuts but his response was “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.” 

God chose to begin His walk among us on that first Christmas morning disguised as an ordinary baby, living and growing up in ordinary ways…walking among us incognito…until in His perfect timing He could reveal the surprise likeness of God “in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

There was Light…Again

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons [appointed times], and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. [Genesis 1:14-15 ESV] “

read an interesting question recently: “Which comes first, the day or the night?” The answer was in Genesis 1 — “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”  I read through all those days of creation again and it was clear that everything that happened in those first six days became visible because of that first light.  Light was a critical part of God’s order of creation.  “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” [a]

“And it was so.” But why did only six days have that sequence ?  And why didn’t the seventh day end with it?  “…God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”[b]   God rested, but His creative authority was unending!  He’d blessed the order of those early days but on a particular night, at an appointed time, in a wilderness field long after those first six days, God’s confirmation of His truth about that seventh day was revealed.   Jesus became the visible reality of His unending blessing — a Sabbath that was forever!  

There were shepherds staying in the fields nearby and darkness was lifted, again, and there was light”…again!  Mankind would forever be required to order their lives around creation’s cycle of days but Jesus was coming as the new Light of the World “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years”…forever!  He would be the unending personal promise of an internal Sabbath, a Light that would make those who were guided by it, a visible reflection of God’s Holiness that would never end.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
[Matthew 5:14 ESV]

“It is written, ‘There was evening, and then there was morning…The world moves from day to night. But in God, it is the opposite. It goes from night to day…from darkness to light. The children of this world live from day to night. But the children of God live from night to day. They are born again in the darkness and move to the day. And if you belong to God, then that is the order of your life. You are to go from darkness to light, from weakness to strength, from despair to hope, from guilt to innocence, from tears to joy, and from death to life. And every night in your life will lead to the dawn. So live according to God’s sacred order of time…that your entire life be always moving away from the darkness and to the light.” [c]  

[a] Genesis 1:31
[b] Genesis 2:3
[c] Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn

Fourth Sunday of Advent — A Shepherd Speaks

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:8-11  KJV

ach of us were taking our shifts through the night to keep watch over the sheep and lambs.  It seemed like an ordinary night, but honestly you’ll have to take my word for it, what happened next had all of us up and on our feet in an instant ready to defend our flock and ourselves.  The dangers shepherds face mostly kind of sneak up on them in the darkness so when the night sky was split apart by blinding light we were afraid. It seemed like all our worst fears had became reality. 

It wasn’t until we heard that voice say “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings” that we began to wonder if this might be something special.  Sure, we’d heard there was a coming Savior, but this was a very odd situation.  Angels don’t just appear to bring news every day, especially to shepherds!  We don’t count for much except for those times we’re called upon to choose a perfect lamb for the Temple sacrifice.  We do know a perfect lamb when we see one!  I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s the reason the Lord chose us…of all people…to get first-hand news of the ”great joy, which shall be to all people” — because He trusted we would recognize the Perfect Lamb of His choice. 

The Church of the Firstborn

Romans 1:3 …concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles in behalf of His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

his Sunday I’ll be in church.  I’ve chosen my churches carefully since becoming a believer.  I know it’s just a building filled with people who are drawn there for many reasons.  It’s likely there would be a very small number of people who would declare one of those reasons to be needing “the obedience of faith.”  But up in front stands a man who has been given that particular charge “in Jesus’s name,” for His church…
Regardless of what he knows we need, or what we think we need, he speaks the truth of our need for the Grace of God
Regardless of our desiring to invest him with elevated status, he confesses his own need for Grace ‘
Regardless of strife in the body, his trust is that Grace will prevail.
Regardless of exhaustion when sacred and moral duties use up all his energy and time, Grace helps him put one foot in front of the other.
Regardless of sometimes being wounded, he trusts Grace will heal, unite and encourage.|
Regardless of all evidence to the contrary, it’s Grace that helps him look out at our faces and believe “you also are the called of Jesus Christ.”  That’s real-time, real-life Grace…Regardless…for the sake of the body of Christ — and the Church of the Firstborn.

The Third Sunday — The First Church

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:6-7

hurches today are definitely different than this stable, but in this season there are similarities that attract me to this idea: was this the first “church?”  This manger was not an accident that happened in an overcrowded village at a busy time.  God provided it.   Don’t be fooled into believing any details of the birth of Jesus were God’s last-ditch effort to provide a place for Jesus because there was no room in the inn. God chose that stable and that food trough as a sacred space. 

A stable isn’t the perfect structure I might have hoped for, but like every other church, availability matters.  That first church wasn’t meant to be a place for privileged and perfect people, but for people who needed a “place.”  A place where the curious could come and look to see whether what they’d heard was real. The things that made that “first” church perfect still matter.  God still chooses to make his Son available there.  There are still wise men and women who follow a Holy path and give the gifts they have.  We still have shepherds who rise and boldly tell the story of what they hear and see.  In this season we still sing “Gloria,” the music of praise-filled words we forget to speak the rest of the year.  Today’s “modern stable” still holds the same promise of that first church: God has chosen it as a sacred space where the needs of the people and the holiness of God finally can meet, and come together.

The Bread of Life

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. Micah 5:2   

ethlehem means the “House of Bread” in both Hebrew and Aramaic and thanks be to God, because Mary and Joseph’s hearts were obedient in the less-desirable details of life, Jesus began His earthly life born in the House of Bread just as Micah had forecast in “the distant past.”  I hadn’t purposely planned to be baking bread today because of this post but as it turns out I’m sitting here at the table waiting for my batch of dough to rise.  I’m watching it climb up the side of the clear dough-mixing bucket and enjoying the yeast’s aroma as I write.  It’s satisfying, but it’s the bread I’m really waiting for.  This simple choice to make bread today seems too relevant to this Advent post to be anything other than a homemade picture of God’s recipe. His recipe had the right ingredients, the right place, the right timing and the right baby to reveal His own identity as the Bread of Life the world was really waiting for.  God’s own recipe would satisfy the “aroma” of the prophet’s word and Jesus, the Bread of Life, would rise up and save many souls.  ‘Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!”  Psalm 34:8 NLT  PS: Today’s bread turned out good too.

Second Sunday of Advent

 

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35 NLT

…Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Matthew 1:20 NLT

ou’ve heard it before; there is far more to Christmas than decorations and beautifully wrapped gifts. The Bible has given me a vivid picture of the glorious outcome of the journey to Bethlehem of the pregnant virgin and that ordinary carpenter.   Their journey has  become the “more” of my Christmas this year. I’ve found myself thinking of the less-considered details of the birth of the Son of God, Jesus. There’s the reality of two people who’ve each had to accept the word of an angel about their relationship and marriage despite improbable truths.  In addition to a surprise pregnancy, there was inconvenient timing that required them to obey the law of their heritage and go to the City of David to register.

Did they realize the birth was that close? How far could they go in a day? Did they sleep outside? How did they cook? How did they manage the required ritual cleansing? What about sanitation?  Weren’t there crowds of other people traveling that same road?  What about privacy?  I can imagine those needs might easily have challenged them on that journey of multiple days on dusty and bumpy roads…but they went.  I can also imagine the thankfulness they might have felt to finally have a pile of smelly straw, inside a stable, to sink into at the end of that hard journey.  They chose to be obedient even when their lives were filled with legitimate reasons to say “no.”  This year I’m grateful I spent some time imagining their journey.  It’s easy to celebrate the story of Mary and Joseph on the way to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and the birth of a promised holy baby Away in a Manger and forget the harsh realities and risks involved in their circumstances.  Imagining just how real those less-considered details were, has made me realize my own thankfulness for the choices they made, and the impact of them on my identity in Christ today — because they said “yes” to God.

God Bless You…

1
In that day you will sing:
“I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
Now you comfort me.
2
See, God has come to save me.
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.”
3
With joy you will drink deeply
from the fountain of salvation!
4
In that wonderful day you will sing:
“Thank the Lord! Praise his name!
Isaiah 12 NLT

First Sunday of Advent


he weeks leading up to Christmas are one of the rare times when the hearts of complete strangers are softened by music, lights, food, parties, friends, family…and gifts. Softened enough that what Isaiah says to us may touch them as well. There will never be a better time than Advent to “lift up your voice”…and bless someone.  I’m asking you to be brave enough to respond to the people that cross your path everyday between now and Christmas with a simple no-cost gift of blessing.   Saying God bless You doesn’t come naturally to me so I’ve been sitting here jotting down ideas of ways to fearlessly speak that blessing.   Isaiah’s timeless truth, “do not be afraid,” has finally hit home for me. Most of us find it easy to say Thank You but it’s the first three words of this blessing that make it the gift.  Have courage — speak because you may be the only person they’ll ever hear these words from — God bless you…
 …for your kindness
…for your cheerful greeting
…for ringing that bell
…for opening that door

I’ll practice on you.  God bless you — with opportunities to let your voice be a blessing for others in these days leading up to Christmas.  God bless you — with courage to speak these unfamiliar words of blessing to a stranger, friend or a family member this Christmas.  They may never hear anyone else speak those words to them.  Who knows who else nearby may hear them and be blessed too?  Who knows…as your ears hear your own voice speak them…they may become a blessing for you too.