I have a problem.
I want to listen to Christmas music.
You need to understand, prior to baby Lucy, my wife in earlier years would have been pouring over Christmas music for her choirs. August and September usually had carols and tunes looping as she picked out her choir pieces. It’s just not fall unless I hear that music!
At the risk of being ostracized by the community, I can neither confirm nor deny that I’ve given into the craving and listened to it in the past month or so. If I did, I certainly would not have listened to the pop-garbage that plagues the radio, but instead it would great choirs and symphonies from around the world. For the sake of argument, if I did listen to the music, then I probably was hit square in the eyes by the current season.
While the Northern Hemisphere enters into the autumn, the Church Calendar is still entrenched in the season known as Ordinary Time. Advent will be here soon and Christmastide will shortly follow; however, now we’re still in this ordinary space of the calendar. We have normal day in and day out living.
Let me tell you though, it’s OK to be in the Ordinary Time.
I used to get caught up with the big events in my faith: youth camps, big concerts, and service trips. But it took me many years to realize that while big life events are fine, we live more of our lives in ordinary seasons. Christmas fills a month of our calendar and other holidays take up days or weeks; however, life marches on. Ordinary Time is with us for a huge portion of the year because life is filled with normal daily routines.
I believe that God is in those ordinary times though. He is there in the beautiful flower blooming in the summer. He is there when coffee fills the air on a lazy Saturday in September. He’s there amid the school projects and mundane dish cleaning. The ordinary times of life are often the most meaningful, those casual coffee runs with loved ones are often what we treasure years down the road.
Dear reader, look for God in the ordinary times and be present in those moments. While joyous holidays and celebrations come and go, find the beauty of life in the mundane things. Who knows, you might be surprised with what you find!
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.
-Pope John Paul II
Do you ever find yourself abandoning hope in the moments chaos and despair? Do you find yourself ever waking in the middle of the night and not knowing how you’re going to get through the stormy night of your soul?
Dear readers, in those moments of darkness don’t give in. Don’t abandon yourself to despair.
If you are in Christ, you have a different song. Not one of dead-ended sorrow, but a song that is rooted in the triumphant hope of Easter. When darkness rolls into your soul, when storm clouds appear on the horizon, cling to this reality. Cling to this song, even when it doesn’t seem real.
My church, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, provided this incredibly encouraging note along this line:
“Easter provides the certainty that allows those who find life challenging to keep walking in faith while they wait for a spouse to marry, a new job, to finish that last class before graduation, or to anticipate a friendship to be reconciled. Easter-faith is backbone and joy for the journey– it changes everything!”
Trust in the risen Christ. Trust that he will provide, even when you cannot see how. Believe me, I’m there in the dark clouds, but this all I can hold onto. I will hold onto this reality, for I am an Easter person, and Easter faith will be my backbone. For the LORD, the covenant keeping God, will provide.
How do you not abandon yourself to despair?
The world is moving into ghettos. No, not those types of ghettos. The ghettos that place a border around people with differing opinions, and differing beliefs. I certainly know that throughout history we have had enclaves where only certain types of people lived together. Catholics on this side of the street, and this ethnicity near the docks. But that is not the type of ghetto I’m referring to now. I’m referring to the intellectual one, where only like minded authors find their way onto our bookshelves and Kindles.
Let me ask a question. When was the last time you have read something by someone you may disagree with?
As a Christian, I am confident in the validity of the faith. I am confident that it can stand against claims that are brought against it. In my political views, I feel secure in them as well. So with those strong feelings, why on earth wouldn’t I read a differing opinion?
That’s why I subscribe to a couple of periodicals that I read regularly and why I look into claims of New Atheists and old Atheists. I certainly still read people I agree with, of course. But I have found that it is in being stretched by these opposing viewpoints that I have grown more as a thinker. I will read the claims of a Harris or Dawkins while also reading the defenders of the faith like Keller or Craig.
I understand that this is not always a popular view nowadays, but in my view, apologetics are still very important. Yes, apologetics can be abused as a powerplay to shut questioning people up (See my post on the good, the bad, and the ugly of apologetics) As a follower of Christ, I need to be able to give an answer to people who might bring questions about the hope that lives within me. Indeed, some of the questions that are raised are legitimate inquiries. And it is for these cases that I will read differing viewpoints. It’s not necessarily the ones that just want to play philosophical ‘gotcha’ but the ones that have a true question. And hopefully if I can answer that question, then that is one less objection to Christ. And I’ll leave the fate of that individual’s questioning mind to the salvific work of the Holy Spirit.
I read challenging books to help sharpen myself to give a defense for the hope that lies within me, and I hope you do too.
What has challenged you lately?
Read a great blog entry by Daniel Kirk on eschatology. Here is one of the highlights that stuck out:
The end means that God is bringing justice.
For the end to have drawn near means that the justice for which we wait in the days ahead is reaching backward and invading the days in which we live.
It is in the face of this, the advent of the justice of God, that Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the reign of God has drawn near!”
Eschatology is not about our own movie-like scenarios playing out. Eschatology is about God putting things to rights. My apologies to my own Dispensationalist past, it is about justice not cataclysmic punishment.
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
This verse hit me hard this week and I felt that it was appropriate that I mentioned it on Maundy Thursday. The thing that struck me was that the verse was loaded with Messianic expectation, and I just had to write about it. Looking back with a New Testament perspective, one can see that this passage looked forward to the revealing of the Messiah Jesus. Isaiah anticipated that the LORD, the covenant keeping God, would pronounce salvation to His people. Even in times of trouble, the LORD protected His people. He brought them out of Egypt and would bring them back from exile. Indeed He would not stop there with these physical acts, but would take salvation to an even grander scale.
In Genesis, God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendents. He would deliver on His promise to Abraham of blessing the entire world and provide the pathway to reconciliation among Jew and Gentile. This reconciliation and uniting of Jew and Gentile came through Jesus. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, would literally become our salvation. He would clothe Himself with flesh and live on this planet. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate and made to be shameful in order to bring us life. He removed our guilt and shame through the scandal of the cross. The Messiah also provided us a Way to eternal life through His death and resurrection. He became our salvation in His life.
Jesus also said if you trust in God; trust also in Him (Jn 14:1). It is truly wonderful that Jesus not only took away our sin but He also then offered us life. It is only in our trusting in Him can we sing the hymn Paul quoted in Colossians about the cosmic Lord. For it is in Christ that we have life and can live as humans were meant to live, in right relationship with our God.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
“Christ died for the ungodly”
These words pierced through my heart this past week, especially when it is connected with the metaphor Paul used in II Corinthians 4:7-18 of treasure being placed in jars of clay. Let me explain this connection. Paul writes in verse 7,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
The metaphor reminds me that I am a mere pot, a jar that is used to contain just about anything. A pot could contain oil, garbage, the remains of a person, or something worse. God instead chose to fill the vessel with treasure. For those that are in Christ, Paul gives us the assurance that God placed treasure inside of an individual, and that is reason enough to be happy. Indeed all those who call upon the name of the Lord and put their faith in Christ will obtain this treasure.
Paul told us about the treasure earlier in the chapter. He found that the treasure is…
…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Cor 4:4-6
This treasure should not cause anyone to boast in their own worth, for again those who are in Christ are a jar of clay. These jars have been redeemed out of mire for service to the King. As I wrote above, Christ died for the ungodly. He took the punishment that I rightly deserved. He took it for me that I might be justified before God. This is reason enough to be excited, but He doesn’t stop there! He then gives us every spiritual blessing and draws us into what it means to be human again. Those who are in Christ are given new life with a promise. We are given the promise that,
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
(2 Cor 4:13-14)
Being united with God again and transformed into the image of Christ. Indeed, He who raised Jesus from the grave will also raise us up through the power of the Spirit. How can these incredible things be? We are assured that we will not be put to shame, for the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of new life. He will be faithful to His word, for that is His very character. Indeed how fortunate are those who can call themselves the ungodly and jars of clay? And the great thing is, is that you can call upon Christ and He will make you a jar of clay—an ordinary pot that contains the treasure of God! How great is that?
The importance of remembering is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible. One of the great portions of Scripture though is Deuteronomy. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses needed to give the new generations of Israelites the history of their people, why they were in the suburbs of the Promised Land. While the original generation that left Egypt died off during the wilderness period as a punishment, the children did not fully understand the miraculous act that happened decades before their time. They were raised in the desert and the wandering nomad life was all that they knew.
The Lord of Israel was made to known to the new generations of Israel as Moses recounted their story again in Deuteronomy. He told them that the LORD alone is God and that there is no other. Why? Because He brought them out of Egypt. That is the basis of the claim, because God brought them out of a strong land with powerful acts. Throughout the OT this is the basis of so many claims to being and remaining faithful to God. Israel ought to love God alone because He brought them out. Therefore, the people should “keep his statutes and commandments.” (Deut 4:40)
The people were also told to bind them on their heart and make it a sign in their house (6:7-9) It was important to do this because they (and indeed we) are so quick to forget. We must always be mindful of the fact that it is God who provided. He provided bounty for Israel and a cultivated land for their heritage. It is in this faithfulness He made with His people (a covenantal faithfulness) that they were called to hold onto every day.
So we should give God honor and praise for his magnanimous nature. In this praise, we should also remember what He has done, namely redeeming us through Jesus. He was faithful, even when we were faithless.
Recently my Advent devotional discussed the interesting tie between Jesus’ purpose and entrance into the world. Hopefully I don’t ruin the story, but Jesus was birthed in a stable and was nailed to a cross. “Jesus’ life began in a stable and ended on the cross between two criminals,” as J. Heinrich Arnold would write. The Advent and Passion of Jesus are inextricably linked. Edith Stein reminded me that all of the mysteries within the Christian faith are linked together. If one takes the trip to Bethlehem, then Golgotha surely must follow. We move from crib to cross. From humility to utter shame.
A dark side to Christmas must be tied to the brilliance of the season. While we can appreciate the lights and candles, we must acknowledge that it is the darkness that only adds to their glorious nature. The lights point us towards hope and brighter days.
If candles in a window and lights hung on a tree offer beauty and hope, how much more so with the coming of the Son of God? John states in the prologue to his gospel account that Jesus was the life of humanity, the very light of God. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Indeed the light shines forth in both the bleak midwinter and in the depravity of the human condition. The light of the world came forth to alter our situation and to bring redemption to our sinful reality. As the carol ‘Silent Night’ beautifully depicts,
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
God is with us. Amen.
“Therefore, relying on this pledge, we trust that we are sons of God, for God’s natural Son fashioned for himself a body from our body, flesh from our flesh, bones from our bones, that he might be one with us. Ungrudgingly, he took our nature upon himself to impart to us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.”
Institutes on the Christian Religion
Calvin penned these words to remind people that God indeed understands our lot. He know what it is like to hurt, grieve, suffer, and be rejected. The Second Person of the Trinity humbled Himself and became Incarnate, becoming a man. This God-Man, as it were, bore all of our similarities and weaknesses. Jesus, no doubt, became ill at times, had a sore neck and even suffered a tremendous headache. Jesus was human, and He knows what we go through even in the midst of our, at times, seemingly monotonous life.
Now, how does this correlate with Thanksgiving? I wrote this piece specifically for today because whatever we may face presently, Christ know what we are going through. We can understand and hold onto the reality that Jesus is our High Priest (as the writer to the Hebrews would suggest) that sympathizes with us. He did not sit idly by hoping that things would get better for us. Instead, the Word of God became incarnate, taking on a human body. It is almost as if God decided to roll up His sleeves and redeem His creation. Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked across ancient Palestine and experienced what fallen humanity faces.
The very Image and Son of God became man that we might become sons and daughters, indeed joint heirs of the Father. Today, let us rejoice in the fact that Jesus became man in order that we might receive what was imparted “to us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.”
Thanks be to God!