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  • WHEN GOD MOVED INTO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    “The LORD your God is in your midst,

    a mighty one who will save;

    he will rejoice over you with gladness;

    he will quiet you by his love;

    he will exult over you with loud singing.”

    Zephaniah 3:17

    The God of the universe is in the middle of your life.  If you affirm the Christian faith, you know that we claim God became man and dwelled with us.  Yet chew on the fact that throughout the history of God’s covenantal relationship with his people, “God with us” is terribly frightening.  God with us makes us quake in our shoes, because God is so unbelievably holy, big, and other.

    But then, something happened to change all of this.

    As Eugene Peterson puts it: God moved into the neighborhood.

    God experienced all that we wrestle with.  He experienced unmet desires, pain, rejection, loneliness, sorrow, and death.  Yet in his grace we are assured how he will rejoice over his children with gladness and will uplift us in much signing.  He sits with us in our pain and glories in our triumphs.

    I, for one, am so glad God moved into the neighborhood.

     

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  • HOW ADVENT AND EASTER CONNECT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him…

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made use kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory, dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

    Revelation 1:1a, 5b-6

    Christians are a people rooted in Easter — rooted in the resurrection of Jesus and rooted in the hope of the resurrection of our bodies to future glory.  However, Christians are also an Advent people.  We grasp onto the Incarnation and how God-enfleshed suffered alongside humanity.  We also cling to the hope of Christ’s Second Advent– when he will come again to right the unjust powers and principalities.  When he will send the rich and powerful away empty and fill the portion of the powerless and poor, as the Magnificat reminds us.  Until then, we wait for when he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

    Yes, as an Advent people, we wait.  We wait in humility knowing full well that God’s time is not our time.  We wait in humility knowing full well that we sound like fools, claiming for centuries that Jesus will return.  While God might have waited for the fullness of time for the Incarnation of the Word in Bethlehem centuries ago, he also waits longing for all to come to faith.

    Yet in all of this we wait.  We wait.

    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.

    __________

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  • HOPE AND UNMET EXPECTATIONS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    The Christian faith speaks into a world marked by suffering.  It also speaks into a world marked with unmet desires.  It speaks into a world marked by working harder—often for little solid gain.  It speaks into both our dark moments and in the triumphant mountain top experience.

    It speaks by confirming the words of Jeremiah by a person embodying the long hoped for longing of Jeremiah: “the LORD is our righteousness (Jer 33:16).”

    However, it is not in my righteousness that I cling to, but the righteousness of Jesus.  And he suffered in the darkness of unmet desires while thriving in righteousness.

    In Luke 13, we read Jesus’ lament,

    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

    Jesus cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22, ”Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

    Jesus experienced unmet expectations and hope in the faithfulness of God.  In fact, we’re told that he rejoices when we rejoice and weeps when we weep.  Jesus offers us remarkable hope, a hope that is tangible.  A hope that has meat on its bones.

    As the Christmas hymn, A Virgin Unspotted, relays this hope:

    A Virgin unspotted the Prophet foretold,

    Should bring forth a Saviour which now we behold,

    To be our Redeemer from Death, Hell and Sin,

    Which Adam’s transgression involved us in.

    Then let us be Merry, put Sorrow away,

    Our Saviour, Christ Jesus, was born on this day.

    As we journey through the remainder of this Advent season, sit through the hope, even if it is too dark to see.  When sorrows hit, remember God experienced our pains.  He experienced our sufferings.  Even in seasons of unmet expectations, there is a glimpse of hope in the one who experienced unrealized expectations.

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  • THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND THE KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    “and He shall reign for ever and ever…King of Kings…and Lord of Lords…Hallelujah!”

    It wouldn’t be quite the Christmas season if we didn’t hear a rendition of Handel’s famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Perhaps you heard it on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation recently or from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this tune is pretty familiar within the Western world (and rightly so!).

    But do you know where these lyrics come from?  They don’t come from Handel’s mind. They actually come from the Book of Revelation.

    Wait, that book?  Yes, that one.

    It comes in the middle of the judgments associated with the Trumpets in Revelation 11.  We read that the 7th Angel blows his trumpet at the beginning of the 3rd woe and the loud of voice of heaven exclaims,

    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”

    Why, you may wonder, would this glorious exclamation be categorized under a woe?  After all, this is the same tune that helps Clark Griswold christen his home!

    This can be considered a woe because the kingdom of this world (read: all our corporate and personal kingdoms of power, prestige, reputation, and wealth) is overshadowed by the kingdom of the Messiah.  Those who want to be kings and queens of their own “castle” will one day have their false reign overthrown, as the rightful reign of the King of Kings is made fully known.

    Yes, my friends, the kingdom of this world and all the injustice therein will be removed and the Kingdom of our Lord will be completely known.  And he shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah!

     

    (This post was originally seen on December 23, 2014)

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  • TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND THE PENDING ADVENT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    To follow up on yesterday’s post about the Hallelujah chorus, I wanted to share the musings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian that has impacted me tremendously. Bonhoeffer frequently wrote on the high cost of following Jesus, ultimately losing his life in the heroic stand against Hitler in WWII.

    Bonhoeffer writes,

    When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God’s dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. “Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!”, as the old song sings.

    It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously people trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha. We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Watch for the Light

    While the first Advent of Jesus was in a stable near Bethlehem, the second Advent of Jesus will usher in the Kingdom of God and the day of judgment.  As Handel reminds us in the Messiah, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”

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  • THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND THE KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    “and He shall reign for ever and ever…King of Kings…and Lord of Lords…Hallelujah!”

    It wouldn’t be quite the Christmas season if we didn’t hear a rendition of Handel’s famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Perhaps you heard it on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation recently or from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this tune is pretty familiar within the Western world (and rightly so!).

    But do you know where these lyrics come from?  They don’t come from Handel’s mind. They actually come from the Book of Revelation.

    Wait, that book?  Yes, that one.

    It comes in the middle of the judgments associated with the Trumpets in Revelation 11.  We read that the 7th Angel blows his trumpet at the beginning of the 3rd woe and the loud of voice of heaven exclaims,

    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”

    Why, you may wonder, would this glorious exclamation be categorized under a woe?  After all, this is the same tune that helps Clark Griswold christen his home!

    This can be considered a woe because the kingdom of this world (read: all our corporate and personal kingdoms of power, prestige, reputation, and wealth) is overshadowed by the kingdom of the Messiah.  Those who want to be kings and queens of their own “castle” will one day have their false reign overthrown, as the rightful reign of the King of Kings is made fully known.

    Yes, my friends, the kingdom of this world and all the injustice therein will be removed and the Kingdom of our Lord will be completely known.  And he shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah!

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  • THE GIFTS OF THE MAGI UNPACKED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy, Theology

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    I was going through my Feedly reader and read a very interesting post by fellow blogger Thomas Mason.  In his post last week, Thomas unpacked a very practical question that is likely to come up during the Christmas holiday about the gifts of the Three Magi:

    Have you ever really dug in deep to discover the meaning of the three gifts that the Magi brought with them as they set out to find the Christ-child to worship Him? Why did they even bring anything at all? What’s the significance of the gifts? We kind of know what gold is, but why give such a thing to a baby? And what about the other two gifts? What is frankincense? What is myrrh? Why give gifts to a baby that He couldn’t use at that particular time in His life? Why not give Him something He could enjoy right away?

    I encourage you to go over and read Thomas’ thorough explanation of the three gifts. Here is the wrap up to whet your learning appetite!

    To summarize, gold was a gift for a King; frankincense was a gift for Jesus’ divinity, and myrrh was a spice for His burial. Even though these gifts provided financial resources for the round trip Mary and Joseph took to Egypt, they were symbolic of the future roles of Jesus.

    If the Magi brought these gifts from the East to Jesus, I wonder what gifts we might bring to Jesus this year. Perhaps he calls us to bring our entire world to him.

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  • GOD DOESN’T STAND STILL WHEN WE COME TO A STANDSTILL

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    When we think of Advent and Christmas, often times we might have a tendency to skip over large chunks of Luke 1.  But the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist needs to be included if we are to see the story of Jesus within the broader narrative of Scripture.

    (If you haven’t read that passage, I would encourage you to do so here.)

    Karl Barth would describe the story of Zechariah, the 9 month mute, in this way and he invites us into the story,

    So now here we stand, simultaneously deaf and mute like Zechariah.  Ah yes, we only want to pretend to be next to him.  In spite of his unbelief, he was still a herald of Advent, one who waited for God.  Otherwise the angel would not have spoken with him.  Nor would he have become the father of John the Baptist.  When everything came to pass which he could not believe and could not express, then he was suddenly able to believe and speak.  For God does not stand still when we come to a standstill , but precedes us with his deeds and only waits so that we can follow.  And so we will accept—even with all that we cannot say, and with all that we have not yet heard—that we are also heralds of Advent.  We will finally believe, and then we will also hear. 

    -Karl Barth, Watch for the Light

    Be encouraged, because God does not stand still when we come to a standstill.

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  • WHAT BELIEVING IN JESUS MEANS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    Have you ever seen those “Believe” bumper stickers or vague, kitschy church signs about belief and wondered what they meant?  Theologian Karl Barth succinctly unpacks what believing in Jesus means for us today:

    Believing is not something as special and difficult or even unnatural as we often suppose.  Believing means that we listen to, we listen as God’s speech.  What moves us is not just our own concern, but precisely God’s concern.  What causes me worry, that is God’s worry, what gives me joy is God’s joy, what I hope for is God’s hope.  In other words, in all that I am, I am only a party to that which God thinks and does.  In all that I do it is not I, but rather God who is important.  Imagine if everything were brought into this great and proper connection, if we were willing to suffer, be angry, love and rejoice with God, instead of always wanting to make everything our own private affair, as if we were alone.

    Just imagine if we were to adapt everything that gratifies and moves us into the life and movement of God’s Kingdom, so that we personally are, so to speak, taken out of play.  Simply love!  Simply hope!  Simply rejoice!  Simply strive!  But in everything, do it no longer from yourself, but rather from God!  Everything great that is hidden in you can indeed be great only in God.

    Karl Barth, Watch for the Light

    Trusting in Jesus more than just putting something down on your resume, it has real world impact.

    How does believing in Jesus make sense to you?

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  • LONGING FOR THE ADVENT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy, Theology

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    I find myself every year longing for Christmas decorations, lights, gingerbread, and Christmas carols.  I succumb occasionally to the temptation to tune into my “Classical Christmas” station on Pandora from time to time and revel in the great music of the season.

    Longing for Advent to show up is natural, after all there are two purposes for this season within the Church.  One is to build the longing for the Messiah and prepare our hearts for Christmas.  The other purpose is to acknowledge and prepare our hearts for the 2nd Advent– the return of Jesus.

    The Return of the King, when all will be righted, when sorrow and pain will forever be removed and the glorious Kingdom will be realized.  It makes my heart sing thinking about the incredible hope!  The Return of Jesus is what our hearts long for ultimately when we long for Advent.

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