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  • WHEN HEAVEN PAUSED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy, Theology

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    I stumbled across this passage in my Advent devotional last week on the amazing Incarnation event and wanted to share it with you all.   The Incarnation was a miraculous event when God became man and celestial dance of heaven might have momentarily paused.  Enjoy this thought:

    Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands of joy?

    -Madaleine L’Engle

    We don’t know if there was a pause, but there must have been at least a shutter by the evil one and a joyful song from the host of heaven.

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  • IF YOU FEEL UNSETTLED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy, Story, Theology

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    Lately, I have been feeling somewhat unsettled, and I was/am not quite certain where the feeling comes from.

    Have you ever had that feeling?

    Naturally enough for me, these thoughts actually led me down the rabbit trail of wondering if this unsettled feeling is a normal thing this side of the Kingdom of God.

    I remember in seminary discussing about the fact that Christ followers are exiles and displaced people, waiting in eager expectation for the Kingdom of God to be fully manifested on earth.  After all, during Advent we pray for the return of Jesus and for the full establishment of the Kingdom.  For now, we wait in tents for the coming King and his Kingdom.

    Remember the great Hallelujah chorus found in Handel’s Messiah?  There is a wonderful line in there that rings,

    The kingdom of this world is become, 
    The kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ,
    and of his Christ,
    And he shall reign forever and ever,
    King of kings,
    and Lord of lords.

    Handel and the writer of the Revelation get it right in expressing this continued tension between the already arrival of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of God is at hand!, Jesus said in Mark 1) and the not yet complete fulfillment.  That is the tension we live in.  We wait for the Kingdom of God and his reign.  We live in the tension between two worlds– two kingdoms and we wait for the return of Jesus.

    For now, we prayerfully sing, O Come, O come, Emmanuel!

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  • AWAITING A SECOND ADVENT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy, Story

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    I use a reader during the Advent season composed of various Christian authors called Watch for the Light.  On one of the days, I was struck by a passage by J.B. Philips where he writes on our waiting for the second Advent, the Return of Jesus in all his glory,

    The New Testament is indeed a book full of hope, but we may search it in vain for any vague humanist optimism.  The second coming of Christ, the second irruption of eternity into time, will be immediate, violent and conclusive.  The human experiment is to end, illusion will give way to reality, the temporary will disappear before the permanent, and the king will be seen for who he is.  The thief in the night, the lightning flash, the sound of the last trumpet, the voice of God’s archangel—these may all be picture language, but they are pictures of something sudden, catastrophic, and decisive.  By no stretch of the imagination do they describe a gradual process.  

    I believe that the athiestic-scientifc-humanist point of view is, despite its apparent humanitarianism, both misleading and cruel.  In appearance it may resemble Christianity in that it would encourage tolerance, love, understanding, and the amelioration of human conditions.  But at heart it is cruel, because it teaches that this life is the only life, that we have no place prepared for us in eternity, and that the only realities are those that we can appreciate in our present temporary habitations…

     

  • WAITING’S OVER: TIME TO PARTY!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Athanasius, Liturgy, Wisdom Wednesday

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    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year To You

    Here, then, Macarius, is our offering to you who love Christ, a brief statement of the faith of Christ and of the manifestation of His Godhead to us. This will give you a beginning, and you must go on to prove its truth by the study of the Scriptures. They were written and inspired by God; and we, who have learned from inspired teachers who read the Scriptures and became martyrs for the Godhead of Christ, make further contribution to your eagerness to learn. From the Scriptures you will learn also of His second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when He shall come not in lowliness but in His proper glory, no longer in humiliation but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross—the resurrection and incorruptibility. No longer will He then be judged, but rather will Himself be Judge, judging each and all according to their deeds done in the body, whether good or ill.

    Athanasius

    And here we are, Christmas day.

    Advent, a time of waiting is over.  Today, we rightly celebrate the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the King.  Surprisingly, the creator of all things chose to take on a human body and came as a lowly infant.  However, if you read the gospel accounts, you might notice that he was rather different than most kings.  For years he worked as a carpenter, and then he wandered throughout the countryside of ancient Palestine preaching about the Kingdom of God.  He suffered, was crucified, and left for dead.

    Something strange happened though; according to hundreds of witnesses this Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  While I cannot go into great detail here why I believe the resurrection actually happened (see Anglican theologian N.T. Wright for more), I will say that this event changes everything.

    Don’t take it from me though, look into the Gospel accounts.  As sure as the sunrise in the morning, Jesus will return.  It might be next year, it could be in the next millennia, but the King shall return.  Dear reader, he shall return and put the world to rights.  Won’t you place your trust in him today?

    So I pray in closing with the ancient church father Maximus the Confessor,

    May all of us who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be delivered from the present delights and the future afflictions of the evil one by participating in the reality of the blessings held in store and already revealed in Christ our Lord himself, who alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit is praised by all creation. Amen

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  • WHEN GOD GIVES YOU BABY INSTEAD OF AN ARMY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Liturgy

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    Tonight we dine in hell...!

    If I can be candid with you, this year has been quite surprising and even tumultuous.  I have found that in times of turmoil I would pray that God would provide and save me from my troubles, that he would lift me up out of the pit.  I prayed that he would come and rescue me and provide peace once more.  The funny thing is that he does provide, but he often does it through ways we do not expect.

    In the time of King Ahaz, the ancient Kingdom of Judah was under threat.  The armies of Assyria came up against it and the defense of the kingdom looked futile.  Everything that once separated the Kingdom of Judah from the surrounding nations was eliminated, as idol worship of the worst kind was set up in the land.  We are told that King Ahaz even offered his son as a burnt sacrifice!

    While he messed up royally, and lead his people astray, God still spoke.  God still defended his people.

    When Ahaz needed an army, God gave him a sign.  He told him about a baby, about one called Immanuel (God is with us).  He told him about a baby that would eventually bring peace.

    With the piercing voices of a choir, we are wondrously reminded that,

    For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
    and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
     
    Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
    on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
    with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
    The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

    God was in control, even when the enemy was at the gates.  Yes, Assyria was defeated, but the larger enemy was conquered.  Sin and death itself was routed by this Son, and one day he will return in glory to put this world to rights.

    Perhaps you have been there too, when it’s tough to say whether or not God is in control.  I hope you cling to the wondrous (yet frustrating) truth that sometimes God gives us a baby instead of an army and provides for our deepest needs.

    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.

    How has God surprised you with his provision?

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  • FAR AS THE CURSE IS FOUND

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Liturgy

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    “I am in love with the green earth.”  Charles Lamb

    Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

    Revelation 22:1-5

    Growing up in a dispensationalist church, we spoke often about the end times.  We spoke about wars, rumors of war, pestilence, and famine all as signs that Jesus was coming back soon.  While the Left Behind series might have been taken as a dramatization of these last days, I never fully grasped the hope of Revelation.

    Since leaving that tradition and mindset, I have found myself gravitating to these final chapters of this book.  It became real for me when both of my grandparents were fading away on their deathbed.  I remember reading to them about the hope of the New Jerusalem and the River of Life.  After all, where else can we turn to when loved ones are so close to crossing the River Jordan?

    Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
    Let earth receive her King;
    Let every heart prepare Him room,
    And Heaven and nature sing,
    And Heaven and nature sing,
    And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

    In Christ, there is hope and there is a measure of peace in the face of loss.  The incarnation points us to this new reality, this hope that God not only made us but he also came for those who were lost.  He came not for those who believe they were never lost, instead he came for those who desperately needed to be found.

    The weeks leading up to Christmas is not just about pondering his birth, or about finding a peaceful time of year.  As much as I appreciate the great Charles Dickens, it is not just about generosity and kindness toward our fellow men and women.  In Advent, we look to the promise penned by Isaac Watts that Jesus comes to spread blessing as far as the curse of sin is found.  He comes to bless and restore the broken things of this world.

    No more let sins and sorrows grow,
    Nor thorns infest the ground;
    He comes to make His blessings flow
    Far as the curse is found,
    Far as the curse is found,
    Far as, far as, the curse is found.

    How do you see God righting the world through the return of Jesus?

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  • WHY I CLING TO HOPE IN ADVENT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Athanasius, Liturgy, Story, Wisdom Wednesday

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    We have seen that to change the corruptible to incorruption was proper to none other than the Savior Himself, Who in the beginning made all things out of nothing; that only the Image of the Father could re-create the likeness of the Image in men, that none save our Lord Jesus Christ could give to mortals immortality, and that only the Word Who orders all things and is alone the Father’s true and sole-begotten Son could teach men about Him and abolish the worship of idols But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression.

    Athanasius [1]

    In great stories, we discover that things that were once lost were found.  In Star Wars we find that a good man was lost inside of Darth Vader.  In Lord of the Rings we uncover a long lost ring that needed to be destroyed.  In It’s a Wonderful Life we find hope desperately needed to be recovered by one man.

    Like all great tales, the story that is communicated to us through Scripture has this lost and found element.  In the very beginning scenes of it we are told of a paradise that was lost.  However, while paradise was lost, hope itself was still there.  After the Fall, God offered the good news found in the protoevangelium (first gospel) of Genesis 3:15.

    The Lord God said to the serpent,

    “Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
    on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
    I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
    he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

    Christian theologians found the hope of Jesus in the tail end of that passage, seeing that Jesus would crush the enemy who caused so much suffering throughout the ages.  As Athanasius pointed out above, Jesus paid the debt of our sins and transgressions.  The lamp humanity broke was not only forgiven, but the cost was paid for by Jesus.

    In the Advent season, we look to the arrival of the One who crushed the head of evil.  Not only did he bear the sins of humanity through a brutal, torturous death naked on a cross, but he also will come again to right the world.  I find hope in the story that Jesus not only created the cosmos so long ago, but he also loves it enough to settle our account with death.  Dear reader, I hope you choose cling to this hope.

    Do you find hope in this story?

    ——

    [1] St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 364-370). Kindle Edition.

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  • PARTY WITH JESUS!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk

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    Vin

    On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

    John 2:1-11

    As we have been exploring on this blog, Advent is centered on the expectation of God revealing himself to us through Jesus.  As the writer to the Hebrews would remind us, while in the past God spoke to us through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.  Through Jesus, we see God clearer than before.

    On Tuesdays in Advent here, we have been looking at the Gospel of John and seeing how the Lord makes things known to us.  He makes God known to usHe makes ourselves known to us.  And now we see that he knows our needs.

    Looking at the passage again, the wine (not grape juice) ran out at the party.  Mary nudged Jesus into action and we see that Jesus’ first recorded miracle in John was turning water into wine.

    This action was a sign (2:11), something used to point others beyond the miracle itself.  It was used to point to the power of Jesus and to communicate that he knew the needs of those at this party.  Hosting a wedding and running out of wine within that culture was a large embarrassment to the host.  I picture the scene in my mind playing out with Jesus almost nonchalantly telling the servants what to do and then smiling when the party resumed.

    Jesus knew the needs of the people of the party and met those needs. 

    Notice how Jesus did not condemn the people at the party for drinking wine, but instead chose to provide for them.  God also provides for our needs when we drink the wine at Eucharist (Communion), recalling the life giving promise at the Last Supper.

    Dear reader, God knows our needs.  He knows our desires.  Even when it seems like he does not care, I would wager that he does.  Pour out your heart to him, pour out your desires to God.  Sometimes he seems silent or that he takes forever to respond, as I wrote elsewhere, but try it anyways.  You might be surprised at what you might find.

    Do you have a story when God provided for your needs?

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  • WHEN GOD TAKES FOREVER

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    A really really bad day

    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.

     

    Do you ever ask God to show up?  Do you ever ask him to help you and it seems as if he forgot or perhaps overlooked you?

    I wonder if the ancient people of Israel felt that way, when they found themselves in the position of perpetual invasions, exiles, and enslavement.  I wonder if they felt that way when prophets told them about a coming messiah who would come and lead them to peace.  They must have cried out to God in the darkness of their souls.

    How long, O Lord?  How long? 

    This cry, this yearning is something at the core of my heart.  How long until God acts to save his people and remove the crap that is in the world?  When will the wars, hatred, illness, and pure evil that contaminate the world be removed?  Lord come quickly.

    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.

    As a people of the Way, we wait.  We wait for Jesus to return and right the world.  We wait for the Kingdom of God to set up a permanent home, so that his will might be done on earth is it is in heaven.  In the season of Advent, we wait. 

    Come Lord Jesus, come.

    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.

    How do you stay sane during the wait?

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  • WHEN WE’RE MADE KNOWN, SCREW UPS INCLUDED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Liturgy, Story

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    Individual Protection

    “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

    John 1:43-51

    I want to be known.

    I want people to know who I am, to understand what makes me tick.  At the same time, I don’t want anybody to know me.  I don’t want to put in the effort to reveal myself to other people; simply, I would like them to know me without the painful journey of becoming vulnerable with others.

    Can anyone else relate?

    That’s why this story in John intrigues me.  It intrigues because here we see that Jesus knew Nathanael.  He knew where Nathanael’s heart was at and called him on it.  Yes, Jesus simply rolls like that.

    Last week I wrote that Jesus came to make God known to usToday, I wish to tell you that Jesus came to us to make ourselves known to us. 

    This story and Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well illustrates for us now that Jesus knows us.  He knows where we stand.  He knows what secrets we keep.  He knows what screw ups we are and the cynicisms that entangle us.  Jesus gets usAnd he still loves us anyways.

    I take comfort in the fact that the first Advent of Jesus reveals to us that we are children of God.  He came to reveal that nothing can pluck us out of the hand of God.  If we are in Christ, then he will preserve us.

    Dear reader, if you trust in Christ, you have eternal life.  Even if you have baggage, even if you are a cynical brat, there is hope for you.  There is hope and room enough for all who are called to new life.  There was hope for a man under the fig tree and a woman at a well, there will certainly be hope for you behind the laptop, smart phone, or tablet too.

    How do you make yourself known to others?

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