Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
The nations raged,
but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
There are times when I forget about the big things. I choose to become consumed with material needs and perpetual passive consumption. It’s not that these things are unimportant or that I should never think through small daily matters, God truly does care for our needs. But I become fixated on them, where I simply cannot place my mind on other things.
It is there in that place where the words of Revelation cry forth as crisp as the December air. The chorus of heaven sings forth,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
It is through these moments when I am reminded that evil will be crushed, oppression shall cease, sickness shall be rooted out, and death will die. Life will flourish eternally in the renewed heaven and earth, for the “destroyer of the earth” will itself be destroyed. Cancer, war, famine, malaria, and hatred will be gone forever. For “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
What brings you out of living only for today?
Think about your favorite story.
Great stories hardly are about trivial matters, often they are about something much deeper: vanquishing evil, finding love, choosing forgiveness, or celebrating life. There are things worth fighting for and there are things worth dying for.
In the story that started before the words “In the beginning” was even placed on a parchment, there was love. And out of this love, the Trinitarian dance, a grand story began. Forged from the fires of supernovas, slowly the universe took shape and life would take root on this planet. The Word, as John wrote in his gospel account, brought forth creation long ago. But somewhere things went wrong, as Adam and Eve brought sin and death into this story. Humanity needed a way back from the path of death to the way of life.
Athanasius would capture this way of life, pointing his readers to the Word who became flesh. He pointedly wrote,
it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. 
While humanity was broken “in sin and error pinning,” the Word became flesh and chose to seek after the lost.
At the core of Advent lies the message of hope: those who were lost can now be found. Through the first Advent of Jesus, we are saved, “for with his blood mankind he hath bought,” and in his Second Advent, he will put the world to rights.
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 74-79). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
The season begins. No, not Christmas, I’m talking about Advent.
As we enter into the period Christians call Advent, this humble blog will seek to remind people about the hope found in the arrival of Jesus, swaddled in a manger. It will also hold onto the future, second advent of Jesus, found in the longing for his return. I realize that a lot of people do not understand what Advent is apart from the chocolates found behind each day of the Advent calendar. Growing up in a Christian church, I never uncovered the richness of this day until years later and hope to unpack this more clearly here.
Advent serves as a preparation period for Christians, pointing them to the Incarnation, when God became man and dwelt among us. Tuesdays will center on Jesus’ earthly ministry, looking back through the Gospel of John. Wednesdays will be centered on the classic work by the Fourth Century giant Athanasius and his work On The Incarnation. Thursdays will then close out the week with writings centered on the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ.
Usually the best place to start with a story is at the beginning. At the start of the Lord of the Rings epic, the film lets us in on the beginning roots of the tale. It shows us an ancient battle that pitted the forces of light against those of darkness. Here in the Gospel of John, we are given a glimpse of a beginning, a time before time even began. In the beginning was the Word, and this Word was with God and He was God.
This is really tough to grasp: before time began and before any sort of Big Bang, there was God. And God did not dwell all by his lonesome, instead he existed in a relationship called (as Christian theologians explain) Trinity. God existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three in one and one in three.* But while we can speak about Him from a philosophical point of view, God decided to reveal himself to humanity. He revealed himself to us through the stories we find in the Bible. He spoke to people like Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah as found in Scripture. However, he didn’t stop there; instead he chose to reveal himself to us through Jesus, when God became man.
John captures this dynamic through his account of Jesus, relating to his readers that the glory of God is found in Jesus the Messiah. That Jesus has made God known to us (1:18) and is in fact equal to the Father (5:18).
Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14) so that God could be made known to us. The one who spoke the universe into existence with an explosive Word is also the same one who brings light to men and women. His life shone in the darkness and “the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5).
The same love that so many feel toward Jesus can also be found in the Father, for Jesus points us to him. Through the Advent of Christ, we are given unprecedented access to God and subsequently are made new by the working of the Holy Spirit.
I know there’s a lot of Trinitarian stuff floating around here, but the one thing I want to make clear is that Christ came to make God known to us more fully.
*A nice explanation of the Trinity can be found here in Christianity Today.
On Christmas Day, I want to leave us with two pieces. Chew on these two pieces and I wish you a Merry Christmas.
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Forunto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 ButMary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Have you ever waited for something? Have you ever sat in your chair, waiting for something to come to fruition? A flight to board, a proposal for marriage, a job offer, or a long expected call from a friend? Unless your superhuman power is patience, most of us get a little weary from the waiting game.
Now with that impatience in mind, let’s turn to the song above. Israel was under domination for years. They experienced empire after empire, new king after new king as they waited. They waited under the rule of foreign leaders. Just imagine being promised liberation for years and it never comes to fruition. Revolutions failed and freedom fighters lost their battles, and you were still in your occupied homeland. Then finally, at just the right time, a prophet was born. This above song came from Zechariah, a priest who fathered John the Baptizer. John would be the one who would go before the Messiah, he would prepare the way “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” John would prepare the way for the one who would give light to those sitting in darkness and guide those to the way of peace.
Read over those verses again, waiting for the long expected Messiah. Waiting for your issues to be resolved. Bring those things to God. Bring those frustrations to him. Light a candle and pray to him, bringing those longings to God in an open and honest way.
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.
What have you been waiting for?
I discovered something recently. I discovered the power of a simple prepositional phrase. Admittedly, that phrase is a little odd when you first hear it. It is a little odd because we don’t speak like this too often. And that phrase is something I try to orient my life around, a newfound reality, if you will. That phrase is “in Christ.”
Jesus gave an analogy once that he was the vine and we are the branches. The branches, we are told in John, will only survive if they are connected to the vine. The branches will only survive if they are in the vine. It’s like the Christmas tree you might have in your family room (unless you are an artificial tree person, than a pox upon your household!). That tree was cut down in the recent past and was brought into the lot for the sale. The tree is no longer connected to the roots that nourished it. While it might be a gorgeous tree for the month of December, towards the end of the month it will surely begin to dry out. No matter what you try to do, that tree will look horrible come January.
The same is true for the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Christ. In my own personal experience, if I remove myself from the source of life, I will begin to dry up. Yet, if I am in God’s Word, if I pray, if I choose to follow him daily, then my life will take a tremendously different route. Hear me though, this will not bring a free pass in terms of suffering. It will not remove me not give me an easy life, there is still great sin and suffering in this world, and we wait for the return of the King to right the injustice completely (see Why Christmas is a Dangerous Holiday).
Christianity today had a great article along these lines. Sarah Lebhar Hall reminded me of the ultimate end of being rooted in Christ:
“Jesus wants us to know the ending of our story. Otherwise, the terror of the unknown would distract us from living life to the fullest. Because we are united to Christ, when we look at him, we see the end of our story. We do get to come home safely. That changes our experience of this ‘mission’ that is our lives. We can live them joyfully, as adventure stories and not tragedies in the making.”
Dear reader, if you are in Christ, you do know the ending of the story. Those who have been given to Christ will not slip through the fingers of his nail-pierced hand. You will be preserved and will be raised to glory when Christ comes again in his second Advent. We get to go home safely and we will be preserved. For those who are in Christ have a hope of glory and this hope will not fail.
What have you discovered recently?
The master of stopping the spin, Bill O’Reilly, made the statement on his show recently that Christianity was not a religion but was a philosophy. Previously I have corrected dear Evangelical friends who would state that Christianity was not a religion but was only a relationship. So for the purposes of this post, I think that O’Reilly misses the point tremendously and veers into the errors of the Deists and Thomas Jefferson. Let me unpack that.
It sounds like O’Reilly believes that Christianity is a philosophy*, a set of ideas you can live by and teachings you can enjoy apart from the Lordship of Christ in one’s life. I have caught his show in the past, and it would be fair to say that he follows a more deistic understanding of Christianity- Jesus is a good moral teacher. I know I wouldn’t be saying anything offensive if I suggest that you know of someone like this, someone who might favor a buffet approach to spirituality or a stylized Jesus idea. It’s like the guy in a buffet line of ideas, where he might be tempted to take a piece of “Golden Rule” chicken, a little bit of “turn the other cheek” casserole, and a slice of pie in the sky “heaven is for everybody” for dessert. He could leave the whole sin, judgment, atonement, and other not-so-sweet dishes for those blasted fundies behind him.
Christmas is a dangerous holiday because it is more than a nice idea, something to brighten your day. It is dangerous because the birth of Christ is the beginning of these Last Days. The birth of Jesus is dangerous because it marks the Kingdom of God, spreading into the Kingdom of Darkness. Or as Handel reminded us in his Messiah, “The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”
Christmas is also a comforting holiday because it recalls the arrival of God in the flesh, and he will one day come again in glory. That same infant in the cute nativity scenes, lived, died, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the world and to right the injustice that taints it.
As Michael Horton wrote in a recent post at the White Horse Inn concerning the O’Reilly comments, “Christmas is a wonderfully comforting holiday. In this era between his two advents, Christ is restraining Satan by his Word and Spirit, drawing sinners into the safety and joy of his banquet hall. Yet it is also a dangerous holiday, especially for those who defend it only by using it, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5-7). Are we really sure that we want to celebrate this birth? Are we glad when pass by the nativity scene on the city lawn, defended as an American ‘philosophy’?”
Advent and Christmas is a religious holy-day, not just a philosophy, and I hope many in the American Church will live in that reality.
*Christianity has had a positive impact socially, in terms of values transmitted to society. See my post on Kicking out Nativity Scenes for more.
I wanted to post my first teaser piece in this blog’s illustrious history (cue fanfare). My seminary, Fuller Seminary, posted a piece I wrote for Advent last week. Below is a brief excerpt from the post and I hope you visit the site for the provocative conclusion.
‘Last Christmas I was listening to my Christmas station on Pandora while working on a paper for a class when I heard the beautiful music from Handel’s Messiah. Naturally, the Hallelujah chorus snapped me out of my focus and I paused to soak in the brilliance of this work. I distinctly recall the lyrics ringing in my ears, “The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” For some reason, I never really heard that line in the piece before. For some reason, the power of that lyric escaped me until that moment. So like any good Millennial, I immediately googled the lyrics to the piece. I wanted to find out what Handel wrote as lyrics for the piece, and little did I know that this was lifted more or less from Revelation. It was not penned by Handel; rather it was taken from the Word of God.’
To read more about my own Advent epiphany and how I miss the Kingdom of Our God and his Christ when it was there all along right in front of me, visit the post at Fuller Seminary’s website.
A few months ago I went to a symphony event up at the Hollywood Bowl. John Williams, the famous conductor of many movie scores, was there leading the L.A. Philharmonic. They played scores from Star Wars, E.T., Schindler’s List, and many other of his incredible works. As I was sitting there soaking in the music, my wife, the musician, told me how nerve wracking it must be to play for the composer. After all, Williams would know exactly in his head what each piece should sound like and he would lead each section to replicate it.
Unlike the musicians at the Bowl, followers of Christ do not have the luxury of knowing exactly what we ought to be doing at all times. The color of our clothing, vocational goals, and modes of transportation are all things we do not have the luxury of having written rules on what we should or should not do. We don’t have a conductor in front of us who can lead us to replicate the sound as it was meant to be heard.
Instead, Christians must follow a different life. It is like playing a piece of music from someone who has died centuries ago. It would be like playing a piece by Mozart. We do not know how exactly he might want us to sound like. Sure, the basic notes are there and some aids will be found on the original pieces. Yet, each artist must interpret the notes of Mozart to the best of their abilities. That’s why we have so many different classical CDs out there on the market from different symphonies.
Similarly, Christ followers must interpret the words of Christ and play out a life in the same spirit as the player of Mozart. We might have a general sense of direction, but ultimately it will be the Holy Spirit who will help us be more faithful to who we ought to be. It will be the Spirit’s guidance that will help us to live faithfully in accordance to the will of Christ and to walk with boldness, humbly knowing that we can be faithful in our lives. Ultimately our faith will be made sight in the second Advent of our Lord or in our passing into eternity.
So until then, dear friends, live faithfully in his grace.
Kramer: Do you ever yearn?
George: Yearn? Do I yearn?
Kramer: I yearn.
George: You yearn?
Kramer: Oh, yes. Yes, I yearn. Often I sit… and yearn. Have you yearned?
George: Well, not recently. I’ve craved. Constant craving.
(From Seinfeld “The Keys” Season 3 Episode 23)
As Cosmo Kramer would ask George Costanza, do you ever yearn? What have you intensely longed for in your life? A graduation? Grandkids, perhaps? Something that I yearn for is the second Advent. Let me unpack that.
Advent is the season in the Christian calendar (yes, dear non-denominational Christian, there is such a thing as the Christian calendar and it’s not bad) that looks to the past and to the future. It looks back at the first coming of Christ, when he was born in ancient Israel. It also looks forward to the return of Christ, when he will come again in glory and right the world. Advent is about eagerly anticipating the return of the King.
Eric Metaxas at Breakpoint commentary wrote that it is a time of reflection and repentance. It is rooted in a hope of God completely righting the world one day. It is also a thought that provokes dread. Because with Jesus comes a righteous judgment, and that is pretty unnerving!
Like Metaxas exhorted at the end of his post, I also encourage you at the start of this Advent season. Don’t let the holiday debt, consumerism, and the madness at the mall ruin the forward looking nature of this season. I encourage you, as we look to Christmas– the celebration of the birth of the long expected Messiah– and look forward to the return of the King, stay focused on Him.
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.