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.
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…
Have you ever been told by someone that you weren’t living a “victorious Christian life?” How about you need to claim certain promises or live by the philosophy of an author that start with O- and ends in -steen? The unfortunate news for these philosophizers is that the Christian life is not all marked by pleasant roads and pitstops. No, sometimes there is struggle.
Even Jesus had times of tremendous peace (think about the small revivals where he healed people in Galilee) and tremendous turbulence. Jesus dealt with pain and sorrow, and I don’t have to refer to the crucifixion to make this point. Jesus stood on a hill by Jerusalem and cried for the city to listen to their prophets and return to God. He wept on the road to Lazarus’ tomb. He no doubt suffered the sting of rejection by his family and neighbors in Nazareth!
In this life we will face both good and bad. The poet George Herbert puts it this way,I will complain, yet praise; I will bewail, approve: And all my sour-sweet days I will lament, and love.
Friends, if you have not suffered in some capacity, you will. But cling to the one who is well acquainted with sorrows, for he will strengthen your legs and lighten your weary load.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
If God is for us who could be against us? When I hear this promise, I instinctively shout “YES!” But when I’m in the midst of trial and turbulent storms that is quite a different story!
It’s all too easy to be triumphant when all is well, but the heart of the Christian faith is that God loves us so much that he would even be subjected to death on a cross for us. The promises of God are rooted in the full extent of Jesus’ passion.
He went to his unjust execution with you in mind.
Because this demonstrates God’s character we can be sure that the other promises will ring true. He will give us all things based on this reality.
Pretty wild, huh?
I asked this question last week, trying to process through a season of darkness. It seems as if this question reveals itself over and over again, and I was surprised to discover this question repeating itself in the pages of Scripture.
Let me ask you, how many people lived to see their dreams realized?
Did Moses enter into the Promised Land?
Did David ever see the construction of a temple?
Did Abraham ever see his descendants flourish?
It is true, there are stories where Joshua leads the people of Israel into the Promised Land. We do read that Solomon, David’s son, builds the temple too, and that even an elder of Israel, Simeon, sees Jesus before he dies. But for every great story of great triumph, there are so many stories of seeming defeat. For every conquering hero, there is a story that ends with hope among the shadows.
One thing that I’ve discovered is that not every road leads to immediate glory. Not every road leads into the promised land this side of glory. Some roads lead into chaos, while others lead through sorrow.
Don’t believe me? Look no further than the road Jesus took.
Even the road the Son of God travelled on went through capital punishment and shame. For the Son of Man, the cold grip of abandonment and shame appeared before the glorious, earth shaking event of the Resurrection.
I take great comfort in the knowledge that seeds sown in tears will be reaped with joy. For as the Son of Man was vindicated on Easter morning, so too will the follower of Jesus be vindicated at the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Today I have the privilege of guest posting over at The Scenic Route about the current stage of my story. Here is what you’re in for if you jump onto the scenic route:
Does your story have a theme?
Last year this question came up to me from a blog post I read over at The Scenic Route and it made me retrospective (imagine that!). Since 2013 was an incredibly disruptive year with the end of seminary, a new baby, a new job, and a cross state move, the theme that came to mind was hope in uncertainty.
There were points in that chapter where I simply had no idea how we would survive, where money would come from, and when stress would be reduced. Have you ever been there?
Check out the thrilling conclusion here. See you there!
There are a few times that I read a column or blog post and it makes me stop. I stop because I’m confronted and the piece calls me to a new window of understanding. Such an article by New York Times columnist David Brooks was forwarded my way by a colleague and it shaped the thought process of my day.
I began reading through The Art of Presence and had to stop on my way through (If you haven’t read it yet, please go and do it now). The words of wisdom washed over me because I saw myself in it. I saw how I often used well intentioned yet idiotic phrases to “comfort” others. I saw myself in it because I have been on the receiving end of painful good intentioned phrases. Being told “God’s will” in a text message from a friend while your grandfather is dying in front of you is not helpful.
Don’t get me wrong, sound theology is helpful in a lifetime friendship. I’ve found that reading aloud the Psalms at the bedside of my dying grandparents comforted me more than a profound passage from the best theologians. Calvin, Wright, and Luther root me in the faith, but in times of darkness simply hearing the laments and hope amid despair found in the Psalter were enough.
Here’s what needs to happen amid tragedies: show up when someone is in pain.
Bring them a favorite drink or a comforting candy bar. Show up and cry with them, you don’t have to share anything profound. Weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. Even for those who have a deep and abiding relationship with Christ we still need to have the space to mourn significant life events.
I have no idea what it is like to lose a child, and I hope I never have to bury Lucy in a grave. Thus I cannot say “I know what you’re going through” with someone who lost a child. That’s why the art of presence is about being there and not comparing or trying to make sense of tragedy is not helpful. Instead, show up.
I hope you and I take heart with Paul as we aim to “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep.”
How do you walk with others in times of despair?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?——
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 364-370). Kindle Edition.