Renewing Advent: Rescue is on the Way

“Christmas has become cozy.
Advent calls us to stay awake.”
—N.T. Wright

The forgotten season of Advent is upon us. What’s this “Advent,” you say? Well, it’s akin to Christmas but much bigger — and better — I say. Advent is a forgotten season because in the Christian Church around the globe we know Easter is a big deal, even though it moves around from year to year, can vaguely remember there’s something to give up during Lent (was it all sugar or just chocolate or do we give up unforgiveness?), and Pentecost sounds like a party with a delicious potluck.

Advent: Rescue is on the WayBut why Advent, and why not just call it Christmas-time, or even more broadly, “Happy Holidays”?

Well, let me say this at the outset: I’m not outraged when someone neglects to say “Merry Christmas,” or when a certain purveyor of caffeinated beverages takes those words off their red cups in order sell more of those red cups.

Christmas is so special, and the Holidays are “Holy Days” because JESUS is so special. He alone is Holy, pure, whole. That’s why we care, and He’s the reason for the season. His image is meant to be impressed upon every aspect of our lives. No gift or purchase can do that for me; I must enter into God’s Story and discover the meaning of Jesus personally.

I won’t rail against consumerism (much) here, nor rant about how we should have more Christmas cheer and be making more merry. I will say this: I long to embrace and embody the kind of Hope I find in the great promises of God. Advent is a reminder that I don’t often do this, and how we can again. More than one message, Advent is an unfolding narrative — the whole of Scripture and all of history — coming together in the incarnation of Jesus. This God-Man moved into the neighborhood and made God’s promises real. For us. To us.

So for this season of six weeks, we as a church family and as families within the church will join with our brothers and sisters around the globe keeping watch and waiting for the coming (again) of our King Jesus. Advent means “arrival” or “coming,” derived from the Latin word Adventus. So, as we celebrate His arrival through an unexpected and miraculous birth, we keep in mind His second coming, for the Son of Man will come again to wrap up the scrolls of history and right every wrong. And much wronging there has been! Jesus will make every sad thing untrue (as our favorite children’s Bible reminds).

Our efforts this season will be guided by the Advent Catechism 1, a helpful resource for all ages. Each Sunday from November 29th to January 3rd we will dive into the rich themes of the Advent Story, for all ages of Renew Kids and the main sermon teaching as well. I’m excited! 2Advent Catechism

Why six weeks? There’s much more to be discovered about this season 3, but suffice to say that the weeks leading up to Christmas Day cannot tell the whole story. There’s the travels of the Magi to come and behold the newborn King, on the day known as Epiphany (celebrated on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016). Technically, it’s really four weeks of Advent, followed by two weeks of Christmas.

Here’s the plan of emphases we’ll follow, each Sunday kicking off a new week:

11/29 (wk 1) A Distant Promise
12/6 (wk 2) Silence Broken
12/13 (wk 3) Hope Dawning
12/20 (wk 4) Beyond Belief
12/24 (Christmas Eve gathering @ 5 PM @ the Revival Building)
12/27 (wk 5) An Unlikely Rescuer
1/3/16 (wk 6) The Longing (+ Benediction)

Each week’s entry in the Advent Catechism has a story centered on that theme, bringing to light the promises of God and hopes of His people. All are encouraged to READ, MEMORIZE, CHAT, and PRAY. This four-fold pattern helps us remember well God’s remedies for what aches our souls. And it’s a helpful way to invest time around the dinner table.

This first week we honed in on the first lesson of Advent: “A Distant Promise.” With five responsive lines of biblical history we see God’s promises becoming a clearer reality:

Will you join us for Advent?

Advent is an invitation to ache with the longings of the world by believing that the incarnation of the Son of God is the solution to all of our problems. It’s rare to hear about a problem in today’s world that does not have a promising human-made solution, only to realize that today’s solutions will inevitably create tomorrow’s problems. On and on it goes, and without God and the Hope He brings by entering the Story, we will be left to our own devices.

Let us keep focus upon the coming of Jesus our King. He comes in unexpected ways, disrupting history, illuminating God’s promises, waking us up to the stunning reality of His promises.

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

—Ephesians 5:13-14

Advent Catechism

  1. Available for purchase in print ($15) or to download as a PDF ($10). Email hello@Godrenews.us to get your copy.
  2. There are many more helpful guides to the Advent season. My friend Tyler Braun has sound guidance on embracing and entering Advent, some of Bonhoeffer’s writings on Christmas and Advent have been edited for us, and I find that in every season the Mosaic Bible (NLT) helps me return to gospel roots each week of the year.
  3. See Justin Holcomb’s summary “What is Advent?”
 

Advent is upon us: Let There Be Light!

Once upon a time, there was utter and complete darkness and cold. Nothing alive. And God spoke, the first spoken words recorded in history — “Let there be light.”

These four little words, the first words, changed everything, right? The Light shined in the darkness & nothing remained the same.

At just the right time, after centuries of silence, God spoke again: His Word became the Light of the World, the bright Son Jesus who brings light and life to all things.

Jesus is the Light of the World. He isn’t a soft candlelight that hides our blemishes and makes everything look lovely. It isn’t Christmas lights that just give a nice cheer to the season. He is a blinding, blazing, burning light, that reveals. He doesn’t just cast a flattering glow. He reveals all things. Both the beauty and the brokenness.

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Message title: Let There Be Light!
Week 1 of Advent (Sunday, December 8th)
Scripture: John 1:1-5; Isaiah 8:11-22; 9:1-7

 

Hail to God’s Son, the one & only Theanthropic One.

“The Incarnation,” a video spoken word piece from Odd Thomas:
The Incarnation (Video below)

“What good is the Christmas story if it’s void of God and His glory?
What’s the worth of the words ‘peace on earth’ if it’s not rooted in the Truth of Christ’s birth?
What benefit is it for us to discuss the joy of the season unless we fix our hearts and minds on the principal reason that Christ has atoned for us?
See Christmas is more than just a story of a baby born in a manger,
More than a poor fiancé engaged to a humble virgin teenager,
More than a Magi, more than gold, frankincense and myrrh.
It’s more than a narrative of a Nativity scene, it was so much more that occurred.
It’s the coming of the Messiah, the fulfillment of all Old Testament promises,
The prophecy of the suffering Servant and all of His accomplishments,
The second Person of the Trinity commissioned to abandon His position,
And literally set aside the independent exercise of His attributes in full submission,
The Word manifested in the flesh, the fullness of God expressed,
The self-emptying Jesus poured out at the Father’s request,
The image of the invisible God, the radiance of the Father’s fame,
Holy, but retained His humanness to empathize with our pain.
He was unjustly crushed, chastised, cursed and shamed,
Mocked and adorned with a crown of thorns, disgraced but He still faced the grave,
To fulfill the Father’s will, to come and die in the place of sinful men,
And receive the fully fury of God’s judgment upon Himself instead,
The most monumental mark for mankind made in human history,
Wretched sinners being made righteous only by the wounds of the risen King,
The condescending of a holy God made in the likeness of men,
A child born to be the Savior that would save the world from their sins,
The offspring of the virgin’s womb,
The Christ, God’s own Son, fully God, yet fully man, the only theanthropic One.
This is what we celebrate, Christ the newborn King, veiled in flesh, the Godhead seen,
Hailed incarnate Deity.”

Odd Thomas – The Incarnation (Spoken Word) from Humble Beast Records on Vimeo.

Closing quote: Continue reading

 

The Story behind today.

St. Paul’s Arts ‘n’ Kids tell the story of Christmas (2010). (Presented at GLOW Carols by Glowstick on 12 December 2010 at Vector Arena, Auckland.)

Now consider the implications of The Incarnation, spoken word by Odd Thomas:

“Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.”
—Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

Enjoy a special FREE Christmas song, written and sung by Aaron Sternke: “Our God, Here to Save Us

The paradox of Jesus come as the God-Man shows the great creativity of our Creator, and the lengths to which He has gone to bring us back to Himself:

”He was poor, that he might make us rich.
He was born of a virgin that we might be born of God.
He took our flesh, that he might give us His Spirit.
He lay in the manger, that we may lie in paradise.
He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven….

That the ancient of Days should be born.
that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle….
that he who rules the stars should suck the breast;
that a virgin should conceive;
that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made,
that the branch should bear the vine,
that the mother should be younger than the child she bare,
and the child in the womb bigger than the mother;
that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God

Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven

If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us.

Behold love that passeth knowledge!”

—Thomas Watson

 

God With Us: the end of fear. [a reflection on the good news of Christmas]

Willamette lights by Jordan Chesbrough

Have you ever felt afraid? Even in the happiest of times, fear can haunt our hearts, nagging, keeping us from experiencing true joy and peace.

What if I lose my job? Did I get the present I hoped for? Why was my friend acting mean to me? Why wasn’t I invited to the party? Will I make the team? Will I get accepted? Will he always love me? Will we have enough? Will I be healed?

As you read the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2, you’ll find angels appearing three times, messengers from God sent from heaven to give the world wonderful news about the Savior Jesus Christ. The angels appeared to a man named Zechariah, a girl named Mary, and a group of shepherds in Bethlehem. Each was occasion for celebration, for the angels brought the greatest news the world would ever hear. But do you know what happened each time the good news came?

Those who heard were afraid.

Zechariah was afraid (1:12). Mary was afraid (1:19). The shepherds were afraid (2:9).

And all three times the angels spoke these words:

“Do not be afraid.”

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” —Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

These heavenly messengers were the first to declare the Message of Christmas — that God so loved us that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will never die but will have eternal life.

Christ is the end of fear for all who believe. Why? Because Christ conquered the source of fear. He triumphed over sin and death, trampling Satan once and for all, delivering us from evil and delivering us into the God’s glorious Kingdom. But sometimes—just like Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds—we can actually be afraid of the message of Christ. We can be afraid of really trusting Him. What will He make me do? we wonder. But Christianity isn’t primarily about what God asks us to do but what God has already done.

What has God done? He has loved us.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him…. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” —1 John 4:9, 18 (NIV)

As you welcome Christ in your hearts and home this Christmas His perfect love will cast out all fear. (You know who wasn’t afraid in the story? The angels. Perfect love does cast our fear.)

Look to Him and hear His words, “Do not fear, only believe.” No need to fear; God is with us.

Merry Christmas.

For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.
The government will rest on His shoulders.
And He will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

—Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

Reflection questions for discussion:

  • When were you afraid this year? How did you respond when overcome with fear?
  • What are you afraid of today?
  • Is there any aspect of that coming year that makes you feel afraid?
  • How does Christ’s presence remove that fear?
 

Grace and Fullness we have received.

Re-post: originally written 24 Dec 2009 at deTheos.com.

Wonder what Jesus looks like?

We don’t know. One day we shall see Him as He is, and become like Him (1 John 3:2). (Doubt He looks like the blue-eyed, blond-haired version sold here in the States as “Jesus junk,” that is, as trinkets.) Yet, we do have some clues as to what He is like. His character shines through brighter than His physical appearance. He’s full of compassion (Matthew 9:36: σπλαγχνίζομαι = moved with compassion), which is much deeper than mere emotion. More broadly, He’s full of grace and truth. He is the living embodiment of Grace, and Truth became a Person. Grace is meant to be experienced, truth intended to be known in the same way. We are to “receive” them as we receive Him. God’s grace never fails, and as wholly true He is completely faithful. (He’s not like us.)

Yet, He became like us. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in the Gospel of John, first chapter, verses 14 & 16. It reads:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

In His incarnation, Jesus stepped down into our world, showing us the worth of God in real-time. Someone has said the Incarnation is “deity for dummies.” God made Himself obvious and visible. Jesus was overflowing with the two essential qualities of perfect humanity: grace and truth. Those twin perfections remind us of God’s essential character: “steadfast love [Heb. hesed] and faithfulness [Heb. ’emet]” as revealed about 1,500 years prior in Exodus 34:6 (cf. Exodus 33:18–19). Moses asked to see God in all His glory. Yet the great patriarch was only  able to see the back side of God’s presence passing by. Here in Jesus we see God making Himself known as a person. To be known, experienced, treasured and loved. If God is a theory or His Son simply a business transaction to get us to Heaven, we we’ll miss everything in between. This relationship of love is founded on endless grace and rock-solid truth. God intends Jesus to be sufficient for our failures and sweeter than our failures. He is Grace & Truth in action, making life worth enduring until the end. The Triune God enjoys a fullness that spilled over into this world.

A few years back pastor John Piper wrote about these Scriptures and the Incarnation in a short article on these verses (read the entire thing here). Here are some highlights:

  • …the one from whose fullness I am being drenched with grace is the Word that was with God and was God (John 1:1-2), so that his fullness is the fullness of God—a divine fullness, an infinite fullness;
  • …this Word became flesh and so was one of us and was pursuing us with his fullness—it is an accessible fullness;
  • …when this Word appeared in human form, his glory was seen—his is a glorious fullness;
  • …this Word was “the only Son from the Father” so that the divine fullness was being mediated to me not just from God, but through God—God did not send an angel but his only Son to deliver his fullness;
  • …the fullness of the Son is a fullness of grace—I will not drown in this fullness but beblessed in every way by this fullness;
  • …this fullness is not only a fullness of grace but of truth—I am not being graced with truth-ignoring flattery; this grace is rooted in rock-solid reality.

As I savor this illumination of Christ’s fullness, I hear Paul say, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). I hear him say, “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). And I hear him say, “In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Can we see how deeply that God’s glory resides in Jesus? He intends us to seek Him in that one place alone: in Christ. Piper continues:

Paul prays that we would experience Christ’s fullness. Not just know about it, but be filled with it. Here is the way I hear him praying for me:

That I “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

The “fullness of God” is experienced, he says, as we are given the “strength to comprehend” the love of Christ in its height and depth and length and breadth—that is, in its fullness. This is remarkable: The fullness of God is the spiritual apprehension (experience) of the fullness of the love of Christ. This love is the grace and truth that fills the Son of God and pours out on us.

Experiencing the fullness this Christmas. Pray you are as well.

 

Keep the X in Xmas.

It seems popular in recent years to bemoan the fact that CHRISTMAS is often truncated to X-mas (or Xmas) in written communication. “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” is the rallying cry. I agree. Keep Christ in everything. Everyday. Always. Not just from the day after Thanksgiving until the New Year. Nor only as a Baby in a seasonal nativity scene.

It may be helpful to take a step back and realize what that “X” stands for.

X marks the spot where God’s glory was revealed, on the cross. Every time I see Xmas I think of the Cross. More to the grammatical point, X is the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter for Christos, which is Jesus’ title: He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He’s the true human, the God-Man who came to rescue us from sin, death and Satan (and ourselves). It seems that many of us need rescuing from ourselves even more now.

I’m not sure there really is a culture war over “X” instead of “Christ.” It’s the other instead-of’s that we need to war against: those idols that steal our joy and captivate us from fully following Christ. What is ultimate to you? What do you build your life upon?

While about 20% celebrate Christmas (or Xmas) as a secular holiday, I wonder if the key is to bring the Gospel back in the forefront for the 3/4 of us who claim Christmas as a religious event.

  • Who is Jesus?
  • Why did He come?
  • What does it mean to follow Him?

Jesus is the Good News. He brings us the resources to look past ourselves, not be offended by those who do not know God, and to respond with compassion and grace — and in creative ways in keeping with our being made in the image of God. Americans know why we Christians are outraged at the X instead of Christ. Do they also know why we think Jesus is a big deal? Do they see His life portrayed through ours? Do we make them want to know what the X is all about?

To broaden the discussion, I find that having a shared season of “Happy Holidays” is a great antidote to the otherwise break-neck pace of our culture.

If Jesus is special grace (John 1:14-16), then the pause in American society of this week and next is common grace. Most people have time off, get to be with family, and are simply nicer to be around. Even with “Happy Holidays” and “Xmas,” it’s like we all have a headstart on conversations. Those terms may not be a simple pathway to getting my views heard, but it is an easy pathway to valuing people, slowing down, asking questions, and even challenging assumptions.

People generally don’t care about my personal relationship with Jesus. They do care how my life reflects Him.

Because of the Cross and who Christ is, I say keep the X in Xmas.

————

For a little background on how X represents Christ, we can quote R.C. Sproul:

“The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”



Image credit: “In the key of X” by Miskan

Re-post: originally written 23 Dec 2009 at deTheos.com.