Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

12 Days of Christmas

12 Days of Christmas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though December 25 is past, Christmastide is just getting started. This season of the church year is also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas (yes, it appears there actually was some reason to have a song called “The 12 Days of Christmas”).  These Twelve Feast Days run from Christmas to Epiphany on January 6. For more on the Twelve Days see the Wikipedia  article.

It seems as though the Twelve Days have been largely forgotten by many, including myself. At any rate, there does seem to be value in observing all twelve days of Christmas.  As I mentioned in this post, the Christian season Advent is ignored by many, and is swallowed up by Christmas of commerce.  On Christmas day we celebrate, and then its over. As Christians, we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but if we’re honest, most of us will probably admit that the events of December 25 often draw our minds to many things beside the Incarnation.  It might be helpful if we used the slower pace that usually comes after Christmas Day for continued celebration and reflection on the coming of our God in the person of Jesus Christ.

For the advertisers Christmas is over. They now begin a new marketing strategy to keep us in their stores through the cold and dark months of January and February. For the Church, Christmas is not over – its just getting started. We take this time to rejoice in the God of our salvation and to shine as lights in witness to the Joy he has brought to the World!



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Here is Zephaniah’s vision of “God with us”

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. – Zephaniah 3:14-15 (ESV)

Zephaniah calls for rejoicing and singing when God comes to be among his people.  The birth of our Savior is about God becoming flesh  and dwelling among us us. What does it look like when God comes? The prophet says, ” he has cleared away your enemies.”  This is more than a birthday – it is the day of God’s victory over our enemies.  Our enemies of evil and death were destroyed through the death and resurrection of our Lord.

Because our enemies have been defeated, we have no need to fear evil, for the King of Israel, the Lord, is in our midst. We our not a people to be caught up with the media driven fear mongering, for we have the Prince of Peace as our Lord.  We do not rush to our guns for our security – we remember that God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Psalmist says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

But also, “he has taken away the judgments against you.” What judgments? Earlier in the passage, the prophet rails against unfaithful Israel, calling her rebellious and defiled, “she listens to no voice, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to her God.” The prophet calls for repentance and humility or else judgement: “I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.”   When God come to be with his people, he will forgive the sins of the humble, and remove the judgment against them and will leave a contrite people that will “seek refuge in the name of the LORD.”

So sing aloud and rejoice this week, God has come and he is in our midst!

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Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic

Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic (Photo credit: jakebouma)

The tragedies that occurred last week may cause us to think that Christmas should be cancelled this year. How can we celebrate in the midst of such terror? How can we be holly and jolly when such a horrible crime has been committed against small children?  How can we open gifts on Christmas morning, when there will be so many families with unopened gifts on a day of mourning?  Well, if Christmas is simply a holly jolly time of gift grabbing and consumerism, then I say it should be cancelled.

However, the above does not describe the true nature of Christmas, at least in any Christian sense. The Christian Christmas is remembrance of Christ our King coming into the world.  In fact, Christmas is about justice.  The ancient peoples in other lands had long experienced brutality, including unjust murders of innocent children. Isaiah foretold of a Servant-King who would “bring forth justice to the nations…” He also said that this man would “not grow faint on be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth. ”  Matthew quote this Old Testament prophecy and states that Jesus fulfills it.

This Christmas we must remember that though the darkness seems all so strong, Christ is the ruler still. This is why we observe advent: to remind us of our great need for a King and Savior. Though many skeptics say such tragedies are evidence that there is no God, we must remember that the final chapter has not yet been written. To give up on God is to give up on justice. The world will not be put to rights without a right judge of the earth.

According to Jesus, children are called the greatest ones in his Kingdom, and has no words but hard words for those who dare offend them. It would be better that they be drowned in the sea than for them to face the wrath of King Jesus.   Christ has come once, he will return again to sort everything out and to execute justice.   As Zechariah says in Luke’s gospel account , “He will save us from all our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”  Those who have committed atrocities will receive their due – their suicide will not result in an eternal evasion of justice. Those who have suffered unjustly, we be made whole.

This Christmas, let us remember the birth of our Savior,  and anticipate that he will come again, rendering justice to the earth, and peace to those with whom he is pleased.

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Economists  speak much of the economic impact of Christmas. But what would be the economic impact if we used this season to realign our values with those of Jesus?

Jan Brueghel the Elder, John the Baptist preaching

Jan Brueghel the Elder, John the Baptist preaching (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier in the week I posted about preparing for peace during the Advent season. John the Baptist was the prophet chosen by God to preach repentance to Israel in anticipation of the coming Messiah.   As it turn out, John was a fiery preacher who didn’t shrink back from saying what he needed to say, even calling his hearers a bunch of snakes. He is record in Luke’s gospel as saying “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”  See Luke 3:1-14

What is with the bearing fruit business?  It seems that maybe John is addressing an issue of giving lip service to repentance, without any real change of life – the “I’m-sorry. I-won’t-do-that-again” kind of repentance.  Many of the folks in Israel had come to believe that their status as “children of Abraham”(that is People of the Covenant) were automatic guarantees of God’s favor.  They perhaps went through the motions of keeping the Old Testament laws but forgot about the “weightier matters of the law” –  justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

John goes on to say, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  John is telling Israel to getting ready for the coming of the Messiah by changing her ways, and to be the light of the world that God had called her to be.  God will not accept biological relationships to the Hebrew fathers in lieu of a genuine life of obedience.  When asked for specifics, John answers his hearers by telling them to share what they have with the needy, to be honest in their business dealings, and to be content.  Its interesting that all the answers John gave in response to “What then shall we do?” involve a repentance from greed and a proper use of their possessions.

During this time of year when the world around us seems consumed with possessions, It might be a good idea to reconsider our priorities as Christians. The call for us during Advent is to bear fruit in keeping with our repentance of consumerism and greed. We must prepare for the coming of our Lord by ensuring that our economic values line up with those of Jesus as he taught us that we “cannot serve God and money.” As we prepare for the coming of our King, it would be appropriate to heed our King’s admonition: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

(All Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version )

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A vision of God

When Jesus was born his visitors, the shepherds and the wise men, were filled with a sense of awe and reverence for this new born king. Matthew records that even the wise men, royalty in their own right, “fell down and worshiped him.”

If the Advent season is preparation for God’s coming, then Isaiah chapter 6 is essential for understanding what kind of God it is that we expect to come.  When Isaiah catches a glimpse of the Almighty on his throne he is totally shaken.  At the sight of God in his heavenly court, He says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of host!”   According to this passage, even the heavenly seraphim covered their faces the whole time they were in the presence of the Lord, crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of host; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

As we anticipate the coming of our King, a vision of his majesty and glory would be helpful in our Christmas celebrations. Then we can sing with the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is please!”




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For the advent wreath in our home, two of the candles are broken. The wick is still intact, but the wax is broken resulting in the candles being bent. I attempted to fix them, but was not very successful and in fact, I made one of them worse. I decided to just let them alone and to let the broken candles teach us a lesson. The candles still stand and give light when lit, they are just a little damaged.

This is just like us. As Christians we are called to be the light of the world, pointing the way to Christ in the midst of the chaos around us. We want to shine as brightly as possible, and yet we find ourselves damaged. All of us are broken in one way or another. Yet, just like the candle, our lights can still shine. In fact, ours is a God who specializes in taken broken people and using them as his lights in the world. God is not looking for perfect people. He is looking for people who are willing to have their wicks lit in witness to his light and love, regardless of their past. After all, we are merely wax waiting to be melted in the service of God, and it is his fire that burns within us.

a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

– Isaiah 42:3

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Birth of St. John the Baptist, depicting Zecha...

Birth of St. John the Baptist, depicting Zechariah writing, “His name is John”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today begins the second week of Advent and we light the candle of Peace.  Last week, we lit the candle of Hope, and what more does one hope for than Peace? A major part of the Jewish hope was the anticipation of peace in their land.  To secure this peace, the Jews needed more than just a absence of conflict, they needed someone to defeat all of those powers who were oppressing them.  Isaiah prophesied that there would be a day when a light would come and shine into the dark chaos that surrounded Israel:

“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.”

For Israel to have true lasting peace, the nation needed a Prince of Peace to render justice. The Jews needed a King of the Jews to defeat all the evil that plagued her and to establish a kingdom that would last forever.  After the birth of John the Baptist, his father’s prayer recalls that God had promised that Israel would be saved from its enemies. Zechariah saw that his son John would be the one chosen to go before the Christ and preach repentance to the nation. He prophesied that John the Baptist would  “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

When the Prince of Peace comes, total submission is required. John the Baptist had the task of preaching repentance to a people who wanted peace, but did not want to live under the authority of the only one who can secure the such peace. A nation, a church, or individuals cannot expect peace to come when they have no regard for the one who brings what they hope for.  Christ brought peace to the world by defeating all the evils powers through his death and resurrection.  His Kingdom will indeed last from this time forth and forevermore. The call for the church today is to prepare the way of the Lord, repenting of our own sins, remembering that God in Christ will indeed forgive us. Then we can show the light of God’s peace in the dark chaos around us.

Update: See follow-up to this post here.

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