The shepherds must have been quite overwhelmed and awestruck that night when the heavenly host gathered to praise God proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14).
A quick reflection on world events over the past 12 months reveals the world still needs peace as much now as ever. In every nation and every community there is much pain and suffering, sorrow and injustice, sickness, violence and poverty.
We long for peace, and not just any peace. We long for a peace greater than just the end of hostilities, but one where justice is done and the human heart is changed.
Sixty years ago, during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, American Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King Jr, proclaimed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
This is the peace the world needs and it is the peace the angels sang about. Yet, such a peace is hard to come by. Even in my own life I find it uncomfortably easy to slip from peace to hostility.
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Psalm 27 encourages us to “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) This is a fitting encouragement as we begin Advent this week.
Advent is the time of celebration over the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve. Although there is no mention of it in the Bible, many people find it not only an enjoyable time but one that is spiritually enriching. It is, like the Psalm suggests, a time of great anticipation, of waiting, expecting, and hoping.
The entire nation of Israel had waited centuries for their Messiah to appear. Luke tells us the devout and righteous Simeon had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and the prophetess, Anna, was “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38).
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[Please note I am having a break from blogging during January. Ill be back in full swing in February! SLB]
Christmas Day is almost here and the lead up to it is full of waiting, longing, expecting, and hoping — and not only for children. For centuries Christians have set aside the four Sundays prior to Christmas as a time to rehearse again the anticipation of Christ’s coming.
Advent – the word comes from the Latin meaning ‘coming’, ‘appearance’ or ‘return’ – inspires us to look backward to Christ’s first coming, and to look forward in expectation of his coming into the world and our lives today.
With a quick look at our Christmas celebrations, one could be excused for concluding our longings consist of cute babies, worshipful farm animals, humble shepherds, and camel-riding astrologers. But these are just the backdrop to a much grander and more profound story – God visits planet earth with the aim of restoration and renewal that is nothing short of a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25).
Fuelled by the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jews and Christians alike look forward to a day when God’s Messiah will set the world aright, bringing justice to the nations (Is 42:1) and producing a world of full of peace and harmony (Is 9:1-7; 11:1-9).
It was the same on that first Christmas. The Israelites were looking to God to send the long promised Messiah to rescue them from their plight at the hands of the occupying Roman army. Their world was in turmoil, their future looked bleak, and they cried out to God.
Throughout history, people have longed to be rescued. As the recent siege in Sydney illustrates the world is often a very difficult place to live in. Read More >>>
As we draw towards the end of another year and focus on the astonishing reality of the incarnation—when God entered into our humanity in profound ways—we are again reminded of our own fragility, weaknesses and the need to rely on each other.
When Jesus was born, like every other new born baby he was totally reliant on those around him. Vulnerable and defenceless he committed himself into the care of a teenager and her fiancé. Then throughout his life, Jesus never rose above that fragility of humanity but experienced it to the full, right through to death.
We don’t like feeling vulnerable, weak or fragile so it is no surprise that so much in our lives is committed to alleviating these feelings. We use our jobs, our finances, our organisations, families and friends to mask the inherent feelings of brokenness we carry with us every day.
Some suggest “we never look our best in transition” and change is perhaps when we most likely feel vulnerable. When we navigate changes in our lives it is often hard to be at our best. It takes so much energy to deal with change . . .
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Advent is a time where our hopes are rekindled, our hearts are revived and our longings revisited. Christians around the world will again declare their deep yearning for Christ to return and make all things new. They wait with great anticipation. Expectancy is perhaps the best way to describe it because there is a significant difference between expectation and expectancy.
Expectation is the anticipation and belief that something will happen, or is at least likely to happen. Expectancy, on the other hand is what you experience when you are hoping that something will happen. Expectation has a picture of a preferred outcome, expectancy knows something is about to happen but it is not quite sure what.
Sadly, however, our consumer culture is full of expectation rather than expectancy.
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In my last blog I reflected on the meaning of grace at Christmas time, and I’ve been thinking more about it since then. At Christmas time we hear a lot about peace, joy, and love; yet there are two words not popularly associated with Christmas – grace and mercy. Nevertheless, more than any others these words probably reflect the true heart of Christmas.
While we can easily get caught up in the hype that is ‘Xmas’, CHRISTmas is a reminder that despite what Bette Midler’s popular song suggests, “God is watching from a distance” – in fact is not distant but God is with us. Christmas celebrates that God travelled across an impossible and infinite distance to be born a human being amongst us.
Locked in time and place in a body, God’s Son put his power to one side and traded the throne room of heaven for a feed trough in a stable. Becoming human means he shares our frailty and experiences our delicate lives. The miracle of the incarnation is that God overcomes the divide between earth and heaven and between creation and creator and becomes one of us. Living the journey from baby to adult he lives the journey of life and learns what it is to cry, to crawl, and to walk; what it is to experience not only joy and love, but also loneliness, despair, pain, grief, loss and ultimately death.
He lived a life like no other human before or since. In Jesus, God did what we could not do ourselves. He lived the life as humans were always meant to live but never could. He succeeded where we all fail. Paradoxically, he paid the penalty we should have paid and died the death we deserved. Yet in doing so he won for us a life that we were never entitled to. Through no effort of our own we receive mercy and forgiveness, all because of what he did.
This is a call for great celebration. This is the grace of Christmas. But it is not all. Grace is not limited just to Christmas. God isn’t just in the season. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God is with us all time. God did not just pay us a visit and disappear. No, God remains intimately connected with us. God is present with us in every situation and shares with us at every moment. Whether that moment is good or bad, full of joy or sorrow, whether we are holy or sinful, whether we are alive or dead, God is with us.
This is what the angel meant with he said to Mary that her baby would be “Immanuel, God is with us.” This is Christmas grace.
As we celebrate Advent this year and as we draw near to Christmas Day, may our hearts be sensitive to the reality that God is with us. In our everyday life God is there to meet us in the midst of it. May the grace of Christmas be an inspiration and an encouragement to you in the days ahead and indeed throughout the year to come.
Yesterday the season of Advent began, and churches all over the world will be celebrating it over the next four weeks during the lead up to Christmas. Not all Protestant traditions celebrate Advent, and I certainly don’t remember it from my childhood. Yet millions of Christian will celebrate it again this year.
Advent is different from the celebration of Christmas. In the seasonal calendar of the Church, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve and continues for the next twelve days, ending on January 6 (that’s where the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, comes from). The celebration of Advent originated in the 6th century and is the four-week period leading up to Christmas. The word comes from the Latin meaning “arrival” or “coming” and is a time of preparation.
Over the four week period of Advent, Christians dedicate themselves to both remember and anticipate. They remember by looking back to Christ’s first coming, they anticipate by looking forward to his second coming.
By looking both back and forward we are reminded how we are caught between these two events. Looking back helps remind us that Jesus has come as a human being; that he was crucified, buried and on the third day was alive again. Death has been defeated and the victory won.
“Over the four week period of Advent, Christians dedicate themselves to both remember and anticipate.”
By looking forward we remind ourselves that full implications of the victory are yet to be seen and we still await its coming. Every day we still face the reality of death; in every community and individual the world is still plagued with sin; we are still to see peace and justice reign supreme; and hunger and disease are still with us. During Advent we anticipate the return of Jesus Christ the King and the time when all creation will be reconciled to God.
Advent can be a very personal time. As individuals we can affirm how much we need a Saviour and celebrate that Jesus Christ came for me. It reminds us that he is present in our world today whether we are aware of it or not. It brings us to the place where we again choose to draw near to him with the sure hope of resurrection and a new world.
My hope for each of one of us in this season of Advent is that in spite of the chaos, anxiety, hurts, and busyness that often fills our lives, we will take time to prepare.
My prayer is that in your preparation during Advent, you will find an openness to receive again the love and joy of Christmas. This joy flows from the celebration of God entering the world through the coming of the Son of God as a human being.