Tag Archives: Advent

Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) by Chris Tomlin

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Why candles in the window at Christmas?

candle in windowThe practice of placing lighted candles in the windows at Christmas was brought to America by the Irish. The historical background of this custom is quite interesting.

When religion was suppressed throughout Ireland during the English persecution, the people had no churches. Priests hid in forests and caves and secretly visited the farms and homes to say Mass there during the night.

Every Irish family longed for at least one chance during their lifetime to be visited by a priest at Christmas to celebrate the Divine sacrifice during Holy Night. Many hope and prayed for this all through the year.

When Christmas came, they left their doors unlocked and placed burning candles in the windows so that any priest who happened to be in the vicinity would know they were welcome and were guided to their home through the dark night. Silently he entered through the unlatched door and was received by the faithful who were grateful that their home was used to worship the birth of Christ Jesus.

To justify this practice in the eyes of the English soldiers, the Irish people used to explain: “We burn the candles and keep the doors unlocked, that Mary and Joseph, looking for a place to stay, will find their way to our home and be welcomed with open doors and open hearts.” The English authorities, finding this Irish “superstition” harmless, did not bother to suppress it.

Candles or not the choice is ours. God’s Spirit resides in us and pausing to be aware of that makes any moment or any location sacred.

question mark orangeIn the midst of another busy holiday season are we making room for Jesus to enter more deeply into our hearts?

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Skip Christmas?

According to a recent BreakPoint article by Eric Metaxas, a new survey of Americans found that 45 percent would rather skip Christmas this year claiming they don’t have enough money to celebrate the holiday!

Times are tough and the economy is soft, but does it really all come down to dollars?

Ruth Haley Barton, in an Advent devotional, describes people feeling the pull of Black Friday and stores opening earlier. They didn’t want to leave family gatherings early but didn’t want to risk missing out on great bargains.

“You have to have these things to enjoy your children and your family…It shouldn’t be that way but in a sense there’s no way around it.  Everything ends up with a dollar amount.  Even your happiness.” 

Maybe it does all come down to the dollars! Maybe it is all about the stuff! Maybe we should skip Christmas!

Bonhoeffer

Or maybe not…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during WWII. Because he strongly and openly opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime he spent two years in prison and was executed just days before the end of the war. This excerpt is from a letter written to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer, December 1, 1943.

I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: “We’re beggars; it’s true.” The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth. ~ From Love Letters from Cell 92

While many today expect a lackluster Christmas due to not enough stuff, Bonhoeffer sat alone in a prison cell expecting a glorious Christmas because of no stuff. He understood that the absence of material things would make more room in his heart for God and the gift of the Christ child come to earth.

question mark orange So what will it be, skip Christmas or create space for God to make it something extra special?

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Life will never be the same!

Christmas Eve signals the end of Advent, the season of waiting. With the end of Advent comes the beginning of the feast of the Nativity—the celebration of God with us!

We pass from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day celebrating the Incarnation—God with us in the flesh!—a celebration that will continue for as long as we choose to live each day in His presence.

At Christmas we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our faith, the mystery of humanity and divinity becoming one. The early church emphasized that the Incarnation should not be seen as condescension, as the “descent” of God to man, but as the lifting up of humanity into the divine life.

“The Incarnation makes it possible for the redeemed life to be lived out in this flesh, on this ordinary earth. The Nativity ennobles the lowliest aspects of everyday life: God chose to be born in a stable, with animals and shepherds as his first visitors. In this lies the power of the Incarnation; the humblest things are most exalted.”

For the rest of the world, the Christmas season is over at the end of Christmas Day and there is nothing left to do but dig out, clean up, and make our post-season exchanges and returns.

But for those of us who are following hard after Jesus, the celebration is just beginning. God with us! In the flesh! This one incredible truth makes every ordinary aspect of our human existence ripe with the possibility of God’s divine presence! When we learn to live in this new reality…

… life will never be the same!

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Waiting… on God

Have you ever had to wait for something you really, really, really wanted?

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season – the period of time leading up to Christmas. Many churches use these four weeks before Christmas to recognize the 400 years the Israelites waited from the last time God spoke through a prophet until the arrival of Jesus as a baby.

As the Israelites waited with expectations of the coming Messiah, we today wait with expectation for His second coming – when He will claim those who belong to Him as His bride and take them to be with Him forever.

But can we even begin to grasp what it must have felt like to wait 400 years for God!

Waiting is not one of my strong points. I struggle to wait for anything or anyone. Makes me wonder how the Israelites handled it. Did they get angry? Did they wonder if God had forgotten them? Did they begin to question the old faith stories that they had grown up with?

We know for sure that some of them decided to take matters into their own hands. They were called Zealots and they physically revolted against the ruling Roman empire on numerous occasions.

I don’t usually revolt or become violent but I can relate to taking matters into my own hands. But this seldom… NEVER works the way I want it to. In the end we are always better off trusting God and waiting on Him.

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. ~ Isaiah 40:31 (Message)

What is it that you’re waiting on God for today? Will you choose to trust Him?

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Not perfect, just sincere!

It was one of the first things that jumped out at us when we visited the church we now call home. They weren’t big in numbers but they were huge in heart and their sincerity is what made them special to us right away. I’m speaking of our choir.

Even though we weren’t able to make many of the rehearsals we – Susan, Kyrsten and I – jumped in near the end to lend our support to this year’s Christmas Cantata. And since last week’s performance was cancelled due to bad winter weather we had one more opportunity this week to work on the music.

Sally, our gifted choir director (and HUGE Colts fan, to put it mildly) encouraged us to not try too hard but simply relax and enjoy it.

We missed those who couldn’t be with us and we missed our share of notes here and there; but as Susan observed afterwards – “…when it comes from the heart it sounds wonderful.” The psalmist told us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, not a perfect one.

It is such a privilege to be part of a church family that welcomes average singers to participate, in order to be a blessing to others and ultimately to please God. I truly believe that God is pleased and that He will use our efforts to bless all those who join us for the Cantata.

And if you’re not otherwise engaged, join us this coming Sunday morning at Hagerstown Congregational Christian Church @10:30 a.m. for Night of the Father’s Love.

 

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His name is… Wonderful!

Jesus

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The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the advent season – from now through Christmas – is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God.

Isaiah 9:2-6 is one of the more popular passages in connection with the advent season as it draws attention to Jesus as the light that comes into a dark world.

 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, 
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, 
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, 
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Over the next five Sundays I’m going to be focusing on verse 6 and the five names used to describe Jesus. Names in Scripture serve a dual purpose as the focus on a persons’ character and on what they will do.

The Hebrew word that Isaiah uses here for Wonderful is used throughout the Old Testament and is translated in various places as: marvelous, hidden, too high, too difficult, and miracle. It carries the basic meaning of being unique and different.

May we come to experience Jesus as Wonderful!

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