Born in Weakness


In the beginning, Jesus Christ, God the Son, in unity with the Father and Holy Spirit, created all–most, with a thought and a few words. He commands armies of angels. He judges the living and the dead. He upholds the universe by the word of His power.

And yet, He took on all the weakness of being a human. He laid aside that power. And this was not just the natural, passive weakness of men; no, it was an active, moment-to-moment rejection of His power, of doing things on His own, and of accomplishing anything by His own ability. From when He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus walked in that weakness. He worked miracles out of that weakness, He allowed Himself to be crucified in that weakness, and He was raised by the power of the Father despite that weakness.


Because the one who does the work is the one who receives the glory, and because weakness is where God’s grace, love, goodness, power, and beauty shine brightest, and because those things are true for our weakness, as well.

Advent, then, celebrates not just the arrival of God on Earth and the start of His march to victory over sin, but the beginning of the beautiful weakness that culminated at the cross. And as we reflect on that, it emboldens us to embrace our own frailty: our sins; our imperfections; our moral, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual inadequecies. We embrace our weakness, but are not consumed by it; we boast of it, but do not focus on it; every glance at ourselves should bounce our gaze straight back to the cross.

We are, all of us, not enough. Not now, not for this stressful season, not ever. But, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” for, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and “he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (Heb. 4:15, John 1:14, 2 Cor. 13:4). Forget yourself as you stare into that.

Joe Avolio




Advent – Waiting. Longing. Expectation. These are the words we associate with this time before Christmas, as we count down to Christmas Day and our celebration of the birth of Jesus the Messiah. The problem is…I just don’t like to wait. Not only are we living in a society that demands instant gratification NOW, I find myself falling into that same trap and get frustrated when things don’t happen on my timetable – as if somehow God should be dictated to by my wants and desires.

I feel I have waited for plenty of things in my life…finishing school, getting into a “real” job; then the big question: will I ever meet someone? Then the adjusting to marriage, followed by endless days of caring for kids and family, everything rushing so fast it was hard to grasp onto the joy. And then…a different kind of waiting, as my husband Kevin began battling his depression on a deeper level. Waiting in hope for a healing that would never come, even after years of desperate prayers; and then after his death, waiting for the grief and anger to fade while keeping the kids and house together somehow. Oh Lord, where are You? Constantly I went to His Word for strength:

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not

slumber, indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

(Psalm 121)


He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the

captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD

for the display of his splendor.

(Isaiah 61:1-3)


Beauty, instead of the ashes of my marriage! The Oil of Joy instead of the constant weeping; praise to clothe me instead of being sunk in despair! These are rich promises. However, there is no timetable on them – instead, it is understood that somehow we must TRUST that the Lord will do what He says, and these promises will come true in His time – not mine.

Many times it seems that I am still in a “waiting” period – continuing as a single parent although I’ve longed for re-marriage; loving my adult children through their triumphs and trials; finding finances a constant frustrating struggle…yet I count myself blessed. How long were the people of Israel waiting for their Messiah to come, crying out to the Lord? And our Mighty and Loving God came down Himself to answer them in His perfect time – laying aside His glory to become a helpless baby – Jesus, who would have the power to fulfill all of the Lord’s promises and end our time of waiting. Let us rejoice in the Lord our Savior! In whatever time of waiting you are in, trust in Jesus – He is ready to answer with Himself.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 37:7)


“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6)

Heidi Bertaux

My Crooked Tree

Setting up the Christmas tree is a tradition that many families look forward to each and every year. As much as I love sitting in our family room at night lit by the colored lights of the tree, the process of actually setting up the tree up is always one of my most stressful times of the year.

This year, however, things seemed to go fairly smoothly. My boys are older and they were a huge help in getting the tree in the stand, putting on the lights and decorating. In fact, I’d have been willing to admit that this year ended up being one of our easiest years; that is IMG_3109until I was sitting in our family room the next evening looking at the tree and realizing that something seemed off. The tree was crooked, really crooked. From some angles, it looked perfect but from the angle at which I happened to be looking, it looked terrible.

This caused me to reflect. So much of what I do is try to present my life as a ‘perfectly straight tree’. I think about the angles… How do people at church see me? How do my kids see me? How do my neighbors see me? I put effort into making people believe that I am much more perfect than I actually am, and often find anxiety worrying that I’ll miss one of those angles and I will be exposed. The truth is I am crooked, and although I might be able to cast off an appearance of ‘righteousness,’ the reality is I am far from it. Just ask those that are closest to me.

And as I was stared at this crooked tree, a refrain from Handel’s Messiah based on Isaiah’s prophecy was playing:

The crooked straight,

and the rough places plain,

The crooked straight,

the crooked straight,

and the rough places plain

And the rough places plain

The irony was all too real. The gospel reminds us that this little babe we celebrate each Christmas came to do what we couldn’t. He came to make that was crooked, straight, that which was rough, smooth. He who was spotless became stained and broken by our own sin so that our hearts would be restored. The reminder I need each day is that I don’t have to be preoccupied worrying about all the angles people perceive me from, rather, I am free through daily repentance and faith to stand in a righteousness that is not my own but freely given to me.

Thanks be to God that all my crookedness has been made straight. Even if my tree wasn’t.

Steve Dallwig


Blessed Are Those Who Mourn


I started writing this post on October 18, inspired by the jazzy strains of Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire floating out of our Senior Pastor’s office. He’d actually started playing Christmas music the week before by way of a “sorry Lauren” apology, but news was slow to trickle to the rest of the staff. Coworkers would stand at my door, incredulous, mouthing “is that CHRISTMAS MUSIC?” and I’d just smile and nod.

There was a time when listening to Christmas music so early would have been unbearable to me, but not anymore. I’ve learned that there are some perks to hearing it before the season even begins. For one thing, when it’s being played in October it doesn’t stress me out. Christmas still feels a long way off and I’m able to listen to the tunes without the accompanying panic of year-end shopping. It also makes me appreciate Mike and his love for the season. I know he’s working hard on his Advent Series. Third, Mike’s taste in music spans many genres. Every year, I hear a song or two that I’ve never heard before. Bonus!

What’s hard for me, though, about Christmas music is the ache that it stirs in my heart. The words and familiar melodies bring about a haunting feeling that something sweet and beautiful and good is missing from this present moment. It makes me long for Christmases long ago and for the love of dear ones who have died or moved away. But it’s more than a longing for the past; it’s also a longing for what should be, what’s meant to be, but isn’t. It’s a deep sadness over the evils, diseases, injustices, and abuses of this world and a longing for it all to be mended. The joyful songs of Christmas stand in stark contrast to the pain and suffering I see, and that’s hard.

In his poignant book, Lament For A Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes the following about Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Blessed are those who mourn. What can it mean? … Why does he hail the mourners of the world? …The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. …They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly…They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries. Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted. 

Lauren McWilliams


A Glimpse of Heaven

Advent Post pic - Binick

My alarm went off just before 6:30 a.m. on the final day of serving as a leader for Big Beach Weekend, a summer youth retreat in Harvey Cedars, NJ. Four (amazing!) girls and I got out from the comfort of our bunks, tiptoed down the hall, and into the dusk to walk to the beach so we could watch the sunrise. Quickly, we realized this was no ordinary sunrise. The sky was bursting between the quaint homes of this little town. We were struck with a bolt of energy and began to run towards the horizon, not wanting to miss a second of the sun rising above the Atlantic. Out of breath, with sand between our toes, we stood still with eyes wide open, awestruck by the masterpiece finally before us.

In thinking back to that experience, I am left to wonder how creation affected the wise men on the days surrounding Jesus’ birth. These men “saw his star when it rose and [went] to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). God used His creation to guide them on a journey, to draw them closer to the presence of His Son. It was with intentional haste that they followed it “until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (2:9-10). All they could do upon their arrival was to merely embrace what they witnessed, to fall to the ground in praiseful posture.

Oftentimes, I feel God’s presence through a sunrise like the one pictured, a sunset, a starry night. Perhaps the star the wise men followed left them in amazement by its simple, impactful purpose. Perhaps the sunrise on the day of Jesus’ birth was a watercolor of purples, pinks, and yellows to demonstrate the powerful beauty of the newborn King; or perhaps it had hues of gray that resembled a picture of Jesus’ humble life. Perhaps Mary and Joseph took a moment to be still, to forever remember this sunrise as the one that marked Jesus’ birth and a world forever-changed.

To witness the most spectacular sunrise with those four special girls still leaves me breathless and in prayerful praise. How much more would those who were part of Jesus’ first days on earth have been struck by the splendor of what God was doing around them—watching the sun rise and set in the little town of Bethlehem where the Savior of the world was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12)?

My hope is that we all can take a moment this Christmas to consider how incredible it is that God would use His creation to draw us, and those before us, near to Him; that it could serve to guide us towards Him with anticipatory joy; that just a glimpse of heaven on earth could be so enthralling we might feel the need to run towards it, just to be that much closer to Him.

Leanna Binick


Fresh Reminder from a Familiar Carol

Fresh Reminder from a Familiar Carol pic

I love the classic Christmas carols. There is something timeless about them that brings up all the feelings of Christmas. This year as I began to play my Christmas playlist one of the carols I have heard for many years struck me very differently.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is so familiar to me, but this particular version contained all the original verses of the hymn written by Charles Wesley. As I listened I could not help but hear the message the hymn writer was so clearly portraying. Wesley was not just drawing our attention to the birth of Jesus. In this classic carol, Wesley penned the entire picture of the redemptive purpose of Jesus’ birth. Here are just a few of the words that caught my attention in a fresh way this year. As you read, see the gospel in the words.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

What an incredible reminder of our own state and our need for Jesus. We have been reinstated in love because of Jesus. That is something we can join with the angels and sing about with all our hearts!

As the familiar tunes of the Christmas carols fill stores, cars, churches, and homes may we be freshly aware of the full purpose of the birth of Jesus.

Eliza Huie-

Counselor at Life Counseling Center



Stop pic

You know that scene in Home Alone when the entire family is running through the airport, furiously trying to get to their flight on time? They’re moving at a breakneck speed, completely ignorant of the fact that they’ve left an entire person, the littlest among them, home alone for Christmas.

I feel like I’ve been running through that airport at the same speed this fall, except I’m not ignorant of what I’m running from or why I refuse to slow down.

I don’t know about you, but I find busy to be easy. Busy means less time to dwell on life’s disappointments. Less time to think about the what-ifs and shoulda coulda’s that creep in when you’re lying in bed at night. The more I move, the faster I go from one thing to the next, the less time I have to dwell on the things I’d rather not think about. The busier I stay, the easier it is to avoid the edges of pain that threaten to break into my world.

To stop would mean facing the reality that this Christmas, like every Christmas before, comes after a year of sadness and joy, heartache and blessing, and it comes at a time of such great change. And frankly, I’d rather run away from it all than sit still long enough to actually acknowledge any of this reality. And God knows it. He knows it and I doubt he’s surprised at all.

How often do we see this story play out in Scripture? Jonah running from Nineveh, Moses trying to get out of leading the Israelites, Martha busying herself with hosting duties rather than sitting at Jesus’ feet. There are plenty of examples of the ways we avoid what we know is real sprinkled throughout the Bible. But then there’s Jesus, who didn’t avoid or run from the cross but rather walked straight towards it. The only one who could have successfully run away from the reality before him and he chose, out of an unending love and desire for his children, to give himself up. For a bunch of people who still try and run.

Here’s the thing: we’re actually so much safer when we stop trying to avoid what we’re so afraid of. You and I are held by a Savior who loves us more than we can comprehend, in spite our unwavering desire to bolt at the first sign of discomfort. He desires to know our pain and to comfort us through the change. There is not a second he is afraid or unwilling to catch us when we stop moving.

And so friends, I’m asking you to do what I beg of myself: stop. Stop moving. Sit down and let it all in. Sit still with our Savior long enough to allow his love to cover your fear as his grace covers our sins. Stop moving long enough to hear him whisper of how, in love, he came to be born and to die, for you.

Jessica Bates




It was an uncharacteristically warm day in November that my neighbor and I commiserated on a walk around our village. Both of us, you see, were approaching days of reckoning you might say: For my neighbor, the second anniversary of her beloved mom’s death. For me, the 10th anniversary of my beloved sister’s succumbing to cancer.

But while we both experienced, nay, re-lived the sad events leading to our losses, we each maintained that our losses were, in fact, experienced daily, not just on the anniversaries that we so obtusely celebrated.

Which brings this writer to Advent and Christmas.

The candles are in the windows, the firs in the corner a-glow with glitz, the church takes donations for turkeys and poinsettias and parents shop frantically in-store and on-line.

Christmas time is here. Children await it with anticipation. And on that day and its eve, lit candles will glorify God in sanctuaries throughout the world, ribbons will fly through the air as our kids tear through presents and joy will appear as tinsel dangling from the tree.

But while we await this celebration of the birth of the Savior of the World, let us know that God is present each and every day already. He is here already. As Christians, we know it.

Like the memory of a loved one that does not appear only on the anniversary of her death, the Savior of the World resides in us, not just on the anniversary of His birth.

For if we belong to Him, the old self has already died and the new self lives! He lives!

When we begin each day in God’s Word; when we gather in Jesus’ Name for prayer groups and Bible studies; when we prepare a meal for a sick friend or help a stranger in distress; when we praise Him as we sit down to dinner; when we plea to Him for answers and resolutions to life’s many problems, He is already here and He hears.

And so, it is not about the anniversary but about the love living in our hearts, a supernatural love, not just on the 25th of December, not just during the waiting season called Advent, but about Him who already lives in us, Whom we love and Who loves us each and every day of the year.

May we rejoice in Jesus as we recount the circumstances of His birth, His life, His sacrifice!

Marian Falkenstine


What Doesn’t Change

Advent Blog pic

Every year, my family sits together and sets up our nativity. It gained that shiny star one Christmas when we kids decided that that’s what we wanted to give our mom for Christmas. But for the most part, it’s essentially remained unchanged through my whole life. When we were younger, we would squabble over who got to put baby Jesus in the nativity, try and put every figurine on the nativity, and occasionally someone, usually the angel, would end up on the stairs, or the roof. My mom would leave it up for a few days, and then rearrange it so you could at least see baby Jesus.

Now we’re all getting older, and things are changing.

And isn’t that reassuring, that no matter what changes in our lives, the story of Jesus and its message will always stay the same?

Emma Vaughn


Mary Did You Truly Know?

Closeup of motherhood figure

“Mary, did you know

that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know

that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know

that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great “I am”?”

As a mother, I often wonder about Mary. How she handled the usual nervousness of becoming a first-time mom with the added responsibility of being the mother to the King of Kings. Did she fully know what she was being called to do? Did it weigh on her heart like many of my motherly duties often do?

When Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem, his response to her worry was “Where else did you think I would be?” In that moment, did she think, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out”? Or did she realize at that moment that he was so much more than just her child? Her patience and grace had to be the reason she was chosen to be his mother.

I love looking at my daughters while they’re sleeping and quietly wondering what they will become as they grow up. Will they choose to follow Christ? Will they be loving, caring women that exemplify Christ’s love through their actions towards others? I’ve done that since they were born: wondering, hoping, and praying. Holding them as newborns, honored (and slightly terrified) with the new responsibility I had been bestowed upon.

Mary must have looked into Jesus’ precious, newborn face and known that he was going to be something more. She must have seen the glory and awe that all mothers experience when they hold their child for the first time. She had to have prayed for his safekeeping and acceptance in a broken world. Imagine the love she must have felt holding him for the first time, knowing he was born for so much more and that she had been blessed to be chosen as his mother. What an honor. What a blessing.

Luke 2:19 “But Mary kept all of these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Carol Badaracco