Present

walkwood_feature_0

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

Advertisements

I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was

archangel-gabriel-strike-zacharias-dumb-end-1840s-artist-ivanov-alexander-andreyevich-1806-1858-464439719-58a1f35d5f9b58819c78e63a

As I read through the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 again on Monday. The story of Zechariah the high priest caught my attention. He was an old man. Both he and Elizabeth were well beyond their childbearing years. Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord, appeared to him as he burned incense the temple. He announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, whom we know would grow up to be John the Baptist, the last prophet and forerunner of Jesus.

Although Zechariah was known as a righteous man, he was filled with unbelief when he heard this news and stated it honestly: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

These words reminded me of a line I love in a Toby Keith song, “I ain’t as good as I once was.” It’s a lament that resonates with me more with each passing year and I have all the typical aches and pains associated with aging to prove it. Even as I type I’m literally, painfully, aware that my hands don’t work as good as they once did.

Zechariah’s unbelief didn’t disqualify him from serving God’s purpose, but it did silence him until the moment Elizabeth gave birth. God took away his voice for a season so that he’d have no choice other than to be still and listen. Gabriel’s news was really good news for Zechariah and Zechariah’s story is good news for me. No matter how old we get we are never beyond God’s reach to use us, often in ways we never expected. And I need to be reminded that faith sometimes looks like being quiet and listening.

Jim Mckee – Pastor 

Savior

f60a75b558a14d61052bf9e6b4eba8ceI usually look forward to that November email from Steve asking us to write a blog for Advent. I’m a talker, so I don’t struggle to find stories to share or thoughts to express. Give me 30 minutes and you’ve got a blog post. Now I must admit, it is full of grammatical errors and lacks polish, but it gets done rather easily. For some reason though, this year when I got the email, there was no eagerness. I felt like I didn’t really have anything I wanted to share and instead it felt like just one more thing I had to do.

To be honest, this was not a great year. It was a long year. It was a tear-filled year. It was a very heavy year. This was the year that every counselor dreads. This was the year that I experienced the thing that I had spent the last 25 years trying to prevent. This was the year that I lost a client. This was the year that a young person that I had known and loved and invested in took their own life. This was the year I had never wanted to come.

This year I had to actually believe the words I so often say, “I can not be your Savior.” I always knew these words were true but then when it happened, all I felt was my immense failure to save a life. When that young adult had been a teen, I had spent hours walking alongside them. I had offered countless messages of hope. I had listened to each heartache. But I had obviously never said whatever words they needed to hear so that as the years passed, they would chose life. This was the year that I truly learned that I couldn’t save them all.

“No matter what we say or what we do, sometimes people are going to die,” is what Mike told me that day. I will never forget it, words so obvious and familiar but so unexpected. He looked me right in the eyes and in that moment I was forced to not just hear the words, but to trust the words and accept the proof. Kind Mike, he helped me recognize that I would grieve two losses, one was a beautiful young woman and the other was the knowledge that I could not save.

This year, may these words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” be engraved upon my heart.

Fear Not

cole-angel-shepherds

Luke 2: 10 – “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . .”

It was dark. The sheep were doing whatever it is that sheep do once night falls. The shepherds were keeping a watchful for eye for any signs of danger, as shepherds had done in this region for centuries. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared them. The glory of the Lord illuminated the area around them. Think about it. In the dark shadows of the night, the invisible suddenly becomes visible. The veil that separates heaven and earth is pulled back and they see something few mortals have ever seen. There was nothing in their collective experience that would have prepared them to make sense out what was happening. In the face of this unexpected and supernatural occurrence they were understandably overcome with fear.

How comforting it must have been that the angel’s first words were, “Fear not!”. It was exactly what they needed to hear to stop them in their tracks, calm their hearts and keep them from running. There must be something viscerally terrifying about an encounter like this, because these were also the first words uttered to Zechariah when the angel appeared to him. He spoke these words because he knew something neither the shepherds nor Zechariah knew. Somewhere on the eastern frontier a boy was born who would be their Savior!

Life can be terrifying. It’s full of uncertainty. Bad things happen to people we love and care about. We are mugged by circumstances that are beyond our control. People we count on disappoint us, even betray us. It’s easy to be overcome by fears from within and by fears from without. After all, the world is a very dangerous place and there is no lack of evidence to belie our concerns. It’s in these moments that I need to hear the words of the Angel of the Lord echoing in my heart and mind saying, “Fear not! … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The birth of a boy in a manger in the city of Bethlehem announced to the shepherds the good news concerning the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. The arrival of the One who brings true healing, renewal and peace has come to pass. Expectation has given way to fulfillment. As we celebrate Advent, all the scenes and signs of the season are pointers to this new reality. The true King of the world has come! He is the one will rescue us from the curse of sin and death. And if we are His, we have nothing to fear. May we hear the voice of the Spirit shouting those words, “Fear not!” in the face of all our fears.

Jim Mckee

The Story of ‘O Holy Night’

Take a few minutes to be blessed by the story and history of one our most beloved and favorite Christmas Carols.

 

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

O Holy Night” (French: Cantique de Noël) is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau (1808–1877) Translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1855)

o-holy-night

 

O Come

artsfon-com-45710

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear. 

Can you feel the ache, the longing, the sadness, the darkness? 400 years of silence between the books of Malachi and Matthew, Israel mourning in lonely exile…wondering when it’ll ever change, wondering when God will speak once more.

O come and be with us; we can only mourn until You come.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

from depths of hell Thy people save,

and give them victory over the grave.

 It’s a little more intense now. Free us from Satan’s tyranny, from oppression and cruelty, from false thoughts and beliefs that rule over us, from the very depths of hell.

O come and free us from evil and death, save us.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

our spirits by Thine advent here;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night

and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

 Dayspring means the beginning of; dawn; the beginning of a new era or order of things. Dispersing clouds, shadows swallowed by light. Oh heart, be encouraged by what’s coming – by Who’s coming – and bringing a new order of things.

O come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,

And be Thyself our King of Peace

Note the pairing of the words, “sad divisions.” So many things divide us – age, race, money, politics, status… For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

O come, bind us all together and bind us to You. Be our Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Lauren McWilliams

Waiting

pic-jess1-2016

I’ve been staring at that tree since Thanksgiving.

It was decorated the day before, in between the careful simmering of the cranberry sauce and cutting butter into flour for apple pie crust. Seven and half feet tall, white lights, silver and gold glittering ball ornaments with red and silver beaded strands running through its branches. A beautiful angel with open arms and a flowing dress barely fits between the top of that tree and the ceiling. A hand-stitched nativity set is carefully arranged at the bottom.

I’ve sat in front of it every night since it went up. I did my Black Friday shopping on my computer in the chair next to it. I shared tea with friend by it. I watched the Gilmore Girls revival (and cried big tears) in front of it.

I’ve been staring at it for over a week and nothing’s different. I keep thinking that something will change, that I’ll feel the Christmas joy and light and cheer come all at once like it usually does if I just wait here long enough.

I think this is how I’ve been treating Jesus recently. Like I’m staring at the nativity waiting for something to happen, ready to scream “DO SOMETHING!” to the tiny baby Jesus in the manger. In the end I’m left wanting to feel different, better, more connected, more loved, hopeful. And nothing’s happening.

That happens sometimes, doesn’t it? We stare at our faith, waiting for something momentous to come and it feels like it never does. I imagine that’s how the Israelites felt after years of wandering, waiting for something to happen. Or how Sarah and Elizabeth felt after years of being barren, waiting for a child. Or how Joseph felt, wrongly imprisoned and waiting for freedom.

And then Jesus came. He came because no amount of Christmas decorations can cure what ails us. He came because peace can’t come from a Christmas tree. He came because life isn’t found in the idolatry of the perfect Christmas season.

But in his coming, he did do something. In his coming he does make all the difference in the world, bringing the connection and love and hope we yearn for. In his coming, we finally know what joy we’ve been waiting for.

So I’m still staring at this tree, waiting. If the past is any gauge, something will happen. Jesus will move in my heart like he always does, just on his time, not mine. And when he does, oh what joy is mine.

Jessica Bates

Knit into a Family

pic-patrick1-2016

Every year for Christmas my extended family, all 28 of us, gather together on Christmas Eve for soup, sandwiches and a white elephant gift exchange. Having lived and grown up in a city (Atlanta) where my extended family put down their roots was actually pretty cool. Having all those family members gather for one night always brought about fun times.

It’s been thirteen years since my wife Becky and I have been a part of those gatherings. In that time, I’ve gone to seminary, graduated, moved to Baltimore, and had three children. A lot of life has happened. Early on, we wanted to establish our own traditions as a family, so we rarely travel anywhere for Christmas – and while I am happy for this I often feel the sting of the loss of those family connections that were so strong growing up. Aunts, uncles and cousins all gathered in one house making an incredible amount of noise, and some incredible southern food!

The truth is that I may never get to experience those times in the same way again. But there is good news – because Christ was born into this world and was forsaken for a time, I have been brought near to one who completely understands the sorrows of my heart. It is in this sorrow that I actually am made whole again through Jesus. So for us as a family, Christmas Eve at Chapelgate is a new reminder that we have been knit into a larger family – one that is equally as messy as my own. And as we light those candles I pray you are reminded of that as well! Emmanuel – God is with us!

Patrick Allen

A Divine Intervention

candy_cane

It’s no surprise that we live in a very broken world. As we are involved in ministry, we will encounter many heartbreaking scenes, crises, distressed families, and troubled lives. A wife discovers her husband’s infidelity. A person learns that they have a fatal cancer diagnosis. A family has to grieve the death of their daughter because of suicide. The list goes on and on.

Crises are an inescapable part of life. They provide an unavoidable opportunity to be shaken out of complacency. When a crisis breaks, it changes the life of one or more persons and leaves us saying “We will never be the same again”. Part of us cries out, “It’s not supposed to be this way. This isn’t normal. This is not right.” Some crises make us want to cry and shout with anger.

The good news is that God is working all things together for good for his people. Jesus enters the world of sinners and sufferers and goes to work. The hope of the gospel is what we celebrate on Christmas. Jesus didn’t come because we deserved His intervention, but because He is a God of grace, and a God of mercy. His lovingkindness toward us is absolutely undeserved. He voluntarily gave His life; no one took it from Him. His love was overwhelming. As He entered our broken and sinful world, He saw the inevitability of death and hell, and He paid the price Himself. Nothing deterred Him from that. Even when He came to earth and the mass of people rejected Him, mocked Him, hated Him, and even killed Him, that didn’t stifle His grace. Whatever you may be experiencing this Christmas, you can put your trust and hope in the one who was born to die.

Rich Starsoneck