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.

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God’s Time and Place

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It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of Christmas to Christian theology. While the death of Jesus on a cross has become the global symbol of Christianity, his arrival in Bethlehem is no less important.  The stories of Jesus’s birth in the gospels give shape to much of our understanding of who God is, who we are, and even how we do theology. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6 that the incarnation (that’s the fancy word to describe God taking on flesh and becoming a man) demonstrates that God is, by nature, a being who gives himself in love for his creation. In Jesus’s birth and life, we see the kind of life humanity was made to have – one of dependence and submission to God that leads to fullness of life.

The arrival of God in a specific town, at a specific time and place, shows that God does not exist in a vacuum. Place and time and culture matter. Context matters when we do theology. So today, as you think about what Christmas means, take a few minutes to enjoy a tour of modern-day Bethlehem with one of my favorite video tour guides.  It isn’t the same town it once was, and that matters.

There’s no going back – and that’s ok. Because the incarnation of Jesus paved the way for God to come to you today, in your place and your context…even if the world has changed in the 2000 years since his first coming.

Dan Passerelli

O Come

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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

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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

Children of the King

It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie. Hands down. No competition. I absolutely love it. My wife and I watch it every Christmas Eve and it never fails to deliver. Some of the affection I hold for it is admittedly nostalgic, but it’s an all-time great movie (#11 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies list), and Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey is brilliant.

As the story goes, George is an eminently likeable, affable, and all-around good guy who spends his life mostly helping others succeed. Because of this, he misses out on college, traveling, and becoming someone ‘important’, to his way of thinking.

This leads to frustration, anger, and even self-pity, all of which eventually boil over when $8,000 of company money is misplaced. The loss appears to put him out of business and a warrant is issued for his arrest on embezzlement charges, leaving George understandably despondent.

It’s at this point in the movie an angel named Clarence enters and, through a series of encounters, helps George gain the perspective he so desperately lacks. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch it this Christmas season — it will be time well spent.

Before his experience with Clarence, George believes his life will be worth something only if he is able to, as he says, “shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet” and do something really big. He fears that he’s living the life described in Thoreau’s famous quote — “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

In the end, George has an epiphany. He realizes all of the longing for something bigger and better has been replaced by the longing to once again love those who love him. He finally understands that he is loved simply for who he is — a husband, father, son, brother, and friend.

This Christmas season, my hope is that we experience a similar realization. May we be confident there is no amount of doing or being that can add one ounce of worth to who we already are in the Father’s eyes. May we truly live as sons and daughters of the King, rather than those forced to perform for affection or approval. And finally, may we rest in knowing that God sent us his Son at Christmas for one reason only — because he loves us — and that’s reason enough.

The Long Wait

I have been blessed to meet Ced & Jean Dale. He turned 100 just before Thanksgiving. She is 95. They will have been married 72.5 years on Christmas Eve. It is so beautiful to be with them. To see the care they have for each other, the love for others they foster, the sweet mercy they display to all around makes me yearn for even a touch of those acts at any age, much less pushing a century.

Sadly, Jean Dale is nearing the end. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She has moments of clarity. Times when you can whisper the sweet truth of God’s love for her come seldom, but they are there. You can tell her good news and see her eyes shine like the stars as she comprehends for a moment before the veil returns. The fog sets in and the silence pulls at your heart as you see the light dim from her eyes.

And yet, Ced still hopes. He hopes for the day in which Jean Dale will return to her former self. When she will walk without aid, when she will be the fullness of her sweet self to all who see her, when she will be able to tell of the goodness of her Savior once again – that day will be glorious. For he knows with confidence that one day it will happen. In the fullness of time, in the presence of their Savior, in a moment of erupting praise Jean Dale will be whole once again, but not here on earth. For that we wait.

In Amos 8:11-13 (NLT) we find the beautiful longing of others who were waiting. “The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. Beautiful girls and strong young men will grow faint in that day, thirsting for the Lord’s word…” And grow faint they did. That’s what 400 years of waiting will do to a people. Waiting and waiting for the promises to be real, for the purposes to be found, for the praises to be brought. Waiting.

And then it comes.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:1-5 (NLT)

That Light, born as a baby, shines like never before to return the glimmer of hope, to draw us into the warmth of His never-ending embrace of our hearts, and to restore our longing hearts with the sweet song of an always present Savior. And now we wait for he will return. And it gonna be glorious!

Dear Jean Dale/Nana – I am so blessed to become part of your family. Thank you for your legacy. I see it in your grandson’s face and sweet spirit every day. Oh, for even an inkling of that sort of impact – one can dream. With love, Debby

Debby Sutton

Pray as You Go

praying at sunsetI’ve always envied people who could get up early in the morning to pray and read scripture.  Listening to God and speaking to him seems like a great way to start the day – but whenever I try it I end up tired and distracted.  After about a week I give up in a fit of despair.

Stay up an extra hour at night?  No problem.  But get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning?  No can do.

But I know that I cannot pursue my day without being connected to God, so I often find myself squeezing in a quick prayer in the car during the school run.

I’ve recently re-discovered a website designed to help people like me connect with God in the midst of the every-day of life.  Pray As You Go contains a daily reading from scripture and a short word to help kick-start a conversation with God.  Why not give it a try this Advent season?  Follow the link and click on today’s date, or download their app for your phone.

http://www.pray-as-you-go.org

Dan Passerelli