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

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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

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Knit into a Family

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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

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A Picture of Advent

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Ponder today this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pg 416 

 

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Great Expectations Come True

vannessblogI was told by my mother that one of the last wishes of my grandmother was to live long enough to meet her first great grandchild. Marilyn and I had the great honor of fulfilling that wish when we introduced her to our son, Joshua, about four years before her death. As I recall, she commented that all was well because he had ten fingers and ten toes. Twenty-eight years later, our daughter had the same honor of introducing my mother to her first grandchild, Kayla Joy. Like my grandmother, there was an unmistakable sparkle in my mother’s eyes when she met and held her first great grandchild.

As I consider my grandmother’s wish I am drawn to Simeon, a more obscure character in the story of the Incarnation. He too, looked forward to the birth of a baby. Unlike my grandmother, however, he lived with the promise (Luke 2:26) that he would one day see the Messiah, or as the New International Version translates it, “the Lord’s Christ.” He didn’t have to hope this would happen, he lived in expectant faith that he would one day see Jesus. When that much anticipated day finally arrived, Simeon “took him in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:28-32)

As I recall my grandmother’s introduction to Josh, I can easily picture the quiet joy, wonder, and excitement of Simeon when he embraced Jesus. It was a deep inexpressible joy as demonstrated by his jubilant prayer of thanksgiving to his Heavenly Father. For Simeon and for all who will embrace the Christ child as Savior, Jesus’ birth is the culmination and reality of God’s one-way covenant to mankind as declared throughout the Old Testament.

As we ponder and celebrate the reality of the Incarnation and what it means for us, we can join with Charles Wesley who beautifully captured the desire of Simeon when he penned the following words:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;

dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

 

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,

born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thy own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;

by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

(Come Thou Long Expected Jesus)

 Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Jesus has come to rescue us in our sin. He has come to give us freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and one day will deliver us from the very presence of sin. This is “good news!”

Rob Van Ness

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A Divine Intervention

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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

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Coming

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For many years I lived near Edwards Air Force Base in California. This afforded us some unexpected memorable moments. One of those moments was the landing of the space shuttle. Edwards AFB was the alternative landing spot for the shuttle during its era of space exploration. With an average of 360 days of cloudless skies and its enormous dry lake bed, Edwards AFB made a perfect destination for the shuttle’s return whenever weather conditions were not quite right at the Kennedy Space Center. This was always an exciting time for us as we were in the flight path of the shuttle’s re-entry. When this was to take place we would tune in to listen to the shuttle report from Kennedy Space Center and head outside to see if we could catch a glimpse of the space orbiter as it returned.

Seeing the shuttle was not always easy but we were sure to know when it had arrived by the twin sonic booms it produced as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. There was always the anticipation of the booms. These booms were exciting to hear not only because they rocked the windows of our home, but because they represented the arrival of the astronauts. They had returned!

However, waiting for the booms would always be accompanied with a sense of apprehension and maybe even a little dread. Would they return safely? Would everything work as it should? I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when the booms sounded as we searched the sky for signs of the shuttle, fixing our eyes on any place we might catch a glimpse of it. We didn’t always see it but we knew it was there, the twin booms serving as the announcement for all to hear. Usually a week or so later we would get to see a close-up look at the shuttle when it would fly piggy-back on a 747 jet as it was carried back to Florida to the space center.

So what does all of this have to do with Advent? Advent comes from the Latin word adventum meaning “coming”. It is easy to think of Advent as a way of looking back to a time when a nation was waiting for the coming of their Messiah. Jesus’ arrival was the fulfillment of a long period of waiting. However Advent is not just for looking back. Once again we are waiting, waiting for the coming of Jesus to earth. His return is as certain as his first arrival but the waiting can be filled with trepidation as well. Just like the tension felt as we waited for the twin booms to be heard, we as believers can at times be apprehensive as we live here in the waiting period. Life can be uncertain and filled with challenges. However we must remember that Jesus is coming again. John 14:3 is a promise directly from Jesus for us.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

During this time when we celebrate his first coming, let us also keep in our hearts that he is going to return. He will come again. Celebrate Advent with a heart full of confidence that Jesus’ first coming points to his second coming as well. If God would be willing to send his only son into the world in order to die for us, He will indeed send his son back to this world to bring us home to him. He is coming.

Eliza Huie, Assistant Director of Life Counseling Center

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How Not To Gift

 

My family is spread all over the country every year for Christmas. With my parents in Hawaii for a few Christmases, my grandparents in Florida, and the rest of us scattered between here and California, with absolutely no one in Maryland, getting together every year is pretty difficult. However, every year we manage to see each family member at least once throughout the year and as many as possible in the month of December.

In December, we do the mundane exchanging of gifts. Every year it is the same, except once. I decided to do the unthinkable at Christmas and let my frugal side show. I chose to re-gift a mug that a former student got me and give it to my mother. I know, I know. That is not very Christian of me. I mean, the woman gave me life. It’s rude to give my thanks in re-gifting a mug to her in the season where so many sacrifice to give to others. But in my defense, we were a newly married couple who had just bought a house and I was on a teacher’s salary. It’s not like I chose the investment banker path and had thousands saved up waiting to be spent. My parents told us not to spend a lot on them because they knew this themselves. Besides, moms love mugs. I’m sure it’s in all of their parenting handbooks, “Want to be a mom? Then get use to thousands of horrible drawings, flying spittle, and the eternal mug for Christmas every year that will keep appearing, but will take on different shapes.” I couldn’t go wrong. It was white, it was pretty, AND it had a Christmas tree on it. Whichever student had given it to me had good taste. So I wrapped it up and brought it with me to my sister’s house where we had our Christmas morning that year.

As gifts were passed out, my mother had picked out my poorly wrapped present and saw her name on it. “That’s from me!” I said as I smiled, clearly far too proud of myself for my horribly wrapped present. My mom smiled back while excitedly unwrapping her gift.

“Did you not like it?” She asked holding up the mug. My cheeks went hot and my stomach sank as I realized that a student had not given me that mug.

“…. Did you give me that mug?” I asked, obviously embarrassed.

Both of my parents erupted in laughter. My mother had given me that mug only last Christmas. I must have forgotten.

The reason we all laughed is because my parents didn’t need any gifts. Anything they want they can just buy themselves. Our greatest gift to them was our time and they knew this. I’m not saying you should re-gift all your presents to your parents year after year and they will always be pleased. Just remember that sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is your time and for many, that is all that is wanted anyways.

Elizabeth Coulter

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Making Room

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“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10

On Thanksgiving Day I noticed on Facebook that a friend in ministry, along with his family, were hurting because they serve far from home. So without thinking (translation: without first checking with Katherine!), I invited them to join us and ten others who would gather to celebrate. When I got home I informed Katherine, who responded as I assumed she would (‘yes master’ – yeah right!) – Graciously and warmly.

It is no accident that the first announcement of the birth of Jesus came to shepherds in a field outside of Bethlehem. Working outside the city symbolized their plight. Shepherds were social and religious pariahs. They could not testify in court, and were considered ceremonially unclean, and therefore unfit for temple worship. The irony is that they were likely tending the sacrificial lambs that would be used for the Passover celebration of the Jews.

But in the gospel, God makes room. To the marginalized, the discarded and the outsider.

Last month our congregation enjoyed what has become an annual tradition of 24-hours of fasting and prayer beginning on Sunday evening. Those who come stop at stations throughout the facility in order to pray for specific ministries, people and needs. Together we intercede for our missionaries, church planters, sister churches, visitors and members, those who are battling insecurities at work, illness and unbelief, along with our babies, children, young people, college students, adults, and anything from exploding families to dying loved ones.

Our Young Adults prepare the evening with great care. This year, what most caught my attention and heart, was that even in the signage they made room for our Korean sisters and brothers.

After all, isn’t this the story of the gospel, most beautifully evidenced in the Christmas narrative – that in Jesus, God has made room – for all? That there are no barriers of alienation, unbelief and fear through which His love cannot penetrate?

Oh and by the way, my friend declined the invitation, but later that evening, after our home emptied, Katherine and I looked at what was left over and acknowledged that had they come, there was plenty.

I guess I’ll leave it there. With Jesus, there is always plenty of room and plenty of love.

What good news of great joy…

Mike Khandjian

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A Christmas Letter to the Mother of a Child with Special Needs.

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For Christmas this year, I would like to put many presents under your tree. There is so much that you deserve.

I would give you a box wrapped in bright red paper and tied with the big gold bow. In that box there would be strength. Strength so that you could continue advocating for your child to have the same opportunities as other children. Strength to sit through one more doctors appointment where the doctors are just not quite sure what the appropriate diagnosis is.

There would also be a big box adorned with silver bells and filled with patience. Patience for all those evenings when your other children want you to help them with homework but you can’t stop what you’re doing. Patience that allows you to listen when other moms tell you how hard it is to carpool their child to so many different sports and birthday parties as you seek to find just one playmate for your child.

Another box would be tightly bound with shimmering emerald paper and inside that box would be hope. Hope that would see you through another day of watching other children on the playground run and jump and skip while longing for a time that your child will walk. Hope that enables you to wait for a teacher who will hopefully understand what your child CAN do.

A large gift bag tied with scarlet strings would be filled to the brim with wisdom. Wisdom for you to understand how the new diet or medicine works in your child’s system. Wisdom to respond to the ridiculous questions that people ask you about why your child seems different.

Wisdom to complete forms and look at research. Wisdom to budget an already stretched bank account.

The biggest box would be decorated with snowflakes and inside you would find an XL portion of resilience. Resilience to bounce back after setbacks. Resilience to smile after stares. Resilience to do the same thing over and over, day after day.

You would find an enormous red and white stocking hanging by your chimney stuffed with joy. Joy for little steps that are really huge milestones. Joy for moments that allow you to feel cared for and understood. Joy in knowing that you have truly been blessed by the love of a very special child.

Merry Christmas!

Tonya Cherry

 

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