Waiting

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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

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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

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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

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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

Stop

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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

What Doesn’t Change

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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

A Missional Mission

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Christmas and Easter are, at most, 112 days apart. On December 25th we remember the birth of Jesus Christ, then approximately 15 weeks later we reflect upon His death and resurrection.

Year after year the two foundational aspects of our Christian faith occur 112 days apart. Year after year His humble birth in a lowly stable transitions to His sanctifying sacrifice in the span of 16 weeks. Year after year, we celebrate how God’s Son redeemed the world just 4 months after celebrating God sending his Son into the world.

As humans, we are creatures of routine and habit. We park our cars in the same spot and sit in the same seat, or nearly same seat, each week. As our habits form, we find ourselves glossing over the details. You may park in the same spot and walk the same path to your self-assigned seat every week, but when’s the last time you thought about the steps it takes to get you from the parking lot to the pew?

Similarly, after so many years of celebrating Easter four months after Christmas, when is the last time we really thought how Jesus got from one event to the other? It may seem obvious, but more than 112 days passed between Jesus’ birth and His resurrection. I think it is important for us to remember the additional (approximately) 11,636 days that Jesus taught, led, sacrificed, and lived.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). Yes, Jesus came on a mission, but He was also missional. If we reduce Christ’s time on Earth to four months we miss a huge part of the Salvation story. Jesus dwelt among men for 33 years. He spent time interacting with people, both teaching and relationship building. He showed us how to live, how to work, and how to commune with God. Jesus sacrificed in so many different ways before becoming our atoning sacrifice. He denied His own needs when He went out into the desert for 40 days. He eschewed His comfort when He traveled around teaching the God’s truths. He chose to live out His mission in every moment and decision of every day, truly showing us what it means to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

So often we are quick to judge the Pharisees for so astoundingly missing who Jesus was and what He did. However, when we condense the Gospel to the Christmas-to-Easter mentality we sing a different verse of the same song. The Pharisees missed the point because they were looking for a nation-toppling warrior. If we only view Jesus as the miraculous baby who grew up to die a martyr’s death, how different is our misconception from theirs?

Like Christ, we must also live missional lives. Instead of looking for the Christmas-to-Easter moments (following God in ‘big’ decisions or making ‘big’ sacrifices), we need to choose God’s will over our own in daily life. We need to start elevating the importance of glorifying God and enjoying Him in all our moments and decisions.

How would a missional lifestyle, lived out 365 days a year, improve the way we worship the Lord whose miraculous virgin birth we reflect upon each Christmas season? How would 12 months of living our lives in light of His Love for us draw us closer to the Sacrificial Lamb whose death and resurrection we remember and celebrate each Easter? Yet, the very one who called us to our mission empowers us to be missional every day.

Angie Deibert – Chapelgate member

Fear Not

 

Ever watched the scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Linus tells about the angels appearing to the shepherds? Blogger Jason Soroski points out that Linus, who has spent the entire film being ridiculed for his security blanket, drops the blanket at the exact moment (00:38 in the above clip) when he recounts the ‘Fear not’ of the angels. It’s a beautiful picture of what happens when we get caught up in the story of God’s rescue of the world in Jesus. Not that our fears disappear, but they lose their grip on us.

linus

But as Linus finishes telling the story, he picks the blanket up again. For me, THIS is the most powerful moment in the movie. As much as I’d like to be done with my fears, they are constant companions, dogging me as I walk the path Jesus has laid before me. I have glimpses of the future, when I am so caught up in the beauty of the story of Jesus, that my fears lose their grip and I forget they’re there. Often, like Linus, those moments tend to come when I’m retelling what Jesus has done. But then I forget, and grab for the blanket again. I’m thankful that Christmas is about God come to be with us amid the fear that we can’t seem to let go. And I look forward to the promise of Easter in a few months: fear is not the last word in my life.

Dan Passerelli

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

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