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

Advertisements

A Missional Mission

A Missional Mission pic

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

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

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

Coming

atlantis

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