Waiting for my Delivery

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Just one more gift. That’s all I’m waiting for. I ordered it so that it would arrive by Christmas, but its not here yet. The confirmation email says it will arrive by 12/24, but every day that passes I begin to doubt.  I keep clicking on the tracking number hoping that I will see those three little words “out for delivery”. I pause at the sound of every passing truck, hoping that my awaited package will arrive. It’s December 23 – Only 2 days left for it to arrive. Waiting is hard.

In Luke 2, we meet Simeon. A devout and righteous man who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but it appears it was a long time. But one day when led to the Temple by the Spirit, Simeon met a young couple who had brought with them their new born son. Simeon knew this was the one. The one he had waited for.

Simeon faithfully believed that that which was promised would come. A Messiah, promised deliverance and salvation. He rejoiced and blessed the child saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

What have you been waiting for this year?

A restored relationship?

Physical or emotional healing?

A new job?

Getting out of debt?

finishing school?

pregnancy?

As you wait, rest in the promise of God’s salvation. Rest knowing that our Emmanuel, (God with us) is here. Rest in the truth that our Prince of Peace sustains us. Rest knowing that the end of the story has been written. God’s timing isn’t always our timing, but His timing is always perfect.

Wait is that a UPS truck I hear?

Steve Dallwig

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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

Even Santa Needs a Savior

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“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice….”

The songs and folklore of Christmas tell us that Santa is not only a mystical altruistic giver of gifts to children around the world, but that he is also a vigilant watchman or ‘big brother’ keeping his eye and taking notes on the morality of every boy and girl around the world.

But did you know that Santa has some skeletons of his own in his closet? In studying the history of the man behind the legend, Saint Nicholas, a little fascinating story can be found.

Nicholas of Myra was born in the third century in a province called Lycia, which was a part of the Roman Empire. Today ancient Lycia is a part of the country we know as Turkey. Nicholas is believed to have died December 6, 343 A.D.

Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College and Church History specialist tells us of a time Santa got into some trouble…

“Bishop Nicholas was present at the Church’s First Ecumenical Council at Constantine’s summer palace in Nicea in 325. Hundreds of Bishops gathered there to refute the false views of Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria. Arius denied Christ’s deity. At one point while Arius was addressing the council, Nicholas’s rage got the better of him. According to some of his biographers, Nicholas stood up, crossed the floor to Arius, and promptly punched him in the face.”

According to Nichols, for this assault, Bishop Nicholas was arrested and put in jail. And more than likely found himself on his own ‘naughty’ list.

You see Bishop Nicholas was human like you and me, prone to the same temptations, impulses and passions. As benevolent and caring he was, Nicholas was also a sinner and in need of rescue.

Jesus was also a human, but he was unlike Nicholas, or any of us. He was God made flesh and although he faced the same temptations and pressures we do, he was without sin. That is why Jesus is the only who could be our savior, through his death our sins were paid for and his righteousness made ours.

So as we celebrate this Christmas, be reminded friends that the baby that was born in a Bethlehem stable was and is the only hope for sinners like you, me and even Santa.

This truly is good news! Merry Christmas.

Steve Dallwig

His Presence

At a pivotal point in The Horse and His Boy, one of the books in the well-known series The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan reveals to a young boy Shasta that he was not only with him throughout his journey to escape slavery, but he had also been guiding and protecting Shasta along the way.

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

This beautiful picture of how God meets us where we are can also be seen in the lives of the characters in the Christmas story. The shepherds, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, and the Wise Men were in completely different life situations when God revealed Himself to them. God, however, knew where they were and used their circumstances to meet them in unique ways.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, …” (Luke 2:8,9). The shepherds were doing what they did every day, and God reached them in the mundaneness of their everyday life.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream …” (Matthew 1:19,20). Joseph’s plans had been shattered. Although he reacted with grace, the pain of what he was experiencing is not minimized by this passage. When the woman who he had planned to marry cheated on him (or so he thought), God used a dream to quiet his fears and clarify the future.

Because of the familiarity of the story, a mere mention of other characters reminds us that God revealed Himself to them where they were. Mary was simply living in the town of Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Simeon and Anna were in the temple when Jesus, the promised Messiah for whom they had waited, was brought to them. The Wise Men were far from where Jesus would be born, yet God met them in their distant country and led them directly to Jesus, even providing necessary instruction for their journey home.

Do you wonder how God will enter the commonplace aspects of your everyday life? Remember the shepherds. Are you experiencing hurt, not knowing how you will overcome it? Remember Joseph. Are you praying and waiting for something that you think will never come? Remember Simeon and Anna. Are you worried that you are far from God’s reach? Remember the Wise Men. God knows where you are, and He will meet you there.

Hopefully, these reminders from the Christmas story will help you to patiently rest knowing that God will provide you with the guidance you need in His perfect time.

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for the Christmas story that reminds us that you meet each of us where we are and in unique ways. Please reveal yourself to us. Give us peace that you are guiding us even when we cannot see your hand. Give us patience to wait for your direction.

In Jesus’ name – Amen.

Monica Dombrowski

 

A Light

ii_151929b60106a543One of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is driving around after the Christmas Eve service to look at all the Christmas lights. The lights at Christmas are so magical, aren’t they? It’s as if the whole world decided to light up in celebration of the season. It is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Christmas.

Have you ever noticed how dark it seems after Christmas? Driving home after 5pm suddenly seems so much gloomier. The celebration ends and it’s time to put away the light.

But Christmas tells a different story. Jesus’ light didn’t shine only for a season, only for a month before it was put away – it continues to shine now, even when we can’t seem to see it through the fog of our sometimes-gloomy world.

And so dear friend, when the lights are put away, don’t let the darkness of our world take over the light that Jesus brought to us on the first Christmas. He is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9), our long-awaited King, the Savior of our hearts, and he’s here!

Maybe you need to be reminded of that light today, or you know someone who could use a little light. That’s the thing about light – it draws you in.

“A Light” by The Brilliance

Jessica Bates

Heaven on Earth: We Need it Now

The other night I was working, getting ready for our high school gathering, Breakaway, listening to iTunes , studying, writing, and praying. A song I don’t usually listen to came up on my playlist, usually I skip over these hoping to find something more current. The song gave me pause, because while it’s not a Christmas song per-se, it is all about the longing for Christmas in a fallen world. The song is “Peace On Earth” by U2. The very first stanza of the song says this:

“Heaven on earth

we need it now!

I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on earth”

At some level this is true. “Peace on Earth” as a platitude doesn’t really offer much hope for those who are hurting. But this is not what Bono, or the Bible for that matter, has in mind. When the Old Testament talks about peace or Shalom, it means human flourishing in all of life, not just the absence of conflict in our lives. Isaiah 9 says that Jesus is our “Prince of Peace”, that he is the one who brings peace to every square inch of our world and this gives hope to those who are hurting.

While I was in Japan, the violence in Paris erupted. Our team got the news at various times in the late night and early morning. It was difficult to follow all that was happening. Shots fired, terror ensued. I think most of our team gave a collective groan at the brokenness of our world.   We pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

Just this past week a young couple decided to violently attack their co-workers at a training session in San Bernadino California. Fourteen people died, several more were critically injured. We Pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

A cursory reading of the headlines today reminds us that we see children and families fleeing for their lives because of terrorism.   We pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

In our own church, we know many who are hurting, dealing with, disease, depression, disappointment and longing. We pray.

“Heaven on earth we need it now!”

The good news of Christmas reminds us that our Prince of Peace has come. God is with us. God hasn’t forgotten us. He hasn’t left us. He has brought peace. When it was all said in done, evil doesn’t win. Jesus does. He has conquered death, crushing the serpent’s head giving us all something to hope for. Peace has come to earth and this is why we celebrate!

Patrick Allen

A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

“…a day which will live in infamy.” This now famous turn of phrase was spoken by President Franklin Roosevelt 74 years ago on December 8, 1941 the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The link below will take you to an amazing story. It’s long, but well worth reading. This article first appear in the armed forces newspaper “Stars and Stripes” in 2008 and appeared again in 2014 in “World Magazine.” It’s about Mitsuo Fuchida a Japanese pilot who led the surprise attack on the American fleet, as it lie at anchor in Pearl Harbor. It’s an amazing story of the kind of peace that only the Christ of Christmas can bring to the human heart!

http://worldmag.com/2014/12/from_tora_tora_tora_to_giving_god_the_glory/page1

Jim Mckee

Of Advent, Christmas Trees & Rocky

Trees“The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross; otherwise we are alone again, incommunicado, our signals and symbols bounced back to us off the glassy walls of the universe.”

Rowan Williams, ‘A Ray of Darkness’

The other night Katherine and I saw Creed, the latest installment of the forty-year Rocky series. Without spoiling the story, it turned out to be arguably one of the top three of the series (but it would take a huge for-Rocky-fans-only conversation to explain). As we watched, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion throughout, and it dawned on me that it was because Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) is getting old, and he has been part of my entire adult life. Don’t laugh. In 1976 four of us were on a double date. We ate at a local favorite called LUMS on US-1 in Miami. LUMS was where I had my first beer with high school friend, Chris, after turning 18 (I can’t speak for Chris). On this night we planned on seeing King Kong, but dinner took too long and we ended up going to an unknown film (Rocky). And thus began the shared journey with this very down-to-earth boxer – until last night.

Okay the Christmas Tree thing. Two weeks ago I posted a pic of this year’s tree. Another lifelong friend, Cookie, posted a comment that it was the same as last year. I was puzzled until I looked, and amazingly she was right! We basically decorated the tree exactly as we had a year ago.

And then there is Advent. Advent is about arrival, and it is accompanied by waiting and longing. We celebrate that Jesus has come, while longing for Him to return. Because the world isn’t right – all one has to do is read the headlines. The world is in torment and the fall is reflected in every violent, tragic and broken expression. So while we celebrate that Jesus has inaugurated God’s Kingdom by coming and having conquered the curse of the fall with His death, resurrection and ascension, we also anticipate that one day all Creation will be healed and heaven and earth be one.

Which leads to putting the three together…
In some sense, Advent too is always the same thing. Just as with our tree, each Christmas season is adorned with the same longing and decorated with the same songs of hope. It is supposed to be this way. As our storylines unfold the big story remains the same – and we need this. I need this. I need something that I can look to and find that it has not changed or the deep, unchanging consistency of God in my life – we all do.

So back to Rocky. You have to know that in the story he is old. Some say that Stallone should get an Academy AwardRocky for his performance (I’ve been screaming this for 40 years!). In nuanced ways, Creed, though a very unique movie, is beautifully and hauntingly similar to the first Rocky movie. And I think this is why I was emotional. Rocky got old. But the story didn’t.

So in a few weeks the ornaments will come down and get packed away until next year, one day after Thanksgiving when they are unpacked and put on a fresh tree for the new season.
It will be beautiful.

All over again.

And the story we have been invited into, though accented with fresh twists and turns, will still be about Jesus, who came and who is coming.

And this is good news, friends…

peace.

Mike Khandjian
http://unfinished1.com

Christmas Obscured

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As I was talking with a young man who came very close to destroying his marriage of 5 years, I saw the pain on his face, his voice trembling as he told his story.

His life became a web of lies, fantasy, secrets, and betrayal. He had hidden a porn addiction since his childhood. He became obsessed with it, wanting more and more.  In the last few years he would solicit prostitutes regularly, meeting them in dangerous parts of town. All of this was unknown to his wife, who was pregnant with their first child.

Before we are tempted to judge him, I was reminded of how quickly we all hold tightly to far lesser things. We hold fast to what we desire and what is comfortable. Jesus desires to gift us with himself. How often do we hold on to the things that keep us from gazing directly into His eyes? How often do we replace Him with the things of life, striving for things in our own power and strength?

What are you holding on to that is obscuring your direct line of vision to Jesus, the things that interrupt His best for you?

The Christmas story is about a redeemer who was born to die. It’s a story of how a holy God could communicate mercy and grace to sinful people. How amazing it is that God’s lovingkindness and mercy are never-ending, and that He loves sinners, and delights to forgive us. And we are reminded that the Lord Jesus took our punishment on Himself, bringing mercy and justice together at the cross. How can you resist that kind of love?

Rich Starsoneck

 

Where’s My Joy?

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Joy.  It’s the season for joy. Joyful songs, joyful children, joyful gatherings with families and friends.  Yet for so many this season is anything but.

Stressed, panicked, anxious, lonely  and sad are just some of the words I hear from so many people describing their lives during these holiday weeks.

Illness, cancer, crime, war, death, addiction and broken relationships don’t seem to be taking a holiday so that we can all get just a little break. Why?  Why can’t we have just a little happiness?  Why aren’t our lives filled with the joy the anticipation of this season promises?

The answer actually began in the garden.  When Adam and Eve took of the fruit from the forbidden tree, they forfeited the true joy of a harmonious relationship with God and His creation.  From that moment on the world has been filled with the consequences of life in a fallen world. All relationships,  human bodies, vocations and the very earth itself ache with the pain of sin and in it’s brokenness cry out for a redeemer.

But as God was in the midst of cursing Adam, Eve and the serpent for their sin He inserted an incredible promise of hope.  God, speaking to the serpent, told it that one day the offspring of the woman would deliver a blow that would crush his head. (Genesis 3:15).

Advent began right there.  The anticipation of one who would deal the final blow to sin, it’s power  and reign would be fulfilled thousands of years later with the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.  He was the promised one, He was the one the broken world and our broken lives have cried for.  And in His coming God is fulfilling His promise of making right all that was made wrong.  It’s there we find our joy.  It’s not in our circumstances, in the events of our lives both in and out of our control.  No, our joy is found as we in faith anchor ourselves to Jesus.  In faith, believing that our circumstances, struggles and pain are not the final word or the end of the story.

This Christmas in the midst of whatever you are going through  may you know the joy of being the Redeemers beloved and that through Him one day an eternity devoid of sin and pain will be ours.

This is good news.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found”

Steve Dallwig