A Glimpse of Heaven

Advent Post pic - Binick

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

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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.

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

Entering Our Sorrow

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Do you find that you are lacking joy and peace this holiday season? It is no surprise to me that the months of November through December can be an excruciating time of year for those who have experienced loss. In addition to the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, etc. can cause serious depression during the holidays.

As I was talking to someone who had experienced divorce several years ago said to me, “Everyone assumed I was spending the day with someone else. I already felt like a loser therefore, I was too embarrassed to say, “Excuse me but I have nowhere to go for the holidays. Can I come to your house?” And as I think back many years ago to my first marriage, the first Christmas after my divorce was by far the worst holiday of my life.

You will be ambushed by pain. The holidays can be a painful reminder of what once was and no longer is. Your emotions can surprise you, and catch you off guard. As people share their Christmas stories with me, one of the phrases that I hear quite often is “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. Your emotions can be intense and unpredictable.

Don’t let your loss however, become the lens through which you view all life’s circumstances. And don’t limit your thinking to Jesus birth. Consider what he came to do. He came with purpose, and it’s personal. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is nothing if it is not personal. He entered this world took on human flesh, and died on a cross to bear your sin. He came to defeat sin & sorrow. He came to a fallen broken world to people who are both sinners and sufferers, and he came to deal with the root of all those things.

This is what the Gospel of Jesus is about, a Savior who comes to the scene of pain, sorrow, and weeping with compassion, with comfort, and with the power to save.

Rich Starsoneck