In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:1-2,14 (NLT)]

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

nativityHe came as a baby! God Himself humbly came into the world as a helpless infant. Our nativity scenes and Christmas cards portray a serene Mary holding her peacefully sleeping child but babies are anything but calm and peaceful. They are messy and incredibly noisy little creatures who, when not sleeping, are crying, eating, drooling, peeing, or pooping (often all at the same time). That was God sleeping in the feed trough and nursing at Mary’s breast but He didn’t have a gold halo around his head. Looking the same as every other newborn, he was doing and feeling the same things every human baby feels. On the eighth day of His life, He was circumcised just like every other little Jewish boy and I’m sure He cried in pain! That crying baby was God!

Jesus came into the world without benefit of a sterile hospital birthing room and Mary didn’t rock Him to sleep in a soothing-motion bassinet or rocking cradle. She didn’t sit in a cushioned glider chair or have a nursing pillow when she fed him. He didn’t have super-absorbent, ultra soft, hypoallergenic disposable diapers covering his bottom nor did Mary use warmed sensitive-skin baby wipes to clean that bottom. In all likelihood God had diaper rash and, with no special baby shampoo, He cried when the soap got in His eyes. Mary carried Him in a simple sling rather than an ergonomically designed carrier. It was God incarnate who had the runny noses, sore throats, tummy aches, stubbed toes, and bruises that came with childhood.

Jesus had to be fed and then learn to feed himself; he probably spilled more than once. He had to learn how to crawl, walk, and run and must have bumped his chin and skinned his knees frequently. He had to be potty trained and, in all likelihood, had more than one accident. The One who was the Word had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read. Picture God singing the Hebrew equivalent of the ABC song: “Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey…” At Joseph’s side, Jesus must have gotten a few splinters and sore thumbs as He learned the carpenter’s trade. Fully God and fully human, Jesus got tired, dirty, and hungry just like every other child!

God, being God, could easily have come into the world full grown. Jesus could have skipped the indignities of babyhood and challenges of childhood but He didn’t. When God came into our world, He experienced every human emotion and physical sensation. He knew cold, pain, sorrow, loss, toil, discomfort, fatigue, and temptation as well as love, joy, comfort, and encouragement. Jesus was there when time began and yet the One who created mankind humbled Himself and experienced humanity. That baby—that little baby boy was God Himself!

How can God stoop lower than to come and dwell with a poor humble soul? Which is more than if he had said such a one should dwell with him; for a beggar to live at court is not so much as the king to dwell with him in his cottage. [William Gurnall]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

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The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [Isaiah 9:2,6 (KJV)]


No Christmas Eve seems complete without reading Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth. Although my husband and I usually read from the NLT, it will be from the King James tonight, which is the Bible translation we both knew as youngsters. Seventy plus years ago, the Sunday schoolers at my husband’s church recited Luke’s words every Christmas Eve and he always seemed to have the same verse: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Although many of the words and phrases of the KJV (like “espoused wife,” days that were “accomplished,” and being “of the house and lineage of David” or “sore afraid”) seem dated, it will be comforting to read the familiar and beautiful words found in this old translation.

We’ll also read the powerful words found in Isaiah 9—a promise that those walking in the darkness of God’s judgment will see the light of deliverance with the birth of a child who will fulfill God’s promise of a messianic King. It will be difficult to read the titles given to this child without wanting to sing the words so familiar from Handel’s Messiah: “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Whether the child would be called both “Wonderful” and “Counsellor” or “Wonderful Counsellor” is a point of contention among translators. While the King James places a comma between the two words, many other translations don’t. Since the original Hebrew had no punctuation, we’ll never really know. Regardless of the punctuation, when we look at His names, it’s clear that the promised child would do more than bring light into the world.

The Hebrew word translated as wonderful is pele’ and it meant far more than just extraordinary. Astonishing to the point of being miraculous, pele’ was so marvelous that it required an act of God! The rest the child’s names are pretty self-explanatory. As a counsellor, he would guide the people from God’s perspective and with divine wisdom. He would have God’s might and power but care for His people as does a father for his children. A father, however, can’t do that forever but this promised child would guard and sustain his people eternally. The child’s final title is that of Prince of Peace. From the Hebrew word shalom, the peace of which Isaiah speaks is far more than absence of conflict or anxiety. It is a sense of wholeness, fullness, security, safety, balance, harmony, tranquility and calm—all of which the world so desperately needed then and still needs now.

The past four Sundays, we’ve lit the colored candles of hope, peace, joy, and love on our Advent wreath. Tonight, after lighting them, we will light the white candle that sits in the wreath’s center: the Christ candle. As we look at those five candles brightly burning, we’ll remember that Jesus truly is the “light of the world” and so very much more!

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. [Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)]

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. [John 12:46 (KJV)]

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Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. [2 Samuel 7:16 (NLT)]

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! [Luke 1:31-33 (NLT)]

angelSunday, we will light our Advent wreath’s fourth candle—the purple one known as the angel or love candle. We’ll read Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Samuel that David’s kingdom would continue forever. Although we know that David’s earthly dynasty ended some 400 years after Nathan’s words, God’s promise was fulfilled in Jesus—David’s direct descendant who now reigns forever. Jesus is tied to the Old Testament prophecies in two selections from Luke 1 in the angel’s words to Mary that her son, a descendant of David, would reign over Israel and His kingdom would never end and Mary’s beautiful song of praise known as the Magnificat in which she expresses her understanding that God is fulfilling His promises with the birth of her son.

Christmas celebrates the fulfillment of the promises God made to the people of Israel. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection initiated the new age promised by the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. The message of Advent, however, is that the story is not finished. Jesus must come again before the fullness of all that God promised will be realized.

We’re caught in what some theologians call the time of “already-and-not-yet.”  The Kingdom of God that arrived with Jesus is a present reality that we can experience right now but it also is the future reality for which we hope! Although the decisive battle against Satan, sin, sickness, and death has been fought and won, the enemy hasn’t surrendered and the war is not yet over. We must continue to fight Satan, resist sin, and endure sickness and death until the time Jesus returns! The King has come and His Kingdom is here but, even though His Spirit is within us and His joy and peace are ours, the story isn’t complete. Got Questions Ministries explains it this way: “The present spiritual reality does not yet match up with the future, physical reality. One day, the two will be in sync.” As we light this fourth candle of Advent, we will eagerly look forward to celebrating the birth of God’s Son, all the while remembering that the best is yet to come! “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”

We may say that in the possession of the Spirit we who are in Christ have a foretaste of the blessings of the age to come, and a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of the body. Yet we have only the firstfruits. We look forward to the final consummation of the kingdom of God, when we shall enjoy these blessings to the full. [Anthony Hoekema]

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. [Philippians 3:20-21 (NLT)]

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. [1 John 3:2 (NLT)]

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The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. [Isaiah 9:2 (NLT)]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

Two nights ago, we joined a long line of vehicles slowly wending their way through a nearby neighborhood famed for its over-the-top holiday light display. Each street follows a theme and over 300 homes are brightly decorated. The streets were aglow with meteor shower, icicle, garland, fairy, net, star, blinking, ball and laser lights along with illuminated blow molds, inflatables, and cut-outs of everything from Santa exiting an outhouse to the Grinch, igloos to elves, and candy canes to Olaf and the Minions. As bright as that neighborhood’s display was, it pales in comparison to one done by the Gay family in Lagrangeville, NY. Holders of the Guinness world record for holiday lights on a residential property, their 2020 display uses more than 670,000 lights that are choreographed to 256 songs.

The first holiday light display was in 1882 when Edward Hibberd Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, hand-wired and strung together 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and placed them on a tree. After connecting them to a power generator, he set the tree on a rotating pedestal in his parlor window where the brightly lit revolving tree drew a crowd of admirers. Even though electricity was not readily available, as Edison’s partner in the Edison Lamp Company (makers of light bulbs), Johnson was more a promoter of electricity and light bulbs than the spirit of Christmas. Nevertheless, by 1894, the tradition of Christmas lights was firmly established when the White House Christmas tree was illuminated by 120 bulbs. Today, in the U.S., about 150 million light sets are sold every year and some 80 million homes display Christmas lights.

Last night, we again joined a long line of vehicles and drove through another holiday display. While less extravagant, this show was more meaningful. From the safety of our cars in a darkened church parking lot, we visited 1st century Nazareth and Bethlehem. Starting with the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, we saw the Christmas story unfold in several live scenes while the relevant Bible verses were broadcast from a small speaker by each display. Rather than plastic reindeer or inflated snowmen, we saw real donkeys, camels, and sheep along with people portraying the holy family, angels, shepherds, and wise men.

While nowhere near as impressive as the previous night’s extravaganza, this simple representation of the Christmas story was a reminder that Jesus wasn’t flashy or brash. Even thought He was God, His birth was barely acknowledged. Although a star marked the event, only pagan astrologers noticed and, even though a host of angels made His birth announcement, only shepherds heard them. Rather than thousands of people coming to admire a spectacular display of lights, only lowly shepherds and sheep gazed in wonder as the light of the world lay in a manger.

Amid the season’s frenzied shopping, gaily wrapped presents, holiday music, cookies, cards, ugly sweaters, trimmed trees, elves on shelves, Santas, and all of those bright lights and decorations, let’s not forget that Jesus is the reason for the season. To be more specific, Good Friday is the reason for Christmas! The reason God took on the flesh of man and was born of woman was so He could die—something He couldn’t do as God. Jesus became man so that, by dying, He could take away the sins of the world.

When we see the festive lights of this season, let us remember that the real light of the world has nothing to do with LEDs, bulbs, generators, kilowatts, electricity, or even the sun. The light of the world comes from the Son who came to us as a baby in a small Judean village.

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 1:4-5 (NLT)]

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May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. [Psalm 126:5-6 (RSV)]

sara longwing butterflyColors have been used to differentiate liturgical seasons since the 4th century and, by the 12th century, Pope Innocent systemized their use in the church. Originally Advent was about penance, prayer and fasting in preparation for baptism so purple (the color associated with sacrifice and repentance from sin) was its liturgical color. Like the Advent wreath, however, liturgical colors are merely traditions and have no basis in Scripture. Most denominations have added more colors to the original five.

Representing the traditional Advent color of penitence, three of the four candles on our wreath are purple. This Sunday’s candle, however, is pink—the traditional color of joy and happiness—and the day’s Scripture readings are joyful ones. They start with the good news for the oppressed found in Isaiah 61 followed by the psalmist’s promise of a harvest of joy in Psalm 126. In the gospel, the good news of Isaiah 40 is repeated by John the Baptist and, in the epistle, Paul tells the Thessalonians always to be joyful. After the somber and apocalyptic readings of the last two Sundays, these readings are a welcome change. In the Roman Catholic Church, this Sunday is known Gaudete Sunday. The name comes from the Latin translation of Philippians 4:4—Gaudete in Domino sempe  meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always”—which were the first words of the introit for mass on the third Sunday of Advent.

Those words, however, shouldn’t be limited to this one Sunday because Paul’s words weren’t a suggestion; they were a command! Reasons to rejoice, however, seem to be in short supply right now and, rather than rejoicing, many are grieving. While some may grieve the actual loss of loved ones, we’re all grieving the loss of our sense of normalcy. Christmas is a holiday filled with long-standing traditions, many of which won’t be observed this year. In a season when friends and family are front and center, we won’t be home for the holidays or gathering with those we love. A malicious virus will keep us from travel, festive parties, visits to Santa, holiday parades, crowded candlelight Christmas Eve services, Christmas markets, neighborhood potlucks, cookie exchanges, and the annual sing-along Messiah. This pandemic seems to have stolen Christmas the way the Grinch did when he terrorized Whoville by stealing all the Christmas presents, food, and decorations.

But, let’s remember—when the Grinch heard every Who down in Whoville sing joyfully on Christmas morning, he realized that Christmas didn’t come from a store! The lighting of this candle of joy will remind us of that same thing. Christmas isn’t about enjoying family and friends and observing decades old traditions. It’s about rejoicing in the good news that a Savior was born—rejoicing that because Jesus atoned for our sins, rather than being separated from God, we are His sons and daughters. It’s rejoicing that Heaven will be our home someday. It’s rejoicing that, even though we plant in tears, we will harvest in joy! Whether or not you light the candle of joy on an Advent wreath, be sure to rekindle the candle of joy in your heart!

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (RSV)]

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. [Philippians 4:4-5 (RSV)]

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This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ’Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”  [Mark 1:1-3 (NLT)]

christmas starLast Sunday, my husband and I lit the candle of hope on our Advent wreath. This Sunday, we’ll re-light that one along with a second candle, the one we call the peace or Bethlehem candle. Because the Advent wreath custom has been adapted in a variety of ways through the years, there are several names for the candles and explanations for their symbolism that probably have more to do with the selling of wreaths, candles, and devotional booklets than with church tradition. There are no official names, meanings or rituals because an Advent wreath isn’t based on Scripture. It’s merely a tradition to help make this season more meaningful.

We’ve selected our Advent readings (or “lections”) from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), an ordered system of Scripture readings. The Christian church has used lectionaries since the 4th century but the RCL was adopted in 1992. An ecumenical project of several American and Canadian denominations, the goal was to provide a common experience of God’s word among all Christians as a way of uniting the Church. Used by a majority of the Protestant churches in the U.S. and Canada, the RCL is a three year cycle of weekly Scripture readings to be read at public worship. During most of the year, the four selections are from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles and the Gospels. Chosen for their common theme and relevance to the church season, these common lections connect Christians with one another across denominational lines and enable an Episcopalian in Minneapolis to recite the same psalm or hear the same epistle as a Methodist in Denver or a Lutheran in San Diego.

Before lighting the candles Sunday, we’ll read portions of Isaiah 40, Psalm 85, and 2 Peter 3. Isaiah tells the people of Judah to be prepared: “Your God is coming!” Saying that salvation is near, the psalmist speaks of the meeting of unfailing love and truth and the kiss of righteousness and peace. Joining these verses are Peter’s words to live peaceful and righteous lives and be ready for the end times when “the day of the Lord will come.” These lections again remind us that Advent is not just about anticipating the Messiah’s birth; it’s a time to anticipate His return. As we prepare our homes for Christmas, let us remember that it is more important to prepare ourselves for meeting Jesus.

Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place. [Edward Hays]

On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. [2 Peter 3:12-14 (NLT)]

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