Advent Is Radical

“I’ve never looked forward to Advent as much as this year,” a pastor friend recently said to me. With ongoing news of global tensions and suffering many of us feel tired and off kilter. As Christians, we remind ourselves that “God is still on his throne.” But as the world brims with heartbreak, it’s easy to wonder, “Has God has taken a hiatus? Is God really in control?”

In the weeks before Christmas, many of us set up a wreath and light candles in anticipation of Jesus’ birth. Advent, the Latin word for “arrival,” reminds us that God stepped into human flesh. Emmanuel. God is with us and for us.

Advent reassures us that God hasn’t abandoned us or our fallen, broken world.

The prophet Isaiah expressed hope for God to deliver his people during a period of turbulent divisions. As the Northern and Southern kingdoms fought bitterly, leaving them vulnerable to enemy attacks, and eventual ruin, God promised them a Savior: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Today, our communities and world face turbulent fighting and bitter divisions. The recent U.S. presidential election has left many of us divided and fearing for the future. Images of Syrian refugees fleeing genocide flood us with grief and powerlessness. Already, many of us are overwhelmed in our own personal lives, too. Like Isaiah, we long for God to move.

Advent reminds us of the extravagant lengths God has gone to rescue us and restore our world.

As Christmas approaches, we remember Israel’s hope for the coming Messiah—to save, forgive and restore. All over the world, church communities light candles and read Scriptures virtually on Sunday mornings: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1)

Advent calls for us to remove the distractions and get into God’s presence to face the reality of our lives and world, no matter how ugly. The Spirit whispers for us to pour out our hurt, confusion, resentment, anger, fear and anxiety. (1 Peter 5:7) God searches our depths, turning our faces toward eternal light. (Psalm 139:23-24) And we realize how desperately the world needs Emmanuel.

Advent guarantees that God has the upper hand even when the opposite seems true.

Living in between two worlds — heaven and earth — Jesus’ spirit reminds us not to lose hope. Although we wrestle through painful circumstances, personal failures and traumatic world events, Emmanuel has come.

Scripture assures our residency in heaven though our fallen, broken lives contribute to our fallen, broken world (Philippians 3:20-21). And our enemy (the devil) prowls the earth, seeking to kill and destroy (Peter 5:8-9).

God is present in every form of suffering and depravity — painful relationships, chronic illness, addictions, deaths of loved ones, unemployment, financial strain, children who turn from God. The Bible reminds us of His faithful words, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)

God is with those suffering war, genocide, starvation, displacement and every other horror known to our human brothers and sisters. We can be sure God opposes those who commit evil and will make all things right with justice.

The more we know Jesus, the more we realize that our lives are interwoven with those around us. Just as Frederick Buechner writes: “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

Seeing others’ desperate circumstances through Jesus eyes gets to the depths of who we are: Will we become stuck asking: “Why, God? Why?” Or will we step out, in the security we have in Him, asking: “What, God, what would you have me do?”

Emmanuel calls us to love God and our neighbors to our greatest capacity. Living by faith means stepping out in courageous acts of compassion.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

…May we set aside arguing…(and) get serious in our prayer lives, our ministry, and the practical support of widows, orphans, immigrants, refugees and every other marginalized person in our nation.

In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Rich Stearns, World Vision president, wrote: “We must never lose our capacity to feel outrage when human beings are so callously slaughtered, and then we must turn that outrage into action.” He urges us to pray, give and raise our voices in support of those suffering war and famine.

The baby born to a virgin in a manger, over 2,000 years ago, guarantees that God is for us, not against us. God sees. God cares. Emmanuel has come to redeem us and our fallen, broken world. And we can be assured that He is in control of everything present and all to come.

— from Amy Buckley in Relevant

Joy to the World

For two of my friends, this yuletide season will be a difficult one. They’ve both lost loved ones during this period, and the festive season reminds them of the painful absence. Sometimes it’s hard to feel joyous during Christmas.

While this season would hardly seem complete without the singing of “Joy to the World,” how can we sing for joy when our heart is grieving in pain? The song was penned by Isaac Watts, not as a Christmas carol but as a reinterpretation of Psalm 98—a psalm that calls the earth to praise God in view of His coming reign. The lyrics contain rich themes of Jesus’ coming to dwell among us as a human being, so most hymnals list the song as an Advent carol.

And, indeed, the fact that Christ came in the flesh is grounds for true joy. Preacher Charles Simeon termed it as the “most marvelous occurrence that ever the world beheld.” Consider this: The King of Kings wasn’t born in a palace, but in a lowly stable. And He became accessible to regular folks like you and me.

Why did He come? The Lord “remembered his promise to love and be faithful” (Psalm 98:3). He came to save (Psalm 98:1), announce His victory, and reveal His righteousness (Psalm 98:2).

When we think about Christmas and face it with tears—like my friends, we still have hope: Jesus is coming again. The baby who was placed in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes, and we will enjoy His blessings forever (Revelation 21:4).

As you hear and sing “Joy to the World” this season, may the lyrics bring you joy, for “The Lord is come!” “The Savior reigns,” “He comes to make His blessings flow,” and “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Yes, joy to the world—for our Savior has come!

—Poh Fang Chia from Our Daily Bread

A Real Christmas

This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against. — Luke 2:34

A quotation in our church’s Advent devotional guide caused me to rethink my approach to Christmas:

“Let us at all costs avoid the temptation to make our Christmas worship a withdrawal from the stress and sorrow of life into a realm of unreal beauty. It was into the real world that Christ came, into the city where there was no room for Him, and into a country where Herod, the murderer of innocents, was king.

“He comes to us, not to shield us from the harshness of the world but to give us the courage and strength to bear it; not to snatch us away by some miracle from the conflict of life, but to give us peace—His peace—in our hearts, by which we may be calmly steadfast while the conflict rages, and be able to bring to the torn world the healing that is peace.”

When Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus to the Lord, Simeon said to them: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

Christmas is not a retreat from reality but an advance into it alongside the Prince of Peace.

— from Our Daily Bread

What Christmas Came to Destroy

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8

The coming of the eternal Son of God into the world as the God-man, Jesus Christ, is a fact of history. Yet thousands of people say they believe this fact but then live just like everybody else. They have the same anxieties that good things will be lost and the same frustrations that crummy things can’t be changed. Evidently, there is not much power in giving right answers on religious surveys about historical facts.

That’s because the coming of the Son of God into the world is so much more than a historical fact. It was a message of hope sent by God to teenagers and single parents and crabby husbands and sullen wives and overweight women and impotent men and disabled neighbors and people with same-sex attraction and preachers and lovers — and you.

And since the Son of God lived, died, rose, reigns, and is coming again, God’s message through him is more than a historical fact. It is a Christmas gift to you from the voice of a living God.

Thus says the Lord: the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The fears that the few good things that make you happy are slipping through your fingers, and the frustrations that the bad things you hate about yourself or your situation can’t be changed — these fears and these frustrations are what Christmas came to destroy.

It is God’s message of HOPE this Advent that what is good need never be lost and what is bad can be changed. The Devil works to take the good and bring the bad. And Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil.

–from John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

Certain Thanks in an Uncertain Year

2020 has been quite the year.  Political strife, natural disasters, and a worldwide pandemic have been just a few of the headlines over this year.  “Social distancing” and “unprecedented” are terms we would probably love to throw out the window, along with the sadness and hardship they’ve caused for so many. 

We’re entering the holiday season with a great deal of uncertainty, another term we’ve been using a great deal lately, with many questioning how large to cap their usual family gatherings, or whether to even gather at all.  Advent follows closely on the heels of Thanksgiving, a holiday that gets more overlooked each year in the rush to Christmas buying.  But perhaps it is Thanksgiving that we need most of all this year.  Perhaps 2020 can be the year when our forced slower pace of life and loss of many norms allows us to view more clearly that for which we have to be grateful.  And perhaps our sorrows can help us to press in to God and realize what a great gift we have in the Incarnation of Christ.  He came to reverse the curse.  To make “everything sad. . .untrue.”

Mary and Eve, by Sister Grace Remington, OCSO, from Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa.
Copyright to Sister Grace Remington

As we gather together, and even if we cannot, let’s remember to invite God into our celebrations, large or small, and thank Him that throughout all of the sadness, confusion, and disappointments, He is with us.  With Job, who truly suffered unprecedented disaster, may we say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last, He will stand upon the earth.”


And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. –Romans 12:1,NLT

Our biblical act of worship is not what we do on Sunday mornings in coats and ties, but our act of worship is a lifelong, seven-days-a-week process of placing ourselves upon an altar of sacrifice. Worship is living the principles of Christ in everything we do. You’re worshiping God by what you do all week long.

A Christian who’s reaching out realizes the urgency and remembers what it was like before he knew about Jesus…he realizes that when people need help, they need Jesus above all else.

When you take food to the poor, that’s an act of worship. When you give a word of kindness to someone who needs it, that’s an act of worship. When you write someone a letter to encourage them or sit down and open your Bible with someone to teach them, that’s an act of worship.

We’re in a fast-moving, fast-paced society. We need to build bridges between our hearts and those of people we see who need a friend — and allow Jesus to cross that bridge of friendship and walk into their hearts.

Your handshake, your warmth, your walk, your friendliness could make the difference in someone’s life.

— From The Inspirational Study Bible edited by Max Lucado

Troubled Times

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. — John 16:33

If you’ve never heard of Murphy’s Law, you’ve probably experienced it: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Murphy’s maxim reminds me of the principle Jesus shared with His disciples when He told them, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV). In other words, we can count on it—sooner or later we will hit troubled times. It’s not the way God originally intended life to be, but when the human race first succumbed to Satan’s seduction in the garden, everything on this planet fell into the grip of sin. And the result has been disorder and dysfunction ever since.

The reality of trouble in life is obvious. It’s the reality of peace that often eludes us. Interestingly, when Jesus warned His followers about trouble, in the same breath He also promised peace. He even told them to “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (v.33). The word overcome indicates a past event that has a continuing effect. Not only did Jesus conquer the fallen world through His death and resurrection, but He continues to provide victory, no matter how much trouble we may face.

So, although we can expect some trouble in this fallen world, the good news is that we can count on Jesus for peace in troubled times.

Photo by Samuel Silitonga on

— from Our Daily Bread

From the Pastor’s Pen: Thy Kingdom Come

In the novel,One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the main character endures all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One morning he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Opening his eyes, Ivan says, “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.”

The attitude of Ivan is the same resolve that we, as God’s followers, need to embody when we prayerfully attempt to persevere through our difficult moments. Basically, God never promised us that it was going to be easy as we accept the Lord’s example. Even as their teacher sent the disciples out (Luke 10:3), he reminded them: “Go!  I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

Jesus was telling them that it was not going to be easy. That is, they would more often be received in a negative manner than by lovingly open arms. The Lord was telling them to expect this response and continue to grasp a perspective that was much deeper than just them.

“He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”  Luke 10:16    

In the following chapter (Luke 11), Jesus is found in a familiar spot doing something He did on a regular basis. For it is evident early on from Luke’sgospel (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18 and 9:28) that our Savior was in constant contact with His Heavenly Father.

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’…”

His disciples had no doubt noticed His prayerfulness and thus asked Him to teach them how to pray.  And even though Jesus had already given them these instructions (Matthew 6), He again reiterates many of the same words that we now call The Lord’s Prayer. Within these phrases, we find the title of this article. I believe that Erik Raymond does an eloquent job describing the anticipation of what Jesus means when He says, “Thy Kingdom Come:”

“…through our prayers, it’s as if the Holy Spirit lifts our chins above our earthly horizon to see the fleet of God’s coming kingdom advancing on the open sea.  And we cry, ‘Make haste!Come, O King and Kingdom!’’’

So, as we continue to Smile at the Storm that is all around us, let us also enact Paul’s instructions to the Church of Thessalonica:

“Rejoice at all times. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING. Give thanks in every circumstance,for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

A Slice of Presidential Scripture Cake

During its two-plus centuries of existence, the United States has had 45 different Presidents, all unique and interesting in their own way. The oldest to serve, Ronald Reagan (77 yrs); the youngest, Theodore  Roosevelt (42 yrs); the tallest, Abe Lincoln (6’4”); the biggest, William Howard Taft (350lbs); the smallest, James Madison (5’4” 100lbs), and the most-times elected, Franklin D. Roosevelt (4 times). 

Even more trivia reveals that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1826. James Monroe was wounded during the American Revolution. And Barack Obama collected Spiderman comic books. Yet one of the more interesting and lesser remembered presidents is described below:

“Under this President, the federal debt fell, the top income tax rate was reduced in half and the federal budget was always in surplus. Additionally, Americans wired their homes for electricity and bought their first cars and household appliances on credit. The economy also grew stronger, even as the federal government shrank and the rates of patent applications and patents granted increased dramatically. Also, under this Commander-in-Chief, a manfrom a town without a railroad station, Americans moved from the road and into the air.”  

Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President, served from 1923 (after Warren Harding’s death) until 1929, when he declined to seek re-election for a second term. Not only did Coolidge attain all of the above, he also managed to leave office with a better reputation than he had upon his arrival. (Wouldn’t we all love to see the same happen today?)  According to Amity Shlaes, Coolidge’s faith was the secret to his success.

“Calvin Coolidge wasn’t as vocal as some presidents about his religious belief. But that faith was real: strong enough to help him surmount personal setbacks, to make unpopular decisions, and to restrain his own vanity and so govern better.” 

His witness might have been quietly presented, but it was evident in his presidency because of his childhood upbringing.  Although John Calvin was named after his Father, from an early age he was called by his middle name. The name Calvin was chosen in honor of John Calvin, the  founder of the congregations in which Coolidge was raised. The first book he read was the  Gospel of John from a Bible that was given to him by his grandfather. His initial Sunday School lessons were prepared and taught to him by his grandmother. But my favorite Bible instruction can be found in the Vermont State Archive. It is Scripture Cake:

1 C butter (Judg 5:25)

3.5 C flour (1 K 4:22)

2 C sugar (Jer 6:20)

2 C raisins (1 Sam 30:12)

1 C water (Ge 24:17), 2 C figs (1 Sam 30:12)

2 C almonds (Gen 43:11)

6 eggs (Is 10:14)

1 tbsp honey (Ex 16:31)

pinch of salt (Lev 2:13)

Spices to taste (1 K 10:2)

2 tbsp baking powder (1 Co 5:6)

Follow Solomon’s advice for making good boys (Pr 23:14), bake in a loaf pan, and you have a good cake.