Advent: Is Jesus Still Here?

burned house

Ted Robertson’s home in Colorado was one of more than 500 destroyed by the Black Forest Fire in June 2013.  When he was allowed to return and sift through the ash and rubble, he was hoping to find a precious family heirloom made by his wife — a tiny ceramic figurine of baby Jesus about the size of a postage stamp.  As he searched the charred remains of their home, he kept wondering, “Is the baby Jesus still here?”

When our lives are rocked by disappointment and loss, we may wonder if Jesus is still here with us.  The Bible’s answer is a resounding Yes! “Neither death nor life, neither angles nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow…will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

In a corner of what used to be his garage, Ted Robertson discovered the burned remnants of a nativity scene, and there he found the baby Jesus figurine undamaged by the flames.  He told KRDO NewsChannel 13, “[We’ve] gone from apprehension to hope . . . that we’re going to recover some parts of our life that we thought were lost.”

Is Jesus still here?  He is indeed, and that is the everlasting wonder of Christmas.

— from God with Us:  Christmas Reflections from Our Daily Bread.  Pick up your free copy at the church.

Advent: Angels

“…for who can endure the day of his coming?”

Malachi 3:2


When an angel
snapped the old thin threads of speech
with an untimely birth announcement,
slit the seemly cloth of an even more blessed
event with shears of miracle,
invaded the privacy of a dream, multiplied
to ravage the dark silk of the sky,
the innocent ears, with swords of sound:
news in a new dimension demanded
qualification. The righteous were
as vulnerable as others. They trembled
for those strong antecedent Fear nots,
whether goatherds, virgins, workers
in wood, or holy barren priests.

In our nights
our complicated modern dreams
rarely flower into visions. No contemporary
Gabriel dumbfounds our worship,
or burning, visits our bedrooms.
No signposts satellite hauls us, earthbound
but star-struck, half around the world
with hope. Are our sensibilities too blunt
to be assaulted with spatial power-plays
and far-out proclamations of peace?
Sterile, skeptics, yet we may be broken
to his slow, silent birth, his beginning
new in us. His big-ness may still burst
our self-containment to tell us,
without angels’ mouths, Fear not.

God knows we need to hear it, now,
when he may shatter, with his most shocking
coming, this proud, cracked place,
and more if, for longer waiting,
he does not.

— from Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw

Advent: God’s Tears

You could try it — when you lean your body way to the left, or when you lean way to the right, sooner or later you’re bound to fall.

And inside of every single person walking on God’s globe, there beats this heart with a very bad lean to it.

Our love didn’t lean toward the one real God, with His arms wide open…..Our love leaned toward these selfish things that we made into our own fake gods — these little idols that have no real arms at all, so when we lean toward them, we just fall.  Hard.

God looked at all the hearts leaning away from Him, and His bruised heart swelled with sadness.  “His heart was filled with pain” is how God felt when he looked around and saw everyone sinning and leaning and hurting (Genesis 6:6, NCV).  God’s tears fell like a flood.

His heart hurts not just with a few teardrops of ache, not just with a slow drip of a bit of sadness — no the whole gigantic enormity of God’s heart swells wore with what hurts your heart — and His tears of sadness flooded the world.

global flood

God leans to us who are falling in a hurting world, and He catches us.  He whispers, “I love you…”  God’s love for you made Him weep over all our sadness and sin, and His heart filled with ache and spilled like a flood.  And God offered everyone a gift, a rescue, a massive wooden ark — an ark much like a cradle on water — and He whispered, “Come to the ark.”

God sees our tears now.  And the hurt flooding our world right now.  And He offers everyone the greatest gift — a rescue, a wooden cradle, a wooden cross — and He whispers, “Come to Jesus.”  Noah and his family were saved by an ark.  You and the whole family on this earth are saved by Jesus alone.

Some horrible, awful, miserable, very bad days, you may look around and say, “If there’s a God who really cares, He’d look at our world, and His heart would break.”  And God looks to Jesus, who went to the cross, that real tree, and says, “Look — My heart did break.”

While Jesus hung on that cross, soldiers speared His side, as if they were piercing straight into Jesus’ heart, filled with sadness for all the world’s pain, and it was like the water and blood of His broken heart gushed right out — like a flood of…

So when those floods of bad things happen, if you lean toward Jesus — if you incline toward Jesus, if you rest in Jesus — you get the Gift of Jesus, like an ark of love, holding you, carrying you, raising you gently up through any flood of sadness that fills the world.

— from Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift:  A Family Celebration of Christmas

The Search-and-Save Mission

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:10

Advent WEb

The word advent means “coming.”  In this season of the year, we focus on the meaning of the coming of the Son of God into the world.  And the spirit of our celebration should be the spirit in which He came.  And the spirit of that coming is summed up in Luke 19:10:  “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The coming of Jesus was a search-and-save mission.

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and save lost people from the wrath to come.  God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes. 1:10).  It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God — that He is a searching and saving God, that He is a God on a mission, that He is not aloof or passive or indecisive.  He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting.  He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving.  That’s the meaning of Advent.

The book of Acts is a celebration of this advent heart of God’s — on the move to seek and to save the lost.  It’s a narration of Jesus’s ongoing advent into more and more peoples of the world.  Acts is the story of how the early church understood the words, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).  It’s the story of how the vertical advent of God in the mission of Jesus bends out and becomes the horizontal advent of Jesus in the mission of the church.  In us.

Jesus came into the world at the first Advent, and every Advent since is a reminder of His continual advent into more and more lives.  And that advent is, in fact, our advent — our coming, our moving into the lives of those around us and into the peoples of the world.

— from John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy

Exercising Our (Gratitude) Muscles

affection appreciation decoration design

Expressing gratitude isn’t just a good thing to do; it also appears to be good for us! Indiana University researchers found that participants who performed gratitude-focused writing exercises felt uplifted, and were more likely to express gratefulness through generosity, even weeks later.

Furthermore, brain scans revealed increased gratitude-related activity even months down the road (New York Magazine).

Though the study was small, we seem to have a “gratitude muscle” that can be strengthened through exercise. If so, there may be more than we thought to the popularity of gratitude journals and Mom’s insistence that we write thank-you notes. Not to mention the biblical call to “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (1 Chronicles 16:34, for example).

Might God have hardwired us for gratitude — not only at Thanksgiving but year round — because it’s good for us as well as for those we thank? To that, we respond, “Thanks be to God!”

The Beauty of Growing Old

“How beautifully leaves grow old,” wrote 19th-century essayist John Burroughs.

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves beautiful

“How full of light and color are their last days.”

Society doesn’t think highly of old age. Beauty products tout the supposed virtues of maintaining a youthful appearance. Older adults’ wisdom, born of much life experience, is often disparaged, ignored or not sought. But God says this about the righteous, whose lives are rooted in him: “In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright” (Psalm 92:14-15, NRSV).

The aging leaves of autumn can prompt us to look for beauty in the seniors among us, to notice the light and color that still abound. From all the fruit they still produce — service, prayer, love — may we learn about living faithfully until our own last days.

—Heidi Mann

A Shepherd’s Role

While traveling in Iran, writer Eric Bishop asked a villager about an earthen enclosure topped with dry thorns. The man said sheep stayed in the round space at night for safety. “What are the thorns for?” Bishop asked. “If a wolf tries to break in and attack the sheep,” the man replied, “he’ll knock against the thorns, and they’ll make a noise, and the shepherd will wake up and drive off the wolf.”

Pointing out the enclosure’s doorless entrance, Bishop asked why a wolf wouldn’t just enter there. Because, replied the villager, “that’s where the shepherd sleeps; the shepherd is the door.”

white sheep on farm
Suddenly Bishop understood why in John 10 Jesus calls himself first the door, or gate, for the sheep and then the Good Shepherd. Because Jesus is the shepherd, he’s also the door that keeps us, his sheep, safe within his care.