Tag Archives: Christmas

Hope: An Advent Post

hope 2The word “advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a time in which the church celebrated both the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history.  It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God.  That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power.  That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people.

So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Historically the Advent season starts on the 4th Sunday before Christmas. In keeping with this  tradition, we will be posting an Advent post each Sunday from now until Christmas. I pray that you will use this time to push into the story of Jesus and the invasion of God into human history.

Hope

The focus today is on hope. Hope is a powerful concept which by definition means:

  • Noun: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen
  • Verb: want something to happen or be the case.

It is a desire for a certain thing to happen…waiting, patience….hoping….trusting in something you can’t see or yet experience. Hope can keep you going even when things are tough.

Hope for Justice

There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  (Romans 8:22-25)

The Hope of a People

The “it” that we patiently wait for is the blessed hope of a new earth and a new heaven – the day when Jesus will come back and restore everything. On that day, justice will be done, things will be set right and pain, evil, sin, death will be destroyed.

Oh what a day that will be!

The Messiah

Sadly there are many ‘messiahs’ in the world today – many people and things, many stars and many passions and concepts that can take our eyes off of the things of God. We are pulled so many directions.

This is why we celebrate the Advent season. We MUST remember that God step into human history. This is what Christmas is about: God becoming man to redeem us from our own sins and the chains of the evil one.

No other religion claims this. True, the Greeks said that their gods came down to earth. Only they came to indulge their own desires. Our God came as a sacrificial lamb to be crucified on a cross so that we might be set free and live.

And since He came once, we know that He will come again! We have been sealed with the Spirit of God, a promise that He will return!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  (Titus 2:11-14)

Advent Prayer

God of the watching ones, give us Your benediction.

God of the waiting ones, give us your good word for our souls

God of the watching ones the slow and the suffering ones, give us Your benediction,

Your good word for our souls that we might rest.

God of the watching ones, the waiting ones, the slow and the suffering ones, 

and the angels in heaven, and the child in the womb, give us your benediction,

your good word for our souls, that we might rest and rise in the kindness of your company.

The Power to Choose: Re-Thinking the Traditional Christmas Gift Giving Programs to the Financially Insecure

empowerBeing the season of giving, it is common to see advertisements and promotions for Christmas gift programs for the financial insecure. Groups such as Toys for Tots or Angel Tree cover the airwaves solicited toys to give to children whose parents are unable to purchase Christmas gifts. Churches across the country partner with these groups, or create their own program – all designed to bless families during this time of celebration.

Our church was no different. That is, until we feel into a game changing worldview shift  on these traditional Christmas gift programs.

It all started last year at our food pantry and clothing closet. The food pantry director was tired of during with the paper work and regulations surrounding the Toys for Tots program as the benefit didn’t seem to match the work it took to pull of the program. Yet, she still wanted to do something for the families in the area…. so she started talking to some of the other pantry volunteers and they came up with an unique solution that “fit” our community and culture.

Before I tell you what they did, allow me to set the stage a bit more. Our church is located in a small rural village of 200 to 300 people tucked into the Idaho mountains with a strong sense of community. In 2008 a few community gals (some connected to our church, some not) got together and started a clothing exchange in the back room of our local restaurant, The Triangle (a great place to eat by the way!!), where folks could get some ‘new-to-them’ clothes for free (or in exchange for their old stuff, either way). This “clothing closet”, as it is known, was absorbed into the food pantry started by our church in the fall of 2009. Since then, we have given literally tons of clothes, shoes, boots, coats, and various household goods to people who needed them. (One of my favorite stories is of a young girl of ten who started bouncing with joy at getting her second pair of blue jeans. Just a small act, but one that carries a powerful message.)

The culture that developed out of this clothing closet was one of ‘shopping’ – as in, folks were used to coming to the food pantry and browsing through the racks of clothes, looking for that perfect shirt or pair of pants. Knowing this, the volunteers thinking about the Christmas gift program came up with the idea of having a “Christmas Store” in which parents could ‘shop’ for gifts. Running with the concept, they set out long tables in the back dining room of the Triangle loaded with toys (new or gently used) according to various age ranges. Parents were then able to browse through the “store”, picking out presents for each of their kids before having the gifts wrapped and tagged. They also had bowls of punch, trays of cookies and some cakes there for the folks to munch on as they browsed. All in all, I believe about 50 kids received presents that year through the “store” (this year we are on track to provide gifts for 80 or so kids).

Yet the biggest impact of the “Christmas Store” was not the number of kids who received presents – nor the number of volunteers who gave their time, energy and/or funds to make it happen. The biggest impact – the game changer, so to speak – happened among the parents. Instead of receiving a box of toys chosen by a stranger, the parents were empowered to choose a toy themselves for their children. Little Johnny likes XYZ while Annie likes ABC; each parent, or grandparent as the case may be, had the opportunity to choose a gift for their love one.

Continue reading The Power to Choose: Re-Thinking the Traditional Christmas Gift Giving Programs to the Financially Insecure

Christmas Greetings to Vineyard Movement from the Strouts

Phil and Janet Strout have released a sweet Christmas greeting to the Vineyard Movement. Give it a watch. 🙂

Phil also posted a video summarizing the past year and looking forward to the new year. Specifically, God seems highlighting the concept of servant leadership and what it means to be servant with Phil – leading him to pulling out all his books on the topic so that he can re-read them this winter. Not sure what that means for the movement, but it should be good.

 

Christmas and Easter: Connected Forever

Full of family, trees, decorations, food, presents and, hopefully, some snow, Christmas is a wonderful distraction from the dreary cold of winter.  We huddle together under blankets before the fireplace and sing songs of the first Christmas and old men driving around in sleds. And even though we know that Christmas is more than this, we sometimes forget how the course of history and reality was changed all those years ago.

The name of our holiday, “Christmas”, comes from the words “Christ’s Mass” – which refers to a time of worshiping Jesus and reflecting on the amazing, mind-boggling act of love that God Himself would come down from heaven and become a man like us:

“Since man could not come to God, God has come to man, identifying himself with man in the most direct way. The eternal Logos and Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, has become true man, one of us; he has healed and restored our manhood by taking the whole of it into himself. In the words of the Creed: “I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ…true God from true God, one in essence with the Father…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnated from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” -Bishop Kallistos Ware, “The Orthodox Way”

The author of the book of Hebrews puts it this way:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Christmas and Easter are undeniably and forever connected. May we slow down this holiday season and ponder the implications of this union – for it changed reality and impacted every molecule in the universe.