Advent


Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to preserve you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

There is real wonder and magic in the air as we tell the story of Jesus’ humble birth to the specially and specifically chosen young virgin woman. The enormity of God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the rest of creation to himself is written all over the way that these events transpired, and God’s heart for that redemptive work continues to be on full view throughout the life and especially in the death that Jesus was to encounter. So, it is of little wonder to me that God’s real intent in all of this is found in Jude’s few simple words of praise, for there is only one being who can do what is stated here. Jesus is the answer to all people’s need to become blameless before God just as He is the singular source of the wisdom, strength, and grace that are required daily to make it through life while living out those days righteously.

 

This redeemed life that Jude is praising is the point behind all that God did by and through Jesus. God did not need to demonstrate Himself to the world for any other purpose. He certainly did not need to undergo the pain and the suffering of living out a short lifespan in human flesh in order to be able to relate to us or to understand us, for these are things that God has been capable of doing in ways that are deep and profound from the dawn of our inception at His hand. Jesus was with us and journeyed along our pathways so that we would be more fully able to grasp the enormity of what has been lost to sin’s death and decay. In Christ, we are also provided with a tangible means of return to a now and an eternal place of right standing before our Lord as it is through faith in Jesus the Christ that all sin is forgiven and that our lives are transformed into ones that follow God’s design for living in the full appreciation of the Lord’s intent for us.

 

As I know this Jesus whose birth is celebrated in the festivities of Christmas, the true importance of Jude’s words of praise take on greater meaning for me. These are not just some spiritually right sounding words and phrases to recite in rote liturgical fashion; they are the essence of the calling that Christ has placed upon my life. Christ is shown most fully in His glory, majesty, dominion, and authority as I and other people of faith live out the love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that the Lord has pour over and into us. The point of Christmas is that the lives of people in this world would be changed. The focus of that long-ago birth is the salvation of the people of this world from our separation from our Creator and thus from a death that starts at birth and that knows no end. We are each and all called upon to live out the salvation that God has gifted to us through Jesus. We do this by making Jude’s words of praise the on-going descriptor of the manner that we conduct our lives.

 

Blessings in Christ, and Merry Christmas.

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For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

Psalm 92: 4

 

God was working out His will in the ancient world of the psalmists, and He is still doing the same to this day. From the dawn of time the Lord has been engaged with His creation on all levels; so, it is not surprising to me to see His hand at work in the affairs of the world where I live. God cares about each of us, and He is very concerned about the way that we live out our lives. This concern and engagement were so great that God, Himself, lived among us to provide everyone with the way and the means to enter into on-going and eternal peace with Him. That baby, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate was the singular greatest work that God’s hand of mercy and grace has accomplished; yet, that work was intended to bring joy to the hearts of people such as myself.

 

My greatest joy is known through the presence of Christ in the world where I dwell, and it is made very real by His Spirit as He dwells within me. For God’s redemptive work is carried out on a grand, universal scale in our world, and it is also rendered on an intimately personal scale within the lives of individuals as we enter into relationship with Christ. It is in and through this relationship that gladness is brought to life, and it is in the companionship of the Spirit that life with its ups and downs, its trials and challenges, is perceived as a joyous event. God works in us to change our perspective on the events and the circumstances of life so that all of it can be understood as valuable and useful in our journey of faith. I know that without Christ in me, I would view my days very differently than I do in light of God’s wisdom, truth, and love.

 

When I consider God’s gift of Jesus, I am not taken immediately into a seasonal story and the festive activities that tend to surround its telling. Instead, I am made humble and also filled with peace and the joy that the writer of this psalm is expressing. In Christ, I have come to know that joy is internally generated by Christ’s Spirit, and so the true and lasting source of my joy is Christ in me. He works to transform my perspective on life to one that seeks to bring His love into all that I think and do. Although my efforts along these lines are weak and highly flawed, I know that Christ is at work to redeem even my poor attempts at spreading His joy in the world.

 

 

Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42: 1

Here the prophet Isaiah is giving us a forward-looking picture of Jesus which states God’s perspective on the Savior. This is the Messiah that God was going to send into our defeated world. Yet, I think that Isaiah was also telling us considerably more than just how the Father would view the Son, Jesus the Christ, for I think that we can see some really great things about how our Lord views us, as well.

Jesus came into this world as a man in order to make God tangible and to connect us totally with our Creator. So, when we enter into a relationship with Christ, we gain much of these same blessings that God granted to Jesus. With Christ in us, we are viewed by God as His chosen ones, and the Lord will literally move heaven and earth in order to hold us up in and through everything that life brings our way. We become the delight of God’s eye. We also become workers in the Lord’s field and keepers of His kingdom come to earth.

However, there are responsibilities that come with our position as God’s chosen ones. We are called upon by the Lord to bring His grace, love, mercy, and justice into the world. Thus, most of us will be required to live differently than we have in the past in that we are being asked by God to care little for ourselves and to be totally involved in demonstrating His redemptive love by and in all of our lives. Standing up for justice, for peace, and for redemptive love in a world that values oppressive power and restrictive rules can be a very lonely and even a dangerous thing to do, but when we do that, we are accomplishing exactly what God wants us to do, and we are standing squarely in the center of His delight.

 

But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8: 3

 

This idea is somewhat the opposite of the way that we often view our relationship with God. At least I tend to think in terms of loving God and so seeking to know Him ever more fully, deeply, and completely. Yet, if I think about it, consider what Paul is saying, and meditate upon these few simple words, it begins to make sense. Love is something that changes people. It reshapes the way that we see the world round us as it takes us into a deeper form of engagement with its object. In love, we seek out the beloved, and we desire to know that person very well, but love also opens up the lover to the other. This is true in romantic love relationships, and it is also true in other forms of deep, personal relationships.

 

In fact, there should be no place where this confident openness is more present than in our love for God. There is no one who is more trustworthy than is the Lord, and there is no other relationship that we can enter into that has the same degree of commitment inherent in the nature of the beloved than that which is present in God. God is in relationship with each of us who know Him for the duration of time, and there is nothing that can change His perspective on loving and on being present with us. The Lord is the definition of the sort of unfaltering promise of loving others that is missing in our world, for He does not hold our weakness, failure, and inconsistency as a form of ransom over us so that we think that we need to perform in order to retain that affection. Instead, God gave Himself up as a ransom of love in order to set us free for all of eternity from our own sinfulness and its shame.

 

So, my love for God leads to giving Him my heart, mind, and soul. I allow Him into my inner life in a way that is not even possible for any other to do. As Christ has given each of us who know Him His Spirit to dwell with and in us, we are inhabited by God’s love as it is poured out upon His people. There is no other experience in this life that is like this in its fullness and totality. God’s love is what brings this rare element into our world, and His love given to me is what defines, enables, and empowers all of the love that I have to give to others. Thus, as I love God, I come to relax the protective barriers that life in this world has taught me to place around my heart, and I allow Christ access to the full range of my feelings, my responses to others, and to my willingness to trust and to engage with people. In Christ, I know perfect love, and He pours Himself into me so that I can, in turn, be that sort of committed lover in all of my other relationships.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11: 6

 

This past weekend we worked on taking down the last of our Christmas decorations. I know, it is already a month after Christmas and Saint Valentine’s Day is the theme around most of our neighborhood; in truth, winter and its snowy vistas are the real theme in my world this year. One of the last décor items to go back into storage for next year is a little wooden sign that has been hanging on the outside of our house near the front door. It reads, “Wise men still seek Him.” We know that it is a reference to the coming of those eastern mystics and astronomers that God specifically called to come to meet their newborn king and the savior of their souls. These were learned men. They studied the heavens for its signs and they searched their world in order to gain its wisdom and to understand the truths that God had implanted in it from the dawn of creation. Now they traveled a great distance on nothing more than faith in order to meet the person who was the greatest advent in all of history.

 

God sought them out, and He presented to them a message that required the utilization of all of their wisdom to comprehend and to interpret. Yet, acting upon that knowledge was not an act of intellect alone, for critical thinking would tend to lead to the rejection of this strange and wondrous idea of God come to dwell with people as one of us in order to bring all who would believe into a restored relationship with our Creator. This idea is too wild and impossible to act upon, and these societally well-placed and highly regarded Iranian or Iraqi scholars would be risking much to follow the prompts in the heavens in pursuit of Daniel’s prophesy about Messiah. Yet God called to them, and their faith in the reality of His existence and in the relationship that He desires to have with each person on this earth led them to pack up and set out along the hard road of discovery that took them to the deep humility of submission to the singular Great King of the Universe.

 

God called these men from a foreign land with their strange language and different customs out of their ancient religious practices, beliefs, and understanding into the presence of Christ. They were truly wise in that they did not allow any of those strong traditions and long-held beliefs to keep them from coming to that place and time for their encounter with God, Himself. This same sort of wisdom when combined with faith is what leads each of us to turn from the life that we have been leading and the culture that is supporting it and to come to Christ. For some people this is a new journey, and it leads them away from the comfort of old practices and associations and into the new dawn of life that reflects eternity. For everyone who does know Christ, regardless of whether that relationship is newly formed or life-long in duration, we are still called to seek out Christ as we surrender more and more of ourselves and our old ways of thinking and acting to God’s ancient will and desire for peace on this earth and for reconciliation with all of its inhabitants.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6: 10

 

God’s will can seem to be a strange and a mysterious thing. This earth just doesn’t feel like it is present all that much of the time, and if it is what prevails here much of the time then I just might not want to have anything to do with it. Perhaps Jesus is talking about some ideal situation, or an understanding of the future, or perhaps He is telling us about the reality in heaven where God resides full time. For from what I can see as I look outside my door, this world is willfully calling its own shots much of the time, and God is not very visible in what transpires as a result.

 

Yet, I think that Jesus was not merely setting out a model for prayer form or talking about some sort of visionary ideal. He was speaking about a central idea that related to His presence among us. Jesus was God’s Kingdom come to earth in its fullest form and expression. Although Jesus was a person in the same way that you and I are also people, He was also God among and God with us. Jesus, the Christ, walked our streets and felt our pains and our joys. He also brought the truth, righteousness, and love of God to a place where they and their Creator touch our lives and effect the way that we conduct them. God’s perfect will was present here in Jesus, and it remains with us in the real and tangible presence of Christ’s Spirit.

 

So, God’s will is really not so strange, except when considered from the point of view of a world that has lost its righteous way, and its mystery is resolved by knowing Christ deeply, intimately, and personally. God’s will is manifest in Christ, and it is carried out through the committed prayer, words, and actions of people like you and I who seek to know it and who courageously live as Christ calls and leads us to do. God’s will brings the love, the grace, the right living, and the peacemaking of His Kingdom to the streets of this world. God’s will is expressed as we love Him completely and so love others sacrificially. It also brings people to a place where we no longer view ourselves as citizens of this world, but instead, we know that our true home is found in the presence of Christ both now and into eternity.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

Exodus 33: 18

 

This is the moment when it all turns. The wandering is over as God and Moses dialogue in the wilderness of the Sinai. This time of seemingly endless drifting and seeking was not caused by God but came about because the people were not ready to trust in the Lord fully. They thought that they needed more when, in fact, they already had everything that would be required for survival and to thrive in the land of their deliverance from slavery. Finally, Moses is ready to stop bargaining with God and opened up himself to be fully in the presence of the Lord.

 

This holding back and holding onto control is too human a characteristic. We can even know in our minds that God is real, we can accept the fact of salvation as coming through Christ, and we are able to claim the heritage of Christian faith as our own; yet, we are still not ready to let these facts become the identity of our passions. So, we love the Lord, our God with most of our mind and with a faltering heart and with a dispassionate soul. This all continues so long as the strength of our grip on the things of this world that we treasure can hold out. It is this approach to faith that often keeps us from entering into life as people who are truly and strangely different from our world. On the one hand, we may belong to the social order known as Christian, but on the other one, we are embedded in the flow of our culture in a manner that makes little to no difference in the world.

 

Yet, when Moses was ready to leave the worldly journey behind and was prepared to pay the price of being distinctive in a hostile land, he turned to the Lord and asked God to reveal Himself fully to His servant. God’s glory is powerful and brilliant beyond the words of our languages. God in His glory demands that we do fully surrender to Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength so that we can be the lovers of others that He is. The glory that Moses was seeking is present in our world. It was fully revealed in the person of the risen Christ, and He is with us to this day. Just as the Lord did with Moses so does Christ with us, He demands that the totality of our passions be turned toward Him. Seeking the glory of Christ means that we worship Him and do this by following His great commandment to love others as the natural outworking of our absolute and total love of our Lord.

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