Still, Advent

Christmas is just days away; the season of expectant waiting is coming to an end for this year. The culmination of Advent, the Incarnation of God into human form, bursts forth in songs of wonder, adoration, and joy. The first coming of Jesus we celebrate with gifts, food, and family visits that include a trip to a church service. And this is good.

It is a wondrous thing to know the One who reconciles sinners to the Father through His life, His substitutionary atoning sacrifice, and His glory. The knowledge of Jesus comes through the same Spirit given to the apostles. In our finite and limited minds, we see bits and pieces of His radiance but we cannot understand the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God yet (Romans 11; 1 Corinthians 3:17). The first coming, the Incarnation, contains all we need for salvation and sanctification, but our glorification is yet to be. As long as we are bound to our earthly and broken selves, we can only look expectantly to the day where we will know Jesus, face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12). As we look, we prepare for that day by growing in grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18). We grow in knowledge by studying and meditating on His Word (2 Peter 1:3; Colossians 2; 1 John 2) . We grow in grace by loving the way Jesus loves: sacrificially, wholly, and humbly.

We are still waiting for the final coming of the Lord in glory and might and power. That day is still ahead, predicted by the prophets of the first covenant and affirmed by the apostles (Isaiah 11; Isaiah 40; Habakkuk 2; 2 Peter 3; 1 Thessalonians 5). It is still Advent.

It is still Advent

The first appearance of Messiah surprised nearly everyone. A helpless baby, born into poverty, growing the same way all children do. He was wise beyond his years, but otherwise so ordinary that the people who knew him in his hometown scoffed at the notion of his miracles (Matthew 13:53-58). The second coming of Messiah, however, will split the skies and every living human will fall at His feet (Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 1:7).

He is coming. We still wait. This broken world groans in expectation. We bow under the weight of evil around us, seeing despair, injustice, and destruction that seem to become more powerful each day. We see these things, but we lift our eyes amid affliction, walking by faith, not sight (1 Corinthians 5). We seek to share our hope as we serve and love those who hurt. We strive for reconciliation between people as a picture of how God wants them to be reconciled to Him, so at the time of Messiah’s return, they, too, will rejoice (2 Peter 3:9).

He is coming. We wait in confident expectation, knowing that His patience will allow all who will be reconciled to seek His salvation. And then, at last, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds the meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Until then, it is still Advent.

Peace?

It was just after sunset. The sky was dusky, and the shadows in the alleys grew deeper. The Temple took on hues of pink and gold as the marble reflected the last rays of day, a glorious sight for those who had eyes to see. The women did not see the beauty; they were consumed with making the perfect meal, centered around lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. The tradition dated back centuries, to the time of the great exodus, and it was surrounded by specific rituals, prayers, and songs. Jerusalem was crowded as people from all over pilgrimaged to the holiest city they knew. Many of those pilgrims had surely been part of the great crowds that sang, “Hosanna” on the first day of the week. While the sacred meal was primarily for families, individuals could also gather as companies, temporary families united by being among the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

By this time, the noise of the crowds had diminished as the sacrifices were completed and the men returned to their homes to partake in the Passover meal. They led their children for a search of hidden leaven in the house. As guests arrived, servants would wash the dust from the travelers’ feet. Wine was served for both sacred and non-ritual consumption. Throughout the meal, family members would retell the exodus story as they recalled God’s miraculous freeing of the people of Israel from slavery under the Egyptian pharaoh.

This night, a group of men met in the upper room of a home they knew. There were thirteen in all, but when the meal was eaten, one left mysteriously, before the final cups of wine were blessed: “Blessed are you, o Lord our God, King of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine…[who said,] I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.”

By now, the men in the group were concerned. Why had one left their midst before the final prayer? Why did Judas not sing the words, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever?” And then the Master spoke to them, words of a new commandment to love even though some of them would shortly depart, even denying they knew Him. He told them He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He reminded the remaining eleven that, even when He left them, they would not be alone, but that He would send a Counselor, a Holy Spirit, to walk with them and through them as they kept His commands.

He spoke plainly to them, that the next moments and days would be the worst they could possibly imagine. And then Jesus spoke these words:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

As the group departed when the meal was complete, Jesus told them more about what was to come. He finished by warning them that they would indeed face tribulation, but they could endure because He conquered the world and the sin that inhabited it (John 16:33).

The world in which we live is indeed troubled. Culture is as evil as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it seems there is no redemption ahead. What was once thought to be evil is now celebrated as good, and what was once good is now portrayed as offensive to a progressive society. As Jesus followers, it might be easy to be discouraged by the daily manifestations of Satan’s rule in this world. We may fear the consequences of expressing our faith in the open. It’s true, our livelihoods may be threatened by our spoken convictions. We may lose credibility with our secular friends when we speak the truth, even when we say there IS Truth (not my truth or your truth, but REAL Truth). The disciples lost more than credibility; they all lost their lives in their proclamations of Jesus as Lord and Savior. For hundred of years, Jesus followers around the world have faced everything from ridicule to persecution to their very lives. Yet Christianity has endured.

Christianity has endured. Not because Christians are perfect. People have done horrific and vile things claiming the name of Jesus. The name “Christian” has been misused, misplaced, and maligned for so long that its very meaning has been altered in the eyes of a secular society. But being a Jesus follower is unchanged over the centuries. It is not an easy road to travel. It requires stamina, discipline, and trust in the One who gives us peace.

That Passover meal so long ago was the portal to a world where ordinary people did extraordinary things because Jesus. As complicated and complex and corrupt this world becomes, we can persevere. We can sing, “His love endures forever” no matter what we face. Jesus is our salvation. He is the Cornerstone of all Truth. He gives light in the darkness, hope in distress, and peace in all the trials we face.

We can trust in His love, His mercy, and His grace. We can give thanks in all circumstances because He is working in us and through us for His glory.

Resources:

Strange, J.F. (2014). Jesus’ Passover. Friends of Asor, 2(4). https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2014/04/jesus-passover/

Wallace, D.B. (2004). Passover in the Time of Jesus. Bible.org , https://bible.org/article/passover-time-jesus This is a transcript of a Seder meal practiced according to first century traditions.

This world is not my home

As promised: This world is not my home by various artists in a multitude of styles. The origin of the lyrics is muddy, with at least three people given attribution as author.

Lyrics:

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus:
O Lord, you know I have no friend like you,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. 

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

Just up in glory-land we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]

Bluegrass lyrics:

This World Is Not My Home

This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home oh Lord what will I do
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me that’s one thing I know
I fixed it up with Jesus a long time ago
He will take me through though I am weak and poor
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Over in glory land there’ll be no dying there
The saints all shouting victory and singing everywhere
I hear the voice of them that’s gone on before
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Title:[This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin thru]
Composer or Arranger:Albert E. Brumley October 29, 1905, near Spiro, Oklahoma. Died: November 15, 1977, Springfield, Missouri. Buried: Fox Cemetery, Powell, Missouri. Brumley attended the Hartford Musical Institute in Hartford, Arkansas, and sang with the Hartford Quartet. He went on to teach at singing schools in the Ozarks, and lived most of his life in Powell, Missouri. He worked for 34 years a staff writer for the Hartford and Stamps/Baxter publishing companies, then founded the Albert E. Brumley & Sons Music Company and Country Gentlemen Music, and bought the Hartford Music Company. He wrote over 800 Gospel and other songs during his life; the Country Song Writers Hall of Fame inducted him in 1970.  This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thumbnail
Composer: Jessie May Hill I can’t find biographical information, but she seems to have been in great demand as a singer and pianist in the late 1920s.
Cover art for This World Is Not My Home / I'm Going to Lift Up a Standard for My King by Jessie May Hill
DOCD

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Jesus paid it all

“Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain;

He washed it white as snow.”

Elvina M. Hall (1865)

This hymn, written by Elvina M. Hall in 1865 kept repeating in my mind as I read Matthew 12 and Leviticus 22 this morning. Leviticus is the book of Law, the law that, if followed perfectly, will restore our broken relationship with the Father. What the Law really does is demonstrate how utterly impossible it is to keep. Even keeping the Law is not enough; it is God who sanctifies us. YHWH Mekkodishkem (M’Kaddesh), the LORD who sanctifies is the only path to holiness, or being set apart for a purpose.

When Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their letter-of-the-Law mentality in Matthew 12, He showed them that God put the Law in place to direct His people to Himself. It’s so much easier to play the comparison game of “your sin is worse than my sin” than it is to recognize our own guilt before God and repent of it, falling on His mercy in Jesus.

The Law was also expensive to keep. Only the best animals were worthy of sacrifice. Only the first of the harvest could be offered. But humanity’s best is insufficient. Our redemption cost Jesus ALL. He stepped out of glory. He lived as one of us (fully fulfilling the Law). Yet He had to die on our behalf in order to complete the transaction of our salvation, and He returned to life to begin our sanctification. We do not save ourselves; we cannot. Restored relationship with God is a gift, not a work of the Law. It cost Jesus everything and is free to those who reach toward Him who sanctifies us.

Looking toward Advent

Isaiah 55:8-9

From a time of thanksgiving to the wonder of the Incarnation, this time of year is set apart from the rest. It is an opportunity for introspection and reflection. What are the most important things?

If 2020 hasn’t done anything else for our benefit, it has given each of us ample time to sort through our hearts and minds along with our closets. We have had time to sort through the clutter of whatever it is that robs us of joy and peace. We might have learned how important and powerful community is. We had a chance to disentangle from commitments that filled our days but did not satisfy our spirits.

All the clearing out and cleaning up made space to deeply consider the mystery of our Creator. We can fully meditate on the universes He created and be humbled by His provision of a planet that perfectly meets our needs. That meditation should renew in us an attitude of stewardship so that our descendants can enjoy the vast beauty of our earthly home.

More significantly, we have a cleared out space in our heads and hearts to wonder in awe of God’s great love. His is a love that not only provides for our physical needs, but also for the needs of our eternal souls. The Incarnation: the Creator laying aside his divine power for a time, limiting Himself to the human form, with all its sorrows, sicknesses, and isolations. Why would the God who made us choose this path of humiliation? It is a good question to consider as Advent approaches.

No matter what

Psalm 27

I am calling this the Psalm of “no matter what.” As I read it this morning, all I could think was that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). In this psalm, David lists all the ways God is with us no matter what.

Verses 2-3 No matter what, God knows exactly what is happening to and around us.
V.4 No matter what, we have access to the temple of God.
V.5 No matter what, God will protect us.
V.6 No matter what, we can choose joy.
Vv. 7-10 No matter what, God will not abandon us.
V 11. No matter what, He will teach us
V. 12 No matter what, God is GOOD.
V. 13 No matter what, we can be strong in the waiting.

Wow! Of whom shall we we afraid indeed? (Psalm 27:1; Romans 8:31

Redemption

Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I call to You…”
Seven months into a pandemic followed by multiple catastrophes, both natural and human fueled, there is still no end in sight. Many of us are drowning in the depths of job loss, illness, online school, wildfire/hurricane, and Zoom fatigue. We miss our church families, our large family gatherings, and attending events the way we did a year ago.

God hears.

He hears our pleas for mercy. He hears our cries of repentance when we offer them. He attends to the needs of His children.

“I wait for the Lord “

We wait.

We wait for the Lord as we hope in His word. We know there is forgiveness. We know there is mercy and redemption.

We hope.

With the Lord there is steadfast and faithful love. Even though we may not see the end of the road, we can trust Him. There is purpose in the pain. His love will overcome all the evil around us.

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope…Jesus”

Hold tightly to His Word; God is just and true in all His ways. He hears. He knows. He is at work.

Grounded in love

Romans 5:5

“Hope does not put us to shame.” (ESV) What does that mean? Why should hope be shameful?

I pondered this notion until I realized that it happens all the time. Social media posts about prayer become targets for ridicule. Hopeful people are sometimes treated like they don’t know or don’t care about human suffering. Sharing good news gets contradicted by “but what about.”

The hope here is not a blithe Pollyanna response to life and its hardships. It does not ignore the realities of suffering. It does not belittle fear. It understands that people can be cruel, bigoted, and unjust. However, this hope DOES allow us to recognize God at work.

This hope allows believers to act in love in spite of the evil around us. Hope encourages us to reach out to those who suffer with compassion. Hope lets us come alongside others and walk with them through the challenges of living in this world.

In short, hope produced by character through enduring suffering with joy opens the way for God to work in us and through us for His glory. How? He works in and through because we are grounded in His love instead of our fear. God’s love pours into our hearts and we act out of His love.

Endure

Romans 5:4

So, since we have decided to choose joy in suffering (joy, not happiness) because we know it will lead to endurance, we still wonder, why? What is the point of endurance? Especially enduring suffering?

Paul didn’t stop with endurance through suffering; endurance also serves a purpose. Endurance produces character. Endurance makes us better people. It teaches us empathy. Character means we are learning to see God as the Sovereign Lord and we are mere specks in the vastness of time and space. Specks that the Creator has called by name.

Suffering and enduring draws us deep into a relationship with the Father, and it is in that relationship that we develop an accurate view of ourselves. Seeing ourselves from the Lord’s perspective develops godly character and allows us to understand that we are part of a greater humanity.

Our individuality makes the Body beautiful, but as part of the Family of God, we are more than the sum of our parts. The wholeness of our individual character as part of something greater than self- that produces hope.