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.

The Greatest Grace

Thoughts about Advent and Incarnation

Part one

The coming of the Promise. Fulfillment of prophecy in a mystery of yes and not yet. A baby born of a virgin on a not-so-silent night who grew up and changed the world, even to the marking of the calendar days. BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini) divide human history, even though the terminology has change with the secularization of the West. The “common era” of CE still begins with the events of this liturgical season.

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of God in human flesh, we take time to consider the magnitude of God’s greatest grace toward humanity: the virgin conceived (Isaiah 7:14), a child was born (Isaiah 9:6), and hope entered the world (John 3:16).

Part two

“We are rescued by grace poured out” (Jason Cook, 11/07/2021).

The text for the sermon was Ephesians chapter 2, and theme was “one new man.” Pastor Cook, with his usual wit and eloquence, compared the Church to a magnificent mosaic, made up of individual tiles. Alone, each tile may be beautiful or plain, but carefully combined by a master artist, the collection of tiles makes up a masterpiece. He proclaimed, “Salvation is possible by works—just not yours.” Only God’s grace with His mercy and love can redeem us to the Body of believers, a collection of mosaic tiles brought together to be a picture of Jesus to the world.

As followers of Jesus, we know intellectually that we cannot begin to approach the holiness of the Creator. Our egos, however, often forget. We begin to think about our legacy, our influence, and even our popularity as essential elements of how we live out our faith. Advent is an opportunity to consider with great awe and wonder the mystery of grace poured out. The Creator joined the creation through the very human process of birth. He who spoke the universes into being with a word subjected Himself to a physical (and messy) delivery of a squalling baby, born to a young, unmarried woman and her faithful betrothed without the benefits wealth might procure. From the great throne of the King of kings, He humbled Himself to the lowest and weakest of all humanity.


Love. Mercy. Grace.

Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy through grace He saves us (Titus 3:5-7).

The grace revealed to us came in the form of an infant, physically born. Fully human, yet still fully God, Jesus offers a grace we can never fully understand, but one in which we can rest, secure in knowing that God’s grace is perfect.

The Coming King

Who is the King of Glory?

Titus 2:11-14; Mark 13; Psalm 24; Psalm 96

Christmas day Prayer from Anglican Book of Common Prayer (2019)

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.

– Martin Luther

On this side of heaven, the conjoined deity and humanity of Christ is impossible for finite human minds to understand. It was too much for Jesus’s siblings and his hometown (Mark 6), and they knew him.  It was too much for the disciples who abandoned him, even though they had been his closest companions for three years (Mark 14). After his resurrection, some people began to understand, albeit imperfectly (Acts). Throughout history, people have tried to comprehend the unity of the God-head made manifest in a human baby as he grew, like any other boy, into adulthood. The best scholars just admit, as Luther did, that the humanity of God is beyond our ability to understand.

Why did he come? Why was it important for the Creator of all things to take on flesh, to become one of us? Because God promised he would be our salvation. Vance Pitman, in his 2020 Christmas Eve service, offered a succinct explanation here. Erick Erickson dug a little deeper into the prophecies on his Christmas radio show, which should appear on his podcast in the next few days. Most simply, Jesus came for us.

For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works.

Titus 2:11-14

So, what’s next? This first Advent for our salvation and reconciliation with the Creator is part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Jesus, Himself, told the rest of the story in Mark 13. The prophets spoke of the Messiah coming, not as savior, but as judge and King of Glory. This second coming, for which we now prepare, will be beyond our wildest imaginings. “Who is this King of Glory? The LORD, strong and mighty…the LORD of Hosts, He is the King of glory” (Psalm 24).  Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus tries to capture that day. On that day, Jesus will descend from heaven with a blast of the shofar, and the whole world will see His glory. There will be no mistaking Him for anyone but who He is. The first coming of Jesus was for our salvation. The second will be for His justice and glory. And we who have believed at His first coming will join the “great multitude, that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7: 9-17). 

Now and forever, we gather in awe and wonder at the inexplicable love the Father has lavished on us. He came, wrapped His deity in our humanity so that He could fulfill the law and the prophets for us. He came as the suffering servant, the One who bore the consequences of sin for everyone, regardless of whether we choose to submit to His sacrifice on our behalf. He defeated death, returning His followers so they could see Him in His fullness. He ascended to heaven, where He sat down as the King and High Priest. FOR us. We have reconciliation with God because of Him. And reconciliation becomes rejoicing when Jesus comes again to rule. 

Psalm 96

King of the Earth

Sing a new song to the Lord;

sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to Yahweh, praise His name;

proclaim His salvation from day to day.

Declare His glory among the nations,

His wonderful works among all peoples.

For the Lord is great and is highly praised;

He is feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,

but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before Him;

strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples,

ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name;

bring an offering and enter His courts.

Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness;

tremble before Him, all the earth.

Say among the nations: “The Lord reigns.

The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken.

He judges the peoples fairly.”

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;

let the sea and all that fills it resound.

Let the fields and everything in them exult.

Then all the trees of the forest will shout for joy

before the Lord, for He is coming—

for He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness

and the peoples with His faithfulness.

The Adoration of the Living Word Made Flesh

December 24

Luke 2:1-21Matthew 2:1-12Hebrews 1; Colossians 1:15-19; Isaiah 7; Psalm 98

Prayer from Anglican Book of Common Prayer (2019)

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


The more I think about the incarnation, the more questions I have. Is it possible to have enough awe and wonder to truly adore Jesus? The shepherds knew a little about the prophecies, and they reacted to the angels in all their magnificence by immediately seeking out the newborn. Then they proclaimed the news to everyone, loudly, with exuberance and joy. The magi knew the messages written in the stars, and they prepared gifts fit for a king. They traveled (no one knows exactly how far or for how long), and presented the child with the most precious of royal gifts, each with specific meanings: gold for his royalty, frankincense for his perfect reflection of the Father, and myrrh for his ultimate sacrifice. The King, the Divine Creator, and the Mortal Perfection, given for us.

O, come let us adore him! Yes, let us stop long enough to consider the galaxies and the prophecies to see the reality of the Singularity that is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. And He is THE singularity, for in him, time and space converge and become infinite. He is the radiance of God’s glory, the icon of the Triune God, before all things, the Beginning and the End. He is the reconciler, redeemer, savior. 

And he is a squalling, dirty baby who needs to be fed, burped, and changed. He is a clumsy toddler, learning to use words to communicate while climbing with great determination anything taller than he. He is a child, curious about everything, learning from his father, but knowing his Father better than anyone. He is an adolescent, already wise in the way of the Lord and the meaning of the Scriptures. He is a teenager, acne prone, wispy bearded, and smelly. He is a young man, laughing off questions about finding a good wife, practicing his trade, helping his mother with younger brothers and sisters. For 30 years, Jesus lived a normal human life. He had preferred foods, favorite colors, activities that brought him joy. He dealt with peers and their envy or their teasing. His feelings were hurt when he was left out of boyish games. He had innocent crushes on girls. In all ways, he was one of us. 

It is by far the most amazing miracle in the whole Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join Himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.

– Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology

There is no way to capture the paradox of wholly God and wholly man. There is no adoration great enough for those of us who see him. We have no adequate gifts to bring. All we can do is what Mary did, treasure the things revealed to us, pondering them in our hearts, knowing that his birth was only the beginning of his salvation. The shadow of the cross was already there, awaiting the time when Jesus would offer, once for all, the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Also present, and still not yet, is Jesus’ second coming, when he comes in glory to judge the world with righteousness and all the people with equity.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence

Paraphraser: Gerard Moultrie (1864)
Communion Liturgy
Published in 155 hymnals

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Hab. 2:20,Zech. 2:13
st. 2 = Rev. 19:16,Luke 22:19-20
st. 3 = Matt. 16:27
st.4 = Isa. 6:2-3

1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly mind ed,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth
our full homage to demand.

2. King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of all, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood,
Christ will give to all the faithful,
his own self for heavenly food.

3. Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its van guard on the way,
as the Light of Light, descending
from the realms of endless day,
comes the powers of hell to vanquish
as the darkness clears away.

4. At his feet the six-winged Seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to the Presence
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
‘Hallelujah, hallelujah,
hallelujah, Lord most high.’

Evidence suggests that the Greek text of “Let All Mortal Flesh” may date back to the fifth century. The present text is from the Liturgy of St. James, a Syrian rite thought to have been written by St. James the Less, first Bishop of Jerusalem. It is based on a prayer chanted by the priest when the bread and wine are brought to the table of the Lord.

The text expresses awe at Christ’s coming (st. 1) and the mystery of our perception of Christ in the body and blood (st. 2). With images from Isaiah 6 and Revelation 5, it portrays the glory of Christ (sung to by angels) and his victory over sin (st. 3-4). Although it has eucharistic emphasis, the text pictures the nativity of Christ in a majestic manner and in a much larger context than just his birth in Bethlehem. We are drawn into the awe and mystery with our own alleluias.”

Moultrie, Gerard, M.A., son of the Rev. John Moultrie, was born at Rugby Rectory, Sept. 16, 1829, and educated at Rugby and Exeter College, Oxford (B.A. 1851, M.A. 1856). Taking Holy Orders, he became Third Master and Chaplain in Shrewsbury School; Chaplain to the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry, 1855-59; curate of Brightwaltham, 1859; and of Brinfield, Berks, 1860; Chaplain of the Donative of Barrow Gurney, Bristol, 1864: Vicar of Southleigh, 1869, and Warden of St. James’s College, Southleigh,1873. He died April 25, 1885. 

Pathway to Peace

John 1; Isaiah 9:6; Ephesians 2:14-18; 1 John 4:9-11; Romans 5-6; Titus 3: 5-7; Hebrews 11:1-12:2; Luke 2:22-38

Prayer from Anglican Book of Common Prayer (2019)

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us. As we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen.

For God so loved the world. John 3:16.
Original watercolor by Sherilee. Remix by Stephanie Loomis

In the beginning was the Word. All things were made by him. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Sin had come into the world through one man, Adam, and the death the results from sin became part of human nature, severing the relationship with God that leads to peace. But God made a way. A child would be born for us. A Son would be given to us. And he would be named Prince of Peace.  And He, Himself is our peace. Wholly God and wholly human, he reconciled us to God, preaching peace while enduring the consequences of our sin in our place. Through Jesus we have access in the Spirit to the Father, not by our acts of righteousness, but according to the mercy and grace of God.

a remix of verses from John, 1 John, Romans, Isaiah, Ephesians, and Titus

Peace between people is impossible until we have peace with God. The Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us paves our only path to peace with God and with each other. The Law could not reconcile us; the Law could only illustrate how hopelessly broken we are. In Jesus, we are reconciled to the Father and in that relationship we dwell in peace. Simeon and Anna both saw the infant Jesus and knew that the promise of the Messiah was with them. Simeon held the baby and prayed, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, You now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles , and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). The Son was given, the child born, and He would be our peace. We can live in peace with others because God has made a way of peace for us. The Prince of Peace rules our hearts and minds and souls in love. 

Peace comes in confidence and assurance in things unseen; this world is not our home. By faith we join with those who have gone before us, and they are now the witnesses to our lives as we pursue peace among people. We look to Jesus as we purposefully disentangle from the sin that persists as long as we live. We look beyond this life, as Simeon did, to an unshakeable kingdom. Our faith is not in people or governments or education or influence; our faith is in Jesus. His love is perfected in us both now and into eternity. The promise of salvation is fulfilled in the Incarnation. Our peace rests in the fulness of His grace upon grace.

The Joy of the Beginning

December 13

Matthew 1; Psalm 145; Isaiah 7; Luke 1

Prayer from Anglican Book of Common Prayer (2019)

O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers, the prophets, to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight. With the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Often pink, the third candle represents Mary in many Orthodox traditions. Other traditions call it the candle for Joy. Either symbol works; Mary’s joy expressed in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) sets the standard for how we should respond to God’s working in our lives, even when we don’t fully understand His ways.

The prophets were clear about the signs of Messiah’s Incarnation, including that a virgin from the lineage of David would conceive a son and call him Emmanuel. Seven hundred years later, angels began to visit those who would play key roles in how God would become man and make joy possible for us.

The first angel appeared to Zechariah (Luke 1). Of the three visitations in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, Zechariah should have been the least surprised by his celestial visitor, yet he was rendered speechless, literally. Zechariah had been a priest for decades. He was actually at the altar, probably the most religious place he could be. He knew the prophecies better than most people, but when saw the angel, he didn’t immediately rejoice that the prophecies were about to be fulfilled. Instead, he was troubled and questioned the angel’s words. How could he and his wife, Elizabeth, conceive a child in their old age? It was impossible. Even when the angel revealed that he was Gabriel, the archangel who spoke to the prophet Daniel, all Zechariah could do was stand there, mute in disbelief. 

Six months after visiting Zechariah, Gabriel made another trek to earth, this time to visit a poor girl in a small, unimportant town. She knew the words of the prophets, but had no formal training in ministry. She was young, perhaps as young as 13, so she had no grand responsibilities. She was betrothed, and she had no illusions about her future as the wife of a laborer, forever insignificant. She, too, was troubled when Gabriel appeared, but her question, “How can this be?” was not out of disbelief, but rather a question of clarification. Her faith prompted her to trust the work of the Lord, as impossible as it seemed to be. She had to have known the trouble that would come of her position as a poor, unmarried, pregnant girl. She had to have wondered how her betrothed might respond. She knew the law well enough to know that she could be stoned for infidelity, even though she had not been unfaithful. Ridicule and shame would be the least of her concerns. But Mary did not dwell on the possibilities of future distress; she focused on the unchanging character of God. Unlike Zechariah, she believed the words of the heavenly messenger. 

Mary traveled to Judah to visit Zechariah and Elizabeth, a trip of about 100 miles. She had time to think during the journey of four or five days. While it is impossible to know exactly what she thought, she had to have pondered the prophecies of the coming Messiah in awe and wonder that the time had come at last and that she would play a role. Elizabeth corroborated Mary’s thoughts when she exclaimed that Mary was indeed the mother of the Lord. Mary’s heart overflowed with joy, saying, 

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Luke 1:46-55

I do wonder what Zechariah thought about this young cousin who understood the prophecies and the character of the Almighty better than he. In the three months Mary stayed in Judah, surely Zechariah watched and wondered how his life might have been different if he had responded to Gabriel with trusting confidence the way that Mary had.

The third angelic vision wasn’t in a temple or in broad daylight. This message came through a dream. Joseph, betrothed to Mary, was a good man. Matthew called him just, a man who knew and abided by the Law. Still, when Mary returned to Nazareth pregnant with a child that he knew was not his, he had to consider his choices. His reputation as a godly man was at stake, and how could it be that his Mary was carrying God in her womb? He struggled with the decision, and, to spare her life and shame, he resolved to quietly divorce her. Resolution is not a decision arrived at easily, and Joseph must have wept during his prayers about what to do. When he slept, he had a vivid dream. Gabriel again entered the story, telling Joseph that Mary was indeed the mother of the Messiah, and that he, Joseph, had been chosen to raise the child in the ways of the Lord. Why in a dream instead of a visitation? The Bible doesn’t say. Perhaps since Joseph was a godly man who prayed over the decision he had to make meant that a vision was all he would need. If his relationship with the Father was sufficient for him to be the caretaker and provider for the Messiah and His mother, perhaps he was in tune with the will of God already. What the scripture DOES tell us is that Joseph obeyed, without question. He married Mary, kept her pure so that Jesus would be born uncorrupted by human flesh, and named the baby, Jesus, just as the angel in the dream had instructed.

Three individual angelic visits. Three different responses. And ultimately, three reasons for joy. Zechariah’s penance was nine months of silence, but as soon as he wrote, “His name is John,” he was able to speak. His first words were words of joy that proclaimed the coming of the promised Redeemer. His praise resonated with the prophecies, the promises, and the mercy of God. Mary’s joy seemed to be part of her character as she acquiesced to the will of God. And Joseph, the one who so often gets overlooked in God’s salvation story, Joseph’s joy had to be complete when Mary delivered a perfect son according to the words of the angel in his vision. Neither Zechariah, Mary, nor Joseph could have imagined being center stage at the Incarnation. They did not understand how God would use an infant to bring salvation. They trusted, with confident expectation that, because they were in the middle of God’s will, He would work through them.

God is at work. God is with us. The people around us need Jesus more now than ever. If we fall into Zechariah’s worry about how God will work out His will through us, we may as well be mute. To respond with joy as Mary did to things we don’t understand is hard, but when we obey anyway, like Joseph, we will find joy.

We need to be prayerful. Joseph was not an academic, but he knew the Law, he trusted the Almighty, and his connection to God through prayer led him to obey the angel without a single question. Zechariah, the most educated of the three, questioned the angel in doubt. Mary questioned the angel for clarity. Joseph just got up and did as the angel commanded him. We need to be so in tune with the Lord that we see what He has for us to do and we act on it. The prayer above asks Jesus to help us turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. If the joy at the beginning of our Savior’s life is any indication, we can be confident that He will be at work in us until that work is complete (Philippians 1:6).

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.