Journey Into the Light - December 25 - Merry Christmas!

           "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you."  Isaiah 60:1

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. 
   All glory, honor and praise to Jesus! 
He is the one born of Mary and the Spirit,
 the one who became like us to save us, 
the one who died so that we could live, 
the one who entered our darkness to set us free,
 the one who is our Light and the Light of the World,
 the one who has made his light shine in our hearts,
and the one who is our everlasting light! 
                                  May we reflect the light of his glory and shine brightly for him!

Journey Into the Light - December 24 - Mary's Song

        On occasion there come those precious moments when we recognize in wonder that our hearts are full. We have gazed upon the face of Jesus, we have seen his glory manifest in our lives, we have experienced the beauty of his presence, and we know the fullness of joy. When we come face to face with the mercy and grace of God all we can do is fall on our knees in gratitude and give all glory to God. When our lives are touched by Divine tenderness, when we are given a deeper understanding of God's personal love for us - not just his love for the world at large, but a staggering, heart-pounding realization of God's delight in us, we can't help but glorify the Lord. From the depths of our being, out of God's abundant blessings, our hearts cry out in praise, in worship, in thanksgiving, and in honor of him who has chosen to enter into our life, our hearts, our need, and has done above and beyond what we could ever ask or imagine. When we see his miraculous provision for us, his timely intervention, and his powerful hand working on our behalf, our souls are lifted up, and we can't help but marvel at his goodness. The Mighty One has indeed done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
        Mary, too, experienced the wonder of God's glory, and her heart was filled to overflowing. She was overwhelmed by the greatness of her God and all that he had done for her, and she was overcome by the Spirit. Out of the fullness of her heart poured forth a song of praise and worship, a song rejoicing in the mercy, provision, and might of her God and Savior. Her words can be our words. Her song can be our song. Let's allow the Spirit to overwhelm us with the beauty of our Savior and all that he has done for us.
Mary's Song

"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me-
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are
proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."

Journey Into the Light - December 23 - Consolation

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel...Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts...and took the child in his arms and praised God saying, 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation...a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'"  Luke 2:25, 27a, 28-32

        Hundreds of years before Simeon was born, a prophet delivered a message of consolation to Israel that reverberated through the ages and lingered during the long silence of God, until it found its fulfillment in the person of Christ. "Comfort, comfort my people," was the heart cry of God for Israel, and it is his cry for the world. Through the prophet Isaiah we catch a glimpse of the desperate love and longing of God for the restoration of his people. Israel had suffered so much because of their sin, and God knew the only answer was to provide comfort through a salvation that was lasting and eternal. What Israel did not understand, or the world know, was that the consolation of God would come through a Savior who would provide deliverance from sin and suffering for all of mankind.
God's heart for Israel and yes, the world, is for all to be released from spiritual bondage, and find life and freedom in Christ.
        And so, Jesus came. Simeon sees him, carried in the arms of his mother, and knows the time of waiting is over. He reaches out his time-worn hands and gently draws his Savior to himself. The promised one is finally here; Israel's consolation has come. Simeon holds eternity in his arms, the fulfillment of God's promise to him and to the world. The mystery of God is revealed in the words of praise offered up by a man who knew God, and now sees him in the face of the Messiah: "For my eyes have seen your salvation...a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Simeon caught a glimpse of the mysterious plan of God that was about to unfold - the redemption of the world through the promised Savior of Israel.
        The message of God to Israel is his message to the world, and it continues to reverberate through time. "Comfort, comfort my people," remains the cry of God's heart, and it is once again awaiting its fulfillment in the person of Christ. Just as he saw the agony of Israel and ached to bring her consolation, so now he sees the brokenness of the world, he hears the groans of creation and the cries of his people, and longs for the consummation of his eternal plan. In our own desperation we sometimes become impatient and question God's timing. We wonder how he can see our suffering yet continue to wait to provide relief. We don't understand why evil is allowed to keep flourishing, why he doesn't step in and deliver its final blow. But our God is the same loving God who waited thousands of years before sending his promised Son, and he is the one who sends messages of comfort and hope to those awaiting his consolation. "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:8-9). "They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:3b-4). He isn't callous to our suffering. His heart of love sees our need and the desperate state of the lost, and in the mystery of his love provides for both perfectly.
         The hope, comfort and salvation of the first Advent that we celebrate is the same hope, comfort and salvation that we look forward to in the second: Christ. But we have not been subjected to a long silence as we await his second coming. The cry of God's heart echoes down through the ages, its message of love to Israel and the world written in blood shed on a cross and preserved in the nail scars in his hands. This is the mystery and consolation of God.

Journey Into the Light - December 22 - Do Not Fear

    " angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid
             to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'"
                                                                             Matthew 1:20

        Living in a fallen world as we do, fear is a natural impulse. There seems to be no end to complications, obstacles and frustrations, never mind the life-changing events that drastically alter the trajectory of our lives. But while fear is a natural impulse, we are called to live supernaturally in the midst of all the change, disappointment, trials and unknowns. The angel's words to Joseph are ones we need to hear. We need assurance that we are on the right path, that we have indeed heard from God and are following the Spirit's direction. We need to be strengthened in our resolve to move out in faith, without fear, to accomplish God's purposes for us.
        Joseph, by all accounts, was a man who had intended to live a quiet, simple life until the Lord got a hold of it. We chuckle a bit when we read his story, because we are all too familiar with the storyline ourselves. We design our lives and chart our course, when suddenly God shows up with a completely different set of plans for us. Sometimes God gently whispers his intentions for us, preparing us for what is coming; but other times he comes after our lives have taken a sharp turn and suddenly become unrecognizable. This was definitely Joseph's experience. Whatever he thought his life would be, it changed in the split second he learned Mary was pregnant. He had no angelic warning, no divine dreams, no preparation before hearing the news that instantly turned his life upside down. However long Joseph had to adjust to the news before the angel appeared, it was long enough for him to chart a new course - a quiet divorce. But God is gracious, and he is never late. He always comes, and at the right time. He speaks. He directs. He grants wisdom. And so he sends an angel to Joseph to give direction, instill confidence, and reveal the divine plan for Joseph's life.
        The angel says, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." God understands the concerns Joseph has regarding Mary - and his whole life at this point, and offers assurance and perspective. He exhorts Joseph to not be afraid, to not stumble over all the "what ifs" running through his mind, but rather move forward in confidence and strength because it is the sovereign plan of God. The message to Joseph and to us is this: no matter how difficult or earth-shattering, no matter how perplexing or unexpected, no matter how exciting or terrifying, no matter how beautiful or unappealing they are, when the sovereign God is orchestrating circumstances in our lives to accomplish his good purpose, we do not need to fear. When we hear his voice challenging us to new heights of commitment, obedience, sacrifice and faith, we do not need to be afraid. When he alters the course of our lives and we are confronted with all the unknowns and uncertainty that comes from an unchartered path, we do not need to be anxious. Our God is good, and his plans are good. Our God is love, and his purposes are born out of his love for us. Our God is sovereign; he is the one in control and will accomplish all that he desires. Our God is generous, and he provides all that we need and more. Our God is eternal, and he has an eternal plan that he is fulfilling in us and through us. Joseph did not need to fear changing course and taking Mary home as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. We, likewise, do not need to be afraid when God alters our path, because it too is conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Journey Into the Light - December 21 - Our Shepherd

        "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
        for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"  Matthew 2:6

        Jesus once told the story of a lost sheep that wandered away and could not be found. The shepherd leaves all of the other sheep and goes to look for the one lost sheep, not stopping until the sheep is found. When the sheep is discovered, the shepherd joyfully rests it on his shoulders and carries it home. He then calls his friends and neighbors together, inviting them to celebrate with him the safe recovery of his sheep. The story ends here, but its impact does not. No matter how often we hear it we are moved because we know what it feels like to be lost, and we know the desperate longing of wanting to be found. We so badly want to be safe, to be taken care of, to be held in love-filled arms and celebrated. We know what it is to desire the comfort and joy that can only be found in the gentle strength and delight of the One who is searching for us.          
        Just like the lost sheep in the story, we have a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who has come for us, and who constantly pursues us with his love. Isaiah writes of him, "See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power...He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart" (Isaiah 40:11). All that we long for and everything we need is found in the tender heart of our Shepherd who came as a baby, born of Mary and the Spirit, to lay his life down for ours. We have been found.

The LORD is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff 
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing 
my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love 
will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house 
of the LORD
Psalm 23, NLT       

Journey Into the Light - December 20 - Mosaic

        "Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: 'This child is destined to cause the   
          falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the  
          thoughts of many hearts will be revealed...'"  Luke 2:34-35
        When we gaze upon the birth of Christ in the light of his life and ministry, themes begin to emerge: poverty, danger, escape, intrigue, confusion, violence and hatred. It did not take long for the reality of what his life would become to settle in around him. The kingdom of God was his mission, and central to this was defeating sin and death. His entire life, from his birth in Bethlehem to his final trip to Jerusalem, was lived in the shadow of the cross. We have the privilege of viewing Jesus' life from start to finish; we get to see how each event and every phase fit together and held eternal meaning. The poverty, trials, rejection, and suffering were not random, but part of the ordained purpose for his life. Seen as a whole, it becomes clear that everything Christ experienced - good and bad- was a vital piece of the beautiful mosaic his life would become. When we see the sovereign hand of God revealed in the birth, life and death of Christ, not only do we glory in his majesty, we discover eternal perspective for our lives as well.
        Jesus once said of himself, "Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He was communicating the reality of his life. Just as he was utterly dependent on the love and care of those around him in his infancy, he would be again in his death. He who was born in a borrowed stable would be buried in a borrowed tomb. And just like Mary wrapped his tiny, newborn body in cloths and lovingly laid him in a manger, so years later his bloodied, lifeless body would be taken down from the cross, wrapped in cloths and lovingly laid in a grave. Jesus was born into and lived poverty, but he knew he had everything in his Father's love. 
          "King of the Jews" functions like bookends to Jesus' life. The title was used only twice in his life, once at the beginning and then at the end, but both occasions brought violence and death at the hands of ruthless men. Jesus and his family escaped the first time; but Herod, in his maniacal pursuit of the one born King of the Jews, slaughtered countless young boys hoping the one he was after would be among them. Years later, there was no escape, but rather an offering. Jesus gave himself up to a violent, terrible death because his time had come. This time it would be Pilate, with the shouts of the Jews ringing in his ears, who would succeed in killing the King of the Jews. Then, in the midst of the horror, it was as if God himself stepped in to proclaim the truth about his Son for anyone willing to see and consider. A sign is nailed to the cross above the dying body of Jesus. Pilate, under fierce protest from the Jewish leaders, nails "King of the Jews" above Jesus' crucified body. It acts as both an accusation and declaration, for truth always stands in the end. 
          From the time of his birth to the end of his life, Jesus was misunderstood. Very few embraced who he was, what he came to do, his love for them, or their desperate need for him. Because of this confusion and blindness, Jesus faced constant rejection, upheaval, confrontation, and threats. His life was one of suffering, but it was not purposeless. In fact, it was his purpose to suffer. We often get this backwards in our own lives. We somehow view our suffering as an interruption, as a hindrance to our lives, when really the trials that come are our life. They are not an obstacle to what God wants to do, but are designed to bring about and fulfill his purpose in our lives. Oh, this is so hard for us to see and embrace. But Jesus is our model. He is our light. In His light we see light. 
        Viewing Christ's life from his birth to his death, and from his death to his ascension, we have a vantage point that we sometimes miss when we look at our own. We get to observe how events tie together, how each phase had a design and purpose, how even the most difficult moments were working toward something good, how nothing was wasted or meaningless. We get to see in living color what is so hard for us to accept and believe as we live out our own lives in what sometimes seems like shades of gray: God loves passionately; God is good, but his goodness is sometimes shrouded in mystery; the temporal serves the eternal; evil is used by God to accomplish holy purposes; and everything has eternal import. Christ's birth, viewed through his life and death, offers a lens through which we can view our own lives. When we do, we discover God's fingerprints on every aspect of our lives. We realize there is a beautiful pattern that God is creating, and we are more oriented to see and embrace the eternal work that God is looking to accomplish in us and through us. Christ's life is a mosaic displaying the stunning artistry of God's sovereign hand, and if we have the spiritual eyes to see, we'll find that our lives are as well. 

Journey Into the Light - December 19 - During the Time Of...

            "...Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod..."  Matthew 2:1

        We worship a sovereign God who rules over time, history, and our lives. Our existence is no accident. We are each here, at this point in history, for a reason. There is a design and purpose for us to be alive and breathing "during the time of.... " We can each fill in the blank to describe the time in which we live. Be it our own personal struggles, those of our family, the decline of society and culture, or the growing evil in the world, we can each name individuals or events that characterize and define any given point of our lives. We often feel helpless as we watch circumstances unfold around us and wonder what we are here for. But just as Jesus arrived "during the time of King Herod" so too, our arrival and presence at this particular time is no accident, but the intentional providence of God. Just like Esther of old, we too have been born for such a time as this.
        Throughout the Advent story, almost every account begins with a phrase referencing time: "In the time of Herod king of Judea," "In the sixth month," At that time," "When it was time," "In those days Caesar Augustus," "On the eighth day, when it was time." There is intention behind this. It is meant to convey that these were real events that occurred during well-documented periods of history, with well-known rulers and governments. But there is a spiritual reason as well. God wants us to know that he is the one that orders history, that his purposes stand, and that he accomplishes these through people that he raises up at specific times and places. It may be that we never rule over people, or attain power and wealth, but we are here to accomplish those good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. These good works are specific to how God has designed us - our gifts, skills, talents and experiences. We have been intentionally created to be who we are, at this time, in order to be used by God in the lives of those around us. This should not only give us hope in the midst of circumstances that seem so out of our control, it should also empower us to actively seek out a deeper understanding of who we have been designed to be, and what it is we have been created to do. There is no person, situation, or event that can interfere with who we are, whose we are, or thwart what we are here for. So regardless of how helpless we feel at times, or how powerless we think we are before those who hold power, we are not. The God of the universe is the one ordering our days, and he is the one in control.
        "During the time of...." These words do not just mark time or define ages of history; they offer us fresh perspective on our lives. As we reflect on all of the events that played out over two thousand years ago, we see person after person used uniquely and powerfully to accomplish God's purpose for them as well as his purpose for history. Not one was hindered by tyrannical rulers,  inconvenient decrees, family members, poor living conditions or constant upheaval. On the contrary, every one of these realities actually set up the way each person was to fulfill God's plan for their lives. God ordained every situation in order to refine hearts and accomplish his eternal and historical purpose for each life. Instead of viewing our lives as being at the mercy of other people and controlled by circumstances that seem out of our control, we can choose to embrace God's purpose for us in the midst of it all. "During the time of...." is a clarion call to our hearts this Advent. It admonishes us to let go of our perceived helplessness and hopelessness and move out, empowered by the sovereignty of Almighty God, with renewed vision for what God has ordered for our lives. Let's discover, or rediscover, who we are and what we are called to do, for we have been uniquely designed and were born for such a time as this.    

Journey Into the Light - December 18 - Grace

                  "His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied..."  Luke 1:67

        Zechariah, in some ways, has become synonymous with failure. His doubt in the face of a miracle is endlessly used as a cautionary tale. Whatever else can be said of him, most often the emphasis is on his lack of faith and how that compares to Mary's faith-filled response to the angel. In our humanness we tend to focus on the negative, on what's broken, on failure. We define people by their sin and shame, rather than by the grace of God. We all fail; no one is exempt. Upon close examination, all of our lives could be used as warnings, as red flags alerting people to the dangers of doubt, of rebellion, of pride - of any sin in which we have been entangled. There is great wisdom in learning from mistakes - ours, and those of others. But, if we only characterize people by their failure we not only condemn ourselves, we also miss the beauty of the redemption and restoration that flow out of grace.
        At the beginning of their story, Zechariah and Elizabeth are given a glowing introduction. He is a priest, they are both from the line of Aaron, and, most importantly, they are both upright in the sight of God, faithful in obeying his commands and regulations. God chose to introduce Zechariah in terms of his overall life, not his moment of failure. Here is a man whose entire life up to this point testified to his great regard for the Lord and his whole-hearted commitment to the ways of God. This as much as anything can be a cautionary challenge to us. If our stories were told, would our lives be described in such exemplary terms? But oddly, these character traits are not what we focus on in Zechariah's story. It is what comes next that captures our attention and preoccupies our minds. We almost cringe each time we read it because we know what's coming - the question. He asks the angel Gabriel, "How can I be sure of this?" And then comes the silence.
        Zechariah lost his ability to speak for the better part of a year. His life was completely altered because of his sin. Something he had likely taken for granted was taken from him, and he had to find a new way of functioning, a new way of communicating, a new way of relating. Whatever he wanted to say took longer to get across, whatever thoughts and ideas he had were not easily conveyed. His voice was silenced. But there is much grace in his silence. In the silence of his shame and the painful consequences of his sin stood a Savior. And this is true for us as well. Our Savior does not abandon us, but instead gives us more and more of himself. He surrounds us with his love and mercy, and out of his kindness leads us to repentance. He not only restores us, but redeems our failure, and in the process, we come to know him more deeply than we ever have. This is grace. And this is the message of Zechariah's story, not his failure.
        There are no greater words in his story than these: "....Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied..." Grace upon grace. God did not just restore Zechariah's voice, but he filled him with the Spirit, choosing him to prophesy about his son John and the coming Savior. There is something personal and powerful in the prophetic words of Zechariah, not only because they were God's, but because they came out of a long, deep silence. It was through his failure and subsequent muteness that he was confronted with the person of God in a way he had never been before. The God he served, the God of Israel and the Law, was now known to him personally as the God of mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.
         We tend toward extremes. We swing from heartless judgmentalism to careless disregard for righteousness. Neither is good nor right. Somewhere in the middle lies grace. When we view Zechariah through the lens of grace not only do we see his heart and life as God does, we are able to see his failure through God's eyes as well. We don't excuse it, but we don't define him by it, either. We can understand him, because we are him. We can empathize with him in the midst of the consequences, find hope in his restoration, and rejoice in how God redeems his failure. God, in his love and grace, chooses to still use Zechariah to declare his word, and he likewise chooses to use us and our brokenness for his eternal glory. When all is said and done, the greatest gift that God gives us in the midst of the sin, failure, and yes, the goodness of our lives is himself. Zechariah's life is less a cautionary tale and more a story of the defining, redeeming, and restoring glorious grace of God.

Journey Into the Light - December 17 - Surrender

           "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."  Luke 1:38

        There is something striking and even convicting about Mary's response to the angel's message.
She offered no qualifiers. She didn't ask "what if" questions, she didn't hesitate to consider the possible ramifications of the Lord's plan. She just offered herself up to her Lord, graciously and gratefully, yielding to his design and purpose for her life. We, of course, know her story and have the benefit of seeing the outcome of her life and obedience; but she didn't know how it would all unfold the moment she said "Yes" to the angel. There were so many things she couldn't foresee.
          "I am the Lord's servant...May it be to me as you have said." Mary's life changed forever the moment these words were spoken. Whatever she had envisioned for herself and her life disappeared, and in its place came a course of events that she never could have anticipated. Mary didn't know that she would give birth in a stable, that her baby's first bed would be a manger, or that within a few short months her little family would be fleeing for their lives to Egypt. She didn't know that an old man named Simeon, following the leading of the Spirit, would prophesy over her and this promised baby. She didn't know that Bethlehem shepherds would come and bow the knee in worship to her baby.  She didn't know Magi would visit at an opportune time to worship the young King that stood by her side, laying expensive gifts at his feet. Mary didn't have any way to know that she would be witness to his first miracle, or that this baby she was called to bear would travel throughout Israel teaching with God's power and authority, performing miracles, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Mary knew there was great significance to what she was being called to, that this baby would be special and would ultimately reign forever. But she didn't know what it all would cost. She didn't know what her "Yes" would mean.
        Mary didn't know that in the midst of experiencing God's presence and power as she lived out her role in the redemptive plan of God she would also suffer great pain, loss, grief and sorrow. She didn't know that the baby would grow up obeying a different Father - creating confusion, fear and upset when he had to be away from his family in order to "be with his Father" in his Father's house. She didn't know that his submission to his Father's will would mean he would be misunderstood and hated. Mary didn't know how this baby would become a divisive figure, in what way he would reveal the hearts of many, how he would become "a man of sorrows,"or through what means her heart would likewise break. She didn't know what his life would become, or what his death would mean - that she would witness her son's body torn apart by merciless beatings and his blood-soaked body nailed to a cross. Mary didn't know that there would be another bittersweet goodbye when she would watch his resurrected body rise into the clouds, that an angel would offer the benediction to the life of the son that had been announced by an angel all those years ago.  
        And so the challenge for us who are followers of Christ, each called to our own unique purpose within the plan of God: what will our answer be? We who have no more insight than Mary as to how our lives will change and unfold upon following the call of God. Are we willing to answer as Mary did with no qualifiers, no hesitation, no bargaining? Are we able to offer the same heart of humble obedient surrender as Mary, knowing that we will get to experience the presence and power of God in ways we never could imagine, but knowing too that we may also undergo great suffering, sorrow, grief and loss? Are we willing to let go of our own visions for our lives and claim God's? This Advent season may Mary's answer be ours, "I am the Lord's servant...let it be to me as you have said."

Journey Into the Light - December 16 - The Timeless One

                                          "...the time came for the baby to be born..."  Luke 2:6

        In the quiet moments after Jesus' birth, when his brow was gently kissed, his newborn body wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger, when relief that the birth was without complication and the pain was now over hovered in the air, and before the shepherds arrived with their excited clamor, no one really knew what had actually just occurred. In the moment of Jesus' birth time itself was branded by the Eternal. Time was split in two, forever and dramatically. Within a short period of time, this birth, on this night in Bethlehem, would forever be the central point of history, the demarkation, the dividing line between before and after. History, and time itself, would never be the same. He who is himself timeless, who separated light from darkness, established day & night, and through the sun, moon, and stars marked months, seasons days & years by the power of his word, entered into time unassumingly, and shattered any reference point to measuring time that had previously existed. He became the reference point. And he does the same in our lives when we surrender our moments and days to him.
        It is easy for us to become lost in the mundane. Our days sometimes blend together in a gray sameness, and it becomes hard to distinguish one from another. We get caught in the grind of life and lose all sense of any meaning or greater purpose. Life takes sharp turns in directions that we never anticipated, and we lose perspective. In some ways this is why Advent is so compelling - the story itself and the season we celebrate. It is a story of the miraculous transforming the ordinary. It is a story of normal, everyday people whose lives collided with the eternal in ways they never could have imagined, and as a result were forever changed. It is a story that tells of Zechariah the priest, and Mary, a young virgin, and Joseph, a simple carpenter, each met by angels. It is the story of Elizabeth who became the talk of the town for conceiving in her old age after years and years of barrenness, and of her son John leaping in her womb at the sound of Mary's voice and the presence of his Savior growing within her. It is shepherds encountering the glory of God in the night sky and being the first  to see the Savior of all mankind. It is a story about an old man, Simeon, and an old woman, Anna, who woke up on a day that seemed like any other, but wasn't, because they saw and held the Promised One. It is a story that tells of Wisemen coming from a distant land with lavish gifts to a small town because their lives were upended by a star in the sky that beckoned them to follow. It is a season of expectation, of waiting and fulfillment, of light dawning in darkness.
        We who are bound by time and its demands, its limits and losses, the long shadows it casts on our lives need the Timeless One. We need the Eternal One to speak into our weary, time-worn hearts. We desperately need the One who created time, orders time, and subjected himself to time; we need him to enter into the events and circumstances of our lives in just as miraculous a way as he did when he entered into history as Mary's son born of the Spirit. We who were created with eternity in our hearts long for our temporal lives to be touched by the Eternal. We need Him who split history in two to awaken us to his presence, to split our lives open with "before and after" moments, to forever change our reference point from us to him, from fear to joy, from emptiness to purpose, from sorrow to hope, from darkness to light. Let's invite him who entered into time and forever changed history to transform our hearts and lives this Advent season.

Journey Into the Light - December 15 - Expectations

                       "Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he
                                                      stayed so long in the temple."  Luke 1:21

        This verse touches a nerve because we've all been there. We've all been weighed down at one time or another by the expectations, demands and curiosity of others. We go about our lives seeking the Lord and following his lead, and in the process find that we are not understood, that people are watching, questioning, and wondering why we are doing what we're doing. They judge our motives, our decision making, our wisdom, even our hearts. In our attempt to be faithful, we are confronted with the reality that in order to walk in obedience to the Spirit of God sometimes that means other people will be left waiting, wondering, and even let down. Can we come to terms with this and live at peace, resting in the love and approval of God? Can we embrace, with confidence, what God is doing in us and how he is leading us, and let go of trying to please everyone around us?
        Zechariah was a priest, a spiritual leader in Israel. He had a certain status within the community given the position he had serving the Lord in the temple. While Zechariah was burning incense before the Lord worshipers assembled outside, as was the custom, and began praying. But this was no ordinary time of service for Zechariah. An angel of the Lord appeared to him to announce God's plan and provision for Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. What had been a typical start to his time of service in the temple suddenly turned into a life-changing encounter with a messenger of God. All the while the angel is speaking to Zechariah, the people are outside beginning to realize they have been praying much longer than usual. They stop praying and start getting restless. They look around, wondering what is going on, wondering what Zechariah is doing. This isn't the way incense burning is supposed to go. This was not at all what they were expecting. In their view, he should have come out already and given the Aaronic blessing. While they wait, their curiosity begins to grow and they want answers. But, because of what God was doing in Zechariah, there were no real answers for them to receive.
        At this point in Zechariah's life, God was more concerned about what he needed to do in Zechariah than through him. God was more interested in the eternal work he desired to do in Zechariah's heart, than the incense burning going according to custom. The reality is God desires so much for us to be like him, and in the process, often turns our lives upside down. And when this happens, there are very few who, looking in from afar, don't question us, doubt us, and demand answers and explantations. Aside from Zechariah gesturing enough for the people to understand he had seen a vision, they didn't get any answers. They were not told what God was doing in Zechariah, what his plan was for him, why nothing at the temple that day went according to plan, or why Zechariah came out mute. God was at work in eternal and miraculous ways, but it was not for the people's consumption, nor did it require their approval or understanding. It was for Zechariah to listen, to learn, and obey. It was for Zechariah to hear, follow, and be transformed.
        Be it the severe mercy of God working discipline in our lives, or his plan unfolding in mysterious ways, it is only for us to seek him in the midst, to hear from the Spirit, to follow his voice, and walk in confident obedience. Our heart's desire should be to please the Lord, not be consumed by the demands, approval, or expectations of others. It is ours to love well and extend grace, but this does not mean that everyone will understand or like what we are doing. This was true for Zechariah when it came time for his baby to be named. Zechariah was again confronted with the plan of God flying in the face of custom and expectations. God had decreed that the baby was to be named John, but because none of their relatives had this name, the people objected. Zechariah, in obedience to God, after months of chastening silence and miraculous provision, writes on a tablet the name of his child. In accordance with the word of the Lord, against the people's desire and understanding, Zechariah names him John.
         We are called to live our lives to please God, not win the approval of people. Our decisions need to be made as offerings of obedience to the Lord, not as answers to the demands and expectations of others. There is only one master for whom we can live. Will it be the Lord - no matter how misunderstood we may be, or will it be the restless, questioning, wondering crowd? Amidst Zechariah's well-known story, there is a testimony of victory. And this victory can be ours as well. The Spirit is whispering to our hearts this Advent. He is offering us freedom from the pressure and weight of living for the acceptance of others; he is inviting us into the quiet rest of God's love and approval.    

Journey Into the Light - December 14 - Remember

         "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
        And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
                                                                                Isaiah 9:6

        We forget so quickly. Life gets hard, distractions come easy, and we lose sight of glory of him whose name we claim. We question why things are they way they are, our perspective slips, and we are tempted to question the love, power and goodness of our Savior. We find ourselves lost, unable to see the path that was once so clearly marked and laid out before us. Our eyes become dim; we need to refocus, to realign our hearts with One whose heart broke for us. We need to see him for who he is, not through the circumstances that cloud our vision. We need to remember who it is that came for us and fix our eyes on him - the One we follow, the One we worship, the One we love, the One we need, and the One we live for. We need to gaze upon the glory of him who came to us that first Advent as a child and sonWe need to remember and be transformed.
        "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given." Love has come. It is this truth that reminds us we are eternally loved. The One we love loved us first, and because of this, he came to us in the flesh. He became like us to save us. He loved us for his sake, so we have nothing to fear because his love is not dependent on what we do or how we perform. It is sourced within himself - who he is, for he is Love.
        "The government will be on his shoulders." The One who came for us is sovereign. He reigns. He is on the throne. Nothing he desires can be denied; no plan or purpose of His can be thwarted. As we meditate on this truth our hope and courage are renewed. The One we follow loves us and has everything under control and in his control. Our discouragement wanes, and our confidence builds because nothing can touch us that he in his love does not allow. Despite all the evil that surrounds us, in the midst of all the brokenness, we are secure in the love and sovereignty of God.
        "He will be called Wonderful Counselor." The all-knowing One, he who is himself Wisdom, is the One we live for. We have not been left to figure things out on our own. Our Wonderful Counselor lives in us by His Spirit and provides his eternal insight, direction, discernment and perspective. Our minds find rest and our hearts are encouraged when we remember that he who came for us does not desire or expect us to live out of our own limited understanding. We live for him who is our loving, sovereign, infinitely wise Savior. He promises us all the wisdom we lack when we look to him in faith.
        "Mighty God." We worship an all-powerful God. We are weak, but he is strong. His name is mighty in power. It is his powerful Word that creates life and sustains life. He is a God who performs miracles, and his awesome works display his power among the peoples. It is his mighty arm that has redeemed his people. We are called to consider the mighty deeds of the the Lord. When we do, our hearts rediscover the incomparably great power available for us who believe. This loving, sovereign, infinitely wise and mighty God is the one we worship.
         "Everlasting Father." We long to be cared for, to be looked after, supported, provided for, delighted in, and loved without condition. The one we need is the one who came; he is our Everlasting Father. He has adopted us as his sons and daughters. We are a treasured part of the family of God. Nothing can separate us from him, and he will never desert us. We are the beloved of the Father forever.
        "Prince of Peace." He who reigns in our hearts is our peace. We have eternal peace through our reconciliation to God, and we have peace in the midst of the tumult of this world. As we entrust ourselves to him he assures us that his peace that is beyond understanding will guard our hearts and minds. If we believe he loves us, reigns in sovereign mighty power, and generously grants the wisdom we need moment by moment, what is there to fear? He is our Prince of Peace.
        When we fix our eyes upon Advent's glory, we remember who it is we need, love, live for, follow and worship. He is the child and son born to us. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. As we gaze upon the majesty of our Savior we find our faith strengthened, our hope renewed, our vision cleared, and our path straightened. We remember and find we've been transformed.            

Journey Into the Light - December 13 - Abba Father

    "But the angel said to her...'You will be with child and give birth to a son, you are to give him the
         name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.'"  Luke 1:31-32a

        We almost always begin the story of Advent with the angel's appearance to Mary, his subsequent visit to Joseph, and the events leading up to the young family resting in the quiet of the stable. But the reality is that Advent does not begin with the family in a borrowed stable. It does not begin with angelic announcements, a young virgin, or the righteous betrothed. Advent begins in the eternal heart of God, within the love, fellowship and family of the Trinity. The baby in the manger, God's Son, has always existed eternally as the Son of God within the beauty, perfection, and glory he shares with God the Father and the Holy Spirit - all existing as one God. He didn't just suddenly become a son when he was born of Mary, he has always been a Son - God's Son, enveloped in the love and affection of the Father. Advent's story begins within the eternal family of God himself and finds its purpose and meaning there as well. Advent is all about the loving heart of God as Father and his invitation to us to become a treasured part of his family.
        Love is costly. And there was a cost, an excruciating cost, to this invitation. God knew this would mean a sacrifice beyond all comprehension. God the Father knew the steep price he would pay and the agony it meant for the Son. God knew that it would break up their family for a time, that they would be separated by distance, time, sin and wrath. God knew that because they are One, both would suffer immeasurably. But God the Father also knew that the only way for the glory of his person to be revealed and embraced in all its fullness -not just feared from a distance, but personally known and passionately loved, was for his Son to leave his side and become the son of another. God knew that the only way he could be fully known was for him to be seen and experienced as the Father he is. It is in the identity of the Son not just as God, but as the Son of God that we discover God as Father and God as our Father. We see his tenderness, his gentleness, his compassion, his protective care, his miraculous intervention, and his power manifest through heart-breaking love. We see the sacrificial heart of a perfect Father, willing to give up His One and Only Son in order to adopt us as his sons and daughters. Advent is not just the revelation of our Savior in the person of Christ, it is also the revelation of God as our Abba Father. It is an invitation to discover his heart and experience the passionate, extravagant love he has for us, his cherished, beloved children.

Journey Into the Light - December 12 - Disgrace

           "After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.
            'The Lord has done this for me,' she said. 'In these days he has shown his favor and taken    
             away my disgrace among the people.'"  Luke 1:25

        We all know the weight of disgrace, of shame that pierces our hearts with its sharp corners. Ours may be hidden, or it may be well-known, but either way we are familiar with the darkness that hovers around the edges of our minds. We long for freedom, but somehow can't seem to find our way clear. We see it in the eyes of those around us, we sense it in the undertones of conversation. Even when we look at ourselves in the mirror, our own eyes seem to condemn us. Whether we carry this shame and disgrace because of something we've done, or it is just the result of the wrongful judgements of others, the pain is no less severe. This was Elizabeth's reality day after day, every month that her womb remained empty. The years and the shame piled up, and there was nothing she could do to relieve her suffering. She knew that no matter how righteously she lived her life, how generously she gave of herself, and no matter how faithful she was to God, she would always be looked upon as one out of favor with the Lord because he had not granted her children. She knew that every time she went to synagogue or shopped in the marketplace the eyes of everyone were not just looking at her with pity, but with judgement as well. Then God steps in, and we hear Elizabeth speak these great words of hope, "The Lord...has taken away my disgrace..."
        Regardless of the cause of our shame and disgrace - whether it is ours to own because of our sin, or what comes from the sinful judgement of others, freedom can be found. We can be released from the heavy darkness that shadows us and find joy and peace in Jesus. The God that met Elizabeth in her pain and removed her disgrace is the same gracious God that takes away ours. Our God, full of love and compassion, made a way for us to be saved - not just from sin, but from its shame and disgrace as well. On a hill outside of Jerusalem the Innocent One was condemned, the Perfect One shamed, and the Righteous One made guilty. He took it all. There is nothing left for us to carry - not our sin, not our shame, or the disgrace that comes from the condemnation of others. "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame" (Psalm 34:5, NIV). Advent's beauty is found in the light of the cross, and it is there that we find freedom.

Journey Into the Light - December 11 - Community

"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth...Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy."
                                                                     Luke 1:39-40, 56-58

        We have been created for community, for relationship, for fellowship. God made us in his image, not just to display his glory, but that we could commune with him and participate in dynamic relationship with those he has placed in our lives, especially those with whom we share a common bond in Christ. God intentionally designed his church to be a community, to be a family grounded in his love and grace and centered on the person of Christ. It is here that God intends for his people to find encouragement, to receive blessing, to find hope, to share one another's burdens, to offer hospitality, to extend grace, and to spur one another on to love and good deeds. It is within this spiritual family that God desires us to hear and see what God has done and what he is doing in the hearts and lives of his people. It is here that we are called to testify to the love, mercy, and provision of God and to share in one another's journey. There is nothing more powerful, motivating, challenging or life-changing than when the people of God witness the Spirit of God at work in each other's lives and experience fellowship together around His work.
        Mary, having herself experienced a tremendous work of God in her own life, hurries to Elizabeth's house to bear witness to God's provision. The interaction between Mary and Elizabeth is a beautiful picture of what the family of God can and should be. Both of these women are so consumed with God and his activity in their lives that it pours out of them like water from a fountain, overflowing in exuberant praise, blessing, and honor. And, as the work of God within his family always does, it then spilled over into the lives of the neighbors and relatives who not only were able to share Elizabeth's joy, but marveled in awe at the goodness and power of God manifest in their midst. Not only were Mary and Elizabeth's lives changed, but the community around them felt the impact.
        As God's people, we are called to be witnesses and to bear witness. Both are the purpose, beauty and blessing of the church, and there is divine synergy between the two. There is something that comes alive in us when we gather together with other believers to testify to the hand of God at work in our lives. We find renewed perspective and gain deeper insight into the person and heart of God. We are encouraged, exhorted and strengthened to persevere in our pursuit of Christ, to keep eternity in full view. We are comforted in sorrow, being assured that God is good and his love is real and present in the middle of what can seem like staggering silence. And yes, we find joy as we hear about all that God is doing in his people and rejoice in his presence and blessing. When we witness our Savior alive, active and manifest in our midst we can't help but become excited about who he is, what he has done for us, and go forth and witness to those around us. It is something that overflows out of hearts that are full, because we have seen the power of God at work in the family of God, and so long for others to share the love, joy and hope that we have in Christ.
        Advent is God's invitation to all mankind to join his family, his community. To his people it is an exhortation to pursue life-changing fellowship centered in the person of Christ and a catalyst to share his love and light to a sin-darkened world. As the family of God, let's find renewed joy as we testify together to what God is doing in our lives, and may the overflow impact the hearts of those around us who desperately need the Savior we worship.    

Journey Into the Light - December 10 - Legacy

    "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him..."  Matthew 1:24

       There is a certain mystery to Joseph. Somehow, after the Advent story has been told and the Gospels go silent, we are left wanting to know more about him. But really, if there is anything worth knowing about a person, it is his character and regard for the Lord; and this is what God chose to tell us about the man who would help raise the Savior of the world. So while we aren't given many details, we are actually given so much more. Joseph is one who despite his obscurity, left a powerful legacy.
        "....Joseph....was a righteous man..." This is the cornerstone of who Joseph was. This is what drove every decision and motivated every action. He was a man whose heart was devoted to the Lord and to His law. That he was devoted to the Lord is so important because this is what allowed him to be committed to the law without becoming self-righteous and full of pride. There is such humility demonstrated by Joseph when he decides to quietly divorce Mary. He did not desire to make an example out of her, he did not desire to shame her, or in any way bring attention to her situation. His first thought was not about himself in the midst of whatever disappointment or shock he felt, but rather how to protect his betrothed from public disgrace.
        "...Joseph...did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him..." Joseph didn't question, he didn't argue, he didn't complain, he didn't seek clarification or verification. He obeyed. He heard the angel's incredible, almost unbelievable message - that Mary, through the Spirit, would give birth to the long-awaited Savior; and he received it as from the Lord with no hesitation. Joseph took the angel at his word. He set aside the plans he had made for divorce, along with whatever new direction he had charted for his life, and took Mary home as his wife. But even this was not the marriage he was originally planning. It would be months before they related fully as a married couple. Even in this Joseph had to set aside expectations and desires to preserve the sanctity of God's plan.
        "So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod." Once again the angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream, this time warning him of danger and instructing him to make their escape. Whatever Joseph had anticipated for his life with Mary and her baby, fleeing a tyrant in the dead of night was probably not a part of it. But again, the word of the Lord was supreme. Joseph uprooted his life and livelihood in obedience to God and moved to Egypt. After this, there followed two additional angelic visits, more moves, more upheaval and more adjustments. Joseph was steadfast in the midst of it all. He revered the Lord and his word more than his own plans, comfort, or preference. He lived his life faithfully for the Lord with no equivocation.
        We do not hear anymore about Joseph, except peripherally, in the account of twelve year old Jesus staying at the temple in Jerusalem after the Passover, and his parents frantic search for him. From this point on the Bible and history are silent on Joseph. But the silence is profound. Why? Because it speaks to the faithful fulfillment and completion of the task God gave to him all those years ago. God the Father was Jesus' true Father, but it was Joseph who raised Jesus from infancy as his own. He taught him, loved him, protected him, and provided for him, until the time came when Jesus was old enough to fully engage in his divine relationship with his heavenly Father.
        We would love to know more about Joseph, but we have been told enough to see that in the midst of his complete ordinariness, he was truly extraordinary. He was resolute in his faithfulness to the Lord, and he was committed to an obedience that never wavered. He made no demands, he did not question, he did not claim his life as his own. No matter what it cost him, whether he understood what he was asked to do or what it all meant, he was God's, period. The quiet power of Joseph's life still speaks to us today after two thousand years, if we are willing to listen. We who are prone to questioning, who want answers before we commit, who justify our hesitation and somehow think obedience is optional - or can at least be done on our terms; we who too often demand of God what is not ours to dictate - our lives, need to take to heart the challenge of Joseph's life. Humble regard for the Lord, total and complete surrender, obedience and trust - this is the legacy of Joseph. What will our legacy be?

Journey Into the Light - December 9 - The Gospel

 "...And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'"
                                                                           Matthew 2:15

         These words were originally spoken of Israel in Hosea 11:1 where it says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." But God's words to Israel don't end there. He continues, "But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me..." The physical bondage that Israel found themselves in during their years in Egypt mirrors their spiritual bondage and ours. We all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way. There was nothing Israel could do to free herself, and there is nothing we can do either. We, like the Israelites in Egypt so long ago, are born into slavery and desperately need a liberator. We who are lost, hopeless and helpless in our sin, need a Savior to free us from its power, its effects, and its consequences. God's love compelled him to deliver Israel from physical slavery, and this same love drove him to provide a way for mankind's spiritual liberation. God, as he did with Israel, is calling to us. He is calling us out of our Egypt, out of the bondage of sin and death into the freedom of his Son.
        Israel was God's wayward child, Jesus is God's obedient son. It is Christ and his faithful obedience to his father - first in coming to earth, then living a perfect life, and finally submitting to the most horrible of deaths that has provided a way for us to be set free. Jesus entered into our bondage, he wrapped around himself the chains of sin and death that bound us, and then broke them by the power of the cross. It was through Christ's death and his life that God brought us freedom, for God determined that Christ would not just come to die, but that his obedient life would physically and spiritually take the place of ours. As a child, fleeing from Herod, Jesus went down to Egypt and returned, as did Israel, to the Promised Land. As a man, anointed by the Spirit, he entered the wilderness where he was tempted for 40 days, but unlike Israel, came out victorious. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, traveled the same path as Israel, but with a different outcome.
        Israel is a picture of all who are born into slavery, and of him who came to set us free. In Jesus we find both substitute and fulfillment. "Out of Egypt I called my son." This is the gospel in a nutshell. It speaks to our bondage and to the One who bought our freedom with his blood. It proclaims our desperate need and our eternal provision. It declares our hopeless enslavement and the source of our liberation. It testifies to our failure and His triumph. We are loved, and because of this great love we have been set free.

Journey Into the Light -December 8 - Immanuel

"A voice is heard in Ramah, 
weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children 
and refusing to be comforted, 
because they are no more." 
Matthew 2:18

        The agony of Rachel's suffering mirrors our own. We don't know sometimes, where to lay our grief. It seeps into our hearts, overflows into our lives and overwhelms us because whether it is our own inexplicable pain, or that of those around us, there is no avoiding it. The heart-wrenching agony described in this verse is palpable. It washes over us, and we can feel the bottomless pit of utter despair. In a world torn apart by sorrow, for hearts crying out for relief, there is comfort and solace to be found. Our groans are heard, our tears gathered and held within His loving grasp. He hears our cries and leans in to whisper, "Immanuel."
         Immanuel. God with us. Immanuel. Man of sorrows. Immanuel. Acquainted with grief. Immanuel. Carried our sorrows. Immanuel. Wept. Immanuel. The one who will wipe every tear from our eyes. Immanuel. The One who gave up his glory to become the Suffering Servant, who chose to enter into our self-inflicted agony in order to relieve our suffering. Immanuel. The One who became like us in every way so that he could help us in every way. Immanuel. The One who chose to subject himself to indescribable sorrow by us, the ones he came to save. Immanuel. The God of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us as no one else can, because he has suffered in every way we have and in ways we never will. Immanuel. The One who reigns in glory and lives in our hearts. Immanuel. The One who promises, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Immanuel. The One whose second advent we await, when there will be no more death, no more tears, no more crying, no more pain - when all things will be made new.
        Knowing that we are not alone in our pain is comforting, but it is Who is with us that is life-changing. Immanuel. God with us. The miracle of Advent. Listen for his whisper. He is here.

Journey Into the Light - December 7 - Genealogy

       "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham..."  Matthew 1:1

        When we come across genealogies in Scripture, our minds tend to glaze over. We acknowledge the fact that God has a purpose in including them in his Word, and so somewhat guiltily give them a cursory glance on our way to the more interesting and inspiring portions of Scripture. We generally leave the genealogies to the scholars whose job it is to decipher such things. And when it comes to the season of Advent and our time spent with the Lord, our hearts long for more than a tedious list of obscure names we may or may not have ever heard of. In actuality, there is much encouragement to be gained from the family records placed throughout Scripture, especially the one at the beginning of Mathew's gospel which sets up the entire Advent story.
          Jesus, born of Mary by the Spirit, wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger, is the long-awaited Messiah, the promised King from the line of Judah, the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. He is the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies of God. He is our hope, our salvation, our very life. Matthew's genealogy not only lays out the lineage of Jesus to confirm his rightful rule, it also, amazingly, reveals the magnificence of God. If we are willing to linger just a little while over the history and seek out its truths, we will discover a richness and depth in the genealogy of Christ that has everything to do with our own living faith.
        Matthew's genealogy testifies to the sustaining power of the sovereign hand of God at work throughout history and the reliability of his word. We serve a God on whom we can rely and in whom we can rest, because his word is sure. What he says will be accomplished regardless of the hearts of mankind or the twists and turns of history. He chooses imperfect people to accomplish his purposes, and in the midst of our imperfection, his plan moves forward without fail. Sin cannot render his Word void, evil cannot thwart his plan, man's conniving and selfish pursuits cannot upend his intentions. God uses all people and is impeded by none. Within the genealogy we see Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness; Judah, a man who refused to keep his word; Tamar, a deceiver bringing about her own justice; Rahab, a foreign prostitute who found grace; David, the man after God's own heart - the warrior king who also led Israel in worship, and committed murder and adultery; Bathsheba, an adulteress; King Rehoboam, the exceedingly proud and unwise son of Solomon who split the nation of Israel in two; Manasseh, arguably one of the most wicked kings of Judah known for sorcery, unrestrained slaughter of the innocent, and child sacrifice; King Josiah, the righteous grandson of Manasseh, who renewed Judah's covenant with God. These are not just names on a list; they are real people who lived lives just as vivid as ours - each flawed, some redeemed, who God used to fulfill his promise of a Savior.
        Christ came at the exact time ordained by God despite all the seeming twists and turns of history brought on by capricious hearts. His lineage speaks to the mercy, sovereignty, and power of our God, who used both the best and worst, the righteous and the evil to accomplish his will; and he does in our lives as well. Through the lives and stories represented in Matthew's genealogy we see the faithfulness of God's heart, and we see that his word is true and stands forever. Advent is the culmination of generations of people who we can learn from and who point to the greatness and glory of God. There is no wasted space in Scripture. If we are willing to dig a little deeper and linger a little longer over the remarkable stories behind the names, we will find people strikingly similar to us who have truths to teach us. More importantly, as we look beneath the layers of Matthew's genealogy, we find hope, encouragement and confidence because God is there.   

Journey Into the Light - December 6 - Darkness

"When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to    
  kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under..."  Matthew 2:16

        There is no avoiding the realities of the times in which we live, and there wasn't for those living in Bethlehem during the reign of Herod. Tucked within the more sublime and miraculous events of the first Advent is an act of evil that almost seems out of place. Herod, feeling threatened by the message of the Magi, and filled with rage when he realized the Magi had outsmarted him, ordered the massacre of boys two years old and under. There is nothing so jarring as evil being unleashed on the innocent and helpless. Something within us cries out against it; we rage against the injustice, and at the same time are terrified that it will find us as well. Within our own Advent celebrations, this is not a passage we linger over, beyond noting the significance of it being a fulfillment of prophecy. It just doesn't fit into the way we have formed and shaped our view of the nativity and each of the stories that surround it. It is an outlier, an aberration best left on the periphery of our Advent reflections - too unsettling for our already anxious hearts. The truth is though, Herod's slaughter of the innocent is central to the entire story. If not for heinous evil, if not for wicked hearts, if not for the stain of sin and the suffering it has brought, there would be no Advent. There would be no Christmas story. There would be no need for a Savior. But there is a need, a desperate need, and it was into this desperation that our Savior came.
        It is easy to absolve ourselves in some way when confronted with extreme evil. We put ourselves in a different category and tell ourselves we aren't "that" bad. But Jesus did not just come for the "Herods" of the world. He came for all of us, because we are all sinners in need of redemption. What Jesus came and accomplished is not just a feel good story to warm our hearts at Christmas. He came and defeated the very evil we fear and the evil that all of us are born into. None of us are free of blame or guilt, and amazingly, none of us are outside the reach of his grace. The baby born in Bethlehem who was threatened by death grew up and ultimately surrendered to that death. He choseHe chose to be impaled to a cross for the very one who sought to murder him all those years ago, and ruthlessly tore infant boys from the arms of their mothers. He chose. He chose to take every sin of every person on himself. He chose. He chose to be forsaken of the Father for our reconciliation. He chose. He chose to become a victim in order to be Victor. He chose. He chose his life for our life. We all killed Christ; it was all our sin that put him on the cross - not just the most evil of mankind, all of us. And we can all live because of him.
        Our world is seemingly spiraling out of control, and it was no less true for those in Bethlehem who suffered the evil of Herod. But the One born there now reigns. He is seated on the throne. He is the Prince of Peace who has all things under his control, whose purposes cannot be thwarted. In him we find peace with God and peace within the chaos of a broken world. No one is beyond his reach. No situation is beyond his grace. Peace is available to all because He died for all. This is the hope and joy of Advent.

Journey Into the Light - December 5 - Disturbance

       "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'
        When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."  Matthew 2:1-3

        When Jesus enters a scene something fascinating happens. He always creates a disturbance. Lives are turned upside down and inside out. Hearts are revealed, motives laid bare. Once he is declared to be who he is, there is always a reaction. Some worship, some try to ignore him, and others respond with loathing. But no one is ever neutral. No one ever leaves the same.
        Wise Men from the East saw a star, and with open, humble hearts they searched for the one who was born king of the Jews. Though not Jews themselves, they traveled far from their homeland following a star to Jerusalem to find him. They came with expensive gifts to kneel before him who was not their king and worship. The true beauty of this story is that God, by sending this star at this time to these men from the East, was in fact declaring that this Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was not just king of the Jews, but King of all. The Magi's star was God's tangible sign to the world that his heart, his call, his salvation is for all people.
        Within the story of the Wise Men stands Herod, an evil, self-serving ruler to whom God also offered an opportunity to seek, find, and worship the king of the Jews. Through the chief priests and teachers of the law, Herod was given more information regarding who this baby was than the Magi had when they began following the star. Yet the moment this child was declared to be the long-awaited king of the Jews, Herod's hard heart became harder and more dark, threatened by this little one who he believed could usurp him and take his power. Herod, blinded by his ruthless pride, could not see beyond his desperate, bloodthirsty need for control. The Magi acknowledged the baby's rightful rule and bowed down; Herod rejected it, and sought to destroy him. Herod was unwilling to consider, unwilling to look deeper, unwilling to let this baby be to him what he came to be for all.
        Herod was not the only one troubled at the news of a baby born king of the Jews; all of Jerusalem was disturbed along with him. One would think that the Jewish leaders might be something other than upset. Maybe curious or hopeful, maybe expectant or excited, anything but disturbed. The sad reality is that Jesus got more of a reaction out of the Magi and Herod, than he did his own people. The Wise Men pursued him until he was found and worshipped. Herod sought him in order to kill him. The Jewish leaders did nothing. There is no mention of these men diligently searching for more information within the Scriptures, or seeking insight from the Lord. They did nothing in response to the "disturbance" that the Wisemen created by their announcement that the king of the Jews had been born. They chose to ignore the first of many opportunities given to them to understand that their King, their long-awaited Messiah had come, that he was here, that their salvation was at hand. Many years would pass, but the Jewish leaders would once again be confronted with the presence of this King, and they would be no less disturbed; but this time they would not, could not ignore him. They responded this time with hatred. The reality is that when all is said and done, regardless of how hard people may try, Jesus can't be ignored. He is God, and this truth always requires a response. In the end, whatever the choice, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
         The truth of Jesus' identity as God and Savior always creates a disturbance. Some humbly bow the knee in worship, some try to ignore him, and others loathe him; but all somehow find themselves affected by him. And all the while God continues to shower his grace on mankind, patiently waiting, extending invitation after invitation; for he desires that none should perish, but that all worship him in spirit and in truth. Advent's message to mankind is "for God so loved the world." And through the story of the Wise Men comes an urgent plea to every heart: "Seek him, follow him, worship him. He is Savior and King of all."

Journey Into the Light - December 4 - Waiting

        "But the angel said to him: 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife
                  Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.'"  Luke 1:13

        "Your prayer has been heard..." Don't we all yearn to hear those words and see the longings of our hearts realized? Whether we have literally grown old crying out for the hand of God to act, or it just feels that way, we are all familiar with waiting. We know all too well the experience of expectation and anticipation shifting to fear and then dread, when it begins to dawn on us that those things that we have been hoping for, and yes, praying for, are not going to materialize. We can feel our hearts start to harden a bit around the edges and close ever so much as we try to protect what seems so tender and vulnerable. After enough time passes we may feel less fear and anger, maybe not so raw. Some find a place of acceptance, others do not, but we all know that sliver of emptiness that remains. What do we do while we wait? How do we not lose hope or see our faith shaken? There is no other answer than to look to the heart of God.
        Advent is all about the waiting heart of God: his eternal longings fulfilled and those still awaiting their realization. It is in the central story and all of the stories surrounding Advent that we catch a glimpse of how the yearnings of God's heart converge with ours. Advent is where we hear God's voice gently, yet boldly whisper holy purpose into our times of waiting. It is where the light of God dispels shadows of doubt and reveals the beautifully intricate, eternal design being woven into our lives.
        Throughout all the years of their barrenness, through all the emptiness, disappointment and even shame that Zechariah and Elizabeth suffered, they had no idea what God had in store for them. All the while they pleaded with God, prayed with heartbreaking desperation, and cried out for him to intervene, to just do something - anything, he was waiting. God was waiting right along with them. He was waiting to reveal his heart. He was waiting to provide. He was waiting to announce his plan for them and the world. He was waiting for the right time. He held their heartache. He cradled their grief. And he waited. He had to wait to give them their heart's desire because he had a greater Gift to give, and the timing had to be perfect. There was no way Zechariah and Elizabeth could have ever known that God was waiting too, that he was not withholding blessing, but allowing a greater one to unfold.
        This is no less true in our lives. Within the barrenness and brokenness, the longing and heartbreak, God is waiting - with us and for us. He hears. He knows. And he waits. Because as good as what we are waiting for might be, what he is waiting to give to us is so much better. We see the emptiness, God sees the fulfillment. We see the sorrow, God sees the coming joy. We see the ugly, God sees the unfolding beauty. We lose our way, God reveals his.
       Advent is all about waiting: God's waiting, Zechariah and Elizabeth's waiting, Mary's waiting, the Wise Men's waiting, Simeon and Anna's waiting, and yes, even our waiting. And Advent is all about fulfillment. "Your prayer has been heard." This was the angel's message to Zechariah, and it is God's message to us. "Your prayer has been heard." Advent is God's answer to every prayer. It is the provision for every waiting heart- including his own. It is the fulfillment of every longing and every heart's cry. "Your prayer has been heard."

Journey Into the Light - December 3 - Contemplation

             "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."  Luke 2:19

        From the time the angel visited Mary until the shepherds departed, Mary's life was non-stop miracle and motion. The angel Gabriel had barely left when Mary quickly departs, traveling to see her relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah. It was a visit full of Holy Spirit moments: a glorious, prophetic greeting, a prayer full of praise and glory to God, John's birth, Zechariah's healing, his prophecy over his son and the Light that was to come. Mary then returns home and is taken as Joseph's wife. In a few months time they are required to register in Bethlehem, so Mary embarks on another journey, this time with Joseph and fully pregnant, arriving about the time she'll have her baby. They settle into their very temporary accommodations, a home for cattle, where Mary gives birth to Jesus.
        Just one of these events would have been life-altering and remarkable, but all these events occurred in Mary's life within the span of a year. So many powerful, God-ordained moments, times of revelation and miraculous provision, all culminating with the arrival of shepherds looking for a baby in a manger.  They see their Savior and leave glorifying and praising God, a kind of benediction for Mary - not just on the birth of her son Jesus, but on her year and all that God had done. The shepherds depart; and Mary, in the now quiet stable, takes it all in. She gathers all of these precious moments, these gifts from God, and holds them dear and deeply within her heart. She reflects on what they all mean, how they fit together, what might come next. She contemplates God: who he is, how he has chosen to powerfully reveal himself and his plan to her, and how he is revealing himself to the world.
        "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." There is an invitation to us in these words, an invitation to quiet our hearts and enter into the holy stillness of God. There is a call to pause the frenetic activity of our lives, to come away and be still, to reflect on what God is doing around us and what he desires to do in us and through us. Our hearts need to time to take in what God has done for us, to treasure his work in our lives and his provision for us. Our souls need refreshment, and this is often found in those quiet moments when we remember who God is and how he has revealed himself to us over time. It is in the stillness of God that we find encouragement, perspective, direction, renewed hope and comfort. We find our faith is strengthened as we ponder all the moments and miracles that we hold dear. God is always speaking, always working, always orchestrating events in our lives to reveal more of who he is and his love for us. This Advent, let's enter the holy stillness of God. Let's quiet our hearts and allow our souls to be refreshed as we contemplate the love and goodness of God. Let's gather all of the precious moments of God's revelation and provision in our lives, for these are gifts for us to hold, to treasure, and carry deep within our hearts. 

Journey Into the Light - December 2 - Signs

"This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Luke 2:12

        God is a pursuer. He is not ambivalent, he is not disengaged. He is real, he is present, and he is active in the affairs of mankind. He always lets us know he is close and at work, leaving markers to point our frail hearts to his loving, sovereign plan. He knows that we get discouraged, distracted, and even deceived, and longs for us to know and trust his heart. He yearns for us to experience his passionate love and to understand that this love is the motivation for all that he does. He wants us to know what he is about and leaves signs to offer us a glimpse of himself, a taste of his goodness and glory, and insight into the purposes that he is fulfilling. God's message to us is LOVE. He is constantly sending signs of his presence, leaving marks of his love and grace, and through these drawing people to himself.
        On a quiet evening in the fields outside the small town of Bethlehem a group of men were going about their usual routine of keeping their sheep, when suddenly the sky erupted with a blinding light and the voice of an angel proclaiming to them good news of great joy. It was to these men that God chose to announce his message and offer the first glimpse of salvation, the sign given to them that the Savior had come. This would have been an amazing gift for anyone, but it was likely more significant for these particular men. These shepherds were quite possibly keepers of the sheep reserved for temple sacrifice. Their job was to watch over and care for sheep that would ultimately be sacrificed for the sins of the people. Because of this, they would have been tangibly and constantly reminded of the need for a Savior. More than likely, it was to these shepherds that the arrival of the Lamb of God was declared. The promised Savior was born, and he was going to be a Savior for all. God knew that not only would these men be blessed by the announcement, but they were the ones who would be most at ease in a stable where they would find the sign just as they were told - a baby lying in a manger. The sign confirmed the message delivered. The sign given was specifically designed for those to whom it was sent. And this is the case for us as well.
        The signs God gives to us are always oriented to the uniqueness of who we are, what we need, and our ability to see them. Signs are God's gifts to us. They are grace manifest. They are sent to underscore and affirm the message that God always sends first. They reinforce the truth, whispering confirmation to our hearts that indeed God did speak, and his word is sure. The shepherds heard the good news, saw him who was sent as the ultimate sign - the greatest Gift, and left glorifying and praising God. This Advent let's listen for the message and look for the sign that has been given - not just to the shepherds, but to all of us. Jesus. He is the message and the sign. He is Love. He is the good news for all people. He is the Savior born among us. He is Christ the Lord.