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The Advent Wreath

 
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.”  1 John 4:9-10
 
It’s almost here. Only a few days to go. The excitement is building.
 
Yes, Christmas is right around the corner. Hopefully, all of your shopping and decorating is complete and you can enjoy the days ahead as a time to experience what Advent is meant to be, a time of reflection and preparation for Christ’s coming, past, present, and future.
 
During this season, you will find an Advent wreath in many Christian churches. The wreath, with its four candles around the ring, has come to serve as a reminder of some of God’s gifts to us. The candles traditionally represent hope, love, joy, and peace (though the order varies among churches).
 
While we might each have our favorite of these four candles, mine has always been love. While the bible is filled with expressions of God’s love, perhaps no single writer captures it better than the apostle John. Sometimes called the “Apostle of Love” because of his attention to God’s love in Christ, John brings the Gospel to life through his inspired writing.
 
John points us to an important truth today as we consider the words from 1 John 4:9-10, especially “not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.” In these few short words, John reminds us that the source of love is God. Any relationship that we have with God does not start with us but rather began long ago with God. He is love itself and demonstrates love in the most tangible way possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
 
As the recipients of God’s love in Christ, we are freed from the burden of sin and the fear of the future. The Father has wrapped us in His love that we can now express to others. So now today, let us pause to first give thanks to Him for sending His Son and loving us enough to call us as His own. His love gives us the true reason to celebrate this Advent season.
 
God of love, You did not spare Your own Son but sent Him into this world to save us. Grant us today faith-filled hearts that more fully experience Your love and can then express it to others. Prepare us this day for the return of Christ our Lord in whose name we pray. Amen.
 

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel

shallow focus photo of the Nativity figurine
 
The Christmas carol known as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was written by an unknown author in Latin, but the tune itself has by sung in monasteries since the 8th century. It was translated by John Neale and Henry Coffin in 1861.

In that little town of Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago, there was an event that changed history known as the Christmas story. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” highlights the significance of a Savior born for us. The first line says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here Until the Son of God appears.” The author shows urgency in his prayer with the words, Come, Come, and the word Emmanuel means God with us. Emmanuel refers to the Lord of Life who is so humble and so gracious to enter our corrupted and selfish world and be born in a 300 person town. The hymn continues, “and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lowly exile here.” This imagery refers to the Israelites of the O.T. and the current Israelites, you and I.  To ransom essentially means to redeem by a payment. 

It might be a little alarming to be told that we are held captive to something, but this is what Jesus Himself says in John 8:34, “Truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” We all are in slavery to sin, and we can only be released by a perfect payment. John 8 continues with, “the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We, the slaves, in order to be set free need the door to be opened and a plan to sustain life. These are found in our Savior, Jesus Christ, and His payment upon a wooden cross.  For releasing us who deserved condemnation for sins, the Son of God had to be punished by the Father. The hymn tells us that we must be ransomed from our slavery, and only by the Son of God appearing in human form we are able to be ransomed.  Therefore, “rejoice! Rejoice, [the] Emmanuel shall come to thee, Israel.”

Additionally, the third stanza reads, “O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree Free them from Satan’s tyranny that trust they mighty power to save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”  The tree of Jesse, David’s father, refers to the old Jewish lineage of kings. Yet, from David’s bloodline, Jesus was born, and through Him is the new branch (or vine) of Life. Jesse was the father of King David of Israel, and so, the is called Jesse’s because the father ought to have responsibility for his children. By the branch of wood which Jesus had to carry to His death, we find freedom from Satan’s tyranny and forgiveness and life. Through His Resurrection, we receive victory over the grave.
 
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving our sin-filled humanity more than your glorious Heaven. Thank you for being born for us, for redeeming us, and for rising triumph over the grave for us. We thank and appreciate your gift of hymns and their special teaching power based on Your Holy Word. We pray you would bless our Christmas this year and protect us wherever we travel. Please be with us and strengthen, support, motivate, and propel us.  Lastly, we ask we would remember to bear our neighbor’s burdens as our burdens, just as You assumed humanity for us. In Your Precious and Holy Name we pray, Amen.

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Hope

shallow focus photo of red flowers on black quote board

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”   Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

“Hope” is an interesting word.  It has changed meaning over the centuries.  Today “hope” seems to be a longing for something that has a very low chance of happening.  The young child who lives on the fourth floor of a city apartment building “hopes” she’ll receive a pony for Christmas.  It just isn’t going to happen.

The Biblical understanding is just the opposite.  “Hope” for Christians is a sure and certain conviction that what the Lord promises will be fulfilled and what the Lord does is for our best interest.  The hymn writer put it this way:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 
In this season of Advent we proclaim our conviction that the Lord Jesus did all things to secure our salvation.  We need not worry whether we are good enough to merit God’s favor.  We don’t have to determine whether we have done enough to deserve heaven.  Jesus did it all!  Jesus lived the life that was expected of us.  Jesus died to forgive our sin.  Jesus rose from the grave, promising eternal life to everyone who believes in Him. 
 
“HOPE!”  It is the absolute belief that the Lord is for us and with us.  It is resting secure that when our journey in this world is complete, Jesus will welcome us into heaven, because He saved us.
 
I “hope” you have a great day!  I know you will, as you live it with faith in Jesus and love for others.
 
Lord Jesus, there is no doubt in my heart or mind that Your work has given me forgiveness of sins, new life today and life eternal to come.  Thank You for this faith that gives me real hope.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.  


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Hope in Christ the King

white hope bauble
 
During the season of Advent, our society begins to accelerate rather rapidly on a countdown till Christmas. Our sermons at church begin to preach the prophecies from the prophets from the Old Testament like Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah. The significance of these prophets is that they all lived 600 to 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem which is recorded in the narrative which is recorded in the books of Matthew and Luke. The accounts from these two New Testament books are often the text which pastor’s use to prepare their sermons for the Christmas services. But this Wednesday in church we will be observing the first Wednesday of Advent. Traditionally, the first candle is known as the prophecy candle, but it can also be called the hope candle. The first candle is also purple in color. The color purple also has long been associated with royalty. These two meanings for a single candle make the meaning of this candle exceptionally meaningful during the time of Advent. The very phrase Advent is Latin for the word coming. During this time, we traditionally prepare ourselves for arrival of Jesus as the baby born in Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago. But Advent should also be a time where we prepare ourselves and the world for the second coming of Christ. During this pandemic we have had several moments where events and gatherings can not be planned or expected. But there is one event we can be sure will happen one day. This thing is one event is the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Although, this second coming He will be coming as a King not as a baby. He will come to take His people to their eternal home. As 2nd Corinthians 3:12 says “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold…” During this pandemic and year of uncertainty several of us, myself included have found ourselves in the trap of finding hope and comfort of the things temporary. Let us now take the time to remember the original message of this first Sunday of Advent. The message of hope. It is through Christ that we have a hope. It is a hope that will not fail us. Things in this world are temporary and they will all disappear within a blink of an eye. Instead, turn your trust to Christ and he will sustain us all in the very end. It is because of our faith that gives us Christians such a unique view within the world around us. Because our hope is not of this world. Our hope and trust are in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, remember the words of 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” As Advent progresses, we remember that one day Jesus will return once more. This time not as a baby but as a king and He will take us home in Heaven. This is the coming which our heart and souls long for. The Lord will return to this world like a thief in the night and we must be ready.
 
Prayer: Lord God, Heavenly Father, as we battle with the uncertainties and troubles of this world throughout our life, guide us to remember the hope which we are reminded of during this season of Advent. Let us be comforted in remembering the Word which you gave us. And remember that one day we will be reunited with You. In Your Precious and Holy Name, Amen.   

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Someone’s Coming (Part 3)

The Nativity of Christ-themed wooden Christmas ornament
 
“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today… And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” Luke 19:5,8-10
 
This week, we’ve been thinking of company coming, visitors who just showed up without calling or texting us ahead. Suddenly, there they are at our door.  Quick, get ready! So far, we have put on the coffee and brought out the good food. We’ve cleaned the house and found the gifts that were given. Now it’s time for the last choice. Get dressed! Of course, you are dressed but you’ve been busy. Maybe after the visit is an hour or two along you finally notice you never did get time to change. You look and see that you’re wearing the oldest sweatshirt you own. It’s a little late though to bring it up. If you say to your company, “Let me go get changed” you’re going to make them say, “No, no, don’t bother. You look fine.”  Or, worse, they’ll say, “Don’t bother. We really should get going.” But you don’t want them to leave! Everything is going so well, you’re hoping that they will stay.
 
Zacchaeus must have felt the same way. At the end of the meal I’m sure he wanted Jesus to stay with him as long and as he could. I hope that Jesus even stayed overnight, the best night Zacchaeus and his household ever had.
 
We want him to stay the same way in our house. Picture Jesus as the guest who’s come to be with your family. Are you perfect in your dress or house or gifts? None of us are. But that’s not why he came and it’s not why he stays. He is Emmanuel, the God who is with us and he is with us out of grace and mercy. Very soon we are going to be in the season of Advent. We are going to sing that great hymn, “O come O come Emmanuel.” He enriches our homes by his presence that endures with us even when we are far from perfect. But he enriches us by his presence. He is the real gift of this season, Emmanuel the God who is with us.
 
So, I hope company comes to your house at the right time without too much surprise. I hope that you have good warning before they pull in. When they come, you still have those three classics of hosting company: put on the coffee, clean the house, and get dressed. In this Advent season, remember Someone is coming to our homes. He’s not a surprise but as a welcome guest to enrich our homes. God bless you as he comes to be your lasting guest.
 
Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you come even when we are far from perfect or even presentable. Wash us clean with your forgiveness and remain with us as Emmanuel, the wonderful God who is with us in every season. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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