“Advent is a coming, not our coming to God, but his to us. We cannot come to God, he is beyond our reach; but he can come to us, for we are not beneath his mercy. Even in another life, as St. John sees it in his vision, we do not rise to God, but he descends to us, and dwells humanly among human creatures, in the glorious man, Jesus Christ. And that will be his last coming; so we shall be his people, and he everlastingly our God, our God-with-us, our Emmanuel. He will so come, but he is come already, he comes always: in our fellow-Christian (even in a child, says Christ), in his word, invisibly in our souls, more visibly in the sacrament. Opening ourselves to him, we call him in: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; O come, Emmanuel.”
Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year: Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin mother and child
holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant, beams from thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born;
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night divine.
Truly he taught us to love one another;
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother;
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
God of generations, your promises come to birth in surprising ways. Fill our hearts with courage and hope and fill our dreams with visions of new life so that we live according to your word and love with the fullness of your grace; in the holy name of Jesus, our Savior.
Holy God, you send messengers of good news to prepare the way for your glorious realm. Anoint us with your Spirit to proclaim your word so that all may repent and believe in you; through Jesus Christ, our way in the wilderness.
Holy one, you have come among us to lead us in paths of righteousness. Guide our feet through the wilderness toward the living water of your grace, following in the steps of our Savior: Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
The global appeal of Jesus is signaled early in Matthew’s gospel with the arrival of the Magi to worship him. These international dignitaries (or they could be astrologers!) foreshadow the scope of grace - the height, depth and breadth - unleashed on the world through the ruler born in Bethlehem. The gifts they bring to the newborn shepherd king of Israel forecast not only the tributes we will all bring to him for eternity, but the means through which we will be able to do that - his suffering and death. Christmas is not a story for the faint of heart. Not only is Christmas the first chapter in a story that will ultimately end in a gruesome and unjust murder, but it also includes the pain of innocent loss of life, foreshadowed in what happens next. After realizing the Magi have outwitted him, Herod launches a campaign of infantile genocide - “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under…” This is not depicted in any nativity scene I have ever seen. Perhaps, there is, in another part of someone’s house, a ceramic figurine of King Herod with his hand raised as he proclaims this murderous decree. Genocide is part of the Christmas story. Why did Herod go these lengths to eradicate the coming of Jesus? The answer is closer to your own heart than you might realize. He surmised that his kingship would be threatened by Jesus’. This part of the story offers a convicting lens with which to view our own heart and motives. Jesus threatens any notion we may have of kingship, which is to say, any part of us that wants control, thinks we are right, longs to rule, chases after what we want. In other words, there’s a little bit of Herod in all of us, and Advent is a wonderful time to wrestle with just that part. Jesus is king, and I am not. What might the king be asking you to let go of?
Stretching all the way back to Genesis 12, in God’s call of Abraham we learn that God’s plan all along included “all peoples on earth.” God chose and blessed the nation of Israel to be a blessing to all nations. They failed miserably to do this, but their failure, like ours, did not negate God’s sovereign plan. Isaiah writes in chapter 60, “nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” This harkens back to chapter 9, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” How? “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” There is a thread that runs through the entire Bible that always leads to Jesus. The nation of Israel failed to be a blessing to all nations. Jesus became the true Israel on his own that the nation of Israel should have been, the true light in the midst of a very dark world. Have you ever tried to walk in utter darkness? In many ways, our journey through life can feel like just that. Stumbling around in the darkness, not knowing where to turn next, fearful of the perils that lie ahead, or just around the corner. We need light! Jesus is our light and when he shines, not only in the darkness around us, but the darkness within us, the darkness simply cannot overcome it. Mediate on this passage because it’s short enough to chew on. Make it personal. Let it percolate in your soul. Now pray, “arise, shine, for your light has come. May the glory of the Lord rise upon me. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon me and his glory appears over me.” May he be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.
Is heaven the best place? No, actually. Heaven is a wonderful place, but it’s not the best place. The best place is the new heavens and new earth that Isaiah says God will create. When will this happen? When Jesus returns. Until then, the earth is good (well, sometimes), heaven is better (all the time), but the new heavens and new earth is the best (forever). The promises contained in this passage are staggering, to the point of being confusing. We are in the midst of mystery, so embrace it even if you don’t fully understand it. Lean into the encouragement from King Rinkitink in the Wizard of Oz series, “never question the truth of what you fail to understand for the world is filled with wonders.” There are wonders to behold in this incredible vision of our future as the people of God. I asked one of my children when they were very little what they were most looking forward to in the new world. My daughter said, “I won’t sin anymore, and I’ll get to ride on the back of lion.” Yes indeed. C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “if I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Use this passage to help you imagine that world and give your soul the freedom to long for it and pray for it’s arrival. “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Advent is a time to both celebrate his coming and long for his return.
Similar to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 65, John’s in Revelation 21 is also breathtaking. Imagine what it will be like for God to dwell with us, to wipe every tear from our eyes, for there to be no more death or crying or sorrow or pain. Sam asked Frodo, “will all the sad things come untrue?” Yes. Yes indeed. At some point in your life you have probably tried to get your mind around eternity. Even if you struggle to believe whether there is an after life or not, chances are you’ve at least juggled the idea around in your head. Forever. And not only forever, but if John is right, forever spent living in a real world - a physical life and blood world - that has been put to rights, that is completely at peace, that is as it supposed to be. The Hebrew word is shalom. It means so much more than the common definition of peace; basically, “all is right with the world, with me and with everyone else.” I can rest. Don’t you long for that? It really is coming, and at Christmas, heaven was peeled back for the inauguration of the kingdom that we all desperately long for. This kingdom come from heaven to earth with the first coming of Jesus, continues today in the church, and will one day be consummated with his return. And oh what a day that will be. We will finally be where we long to be, and we will finally be who we long to be, and we will get to stay in that place and that state forever.
The first Christmas of City Church will explore the way God draws people to himself by considering the spiritual chain reaction we see in the shepherd’s story. Though shepherds were considered “outsiders” by the religious establishment, it was curiously to them that a grand angelic announcement came. In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, the Lord sent an angel to the shepherds - of all people! - whose testimony in court was not even valid, to announce the “good news of great joy” of Jesus’ arrival. Drawn by this news, they traveled to Bethlehem to behold the newborn child. Once they see him, they spread the news about him and praise God for it as well. It’s human nature to share the news of whatever is worthy of your praise. We actually do this all the time without even thinking about it. In fact, the news we spread most passionately is the belief we hold most dear. Our most deeply held beliefs are the ones we don’t even think about because we’re too busy telling others about them. Have you seen Jesus the way the shepherds saw him? Here’s how you know. Do you spread the news about him and do you praise God for him? Take a moment to praise God for Jesus. Now, ask God to so increase your affection for Jesus that you can’t help but tell others about him, and this is not because you have to, but like all good news that we so love to share, because you want to!