Advent


Traditionally, angels have brought two emotions to the front of the mind of humans: Fear and Glory. I find it interesting as I note that nearly every instance that an angel visitation is recorded in the Bible, he introduces his mission with words like this, “Do not be afraid!” The angel said it to Mary when he told her she would be the mother of the Messiah. He said the same to Zechariah upon the announcement of his son John the Baptist’s upcoming birth. When Joseph dreamed of an angelic messenger, he was told not to fear taking Mary to be his wife.

And the moment that seems to top them all: when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the messenger said, “Do not fear! Look! I have great news for everyone!” and then with the help of a sky-full of angels told of the birth of Jesus that very night.

On the heels of the word of comfort, we see the angels announcing glory to God. And so, at Christmas time, one of the things that touches the heart and lips of celebrants of the Christ-child everywhere is glory to God. We like to use the Latin form of the word to bring to mind the season we celebrate, “Gloria!”

  “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory of the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth..”  – John 1:14

Jesus started His life, lived His life, and completed His life (on this earth) amidst miracles. Everything about Him is miraculous. As a matter of fact the miracles run rampant through the Christmas story. For instance, the birth of John the Baptist is filled with miracles—the miracle of his birth to a woman barren into her old age. The fact that he recognized the voice of the Savior’s mother even in the womb (see Luke 1:44). A few years ago I imagined what someone witnessing the world at the time of John’s and then Jesus’s birth:

It was a time for miracles. Miracles were all around me. I don’t know why. I can’t reason it out. I just know that I witnessed miracles, and I am glad to have been there to witness and can now report. It was a time for miracles.” (A Time for Miracles, p. 13)

Many people today would like to explain away that which is miraculous, but the Spirit of Peace that hovers over homes of those who celebrate Christ’s birth at this time of year gives witness to the miracle of Christ. The continued insistence of story and song writers to bear witness to the change that visits people at Christmastime gives us cause to believe. And we can say with Carlton C. Buck who wrote, “I believe in miracles, for I believe in God!”

  “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose that not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.”  – John 21:25

There should be no confusion. The popular song from the early seventies tells us that “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” and he sang “joy to the world.” The time-worn Christmas hymn tells an entirely different story. Perhaps Three Dog Night and the society in which we live would find joy to the world in the disguise of a friendly bullfrog with a “mighty fine wine.” But true joy can be found in only one place.

This Christmas season, as we consider the words of a host of angels to shepherds on a remote hillside over 2000 years ago, it is appropriate to see the importance of joy. It is more than contentment, although contented people often have joy. It is more than family ties, although our families are often a source of joy for us. It is more than a newborn child, although whenever we hear the cooing of a brand new, infant our hearts leap for joy. Yes, Joy is more than mere happiness, it is a state of being that can only be found in Christ. The Christ of Christmas.

You cannot manufacture nor imitate true joy. It can only be encountered when you encounter Jesus. So, this season as you sing of Joy to the World, let the Joy of Jesus flood your heart and extend to all the people you meet.

  “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’”  – Luke 2:10

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so beginning with today’s post, I will be relating what Christmas is to me. Please enjoy.

When we served as missionaries, some of our American brothers and sisters were carrying on an idea that ultimately became very disturbing. The practice was to buy tickets for a cruise. Of course, going on a cruise is not disturbing in and of itself. Many people enjoy taking a leisurely vacation cruise to spend time with friends doing what they mutually agree is fun. But that isn’t the whole story. On this river cruise, there would be Bible studies led by big named preachers and worship directed by the most fascinating personalities in the Christian music market. Again, nothing is throwing up red flags to this point—although one can wonder if the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this vacation might be better spent.

The cruise down the Dnieper River (and later moved to a different river in Russia), and the tourists would bathe themselves in the aura of all this Bible learning and worship, then they would land at a significant city, disembark, and with the help of a translator blitz the locals with tracts and canned evangelistic presentations. They would record names and numbers to report back to their friends at home the hundreds and thousands of “decisions” made along the way.

What disturbed me was not the desire to see people come to know Christ, but that the ultimate purpose of the trips was to make the tourists feel good about themselves. The method of evangelism left little or no possibility of follow-up or discipleship among those who reportedly became Christians. Truth be told, each year it was found that some of the same people (in the hopes of getting a handout or other aid from the wealthy Americans) would “get saved” over and over again. And to me, perhaps the most disturbing factor of all was the name given to the cruise: “The Riverboat of Hope.”

More Hope is found in relationship—first with Christ, and then with fellow believers who can help us grow in our relationship with Christ. That is Christmas to me.

  “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”  – Colossians 1:27c

When my daughter was a preschooler she was accustomed to having a nightlight burning in her room at night when she slept. There is a measure of comfort to know that the light is burning. Occasionally the bulb in the nightlight would burn out. For my daughter it was a frightening experience when this happened at night-time. If she awoke and the light was not there she called out to let me know that something was wrong. By replacing the bulb, fears are calmed and the whole household can return to sleep.

Jesus tells us that he himself is the light of the world. Without this light, we cannot see, we cannot find comfort. With the light of Christ we are comforted and we can enjoy life calmly. The light was first introduced into the world at the first Christmas. Today, Christ-followers carry the light of Jesus in their spirits. While the light will not burn out (like a nightlight’s bulb), we must let it shine out through the things that we do, and the way that we live.

This is the message of Christmas—Let your light shine!

One of my favorite quips is to tell people I have no first name—I am named for my uncle (Robert Benjamin Weaver), and my grandmother (Ruby Allen Holloway Weaver). So, I have two second names, but no first. I share this distinction with my second daughter who bears the middle names of both my sister and my wife’s sister. When Little Bit was born, we wanted to honor our sisters, but we also wanted to give her a name that could influence her demeanor. And so, like her aunt, her middle name is Joy.

It is a fitting name because of the joy she brought into our home on the day of her birth. It is further fitting because of the exuberant way that she lives life. Her gusto for living every moment to the fullest reminds me of the other reason that we named her “Joy.” And that reason is to remind us of the joy that can be found only in Christ—and it is one of the greatest gifts of Christmas. We are reminded again at Christmas and can echo the words of Barney Warren’s old gospel song:

I have found the joy no tongue can tell,

How its waves of glory roll!

It is like a great o’erflowing well

Springing up within my soul.

      It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,

      Full of glory, full of glory.

      It is joy unspeakable and full of glory;

      Oh the half has never yet been told!

(verse 4, taken from The Celebration Hymnal, 1997, #740)

What lasts? According to some companies, the warranty (“As long as you own your car!”). According to television commercials several things last: Energizer® batteries (“they keep going and going and going). I personally believe that it’s just the Bunny that keeps on going because I have had to replace their batteries any number of times.

Years ago we were entertained by a cartoonish commercial that asked, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll® center of a Tootsie Pop®?” Which everyone assured the boy asking, “I don’t know, I always bite.” But the owl decided to give the question a scientific test: “One, two, three . . . Three.” “The world may never know.”

So what is long-lasting? Sermons? Opera? Wal-Mart check-out lines?

I think the best answer is the never-ending love of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas. It is a love that lasts in spite of wars, a love that endures despite heartache, and a love that will accompany the believer into eternity (and abide with him there). This is Christmas: Love that never ends.

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