Archive for the ‘Advent 2012’ Category

woodsDecember 21, 2012 is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. No wonder that we celebrate the Light coming into the world during December.  It’s a dark month.

As many of you know, I was a professor of English for twenty-four years, so occasionally, some of that personal history sneaks into this blog.  Almost every year on this day, I think about Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” because the scene depicted occurs on “the darkest evening of the year.”

Probably only a few of you know, however, that for about a year, I was quite a Frost scholar! To complete my MA degree at the University of Mississippi in 1971, I submitted a pretty extensive thesis study of the dark side of Robert Frost. One of the traits of Frost’s poetry that attracted me was his apparent, even folksy accessibility–which easily disguised the depth of the poet’s conflict.

I know, that sounds too much like an English professor, doesn’t it!  Let me show you what I mean with this very familiar poem.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

On the surface, this poem appears to describe a person sleighing home on a dark night, who stops to take in the woods filling up with snow. Oh what I lovely sight, but he must be on his way because there is much more to do.  What a nice little poem!

But let me lead your thinking along a different path to understanding the poem with just a few easy questions:

  1. Is this poem about the driver, the horse, the woods, or the snow?
  2. Which of these lines represents the primary dramatic tension or the “conflict” in the poem?
  • “He will not see me stopping here”
  • “To stop without a farmhouse near”
  • “Between the woods and frozen lake”
  • “But I have promises to keep”

3. If I tell you that “the woods” are almost always the scene of danger, despair, or treachery in American literature, does it change your understanding of the poem?

“The darkest evening of the year” was a day not chosen by accident.

Yesterday, I had conversations about friends whose children are threatened by divorce, about the tragedy at Newtown, about the imminent loss of aging parents, about the early loss of a dear spouse—just about the temptation to disappear into the woods, lovely, dark and deep.

It’s not the promises that I have made, but the promise in the Light of Bethlehem that offers a reason to keep traveling those miles before we sleep.

Some people make a big deal out of the fact that pagans had winter celebrations about the same time that Christians now celebrate the birth of Christ even though we know how unlikely this date is as the real time of his birth.  Perhaps it is true that pagans danced around trees, gave gifts, and had some mythological character that appeared down their chimneys.  That is not Christmas! At least, it is not what a Christian celebrates.

When Christians remember the birth of Jesus in December, they completely hijack and transform pagan rituals into what is real and true. You can’t take Christ out of Christmas for a Christian. You can ban the words in public, but the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! It is our breath of Life!

And so today, the 21st of December 2012,  this very short day will be followed by a very long night. The darkness of the world we live in is dark and deep.

Will you go to the woods or will you take the journey, walking in the Light—the Light of Bethlehem?

Read Full Post »


“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
    For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
    but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
    mighty kings will come to see your radiance”  (Isaiah 60:1-3).

matchOne of my early memories is standing in the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns when the guide turned out the lights to let you see—or better said—not see what total darkness is really like. You can move your hand in front of your face and see not a hint of . . . anything. The darkness made me afraid! And it froze me! I couldn’t move—because you could not see—anything!

I wonder if they still do this or if some government entity has stopped this practice for safety reasons?  It wasn’t safe, it wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t good to be in total darkness.

The guide kept talking as the lights were off, and it seemed like forever, but he did not leave us in total darkness very long.  Rather quickly he lit a normal kitchen match–and the transformation was amazing and complete.

That one little match threw enough light into this huge cavernous room to see!  I could see other people; I could see a direction to walk if I needed to; I could see my hand now.  Much I couldn’t see, but I could see enough to feel much better!

That match only burned for a few seconds. Then he switched on his flashlight, making a bigger and more sustained light, but nothing compared to that glorious moment when he turned on the big switch and lit up the whole cavern again.  I remember a sense of relief:  now I can move again!

“Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth.”  You remember from Genesis 1 that God spoke a word and created light to overcome the darkness. But then something terrible happened: “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil” (John 3:19).  The world became dark again by its own choice this time. We turned off the light, but could not turn it on again.

As that small match in the caverns banished darkness—but not completely—so Noah and Moses and Isaiah—even the nation of Israel—were small matches of light in the darkness, all offering hope of the full light.

Then God turned the big light on. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone”(John 1:4).  The Enemy thought he could blow out the Light on the cross. The Light was hidden three days in the tomb, but then the Light came back on in our world and will never be put out again: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5).

Sure, there are corners of darkness still left in the world, corners where evil likes to live, but when God comes again, there will be no more darkness.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus apparently was born in the middle of the night?  Or why a star led the way instead of a fiery cloud or something more spectacular?  Have you ever wondered why the angels appeared in the night sky to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus to the world?

Jesus was born in the middle of the dark night to dispel the darkness! Jesus was born in the night to dispel your darkness and mine! He is the Light of the world!

That’s the Good News and why we can be so happy at Advent!

Read Full Post »

Scripture:  Romans 15:4-13

Romans 15:4-13 (New Living Translation)

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote:

“For this, I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing praises to your name.”

And in another place it is written,

“Rejoice with his people, you Gentiles.”

And yet again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles. Praise him, all you people of the earth.”

And in another place Isaiah said,

“The heir to David’s throne will come and he will rule over the Gentiles. They will place their hope on him.”

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit

christmas angelsMarketers and commercial interests prepare all year long because their economic survival depends on Christmas sales.  Christmas songs fill the malls in October—two full months before the holiday—but it makes shoppers think about their own preparations for Christmas.

What if I told you that God prepared for thousands of years for giving His gift!  Look at this great passage from Paul, talking about “everything written in the past.” He is saying, Look what God said about you through Moses (12-1400 years ago), through David (1000 years ago), and through Isaiah (700 years ago)!  God had been planning—and we know it was from before Creation (1 Peter 1:20) for the first Advent.

And Jesus came—when the time was ripe (Galatians 4:4). All that preparation that God had done, all of those prophecies, all of the establishment of Israel, all of the movements in history, all to bring Jesus, His only Son, to live among us.

By waiting (last week’s theme), Israel and the Gentiles too were part of the preparation. When Jesus arrived, their hope was realized, so it was a time to praise God.  That is what Paul was telling the Gentiles in Romans 15:

  • You have hope because of God’s preparations, his endurance and encouragement!
  • Jesus came, just like God had promised.
  • So now, you have hope that you can count on again because Jesus is coming again!  Don’t worry, but be filled with joy and peace “as you trust in him.” 

In fact, you are so confident in your hope because of the preparations that it overflows by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God prepared the world for the First Advent, and the result was the birth of the Savior! Now the world moves toward the Second Advent day by day.  He is again preparing us.

Our part is to join those preparations, move towards our Hope with confidence.  The Day is coming when those who have prepared will celebrate Christmas in a whole new way!

Song:  Watchman, Tell Us of the Night  (Words: John Bowring, 1825; Music Lowell Mason, 1831)

Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes—it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
See, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
Lo! the Son of God is come!


Read Full Post »

On this first Sunday of Advent, I want to begin a series of advent thoughts. No other historical event has affected the entire world as has the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Even if Christians have used the wrong date, according to Pope Benedict (CNN 11/23/2012), the fact of his birth is not disputed.

Four themes inspire the common Christian celebration of advent: waiting, preparation, light in the darkness, and the coming of the promised Messiah.  These are the themes I want to look at on each of the four Sundays of advent. I hope you’ll be blessed with these thoughts.

simeonFirst Sunday   of Advent – Waiting

Scripture:  Romans 13:11-13 (NLT)

11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see.

Luke concludes his story of the birth of Jesus with the presentation in the temple, according to Jewish law, eight days after his birth.  As the holy couple was entering the temple with their newborn child, they are confronted first by the prophet Simeon, who had been told that he would see the Messiah before he died. “He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come . . . . (2:25).

We live in the day of immediate gratification. Computers don’t run fast enough, information isn’t accessible enough, and our wants and desires can’t be satisfied quickly enough.

What if someone told you—with certainty—that the whole reason for your existence, the fulfillment of your life’s purpose, would not happen until you were very old!  No matter how impatient you were, you would have to wait—just wait . . . .keep waiting . . . .not yet . . . not now . . . just wait.

Think of everything unanticipated that might change the plan . . . no, just wait.

What if the plan doesn’t work? . . . .no, just wait.

What if the plan was just a myth?  . . . no, just wait.

What if I mess the plan up? . . . no, just wait.

Simeon waited his whole life, then held baby Jesus in his arms and praised God:

Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.30 I have seen your salvation,31 which you have prepared for all people.32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

I love how Anna the prophetess responded moments later, when she realized what Simeon was saying and what it meant:    . . . she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”

We Christians believe that the wait for God to come down to man is over!  We wait no more for the Promised One. We do not wait for salvation? In Jesus, the Creator of the Universe has completed His work of redeeming what was destroyed by Sin.

But we are not finished waiting! And we wait with the same certainty that Simeon and Anna waited.

God has not waited. The end of the story is written. Only we wait . . . confidently . . . while praising God . . . and telling everyone . . . while we wait!

You may want to sing this song . . .  while you wait:

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: