Category Archives: holidays

reflections on Advent from a hospital room (months before Advent)

Something I wrote during my third night in the hospital, room 521…

I’ve been standing at the window with all of the lights off — as dark as the room can get. I’m waiting for a helicopter. I’ve been waiting for what seems like half an hour already, but there’s still no helicopter insight. I know it’s there; I can hear it. In fact, I’ve been listening to it for quite a while now. Nevertheless, here I stand… in the dark… in the quiet… in my hospital room. Well, it’s not completely quiet, for I can hear the sounds of my own IV pumping fluids into my veins. I’ve been hearing them rhythmically for three days now, helping me to regain my health. And then, there’s that sound of the chopper coming. I know it’s coming, for I can hear it. I just can’t yet see it. I think it’ll be here any minute, but still I wait… in the dark… in the silence — save for these sounds of promised health. Both: rhythmic sounds, steady and strong. But the sound of this elusive descending bird grows stronger and stronger with every passing second. This helicopter is coming to bring rescue, to bring hope, to bring life. But when it will get here I do not know. All I know is that it is indeed coming… coming soon… bringing rescue, bringing hope, bringing life. I look to the ground where it should arrive and wait. I look to the heavens from whence it is coming and wait. I look. I wait. It is coming. It is almost here. Soon, surely soon it will descend with its rescue mission, its longed-for hope, its much-needed life. Ten minutes have now passed, and it dawns upon me how reminiscent of Advent this waiting, this longing, this expectancy, this eagerness, this anticipation is. I just want to see the helicopter land. I know that it’s bringing hope to some family. It’s on a singular mission: to rescue someone who’s desperate. Its pilot is feverishly though cooly trying to snatch life from the clutches of death. So I wait… and keep looking. And I pray for this family wishing for hope. I pray for this one who’s desperate for rescue. I pray for this life that is encompassed by death. And so the Church militant must do as It awaits its Lord’s second Advent, its Redeemer’s return. We must wait in darkness. We must wait in silence, yet with the rhythmic hums of renewing health and eager anticipation. And we must pray, ceaselessly. “You must watch and pray,” said our gloriously descended Partridge concerning His second Advent during His first. That steel bird still has yet to land, and another ten minutes have passed. I’m almost, almost ready to give up hope, to call it a night, to think that it’s just not coming. But I know that it is. I hear the sounds amidst the silence. I see the prepared, awaiting lights on the pad below amidst the darkness. Surely, it is coming quickly. Soon…

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Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.

WARNING: This post is intended for a certain audience… Christian believers.  More specifically, Christian believers who consider themselves ‘Evangelical’ (whatever that now means).  If you do not fall within this category, please feel free to eavesdrop a bit, but please know that my thoughts are directed toward those folks (typically within the Western Church) who pride themselves in “Bible-believing” and “Gospel-preaching” — which is to insinuate absolutely nothing about those who do not consider themselves to be ‘Evangelical’.  Seriously.  Put plainly in another way, this is not directed toward ‘Mainline Protestant’ folks, ‘Roman Catholic’ folks, or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ folks… or, for that matter, any hybrids of these branches of our great Tree.  Furthermore, if you’re easily offended, please do not read what follows.  Seriously.  You probably will be offended… not because I’m aiming to be offensive or hoping to offend anyone but simply because I think this desperately needs to be said, and we often don’t like to hear things that need to be said.  Case in point, “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re dying.”  How many of us have the gall to say such a thing to a home-going loved-one?  How many of us want to one day be told this by a loved one?  Some things, though hard to both say and hear, need to be said.  And in light of the subject matter which follows, how many of us think that Ash Wednesday is silly ritualism?  “To dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”  [But I digress, so without further hesitation, please consider yourself warned.]

Easter is not about Jesus’ death on the Cross.  That’s Good Friday.  That’s right: there is such a thing as Good Friday.  Most of us have all but forgotten about this remarkable Holy Day in the life of the Church, but nonetheless, it’s still there.  Yep, Good Friday.  It hasn’t gone away.  Though we’ve neglected it, profaned it, and nearly lost it in our culture, it’s still there.  It hasn’t left us, though we’ve treated it quite poorly, perhaps most poorly by simply ignoring it.  [Be honest, you HATE to be ignored.  Other sins you can bear within yourself, but to be plainly ignored…?  That hurts.]

It was on Friday that Jesus died upon the Cross.  It was on Sunday that He rose from the grave.  Aha!  Hopefully, now we’re starting to see the importance of Easter.  Friday: the death of Jesus.  Sunday: His resurrection.

Why does this ever-so-important distinction even matter?  Well, for a number of reasons…

For starters, truth matters.  Amen?  If I went to Kroger rather than Publix, I went to Kroger, not Publix.  There is a difference.  The simple fact that there is truth to the matter (and the potential for falsehood) should suggest –or scream– to us that the truth does indeed matter.  What happened?  When did it happen?  These are not mere “details” as if they were on the periphery of the greater subject at hand (i.e., that Jesus died for us); they are the reality of what God has done in Christ to redeem us.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Come on, man.  No one’s saying that the events of Friday actually happened on Sunday or that the events of Sunday actually happened on Friday.  Neither is anyone saying that Sunday didn’t come or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.”  I concede that this may well be the case.  However, I’m concerned that our sloppy approach to proclamation & theology unveils in us a lax approach to worship & love.  Could it be that we’ve betrayed ourselves?  If we’ll be candid & honest with one another for but a moment, I think most of us would confess a nagging doubt we’ve found within our hearts and minds from time to time: “What does it really matter?  Does it really matter?”

I know… I know… I’m losing you.  Hang with me.

Why does Christmas matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God is with us.  Why does Jesus’ death matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God has rescued us.  […not in some sick, depraved, the-Father-taking-His-frustration-with-us-out-on-His-innocent-Son-in-divinely-gleeful-rage sort of way, but perhaps that’ll be the subject of another post at some other time.]  With the acknowledgement that I may now be crossing a liturgical line, I’ll tread lightly…  Why does the Ascension matter?  Why does Pentecost matter?  Is this annual proclamation & celebration perhaps just vain repetition?  Are we any better than Celtic pagans?

The difference: The Good News of the Church is the story of what God has actually done in history, real time & space, to rescue humanity.  History, ergo time, necessitates sequence.  This happened; then, that happened.  What the Church for centuries, even [Now I’m stretching it.] millennia, has done is summarize the Gospel into an annual pattern of proclamation & celebration, which creates for Itself a rhythm of life & worship into which It invites It’s members & those who drop eaves to participate & dance.

The fact is that there is a lot to the Gospel.  While it might can be summarized in tracts [though I prefer creeds], It really demands more than just a few lines.  It demands a life.  It demands much more than we all-too-often regrettably offer it.

Okay, but what about the whole Friday-death-Sunday-ressurrection distinction?  Here’s the sum of it… We live our lives far too fast-paced for our own good.  We have instant oatmeal, instant Jello, instant pudding, and instant RICE for crying out loud!  IT ONLY TAKES 15 MINUTES TO MAKE PLAIN, OLD-SCHOOL RICE!!!  WHY DO WE NEED INSTANT RICE?!  We love our fast food options.  We expect things now, and even when we pray for patience [if we pray at all], we ask for God to give it without delay.  This is not good.  This is not healthy.  This does not build character.  This does not shape a virtuous life.

We like our Gospel like we like our preaching on Sunday mornings.  We like it hard and fast.  While we’ll take being preached to, we’d much more prefer being preached at.  We want sweat dripping & spit slinging.  We want to front row, “real-big” Christians to be nasty by the time it’s all over.  We want a huge black Bible being thumped, even pounded against the top of a big oak pulpit.  Composite leather, please.  Hopefully, you’ve noticed my use of pronouns here…  We.  The world, of course, doesn’t like this, but we do.  The “others” outside of ‘Evangelicalism’ might be turned off by this sort of Gospel, but it sends a chill up our legs.  This chill is sometimes vocalized with a shout of “Amen!”  Why?  “Because people need to hear this!  They need the Gospel!  This church ought to be packed on Sunday mornings, because someone’s missing out.”  Yep, betrayed again.  We like our ‘Evangelicalism’ like we like our termites.  Though they fascinate us, we’d rather them “abide” in someone else’s house.

The Gospel offers us good (in exchange for our bad).  It offers us health (in order to purge our dis-ease).  It seeks to build character within us (having given us a fresh start).  It seeks to shape our lives through virtue (as we follow our victorious Lord).  Yes, it saves, but salvation is full not partial.  It doesn’t offer a quick fix.  It doesn’t offer a free ticket for eternity.  It offers us redemption… real redemption… complete redemption.  It is the story of how the one true God has fully embraced our humanity, taken it into Himself, and rescued it through participation.  We, now, are called to embrace Him (the incarnate One), invite Him into ourselves (our lives, our families, our relationships), and participate in His plan for rescue.

In making Easter Sunday into just a bigger Good Friday, we risk making the Gospel only about the forgiveness of sins, neglecting that it is also about the resurrection of the body.  The Creed, anyone?  When we reduce the Gospel to a mere tag-phrase (e.g., Jesus died for you.), we suspiciously offer only a fresh start, not a new life.  Easter is about the shocking, other-wise impossible miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Friday: the Crucifixion.  Sunday: the Resurrection.  Friday: the blood-stained Cross.  Sunday: the chillingly-empty Tomb.  The Man was dead.  His body was laid “to rest” in a tomb.  [By whom?  If I were a betting man, I’d be putting a heap of cash on you not having any clue.]  As the Apostle Paul would have us believe, though, while His death affords us forgiveness of sins, His resurrection raises us to new life [victorious life!] through faith.

It’s obvious… While we’ve perhaps made the Gospel too complicated for others, we’ve surely made it far too simple for ourselves.  Holy Week which has [Alas!] already passed us, invites us to walk carefully, slowly, intentionally, prayerfully.

Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.  What’s crazy: today is Easter Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Easter Sunday.  The season of Easter actually goes on for a few more weeks.  [Ha!  You’ve been snookered, haven’t you?  It’s only just begun, my friend.  Karen Carpenter?  Hmm.]

Indeed.

Indeed.

Most of us are far too busy to worry with Good Friday… and don’t even think about Maundy Thursday!  We’ll make time on Holy Saturday for our Easter egg hunts, and we’ll talk about nothing but Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins on Easter Sunday morning, when we should be proclaiming, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!!!”  Most of our churches are far too big to worry with the distinction.  After all, we need a Friday evening service, a few on Saturday, and a couple on Sunday, and we can just say that they’re each our “Easter” celebration, right?  Logistics, really.

This is no criticism against working on Good Friday.  This is no criticism against being busy.  This is no criticism against large congregations.  I swear it.  This is simply an anecdotal observation of what we’ve become in the Western world of ‘Evangelicalism’.  My suggestion is that we slow down and walk carefully and intentionally.  The liturgical calendar could help in this regard, but that might not be your sort of thing.

[I’ll probably need to clarify a few things in subsequent posts.  We’ll see…]


How I make ribs…

It’s Labor Day weekend. College football is kicking off. [Georgia plays tonight! Go, DAWGS!] I made ribs yesterday. I haven’t posted in quite a while. [I’ve been suffering from a bit of BD (i.e., bloggers disfunction). The ideas are there; they just haven’t been substantiating. Ugh.]

For all of the above reasons (and, perhaps, more), it’s time to talk about barbecue. Ribs are what I prefer barbecuing. So, here goes…

Yesterday's batch along with a mess of home-made macaroni and cheese.

Yesterday’s batch along with a mess of home-made macaroni and cheese.


First things first: pork, not beef. I’ve made beef ribs, and they end up tasting alright enough but are just too “greasy” and chewy. Stick with pork. It’s easier to manage, tastier, and just downright better.

Furthermore, I’m unwaveringly adamant that if one wants to prepare a proper slab of ribs, one must smoke them. There’s no way around it – smoking is the way to go, even if you don’t have a “smoker” in your outdoors arsenal.

Now for the recipe: the following dry rub is enough to cover a couple of slabs unless you’re the stingy-on-the-seasoning type. If that’s the case, sure, you could make this work for three slabs.

my dry rub:

1 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of sea salt

2 tablespoons of dried oregano leaves (or you can use fresh leaves, chopped)

1/4 of a teaspoon of ground mustard seeds

1/4 of a teaspoon of garlic powder

1/4 of a teaspoon of onion granules (or you can use powder)

1/4 of a teaspoon of celery salt

1/2 of a teaspoon of ground coriander seeds

50 “turns” of freshly-ground black peppercorns

The sauce will come in handy toward the end of the cooking process but should definitely be prepared ahead of time so as to have plenty of time to “marry” and cool off.

my barbecue sauce:

29 ounces of tomato sauce

6 ounces of tomato paste

1/2 of a cup of apple cider vinegar

10 tablespoons of yellow mustard

30 shakes of Worcestershire sauce (preferably Lea & Perrins)

50 shakes of Tabasco Sauce

5 tablespoons of honey (preferably something local)

1 1/2 cups of sugar

3 tablespoons of sea salt

1 handful of garlic salt

1 handful of onion salt

50 “turns” of freshly-ground black peppercorns

[Combine over heat and simmer for half an hour or so, stirring often.]

I generally prepare the ribs the night before I plan to smoke them – cutting the slabs in half, applying the rub generously, wrapping each half-rack separately in heavy duty aluminum foil, and refrigerating over-night.

On the day of the smoke, I take the ribs out and bring them to room-temperature. Then I begin preparing my smoking vessel. I have a traditional charcoal/wood smoker, but I often just use my large kettle grill. Either is fine for smoking as long as you have room for the meat to hang out indirect from the fire. If you have room for this, you also have room for a moisture source. [See the bowl behind/under the ribs in the first three photos below.]

I generally start my fire using natural chunk-charcoal, adding wood (oak, hickory, cherry, or apple, but definitely not mesquite) once the fire’s burning well and then throughout the cooking process.

While they’re cooking, I check the ribs roughly every hour – adding more wood as needed, rearranging the ribs if necessary (N. B. hotspots), and adding more liquid if necessary.

Believe it or not, no sauce has yet been added and they already look this gorgeous.

Believe it or not, no sauce has yet been added and they already look this gorgeous.

After a couple of hours or so of cooking, you’ll know when the ribs almost done as a couple of things should be happening:

  • the meat will have pulled in from the tips of the bone, leaving bare about half an inch of bone

  • the half slabs bend significantly (the meat barely pulling apart) when lifted with tongs

Please keep in mind that properly cooked ribs should best be described as “pull-off-the-bone” not “fall-off-the-bone” – according to my preferences, at least.

If grease (or, melted fat) touches fire, flare-ups are sure to follow.  Manage your ribs carefully, folks.

If grease (or, melted fat) touches fire, flare-ups are sure to follow. Manage your ribs carefully.

Once these two phenomena occur, I begin applying the barbecue sauce I prefer to apply it as a glaze in layers. Rather than just dumping on a bunch of sauce, I lightly apply a single coat at a time, allowing the ribs to continue cooking while each layer caramelizes and “gets friendly with” the ribs. Depending on how the ribs are looking, I will apply anywhere from 2-4 thin layers of sauce as they finish smoking.

No doubt: delicious and delectable.

No doubt: delicious and delectable.

Once the ribs are finished cooking, I let them rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting them into single ribs. To be sure, though serving the half-slabs together is impressive, cutting them down makes for a nice presentation of the bright pink smoke-ring and makes for easier handling throughout your delightful consumption.

Holy pork! Look at that smoke-ring!  [not even edited in the least]

Holy pork! Look at that smoke-ring! [not even edited in the least]


Because you asked…

On Christmas Eve, I was asked for a brief explanation of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I had mentioned it the day before in my sermon.  Here’s what I wrote and sent via email:

Regarding the Twelve Days of Christmas, there are a few minor discrepancies among the various Christian traditions (i.e., Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism).  However, here are the essentials…

The Twelve Days of Christmas (or, Christmastide, Yuletide, Twelvetide) begin with Christmas Day and run through January 5.

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a rather old English carol, having first been published in 1780, but was probably written originally in French.  The carol’s purpose is quite debatable, but some suggest that it was originally developed in order to serve as a sort of teaching tool akin to a Catechism.  The gifts given and their suggested biblical/theological representations are as follows:

  • 12 Drummers Drumming (the 12 supposed points of the Apostles’ Creed)

  • 11 Pipers Piping (the 11 faithful Disciples)

  • 10 Lords-a-Leaping (the 10 Commandments)

  • 9 Ladies Dancing (the 9 fruits of the Spirit)

  • 8 Maids-a-Milking (the Beatitudes)

  • 7 Swans-a-Swimming (the gifts of the Spirit)

  • 6 Geese-a-Laying (the days of Creation, the 7th having been the Sabbath rest)

  • 5 Golden Rings (the Torah or Pentateuch [Genesis–Deuteronomy])

  • 4 Calling Birds (the canonical Gospels)

  • 3 French Hens (the three theological virtues [i.e., faith, hope, and love] or perhaps the Magi’s gifts)

  • 2 Turtle Doves (the Old and New Testaments of Scripture)

  • and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Jesus, the Partridge or Dove traditionally serving a symbol of peace and the Pear Tree representing the wooden manger)

Christmas, which ends at Epiphany, is the second season in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the first being Advent.  While Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and comes from a Latin term (adventus) meaning ‘to come’, Epiphany is January 6 (twelve calendar days after December 25) and comes from a Greek term (επιφανεια) meaning ‘to appear’ or ‘to manifest’.  Epiphany celebrates Christ’s appearance to the Gentile world, seen first in the visit of the Magi from the East.

While the Magi (or, Wisemen, Magicians) are often found in Nativity scenes, they probably didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until Jesus was well beyond a newborn, perhaps as long as two years after His birth.  This takes into consideration the fact that Matthew specifically mentions that the Magi visited Jesus in “the house” rather than in the innkeeper’s stable mentioned in Luke as well as the fact that, upon inquiring from the Magi as to the initial appearance of the star they followed, Herod orders the slaughter of all local infants two years of age and under.  Perhaps Jesus was a few months old; perhaps He was as old as a year and a half or even closer to two.  What we do seem to know, however, is that He had to have been old enough for Mary and Joseph to transition into a more permanent home as they got back on their feet, so to speak, before returning to Nazareth (which they don’t immediately do because of the dream’s warning and their subsequent flight to Egypt).

In the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, these three seasons which begin the Church’s annual pattern of worship lead us as follows: the anticipation of Christ’s coming (and return), His arrival itself, and the wider implication of His incarnation (that He came to redeem all humankind, not just Israel).


It should be duly noted…

…that the passage from Luke 2 in the previous post was chosen based upon the flow and order of our Christmas Eve.  In its place, I have elsewhere used Isaiah 40:1-5.  However, our service began with the reading of Luke 2:1-7 and later included the reading of Luke 15-20.

There you go.


The Christ Candle

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

          “Glory to God in the highest,
          And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

-Luke 2:8-14

Four Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds us that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Three Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Preparation, which reminds us that before the Advent of Christ, as Israel was being prepared for her promised Messiah, the whole world was being prepared for her expected Redeemer.  As we prepare this Advent season, we prepare ourselves for His return.

Two Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Celebration, which reminds us that, while we have ready for the return of Christ, there is reason to celebrate, for He is – even now –Emmanuel: God with us.  He is not only our hope; He is also our joy and song.

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Incarnation, which reminds us that the Son of God did not simply appear to man and offer words of hope; no, the Son of God actually became also the Son of Man and offered Himself, the eternal Word, as our hope.

Today, we light the Christ Candle.

The Christ Candle is lit in joyous celebration that He has come.  Christ our Savior is born!  Today, as a Church family we celebrate His amazing birth together.  Our expectation has been realized; our preparation has not been in vain; our celebration is now overflowing; and the incarnation of Christ has brought us redemption.  The long-awaited Messiah has come.  The Redeemer of all mankind has arrived, and today we rejoice in His coming.  He is born!  Praise the LORD!  Christ is born!


The Candle of Incarnation

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
     And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
     The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
     The Spirit of counsel and might,
     The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

His delight is in the fear of the LORD,
     And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
     Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
     And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
     And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
     And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
     The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
     The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
     And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
     Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
     The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
     And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
     As the waters cover the sea.

-Isaiah 11:1-9

Three Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds us that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Two Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Preparation, which reminds us that before the Advent of Christ, as Israel was being prepared for her promised Messiah, the whole world was being prepared for her expected Redeemer.  As we prepare this Advent season, we prepare ourselves for His return.

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Celebration, which reminds us that, while we ready ourselves for Christmas day and ultimately for the return of Christ, there is reason to celebrate, for He is – even now – Emmanuel: God with us.  He is not only our hope; He is also our joy and song.

Today, we light the Candle of Incarnation.

The Candle of Incarnation reminds us that the Word was indeed made flesh and dwelt among us.  The Son of God did not simply appear to man and offer words of hope; no, the Son of God actually became also the Son of Man and offered Himself, the eternal Word, as our hope.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.  We beheld the glory of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Let us celebrate, today, His first Advent as we ready ourselves for His second.


The Incarnate Embrace of Human Suffering: Redemptive Thoughts from a Good Doctor

Nativity

At Wesley Biblical Seminary, Dr. John Oswalt was both my Old Testament professor and my discipleship leader.  He now serves again at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Here are some redemptive thoughts from Dr. Oswalt via my friend Scott Engebretson [shared on Facebook]…

Oswalt“a good word this morning from my ph.d. mentor, Dr. John Oswalt, on Newtown:

” ‘Reading the headlines this morning made me want to resign from the human race, just to disassociate myself from all the messy viciousness that seems to mark our path. I thought it was especially tragic when we are supposed to be celebrating all this peace and joy stuff at Christmas. But then it struck me – Jesus did the very opposite of what I was fancifully contemplating. He didn’t resign from the human race – he voluntarily joined it! He left the perfection of heaven to become a part of this messy viciousness. And he did it with his eyes wide open – he knew what he was getting into and he knew what we would do to him, and he joined up anyway. The messiness was right from the start. Anybody who has been in a delivery room knows that births are not serenely pretty, they are hard, painful, and bloody, and every baby ever born has come into the world screaming his or her head off for just having been forced through a ring of fire to come into this mess. And there are no clean barns: the hay was itchy and scratchy and the “gentle cattle” were covered with manure. And in the end, we don’t know how, but we know it is so, crunched into about three hours he carried for us all the hell, all the grief, all the horror of this viciously messy world. He didn’t resign – he joined up. That’s good news.’ “


The Candle of Celebration

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation
And increased its joy;
They rejoice before You
According to the joy of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You have broken the yoke of his burden
And the staff of his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor,
As in the day of Midian.
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Two Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds us that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Preparation, which reminds us that before the Advent of Christ, as Israel was being prepared for her promised Messiah, the whole world was being prepared for her expected Redeemer.  As we prepare this Advent season, we prepare ourselves for His return.

Today, we light the Candle of Celebration.

The Candle of Celebration reminds us that while we ready ourselves during this season of Advent and look toward the heavens for His return, there is –even now– cause to celebrate.  In the midst of the seriousness of the season, we have reached this mid-point: we have lit the third candle.  Christmas Day will soon be here!

Today, we rejoice, for in our darkness, the light of Christ shines brightly.  Today, we rejoice, for as we await His return, He is yet now Immanuel: God with us.  Today, we rejoice, for unto us a Child is born — unto us a Son is given!

Praise the Lord!  Praise Him with voices lifted high in joyous adoration!  Let us celebrate, today, His first Advent as we ready ourselves for His second.


The Pastoral Office and Theodic Ramblings

One of the most painstaking responsibilities of a pastor is trying to calibrate one’s mind when tragedy hits a community.  I say this because the Church is in the midst of Advent, and our congregation will be lighting the Candle of Celebration in but two days.  On the third week of Advent, we light the pink candle, a joyous break from the sobering purple of repentance and royalty.

While I do not live in or near Connecticut, the larger “community” of our nation –especially aided by live news and social media– is certainly shaken, reminded suddenly and tragically of the deep darkness of evil.

The most pressing question [it seems] on people’s minds: “Why? How could someone do such a thing?”  While I recognize that this is perhaps far too simplistic, here’s at least a start: Sin is a vacuum.

As Peter Kreeft so ably put it, sin is insane — it makes no sense, is sick and twisted.  As one of my former pastors [I still call him such] and my predecessor at FMC put it, sin will will take you further than you ever wanted to go, will make you stay longer than you ever wanted to stay, and will make you pay a price greater than you ever wanted to pay.

Sin is a disease of the soul.  Diseases destroy.  They corrupt.  They sicken.  They maim.  They kill.

The season of Advent soberingly reminds us of the darkness.  It shockingly reminds us, also though, that Jesus, the Light of the world, has entered our darkness.  He has burdened Himself with our guilt.  He has embraced our disease.  He has invaded our world of suffering and death.

The Christ-child, who we worship at the Nativity, is the perfect Man.  His birth has renewed our humanity.  He is our hope, our peace, our joy.  He is the heart’s greatest longing.

As we await His imminent and glorious return, we live and dwell within a world of darkness needing light, a world of disease needing a cure, a world of pain needing comfort, a world of loss needing presence.  May the Church [we who celebrate His presence] be tangibly indeed the Body of Christ to those who hurt and sorrow.

Lord, surround these families with love and comfort.

Lord, have mercy.