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.

The Candle of Preparation

Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!”

Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Isaiah 7:10-15

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds 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.

Today, we light the Candle of Preparation.

The Candle of Preparation reminds us that, as Israel was was being prepared for Her promised Messiah, even so the whole world was being prepared for the Redeemer of Mankind.

In the fulness of time, Christ our Savior was born. He entered a world that had been made ready, and He is preparing now a Church readily looking toward His return.

He calls us to watch and pray for His return, to be found faithful when He comes again.  He beckons us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to live as His presence in the lives of others.

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

Why celebrate Advent?

The Incarnation of the Word

1.  because the Church has lost Christmas.  Let’s face it, the “Christmas” MOST people celebrate –even Christians– is hardly “Christian” at all but is more or less of the same cloth as secular humanism.  Christmas is no longer a holy day (i.e., “holiday”) but has rather become a busy season wherein grouchy consumers purchase far too much for far too many people who will in the end care far too little for that which pushes along a far too greedy economy which reduces people made in God’s image to mere consumers of “goods”.

2.  because Christ has indeed come.  Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical Christian calendar and thereby sets the tenor for the worshipping life of the people of God.  Interestingly enough, the Church has seen fit to arrange its worshipping life in a telling way: remembering that Christ has come –in a sense, invaded– our world (N.B. the term adventus [Latin, coming]) and has become a man to redeem humankind.

3.  because Christ will indeed come again.  The Church likewise begins its year with the sobering reminder that though He came once in humility and to redeem, He will surely come a second time in might and to judge.  The Babe of Bethlehem is also the Ruler of the world.  The one who came quietly on a Silent Night will return with the sound of a trumpet and receive His own.

While undoubtedly countless other reasons for celebrating Advent could be enumerated and expanded, these seem to me to be the most elementary and –therefore– also a fair and reasonable starting point.

My Walk through Advent This Year

This Advent, I’m working my way through a couple of new resources.

BonhoefferThe first is a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s writings arranged as a daily devotional for Advent, Christmas [all 12 days!], and Epiphany.  It is titled God Is in the Manger, is translated by O. C. Dean, Jr. and compiled/edited by Jana Riess, and is –so far– a wonderful read.  Basically, each day offers about a page of devotional thought based on Bonhoeffer’s writings, an excerpt from his letters/sermons/etc. related to the topic of the day, and a passage of Scripture likewise related.

StonestreetThe second is a video and study guide combo put out by the Colson Center and BreakPoint.  It is titled He Has Come, is put together by John Stonestreet and T. M. Moore, and was accompanied by an Advent-inspired CD.  It came in the mail this morning, so I’ve only gotten my feet wet so far.  Nevertheless, it seems promising.

calendarAdditionally, Lindsey designed and constructed a calendar to help the kids count down the days to Christmas.  We’re working pretty heavily with them, helping them to understand the significance of Advent as a season of preparation and reflection.  Each day, we’re reading Scripture from the lectionary, counting the days that are left, giving them “surprises” (i.e., small, sweet treats), singing hymns and carols, and praying specifically about significance of Christ’s incarnation and imminent return.

On top of all this, I’m working through a Scripture-reading chart I put together for our congregation, which is based on the lectionary for Advent this year.

So far this has been the greatest experience I’ve had through Advent in quite a number of years.  A bit of intentionality, focus, and reflection surely do strengthen the heart.

The Candle of Expectation

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.

Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:2-5

Advent is a season in which the Church focusses Its attention on the coming of Christ. The decor of Advent helps us in doing so, for many symbols are found within the telling decorations. Symbolism is especially seen in the Advent wreath. The shape of the wreath – a circle, as well as the evergreen from which it is made, represents the eternality of God, while the lights represent Jesus as the Light of the world. Each week of Advent, we light a new candle in the wreath, each reminding us of a particular aspect of the Advent of Christ.

Today, we light the Candle of Expectation.

The Candle of Expectation reminds us that Christ is the one for whom the whole world waited, the Redeemer of Israel who is – likewise – the Redeemer of all mankind. He is the Hope of the world and the One in whom there is rest for the weary. In Him we find the peace of God and the blessings of His promises.

Today, we remember that He came to give sight to the blind, healing to the infirm, strength to the weak, and life to the perishing. He is our hope and our peace, the One who restores and the One for whom we wait in sobering expectation.

Today, we also anticipate His glorious return. While He came once in humility and meekness, He will surely come again in strength and might. His is our sacramental Lamb, and yet He is our victorious King.

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

The FMC Advent Wreath


This year, our congregation is following this order in lighting our Advent wreath…

  • first Sunday: the Candle of Expectation
  • second Sunday: the Candle of Preparation
  • third Sunday: the Candle of Celebration
  • fourth Sunday: the Candle of Incarnation

Each week during Advent, I’ll post the liturgies we use in lighting the Advent wreath.  Blessings!

Starting Things Off on a Sour Note

Please bear with me.  Fresh on my mind is something that came in the mail this afternoon [Tuesday 27 November]: a Christmas catalogue for a well-known “Christian bookstore” chain.  Yes, you’ve –no doubt– heard of the chain.  In fact, you’ve probably darkened their doors before.  Well, some of you might even be avid shoppers in their aisles.  Please simply hear me out…

I use the term “bookstore” very lightly, for their selection of BOOKS is a bit sparse amid all of the following, which is why I also use the term “Christian” with a pinch or two of salt:

  • a “Christian” note writing set in a fancy decorative pump shoe
  • “Christian” tumblers (one for your frozen drinks and one for your hot drinks)
  • “Christian” tobogans
  • a “Christian” baking dish
  • “Christian” apple cider
  • “Christian” notebooks
  • “Christian” shower gel
  • “Christian” body scrub
  • “Christian” body lotion
  • a “Christian” alarm clock

I’m not saying that none of these items are appropriate for a Christian store; neither am I saying that any of these items are inherently bad.  What I am saying is that our “Christian bookstores” are so littered with everything but books that they hardly carry anything remotely resembling great books.  Take a look at the theology section (probably a single shelf).  Take a look at the biblical scholarship sections (probably a couple of shelves, one for the OT and another for the NT).  Most of the books you’ll find are written –not by those gifted in these respective fields, but– by anyone with a recognizable name who “pastors” a few thousand people.

Furthermore, I’m also saying that the content of our “Christian bookstores” is the tell-tale of our pop-“Christian” culture.  We want our Christianity miles and miles wide and just a smidgen [or two, depending on the day of the week] deep.

This Advent…

my intentions are to blog more regularly.  I’m intending to write posts that are:

  • encouraging
  • inspiring
  • edifying
  • challenging [We all need to be challenged.]

If this appeals to you, please join me in thought.  If this does not appeal to you, it probably should, so please join me in thought nonetheless.  Blessings.

le menu de demain

Dry-Cured, Smoked Turkey

Cornbread Stuffing with Country Sausage

Cranberry Chutney

Blistered Green Beans with Sautéed Garlic

Macaroni and Cheese

Honey Rolls

Pumpkin Pie

The scoop…

The rub on the turkey features juniper berries, star anise, freshly-ground black peppercorns, kosher salt, marjoram, and thyme and was applied yesterday.  The turkey is now smoking with a bundle of rosemary sprigs, a couple of stalks of celery, and three small Gala apples.

The dressing features country sausage, crumbled cornbread (stone-ground cornmeal, AP flour, kosher salt, baking powder, two eggs, unsalted butter, and sunflower oil), oregano, fire-roasted poblano chiles, turkey stock [Home-made, of course.  Why not?], unsalted butter, freshly-ground black peppercorns, kosher salt, more minced garlic than would feed a mob family, and diced onion, celery, and carrot.  It’s now sitting in the fridge getting itself together before being cooked tomorrow.  You know: the already cooked ingredients are getting to know one another and are hopefully making nice.

The chutney is made with orange juice, fresh cranberries, freshly-groud cinnamon and nutmeg, both brown and granulated sugar, and a touch of maple syrup.  It’s hanging out in fridge as well and will be basically solid tomorrow morning.

The beans will be blistered in a cast-iron skillet with extra-virgin olive oil, a bit of kosher salt, freshly-ground black peppercorns, and the same amount of the aforementioned minced garlic [If I’m mincing garlic, I’m mincing the whole bulb.  So… today, I minced one for the dressing, and tomorrow, I’ll mince another for the beans.  After all, doesn’t it keep the vampires away or something?].

The mac is made with more butter (unsalted) than anyone should discuss, a bit of AP flour, cream, freshly-ground nutmeg, a touch of cayenne pepper, and both Cheddar and Monterey cheeses.

The rolls involve AP flour, kosher salt, local honey (buckwheat), water, yeast, and an egg.

The pie crust is made with AP flour, stone-ground cornmeal [I know, but trust me… and Alton Brown.], too much butter (unsalted) for even a nun to remain modest, kosher salt, granulated sugar, and spritzed apple juice [I agree, again, with Alton Brown: Why would you add water to pie crust when you can easily add a shot or two of more flavor?], while the filling is made with cream cheese, pureed pumpkin, freshly-groud cinnamon and nutmeg, a bit of kosher salt, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, half-and-half [I used four parts whole milk and one part heavy whipping cream.], some salted butter, an egg, and a couple of additional egg yolks.  The pie is in the oven and will set overnight.  And, by the way, what to do with the left-over pie crust?  Why, make a tiny pie for yourself, of course.  It’s in the oven too and will soon be devoured without any pretense of setting or even cooling.

Oh, yeah… We’ll drink tea.  Sweet tea.  Luzianne sweet tea.  It’s from New Orleans, folks!