November Light

The chatty summer birds are mostly gone now, seeking warmer nests to fluff their feathers, and the winter birds have centre stage. These are not nearly as petite and delightful, but rather clumsy and comical as they lumber around the neighbourhood scratching out their living.

Leaves have dropped, snow blankets the ground and nights are finger-numbing. The night is long and dark, but it’s worth it to see the morning light come in with such brilliance.

The first rose glow gives way to orange-gold radiance, then blinding light, and finally, the pale sunshine of a November day. The sun hangs low in the sky, casting long shadows as it speeds toward the western horizon, slowly revealing a stunning late afternoon colour gradient which fades as darkness falls. The silhouettes of the towering neighbourhood evergreens that stand guard over our street, begin to blend with the night sky full of twinkling stars and planets. We like to play a guessing game: is it Mars? Jupiter? Venus? The moon is late to the party these days, rising in the middle of the night and sticking around long past sunrise, another November treat.

Each November day, with its vivid dawn, reminds us that “…the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(John 1:5 NIV)

This comes as a complete surprise to me, but I’m developing an appreciation of the very month I have long dreaded for its challenges with frigid weather, constant childhood illnesses, and long hours of darkness. There are gifts to discover in the gradual shift from a world alive to a world asleep until spring. The in-betweenness brings moments to breathe deep before we wander into another season full of anticipation and celebration, one quite unlike any other we’ve had before. Cuddles on sick days, candles in darkness, calm evenings – these are the blessings of a month that I’ve often cast aside as bleak and dismal.

November begins with a somber day of remembrance, considering recent history and struggling with the reality that the world has not changed as much as we would like to believe. As we wandered among decommissioned planes, tanks, torpedoes and naval mines this year, the grief of war stirred up a deep longing in me for true peace, the kind that only Jesus can bring.

Come, Lord Jesus, and make all things right.

In our world and in our own shattered relationships, Lord, make all things right. Bring the kind of healing only You can. Let this in-between season stir our hearts as we dare to hope that You are able to do what no one else has ever been able to do in the history of the world.

Help us embrace the tension of the now and the not-yet. Help us grieve our losses, adjust our expectations, and rest in Your love. We know that we are still in the middle of this story, and we trust that You are faithful.

It seems fitting that November ends with the dawning of the season of longing and anticipation of our Saviour. We look forward to celebrating His first coming and we anticipate His second coming, knowing that He has promised to return and make all things right.

November is the space we need to prepare our hearts, dare to hope, and trust that He will do what He says He will do. It’s the space we need to learn not to grow weary and lose heart. It’s the gift of the in-between, the time to anchor our entire holiday celebration to the One who is worthy of our praise before the sparkling of the season begins.

Now is the time to fix our eyes on Jesus…

“…the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 
Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

Glorious November Light

December Lights

The December sun sails low across the sky with remarkable speed, its warmth just enough kiss my cold cheeks but not quite enough to melt the blanket of white that sparkles all around me. The gift of another sunny morning in this final month of the year does my heart good. With sixteen hours of darkness each day, any glimpse of sunshine is a gourmet meal for a hungry belly.

But it’s not the pale daytime glow that has us eyes-wide, mouths-open in wonder. The real show starts as the sun disappears behind the trees across the street. Around 4pm the crescent moon takes centre stage as Venus begins to sparkle low in the sky. A few minutes later, to the right of the moon, Jupiter joins the show, and just after sunset Saturn twinkles faintly between the other two planets. We stand in our front yard, pointing and exclaiming as more and more stars twinkle into view. It’s not easy to see under the city lights, but the excitement of recognizing constellations and planets fills our hearts with wonder. We check the apps to confirm our suspicions and realize what we are beholding with our own eyes corresponds to real objects millions of kilometres away, with names and measurements and other scientific data to understand.

It’s not necessarily the numbers that astound; it’s that we can see the things we’ve only heard about or viewed in photos or videos. These tiny sparkling lights in the sky are real planets and stars, formed and placed with care. The late sunrises and early sunsets provide ample time to behold the beauty of the December night sky, a reminder that the Lord has carefully woven beauty into every season.

In winter darkness, even the smallest lights gleam. 

This week, we’ll mark both the longest night of the year and the holiest night of the year: the first day of winter followed shortly by the wonder of Christmas. Not only do the days begin to grow longer, but we will bask in the beauty of a gift like no other: Jesus.

Psalm 147:3-4 rings in my heart this week, and the contrast is not lost on me:

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.

The Creator entered into His creation. A baby is born, sending one king into a jealous, murderous rage, bringing other kings over long miles to their knees in worship. Angels announce the good news to stunned shepherds in a field, who hurry to a humble stable to see the Messiah. A young mom cradles a fragile, tender newborn, the long-awaited answer to the yearning of hearts from generation to generation: “How long, O Lord?”. The things we’ve only read in prophecies of old are taking place before our very eyes.

We begin to understand that what we are beholding in this Christmas season corresponds to things promised centuries ago and we are amazed. The One who gave Saturn its rings and caused Venus to shine above the horizon at dusk in December entered into the lives of the broken by being broken for us, and shattered the power of sin and death by dying on the cross and rising from the grave.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NIV)

Thank You Jesus! Only You can number the stars and bind up our wounds in the darkest of seasons. You are the true light of the world!

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of peace
Hail! the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all he brings
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the some of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

-Charles Wesley

A simple star

Advent 2021

The First Sunday of Advent is nearly upon us. 

Although I didn’t grow up with this tradition, I’ve embraced it in adulthood and it has become one of my favourite ways to prepare my heart for the celebration of Christmas, sharpening my focus on Christ in a season that leans toward a frantic pace. I love it all — trimming the tree, carols and treats, Christmas lights in our PJs, TV specials and movies, presents and laughter — but I need the quiet longing of Advent to anchor my hope in the One who embodies it, bring the peace that passes all understanding, fill my heart with unshakeable joy, wrap me up in unconditional love.

Nearly ten years ago I created a feature for my radio show called “Advent in Action”, with small ways to bring the themes of Advent to life in my ordinary day, keep Christ at the centre and share hope, peace, joy and love. As I revisit that list this week, I’m reading this passage from John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:1-18 (NIV)

May this Advent season stir up a genuine longing for Jesus, the Light of the World.

Advent in Action

Even From the Very Beginning

The excitement of Christmas always arrives in our home around the middle of November. We talk about the things we’d like to enjoy together, and the discussion always circles back to why we’re celebrating in the first place.

Does the Christmas story start with an angel’s visit to Mary? In some senses, yes. The events are set in motion by a striking interaction between a strange visitor and a young girl. But these moments were planned long ago, before there was time.

This year we’ve begun tracing the thread of the coming Messiah through the Old Testament.

“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman
and between your offspring and hers
he will crush your head
and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The first glimpse of future where sin and death are vanquished. Keep reading and you’ll see more glimpses of hope.

Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

And Isaiah 9:6 —

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”

For some reason, I’ve found myself lingering in the book of Joel, and even here I’m seeing Jesus.

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
  that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
(Joel 2:26-29)

Thank you Lord! What a relief! In a world that feels random and chaotic at times, I am on my knees in worship of the One who has always had things in the palm of His hand.

Especially this year, I have desperately needed these reminders that the Kingdom was always coming, from the very beginning. It was always planned, from long ago. Jesus was always on His way the first time – and even now we can be confident that He will come again the second time. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. He will do what He says He will do — without fail. He always keeps His promises.

Jesus will come again in glory to bring His Kingdom in all its fullness.

In the waiting, we are Kingdom people in a world in need. We invite others into the life Christ has brought – into the reality that is beyond our wildest hopes. We live according to the ways of the King of Kings, the One who has come and is coming back again. 

He is the source of eternal hope, peace that passes all understanding, deep joy, and real love – the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Joy to the world!

The Light Has Come

I got my first “are you ready for Christmas?” of the season earlier this week, and I replied with a laugh and a “well, almost!”.

I don’t know about you, but I sure want things to be “just so” before all the fun really gets going. And somehow you’d think I would have learned by now that life never quite goes that way. It’s the two-day process of decorating the Christmas tree because we just couldn’t get it all done in one day. It’s the decorations next to the laundry pile. Kids memorizing lines for the church Christmas play while home on a sick day. Adjusting plans and re-adjusting plans based on the various unexpected requests and demands that inevitably pop up in December. It’s a December birthday and a December wedding sandwiching the wonder of Christmas itself.

It seems that we’re searching for a bit of silence.

But is that what we truly want?

Silence is exactly what was going on before the Light of the World dawned. There are 400 years of it between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God spoke promise after promise of One who would bring salvation, and then nothing. For four centuries. 400 years of waiting, wondering, yearning for the Messiah – the Promised One who would bring deliverance from sin.

400 years of hoping this leader would be the one.

And then, the silence is broken. An angel visits a young girl with a message that cuts through the darkness. Could it be? Could all the waiting be finally coming to an end? Could our watching and hoping be fulfilled before our very eyes?

It’s then we realize that it isn’t silence we’re really looking for after all; it’s peace.

I love the powerful words of Isaiah 60:1-2 (NIV):

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.”

How that resonates with me this year. How I long to rediscover Jesus as the Light of the World, the Light of my heart. The words in Isaiah were written hundreds of years before that star shone in the East, before the angel brought good news to Mary, before that long and arduous journey to Bethlehem. Long before that tiny Baby breathed his first breath, before that Wonderful Saviour breathed His last breath, and before He rose from the grave and conquered sin and death.

He is the Light of the World. The Lord has risen upon us and his glory appears over us. After all those years of silence, the Prince of Peace came; the Promise was kept. And as we think about how Jesus said He would return one day to make everything right, we understand that this promise will be kept too. He will return as King of Kings.

I’m setting my heart on Him this Advent season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)

Amen.

Candle David Monje

Image: David Monje

The Perfect Christmas

For a few minutes this morning, it really seemed possible to accomplish all the things necessary to make this Christmas perfect. It might of been that first cup of coffee of the day that gave me wings, but I really felt like I could fly into all my plans for the week and succeed!

Yes, this really would be The Perfect Christmas.

Then my little one raised his little arms with an “uh – uh – uh” and I swung him up into my arms. He wiggled his little body and settled into his favourite spot – my left hip – and the light of reality dawned on me.

I already have everything I need.

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV) –

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

THIS.

This is the stuff that makes life beautiful. This is what makes it possible to live in the mix of the heart-wrenching grief of a broken world and the wonderfully expectant hope of Advent.

So the teacher gifts aren’t sorted out quite yet. So the house is mostly clean but not absolutely spotless. So the menu hasn’t been set. So the possibility of common childhood illness is looming (as it always does with small children in December).

All my best-made plans are nothing compared to what God has for me. All my ideas of how to improve upon what we already have are actually having the opposite effect. All my hopes for perfection will not be realized this Christmas, or any of my Christmases upon this earth.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
(Edward Mote)

Jesus, as we proclaim Your first coming with joyous activities, we long for Your second coming with groanings too deep for words to express. Tears flow, then we wash our faces and join in the celebrations. We know what is coming. In fact, You have given us everything we need right now, and we look forward to the day it will be completed and we receive a rich welcome into Your Kingdom.

We fall down in worship, King Jesus – we welcome You today.

***

Merry Christmas friends. May you know true joy in Christ this season.

tree

Advent in Action 2018

The Advent season begins on Sunday, December 2nd. I always want to be intentional about Advent, but sometimes I don’t know where to start. I hear about hope, peace, joy and love but somehow it can get lost in the pace of the season, so a few years ago I came up with Advent in Action. You’ll hear it on Shine FM Calgary from now ’til December 24th.

Leading up to each Sunday of Advent, I’m sharing small, totally do-able ways to put the themes of Advent into practice throughout the holidays! Follow my Facebook page to join in. This week’s theme is HOPE.

AiAtitle 2018

 

Making Space

We’re about to fall headlong into one of the busiest times of the year. Yes, I am talking about Christmas, even before the pie crumbs of Thanksgiving have really had time to settle and Halloween is still lurking.

I like to work ahead. By this time of the year, I’ve already been thinking about what we’ll do in December, how gifts might work and whether or not I need to start making things early. Life is already busy, and it just gets busier and busier as we head into November and December.

I absolutely adore all things Christmas, but I’ve found that the heart of the season can sometimes get lost in the heavy workload, flurry of activities and temporary demands. My schedule is often overwhelmed with holiday plans and my newsfeed is overrun with events and content even before November begins!

Let’s be honest for a moment. Most of us are knee deep in some sort of mess that we’re expected to tidy up just in time for the guests to arrive. We manage to find some cheer for an hour or two and then it’s right back to the grind we’ve made for ourselves, with all its harsh realities. When we’re working at capacity, we may find ourselves falling into a bit of a Scrooge attitude, grumbling under our breath about all the things we’ve still got to do before the deadline.

So I’m learning to choose now, more than two months in advance, to leave room in my schedule for rest, reflection and worship. It’s counterintuitive because the pace of the season is part of the fun! But Christmas is so much more than parties, presents and perfection. And through the  sacrifices and re-ordering of holiday priorities, I am finding the Lord in the unexpected quiet places.

We need that space to breathe in the true wonder of the season. Not the lights and the sparkle, but the unveiling of the Source of all authentic hope, peace, joy, and love: the Saviour of the world, coming as a baby on a bed of hay.

A baby.

Have you held or beheld a newborn recently? Perfectly formed and perfectly helpless. It’s the most incredible of ways that the God of Heaven could come to earth to bring salvation to a world that rejected Him so brutally.

Instead of filling our schedules with plans upon plans this holiday season, let’s make room for Jesus. Let’s welcome Him fully. Let’s let His deep, deep love overwhelm us and give Him centre stage in our holiday experience this year.

Let’s make space for the One who truly is the greatest gift of all.

holiday lights

Holiday lights

Mom! You Aren’t Watching!

“Mom, you aren’t watching!” My four year old cried out. “You missed the whole thing!”

Unbeknownst to me, she was showing off some new moves she made up for the March from The Nutcracker. Her little heart broke when she realized I had left the room to change the baby right before the big finale.

When I returned, she was quite distraught.

“I’m sorry sweetheart! Why don’t we start it again and I’ll watch the whole thing, alright?” I suggested. She went for it. We restarted the song and I settled in to witness every move she made. Every time she did something “cool”, she looked to see if I was watching – and this time, I was. I smiled and cheered while she moved her body perfectly in time, and when she was done, I wrapped my arms around her.

“Great job!” I said.

She beamed.

Off she went to play with her little sister.

It comes in different forms, doesn’t it? “Mom, watch me!” “Do you want to hear my new song?” “Can I show you a cool trick?” “Are you coming to my play?” “Look at what I made!” Every single one a cry to be seen, known, celebrated, connected. Every single one an opportunity to love on these littles of mine.

Often, my “inn is too full”, so to speak. I’m turning away the most important visitors, relegating them to the stable as I briskly move throughout the house from here to there doing this and that, taking care of my list, accomplishing my goals. I am loving on my family in the practical way of making a home for them to live in and enjoy. But when it comes time to stand in the cold next to the playground equipment to watch one more cool trick on the monkey bars, even though if we leave even five minutes later we will get stuck in rush hour traffic, can I show them that kind of love, the kind that costs me something?

Love shines brightest in the places we overlook.

God’s Son carried by an unwed teenager.

The King of Kings is born in a stable.

Angels appear to a band of shepherds.

This Sunday, we’ll light the Advent candle of love. It’s a beautiful sentiment – that love is the greatest gift of all.

But here’s the bottom line: loving well is hard. It costs me something every single moment of every single day. I can hardly spend a few minutes trying to write a post like this without being interrupted by ample opportunity to love on my kids – from answering their questions to helping them sort out conflicts, to one climbing up on my lap and trying to type as I type to a hungry babe crying out for a spot of lunch.

These are easy to overlook because too often I am only looking at myself. But we serve a God who is far greater than we can ever imagine – a God who came near to help us tear our eyes off ourselves and turn them in worship to Him. When we meet Him, we discover the love we never knew was possible, and in turn, we pour it out on those around us in ways we never would have considered before.

Let’s love well this Christmas, and into the New Year. Let’s allow this life-changing love to transform us from the inside out so we can love the way He first loved us. Let’s let His love shine in those places we used to overlook.

Why? Because Romans 5:8 –

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

And most of all, 1 John 4:19 –

We love because He first loved us.

Amen. And Merry Christmas!

nutcracker

This is our 3 foot tall Nutcracker

The Time Machine: Great Joy!

The Time Machine series features posts from years past.

This is a short devotional thought from an Advent series I shared on my radio show in 2010. Still an awesome reminder of just how great our joy is when we find it in Jesus!

***

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:9-11 (NIV)

Our Advent theme this week is joy! Christ’s birth was to “cause great joy for all the people”. The nation of Israel had been waiting for a saviour – and He was finally here! When we look around at the need in our world, we can rejoice that we haven’t been left alone to figure it all out ourselves. We can rejoice that Emmanuel – God with Us – has come to bring salvation, and has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us. We are not alone! Amazing!

baby jesus