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.
The sun came up a few mornings ago and immediately disappeared behind a large band of dark clouds.
They aren’t storm clouds. In fact, these clouds are notorious for ushering in warm weather as they arch across the sky. When I first moved here thirteen Augusts ago, I didn’t understand the clouds at all. They were so different than I was used to! The shapes and colours didn’t mean the same thing that they did back home. It has taken me a while to adjust to a different kind of sky.
We’re all adjusting to a different kind of sky these days. Life in a pandemic, even life in the year 2020, has new restrictions, new realities, new requirements, new definitions… it all feels a bit disorienting.
There’s an old hymn that has been ringing in my heart. I think back to my growing up years in an aging country church plunked right down in the middle of a field, hot summer sun beating down, ceiling fans spinning fast enough to lift the old roof right off. The windows were wide open, carrying voices raised to the beat of an ill-tuned piano, fingers dancing across the keys without thought for flats that were supposed to be naturals and naturals that were supposed to be flats.
We worshiped with gusto. I can still hear the blessed voice of one of our elderly ladies soaring over everyone else as we sang,
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life When the clouds unfold their wings of strife When the strong tides lift and the cables strain Will your anchor drift or firm remain?
We have an anchor that keeps the soul Steadfast and sure while the billows roll Fastened to the rock which cannot move Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
Some hymns simply fill me with nostalgia; others are stalwart reminders of an incredible truth my heart needs to hear even after over three and a half decades wrapped up in the love of Christ. I’ve recently learned this hymn was written by a Sunday School teacher who devoted her life to teaching youth about Jesus. Priscilla Jane Owens never left her hometown of Baltimore. She put down roots in her church and committed over fifty years of her life to teaching children and youth in her Sunday School classes, penning hundreds of songs that taught Christ’s love. This song was based on Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV) –
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus bridges the gap between a holy God and unholy humans. He is the mediator. He is the One through whom we have access to the Creator of all. Because of Jesus, we have eternal hope. And when we build our life on Him, ultimately we cannot lose. We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away, a treasure in heaven that cannot be stolen or destroyed.
1 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV) says –
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Society’s growing hostility to God and His Word brings a sense that we are in the middle of an ocean where the strong tides are lifting and the cables are straining.
It’s not a new thing for Christians to believe things and live in ways that are incompatible with the culture they’re in. Even Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16). When we choose to follow Christ and live the way He calls us to live, we can expect suffering and loss. We can expect to be misunderstood and possibly even cancelled.
But Jesus also said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!” (16:33).
His way is not our way.
Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into believing in Him. He doesn’t uncover our sins for the world to judge us and cast us aside. Jesus doesn’t cancel anyone.
When He taught about being the Bread of Life, many people turned away from Him because it was too hard to understand or believe. He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave too. Their reply has always struck a chord in my heart:
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
May those words pierce our hearts and bring us to life today.
May they give us the courage to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. To be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave us. (Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32)
May we live out this radical love of Christ today with our families, in our churches, in our communities and in our world.
The tender image of such a father leaped off the page into my heart. I happened to turn to Hosea 11 the other night and my eyes fell to the beginning of the chapter, where God is speaking to His people through the prophet.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk.
I turned it over in my mind a few times, each time stirring up the precious memories of my own children taking their first steps.
The excitement of the days before they actually walked on their own, knowing they were getting closer and closer to a moment when their life would change forever in the best way.
The encouragement offered as they wobbled from one parent to the other, iron grip on a single finger, unwilling to let go until their feet were steady beneath them.
The patience for fall, after fall, after fall…
And now I understand a little bit more of who God is.
The Hosea passage goes on to talk about how even though God was the one fathering the nation of Israel, they turned away from him. My children are still small, still longing for the comfort of their parents and still hanging on the words we pour into them.
I haven’t known the pain of parenting a wayward child, but I know those who have.
I have witnessed their anguish over the shattering of a most treasured relationship. My heart has grieved and prayed with them as they wait on their knees for their precious one to return home.
All through the Word we see the story of a father’s heart, calling his wayward children back to himself; the very same father who taught his beloved children to walk only to have them turn away, even launching a campaign against him.
And yet, in His perfect love He forgives and restores, making a way for His cherished children to return to the place they truly belong, even though it is a costly way that leads through the death and resurrection of His only Son.
We forget, don’t we? We see God as this vending machine in the sky, or worse, we don’t think of Him at all. And yet, this stunning picture of God as a tender father awaits us in the middle of a book of the Bible that most of us have never looked at for more than a devotional verse here and there.
We are precious children. We were taught to walk by a loving Heavenly Father who has stopped at nothing to call us back home, to bring us out of our sleep and open our eyes to His powerful, life-giving, unending love.
“Come, let us return to the Lord.” Hosea 6:1a (NIV)
I am literally trying to do three things at once, with only two eyes to help me. I have one eye on the stove, cooking dinner, one eye on the preschooler who is “playing with” the baby (which requires fairly close supervision these days), and luckily, no eyes left to look at the pile of dishes spilling out of the sink onto the counter beside.
Sleep has been minimal recently because little kids, life keeps on handing us repairs upon repairs, and in recent weeks we’ve seen our fair share of “teachable moments” in our family.
We are in that season – the one where you rarely find yourself wondering what you should do with all your free time! haha!
I was secretly (or not-so-secretly now!) lamenting the way this season of life will affect our anniversary celebrations this week, with all the regular stuff on the schedule. Parent-teacher interviews. Work committments. Tax prep. Where is the romance in all of this?! I grumbled to myself.
Then it dawned on me. Two nights ago at 2:25am, our three year old woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep because her blanket wouldn’t fit over her six stuffies lined up beside her on her bed. Of course they NEEDED a blankie because they were scared, she insisted. This amazing man got up and tucked her back in, MORE THAN ONCE.
Every day, I see him making little sacrifices (and big ones) because he loves me, and our family.
Where’s the romance? Yep – found it. Over and over and over again.
Love you, Honey. Happy Anniversary. Here’s to many more.
“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.
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.