Advent: Waiting on the Lord’s Coming

By Josue Villatoro

The emphasis during Advent season is on waiting. We are expectant; we are preparing to celebrate Christmas. I like that dynamic. However, Christmas is not an ordinary party: it is not about Santa Claus, the gifts, or even the family. It is good that there are gathered families, gifts under the tree, and a Christmas spirit! But Christmas celebration is more. Christmas is Jesus. In a few days, we will celebrate the God that became human and lived among us. What a wonderful celebration! But we can’t arrive to it all of a sudden, we must prepare ourselves. To celebrate Advent prepares us to commemorate Christmas in the best way possible.

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Each Sunday of this celebration has a value. Last Sunday we emphasized that we are expecting Jesus, because He is our hope. This coming Sunday, and during this week, we are focusing on waiting because we have “faith.” Little word, big significance. We don’t see Him, we haven’t seen Him, but we are sure that someday we will see Him. We prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas because we have faith in Jesus, because we trust His promises. But we are also waiting on His second coming, because we are sure that He will come. Have faith. May there be no argument, power or human evidence to make you doubt your faith rooted in Jesus, the Christ. We celebrate Him, because we trust Him!

Learning from Mary

By Charles W. Christian

I once heard a Catholic priest tell a joke about a scene in Heaven. Jesus walks up to a Protestant and a Catholic and says to them, “I am glad to see you two getting along so well.” Then Jesus turns to the Protestant and says, “I would like to introduce you to my mother.  I don’t think you two have met!”

We Protestants in the crowd laughed, but it challenged me to take a closer look at what we as Christians – both Protestants and Catholics – can learn from Mary.

Based on the Gospels, here are a few lessons that come to mind:

  • We can be available for the work of God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
  • We can allow faith in God to override our fears:  [Elizabeth said to her], “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her” (Luke 1:45).
  • We can embody thankfulness:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
  • We can allow God to use us to speak prophetically to a world in need of a Savior: “He [God] has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered the proud. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
  • We can learn to treasure God’s gifts: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

There are many other lessons we can learn from Mary’s example.  During this season of Advent, may we, like Mary, approach the future with humility, faithfulness, and hope.

God has chosen His Church to be the bearers of the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Let us adore Him, and let us share this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey together through Advent.

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Prayer for the week:

Teach us obedience, Lord
In every part of our lives
Ears to hear your word
Hands to do your work
Feet to walk your path
A heart for all your people
A mouth to shout your praise
A childlike faith
Humility
Confidence
That says
To the possible
And the impossible
I am the Lord’s servant
May it be to me as you have said.
Amen

(John Birch at faithandworship.com)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

Not God’s Favorite

By Scott Armstrong

Jesus Comes Home with a Sobering Message

Christmas is a time when many of us return home.  We laugh with relatives and gorge ourselves on excellent food.  Grandmas grab our cheeks and tell us we’ve grown sooooo big, which is awkward when you’re 8, but try when you are 40!

Luke 4 tells us of a time when Jesus returned to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  The little carpenter’s apprentice had grown up and now was an excellent preacher, and the people were amazed at his eloquence.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (v. 22).  Surely this can’t be the same little kid that was playing in the sandbox back in the day!

So, as is often Jesus’ custom, instead of basking in the praise from everyone, he turns it on its head.  In fact, he immediately transitions his sermon from good news to judgement.  “I’m here to change the world just as Isaiah foretold” (see v. 18-21) quickly becomes “If you think you’re better than anyone else, I’m here to tell you you’re dead-wrong.”

The result is jarring.  The crowd’s transformation is stark.  The church folk are enraged, throw him out of their town, and are ready to throw him off a cliff (v. 28-29).  Wow! What made them convert from admirers to attempted murderers in the blink of an eye?!

Essentially, he yelled out, “You are not God’s favorite! Stop acting like it!”

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It’s a message that’s painfully appropriate and quite controversial even today.  Christian authors have made a lot of money writing that you and I are God’s favorites.  Preachers use that phrase to try to explain God’s boundless love for you and me.  It all seems obvious, right? And anyway, it feels good to know I am God’s favorite child; it kind of gives me a spring in my step as I leave the service on Sunday!

Here’s the problem: Baked into the definition of the word “favorite” is the singling out of something to the exclusion of something else.  When I ask you what your favorite food is, if you say, “They’re all my favorites,” it makes no sense.  You are either trying to hide something or way too indecisive.  Saying “I like all foods the same” would seem implausible, but it’s at least better than claiming that all foods are your absolute favorite.  Selecting a favorite by necessity means something else has not been selected: it is, thus, not your favorite.

When pressed on this, the authors and preachers insist that, well, when they say, “YOU are God’s favorite,” they actually mean that we are ALL His favorites.  It’s an effective communication technique, but it completely dilutes the word.  In fact, using the word “favorite” in this way can actually have some serious, unintended consequences.

When we start to view ourselves as God’s favorites, we subtly begin to believe that he likes us more than others.  The product of such thinking is ethnocentrism and religious selfishness, exactly what Jesus railed against in verses 24-27.

My political party is right.

My race is better.

My denomination is the best.

My way of viewing the world is the only real way anyone should see it.

And it also makes us spoiled.  We start to expect God to be at our beck-and-call.  The “favorite” child at Christmas demands that his parents save the last piece of pie for him.  Every gift becomes boring within a few hours. Nothing is appreciated. Everything is deserved.  Jesus says it this way, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum’” (v. 23).  We are here for the show, Jesus! Come on, we prayed; why won’t you grant us our every wish?

God lavishes his love on all of us in the same measure.

That’s the point.

He has no favorites.

As we near Christmas, hear again those amazing words from Jesus’ homecoming sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v.18-19).

Interesting last word: “favor.”

Our God comes to the poor, to the prisoners, to the blind and oppressed.  His favor is offered to all in abounding measure.

What if you were actually not God’s favorite?

It’s painful and humbling to acknowledge.  But maybe admitting it would open you up to truly receiving God’s favor for the first time.  Maybe it would allow the God who plays no favorites to anoint YOU, as well, to go to the broken-hearted and usher in the Lord’s favor.

May today this scripture be indeed fulfilled in your hearing.

 

Incarnation – Moving into the Neighborhood

Yesterday (December 14), the Worthless Servants podcast published a new episode touching on an appropriately Christmas topic: the Incarnation.

When we speak of the Incarnation, we are referring to God becoming man.  This is the essence of Advent and of Christmas; these are the moments in the Christian calendar when we celebrate that God sent His only son in the form of a baby and in actual human likeness. That’s phenomenal and mind-blowing!

In present day, the concept of God becoming man is something that we as Christians accept by faith as a normal part of our story. However, 2,000 years ago, the average Jew could not have imagined that their sovereign God would put on flesh and walk alongside us.  Even nowadays this concept is astonishing and blasphemous for many other religions!

For the Christian, the Incarnation is of utmost importance.  God smashed himself into human flesh and came to earth, clothing himself in our own frailty.  It’s not like God hadn’t communicated with the people before the manger, but this was radically different.  These were not the words of a prophet this time; this was the very Word becoming man, coming alongside us.  Eugene Peterson famously puts it this way:

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” John 1:14b

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Many of us are used to the theme of Incarnation around Christmas.  But, what does all this have to do with missions? Could it be that the God who is with us would also send us to be with others? Does an incarnate God also, in some way, ask us to incarnate ourselves and become flesh in new cultures, new languages, and new neighborhoods?

Jesus moved into our barrio.  He identified with our needs and even our sickness.  Are you willing to follow his example? Are you willing to live and laugh and suffer with people from other races, cultures, religions, and languages if it means they will see Jesus in you?

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…” (John 20:21).

Would you like to dive more into the topic of the Incarnation? You can listen to the most recent episode of the Worthless Servants podcast by clicking here: mesoamericagenesis.org/podcast/ or you can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher!

In this Advent season, may the Incarnation of Jesus Christ himself compel you to incarnate the Good News in your neighborhood and community!

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Come, All You Not So Faithful

By Rev. Chris Gilmore

One of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming.  Come, all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus?

If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s.  We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

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So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

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“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

 This article was originally published at: iamchrisgilmore.com

 

Part of the Gift

By Charles W. Christian

One of my favorite Advent stories is about a missionary couple on the eastern coast of Africa. They were waiting to go back to the United States, their home country, after having served for over twenty years and impacting two generations of people in the village where they were assigned.

They were temporarily waiting in a location many miles inland from the coast until their arrangements were finalized for them to return to the U.S. for Christmas and for retirement.

One morning during the season of Advent, a few days before they were to fly out, there was a knock at the door.  A young man, the son of a family they had known during their entire time on the African coast, greeted them.  He was holding a small box that contained a gift that he told them could decorate their tree as a reminder of his family’s love for them.

“Did your family travel with you?” asked the missionary.  He knew they were one of the very few families in the small village that had a vehicle.  “No,” said the young man. “I walked.  I got rides when I could, but mostly I walked.  I left my village shortly after you took the train here a couple of weeks ago.”

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The couple was shocked.  “You didn’t have to walk all this way to give us this gift!” they said.  As much as we appreciate the ornament, we would have treasured it just as much if you had mailed it.”  The young man then replied, “The long journey is part of the gift!”

As we make the long journey through Advent toward the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we are reminded of an even longer journey: the journey of the Incarnation, when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

May our hearts be filled with anticipation and gratitude as we walk together toward the Savior and the new kingdom He brings.

Prayer for the Week:

God of hope and promise, be with us throughout this Advent season, and draw us ever closer as we journey together toward the stable and the birth of your Son, our Savior. Amen. (From John Birch at Faith and Worship)

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

An Uncommon Mission

By Ken Childress

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21

A cursory reading of this verse might give us the impression that Jesus is saying, “The Father first sent Me; now it’s your turn.” But there is more to this verse than that. He is also saying, “In the very same way that the Father sent Me, that’s how I’m sending you.” The crucial question then becomes: How did God send Jesus?

Philippians 2 gives us a good understanding of the nature of Jesus’ mission. He humbled Himself, He took the form of a servant, and He became obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:6-11). Jesus went from heavenly riches to earthly rags; from exaltation to humiliation; from authority to obedience; from ultimate significance to ultimate rejection; from comfort to hardship; from safety to danger; from glory to sacrifice; and from life to death. And He calls us to go into the world in exactly the same way!

Read that list again. Every one of those humbling transitions goes against our grain. We try to work our way up, not empty ourselves. We want more more significance, more safety, more authority, more attention, more comfort. But Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him. He sends us out as He was sent.

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Does your attitude match that of Jesus? Do you take your mission seriously enough to go into the depths of this world – whether those depths are in another country, your own city, or even your own family – and live the gospel of humility for others to see? Jesus’ mission is to redeem this world, and He intends to shine the light in every vile, dark corner of it – through you and me. He calls His followers into prisons and concentration camps, into opium dens and brothels, and into leper colonies and psychiatric wards. He also calls them into night clubs, corporate conference rooms, university classrooms, and sports arenas. There is no place too uncomfortable, dangerous, or unlikely. Are you willing? As the Father sent Him, so He sends us into our community.