Advent, the Nativity, and Forgetting Christ

In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.

So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).

For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.

Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world.  I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?

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In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear.  And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.

We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.

Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night. download

It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.

Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.

Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. images These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.

That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty.  But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.

The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.

Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.

We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world.  And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.

And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.

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Today, I Am Peter

When they set out to cross the lake, a journey they had made many times before, the day was coming to a close. It had been an extraordinary day, one filled with wonder, power and miracles. But now, they had to make the 8 mile sail across the water. Usually, by setting the sail to catch the wind, combined with hard work at the oars, this trip was pretty quick.

But though it was hard work, it was work that Peter was used to. There was some joy and peace in the labor. He’d spent most of his life on this lake. He was a strong sailor, and a strong swimmer. If the truth was to be told, he’d forgotten more in his short life than most men ever learned about the trade. His hands knew the tasks at hand, so he could take the time to think about what he’d seen. He could reflect on the day.

None of the others talked much. Besides the hard work, it seemed like they all had a lot on their minds. How had he done that? Where was he now? What would they do next?

And then the winds changed. They were only about halfway across the lake, but with the wind shifting to become a head wind, they had to drop the sails. This meant that the remaining 4 miles would need to be done at the oars alone. This was never fun, but, like the rest of this work, Peter was confident, calm, and prepared for the trouble of it.

And then the waves started to form. Theirs was not a small boat, but she was sturdy. Really, she was bigger than many on the lake, but these waves were easily large enough to crash over the sides. They were easily big enough to capsize the boat if they turned her broadside.

So here they were, rowing hard against the waves which pushed them back for every stroke. If the stopped rowing, they’d turn, and the waves would have them. They couldn’t raise the sails because the wind was at their bow.

And it was totally dark. The moon was still low, too low to be an effective guide.

It was dark. The wind howled. The men were tired, and sore, and alone. There was no other boats nearby, not that they’d be able to see them in these waves and darkness. If they lost control now, they’d surely drown. Peter was starting to worry.


Life has a way of dishing out its worst right after we have experienced great blessing. The Adversary works his hardest to challenge us at these times; to make us doubt the joy and peace of God’s gifts; to forget the grace that we’ve received; to focus only on the momentary, the challenging, and the worrisome. And he’s pretty good at it.
I’ve gone from being at the helm, metaphorically speaking, of my life; knowing what I was doing, where I was going, and how I was going to get there… to not knowing how I’m going to function in the most basic ways; to not knowing how I’m going to raise my children; not knowing how to even take care of myself; and (sometimes) to not know where my next meal will come from. It’s been a pretty major shift for me. I’ve been content with the work of it all. I’m no stranger to hard work. But there is still fear in not knowing. There is fear in the challenges of life.


As they worked to keep the boat straight against the waves, Peter heard a shriek of terror come from behind him. As he listened to hear why his friend had cried out, he saw it: the ghostly apparition on the water. Peter had never been one to believe in silly superstitions, but how could he deny his own eyes? The evidence was overwhelming, and his shipmates confirmed the same: there was a figure on the water.

The moonlight reflected off the white of the figures robes, creating an halo of pale, blue light. The figure was moving across the storming seas as if they were simple hills.

And Peter was terrified. Was this was some apparition from the after-world coming to claim him and his shipmates? Surely, they were about to die, and this figure was their host into the next world.

As they began to fear for their lives, the boat started to turn. Peter cried out for his friends to keep her straight! Even in that moment of sure death, he wasn’t one to let it come easily. The spirit of death would have him, but not without a fight.


There is an old Christian trope that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” While it has some basis in truth, the understood implication is that whatever challenge we are given can be borne by us. This just isn’t true.

Oftentimes,  life presents us with challenges far to great for us to carry on our own.

The burdens that we bear sometimes curve our backs and break our wills. And just in that moment of deep despair, the challenges of life will sometimes side swipe us with a pickup truck. This can be overwhelming. Having had the broken will and spirit, being crushed by the weight of the world, we are given only two options; to surrender and die is the easier option. But what else can we do?


Just then they heard the voice, carried clearly above the winds and the waves.
“Don’t be afraid! It is I! Take courage!”

Peter looked out over the waves, and in the darkness he saw, for what seemed like the first time, that the apparition was his friend, his brother, his master: the Galilean. But how could this be? No man can walk on the water. Yet, after what he’d seen earlier today, how could it be anyone else?


And so His voice comes to all who are broken in spirit. When the burdens have destroyed all hope that we can carry on alone, He calls to us: “don’t be afraid! Be courageous. I am here!”

And we, like Peter, have to choose: do we let fear win, and go down with our boat? That is the easy choice.


Like the Sons of Thunder next to him, Peter was impetuous. He was brave. And he knew that the Miracle Worker could do anything.

“If it’s you,” he cried to the Man on the water, “tell me to come out to you, on the water!”

Even in his challenge, he doubted himself. These waves were too strong for his boat, they would surely sink him. If he got into the water, he’d surely be a dead man. What was this challenge? Why had he called it? If he was wrong, he’d pay for the mistake with his life.

“Come!” Came the reply.


When the master calls to us, we have the final choice: the easy one? Or do we risk what stability we have now, no matter how destructive that stability is, and come to him? Do we surrender to Him our fears, our hopes, and even the ground beneath our feet at His bidding?


Keeping his eyes above the waves, and ignoring the gasps of terror of his crew, Peter stepped out of the tossing boat onto the waves. His eyes fixed on the Man, Peter began walking… walking! On the water! It was as if the sea had solidified under his feet, and he allowed his pace to quicken.  And then it hit him: literally. He hadn’t noticed the wave until it crashed into his side, drenching him further to the bone. And he looked down to check his footing. There was nothing but the sea beneath him!

And he doubted.


When we come to Him, keeping our eyes fixed on He who is our salvation, the terrors that had only moments before had overwhelmed and even threatened to destroy us, seem like a thing of the past.

But when we look to the challenges, and not the Man on the water; we falter. Every time. The proverbial waves that had threatened to destroy us are no less powerful, and we no more powerful. We haven’t suddenly grown the ability to defeat the challenges on our own. And once we start to wonder if it is by our own power that we are succeeding, we will surely begin to be swallowed up by the very things we wonder if we’ve defeated.


The doubt came quickly, and as it rushed upon him, so did the cold, dark water. He just had time to cry out desperately, “Lord! Save me!” As the water came up over his head, anxious to claim him to its depths. He kicked, he tried to tread, but the next wave washed over him, and he knew he had lost.

And then the hand grabbed his.

And his Master pulled him into His strong arms. “You of little faith,” He chided, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.


Like Peter, I have witnessed the miraculous. Like Peter, I have stood when the world said I should drown. Like Peter, I have begun the fearful journey of walking to the Master. And like Peter, I have doubted. I have tried, again and again, to do the work on my own.

But like Peter, I have cried out “Lord, save me!”

And He has. And He will again.

I just hope that, like Peter, I don’t forget the salvation offered to me. Today I want to be like Peter. 

God grant me the grace to see You above the waves of life. Give me the courage to call out to You. Give me the faith to follow You. And guide me to Your Glory.

Resurrection Sunday, Celebrating Life, and Defeating Death

Thank you for walking through Holy Week with me. The final mortal week of the Son of Man started nicely, and just got worse. I’d say, I’ve never had such a rough week. But it ends well. That’s the spoiler here: it ends well for the King of Kings. And perhaps more importantly, He’s made it so it can end well for us, too!

Because of the approaching Sabbath, when the Savior’s body had been laid to rest, it was done in haste. So on the third day, which would be Sunday, Mary Magdalene and other faithful women returned to the tomb so that they could more appropriately prepare the body of Jesus for its final burial. As they walked, they pondered how they would do this thing. “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” Likely they didn’t know of the Roman guards standing watch at the tomb.

Imagine the shock when they found the tomb empty. An angel told them “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.” They went and told some of the Apostles that the tomb was empty. It seems that the grieving women missed the important pronunciation that “he is risen,” for Mary was distraught.

She returned to the garden, and crying, was approached by men. They asked her “Woman, why weepest thou?” Her reply was full of despair: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And another man asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Again, thinking this man to be responsible for the missing body of her Lord, she begged, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

In his single word reply, she must have finally recognized His voice: “Mary,” He said. Her tears of despair and sorrow changed in an instant to joy and unbelief as she declared in her happiness, “Rabboni!” Or, beloved Master.

It is perhaps instructive that He first appeared to Mary rather than His apostles. But we will leave it to this: He informed her that she must not touch Him yet, as He had not ascended to His father.

Later, however, as He showed Himself to His Apostles, He invited them to feel the wounds still in His hands, and still on His side. Doubting his own seeing eyes, it wasn’t until he had felt these wounds for himself the Apostle Thomas believed. 

Over the coming weeks the Master spent substantial time with his Apostles and disciples, teaching them and preparing His Apostles to lead His Church, and teach His gospel. But today, this Resurrection Sunday, finished the Atonement, and broke the bonds of death. Because He had never sinned, death held no power over Him. He was the first fruits of them that slept. And most importantly, because He lives, we will live again.

So today, this Easter Sunday, I raise my voice in praise for Him. I join my voice to the countless others who have sung it before me: Hallelujah! Praise to God in the highest!

Let us not forget His Atoning Sacrifice. Let us not forget His burden and trial in Gethsemane. Let us not forget His silence in the face of damning opposition. Let us always remember that the Plan of the Father recognized our sins; that He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, the Savior, the Redeemer, and our Lord, to make a path for us to return to Him. Because He lives, we will live!

Good Friday, the Road to Galgotha, and the Broken Law

Following His trials, which lasted the night, the Sinless One was scourged. They took a cat of nine tails, a brutal whip with nine ends, each laced with shards of bone or pottery, designed to tear the flesh, and break the spirit of those on the merciless receiving end. He was given 39 lashes, a process which frequently ended in death for the whipped.

While he was beaten, the Roman soldiers bet for his clothes, and when they were done brutalizing him, the gave him new raiment: they clothed him in a purple robe, symbolizing royalty, and a crown to mark his Kingship. But in the mocking fashion of the blasphemer, they had fashioned the crown of biting thorns. As the pressed the ring onto his forehead, it undoubtedly took flesh with it.

The Romans made their bleeding and broken Lord carry his cross through the streets to the hill of crucifixion. The streets were lined with a deriding mob, who shouted, and mocked and spit on their Redeemer. The very man who, just hours before, had taken their every sins upon himself. Mixed in the crowd were the meek and broken of spirit who wept as they watched their Master carry the burden that He had chosen but certainly did not deserve.

Jesus stumbled and fell under the weight of cross, unable to carry the weight any more.

The Romans forced another to pick up the cross and they continued on. I wonder what the man thought. Was he one of the bitter and angry crowd? Or was he one that the Healer had made whole? Did he resent the burden? Or did he weep knowing that he was helping the Man to his death?

The writers of the Gospels had few words to describe what happened next, because of the monstrous and barbaric act that followed, few words can describe the horror: “and they crucified him.”
They buried nails in his hands, wrists, and feet, and raised the cross on the hill of skulls, called Golgotha. Here men were left to die. It could take days as the men would die slowly, not of their wounds, but of starvation and thirst. The merciless Romans would give water to the dying to prolong their death. Of the few things the Innocent One said while on the cross, the first was a plead for drink, which was granted in the form of vinegar.

In his pain and agony, He prayed to the Father, asking for forgiveness for the Romans, who “…know not what they do”, as they crucified the Son of the Living God.

He asked John to care for His aging Mother.

He spoke to one of those dying with him.

And again alone, He cried “why has thou forsaken me?”
As 3:00 in the afternoon approached, the sky darkened and the ground shook. The veil separating the courtyard of the temple from the Holy of Holies was torn in two, as the Father rejected the the Covenant People in their wickedness, and the the Son of Man died as he uttered the words “it is finished.” The very earth recognized the death of its creator, and tore itself asunder, burying cities in the sea, and sinking valleys with the mountains. The whole of the New World was reformed, killing many. And darkness covered all the land for days.

The Romans were astounded by the speed of his death, and to confirm the death, stabbed him through the ribs right into his heart. It gushed water and blood; it was broken.

The Lord of all creation had died. The consequence of sin, the just reward of sin, is death; but the Sinless One had died unjustly: thus, the law was broken.

History has come to know this day as Good Friday. His death was unremarkable: the Romans had crucified countless before, and would crucify countless after. That He died was remarkable, because He, unlike any before him, or any after, was free from the need for death. Having never sinned, the law of death did not bind him, but He died anyway. The Atoning sacrifice that had begun in a garden was nearly complete.
The spirits of His disciples were as broken as His body. I imagine their voices to be hollow as they asked the Romans to bring him down so that they could bury him. With the Sabbath approaching, the apostles, Mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene, had to act quickly to prepare the spiritless and lifeless body for burial. Joseph of Arimathea, one of the Sanhedrin itself, offered his tomb for the burial of the Christ.
The day ended with the burial of the King of Kings. Fearing His body would be stolen, the Romans ordered his tomb to be sealed, and guards to watch it.

The hopes of countless Jews died with the Carpenter from Nazareth.

One other died this day. The traitorous coward Judas Iscariot, knowing his own sin, used the 30 pieces of silver to buy a plot of ground, where he hung himself from a tree.

This was the darkest day in human history. A day where the Covenant People killed their own God.

The faith of many died with Him.

And if the story ended here, hope should have died too.

But it doesn’t end here. Tomorrow is the Sabbath for the Jews, and tomorrow we will learn what the Savior of Mankind did millenia ago on that Sabbath.

As we remember the cross, as we remember the Holy Death, let us know why He died: he died as a sacrificial Lamb, making atonement with the Father on our behalf. He is the Lamb of God. He is Savior of mankind. He is the Redeemer.

As we prepare for Easter, who’s very name forgets the Master of All, let us never forget. Let us ponder His sacrifices in the Garden and on Golgotha. Let us remember as we have broken the law, the law was broken by Him.

Remember. Remember.