The Festivities of Advent

 As the Advent season approached this year, I found myself wondering, for the first time, what preparations on the heaven side of things may have looked like that first Advent. My fertile imagination pictured angel-feathers flying everywhere

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

christiann-koepke-YiMRF2kO4Aw-unsplash.jpg     God clearly loves feasts and the celebrations surrounding them and has built similar delight into the hearts of us humans. No other creature has behavior that compares to the uniquely human practice of festive celebration. God’s instructions to Moses for His ancient people, Israel, organized their year around major feasts. They also had smaller ones regularly attending other aspects of their daily life, such as the Sabbath. So, it’s not surprising that Jesus often taught of the advancing entry of the Kingdom of God in terms of preparation for a great feast.

     As the Advent season approached this year, I found myself wondering, for the first time, what preparations on the heaven side of things may have looked like that first Advent. My fertile imagination pictured angel-feathers flying everywhere, as the heavenly messengers delivered missives, via dreams and annunciations to the relevant characters of the Christmas story, seeing to the fulfillment of prophecies and keeping demon spirits at bay. Was there a send-off feast? I know I run the risk of venturing into anthropomorphism—bringing God down to human form—yet the circumstance invites the imagination to take wing.  It tempts us to wonder what the feast in heaven may have looked like, if there was one? I believe Jesus gave us a hint, in the parable, from today’s Scripture. 

     Here, in Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus draws on the practices of these ancient cultures familiar to His hearers, but with a twist that would delight the ‘poor in spirit’ of His audience and anger the proud and self-righteous of the religious elite. It would have been clear to the crowd who the bad actors in the parable represented and who the humble folk, dragged in from the highways and byways, needing to be issued appropriate clothing.

     But lest we mistakenly assume that Jesus was playing into ‘classism’— elevating the ‘poor in pocket’ over the wealthy, His parable makes clear that no one in attendance at the feast of His coming Kingdom will do so on his or her own merit. We must all come as the ‘poor in spirit’—the same fury which the King displayed against the initial guests, who esteemed their own business above the King’s, and killed His messengers, is also dished out to the latter guests of humble means, who declined the covering provided in Grace. The response of the King, representative of the Heavenly Father, is completely understandable when you consider that Jesus’ parable is of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at His Second Advent, and the covering graciously provided, nothing less than the priceless blood of the Son of God Himself!

Prayer:

“Thank You, gracious King and Lord, for Your amazing invitation to feast in Your glorious Kingdom. As we approach the celebration of Your incarnation, may we all make ourselves ready, robed in Your righteousness alone.”

Possessing Our Souls in Patience at Advent

Scripture Reading: Luke 21:5-19

    Believers in Jesus Christ have had several centuries to touch, taste and handle the glorious reality and ultimate Truth of Jesus’ first Advent; but not so much His Second. In fact, the proclamation of His imminent return has fallen on hard times as church’s shy away from a focus on what has been known throughout the ages as “The Believers’ Glorious Hope”.

nativity2.jpg

     I love the Christmas cards and nativity scenery artistically portraying the shining face of the Christ-Child in the manger, and that light reflecting from those gathered around the Holy family to adore Him. Yet, the historical facts and events, soon to follow that scene, record a brutal, ugly, God-hating world, in the not so distant backdrop. Yet those who gazed and received His Light were forever transformed; going out from that space, proclaimed, preserved and stewarded the Best News the World has ever received and ever will.

   Jesus, in Luke 21:5-19, sought to prepare His followers for the unpleasant circumstances that would also attend His second advent—the destruction of Jerusalem, wars at home and abroad, worldwide cataclysmic events, chaos and disruptions in society and the created order, cosmic phenomena and, in it all, persecution of believers in Him. His admonition to them in verse 19 is to ‘possess their souls in patience’, promising that they would be imbued with supernaturally supplied responses and powerful testimonies of Him for their persecutors and captors and that not a hair on their heads would be lost.

    In this ‘now and not yet’ prophetic passage we, today, can testify that the disciples, just like the faithful shepherds and the holy family, did ‘possess their souls in patience’, in their time. The light of the Glory of God in the Face of Christ had burst forth from a Middle-Eastern tomb, and they had beheld His Glory, even of the only begotten of the Eternal Father! They waited in prayer and worship till the Spirit fell and filled them, then they faithfully delivered the Gospel to successive generations, sustained even up until our day.

How will we do in our time?

Prayer:
“Father, as our quaking world holds the prospect of Christ’s second Advent in derision, help us choose to ‘look up’ in joyful anticipation of His appearing, as Jesus told us to while working the works of Him who sent us while it is still day; knowing that He who promised us supernatural testimony of You, by His Spirit, will also supply the joyful vision to sustain and enable us to ‘possess our souls in patience’ till that Day of days.”

Preparing for Redemptive Merry-Making with a Jamaican Christmas Tradition

The juxtaposition of Christ’s imperfect earthly family tree with the memory of our Jamaican merry-making tradition, (of preparing for and baking Christmas cakes), provides a segue to rejoice in the redemption of our imperfect lineage, when it is sorted and sifted by the Savior’s hands on our own, in redemptive merry-making.

     I was truly surprised by joy when I gave in and read Matthew’s entire list of names in Jesus’ genealogy through his earthly adoptive father, Joseph. Ken Gire’s writing the Scripture at the top of the first reading in his devotional, Moments with The Savior, subtly compelled me. His insightful commentary, describing the earthly genealogy of Jesus as,

“…a lineage of grace, a testimony to the reach of (God’s) love throughout the generations.”

Lineage of Jesus1

deftly guided me to fuller appreciation of the importance of never discounting even one word of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. The motley mix that is here laid out for all to see, brought an unexpected sense of relief—a reminder that God means what He says—He is not only willing, but able to redeem all things, causing them to work together for the good of the one who simply admits the desperate need and looks to Him who is Redeemer.

     In Gire’s sifting and sorting through the motley inclusions on Jesus’ family tree, I saw, in stark portrayal against the backdrop of humanity walking in darkness, the bright promise of Christ, emerging from a hopeless mess, to manifest as the sweet promise the Christmas season represents in eternal terms—Mankind’s full redemption.  The glee that surprised me was reminiscent of that which would peep out at us children from market and grocery bags, when the Trade Winds we called ‘Christmas breeze’ would start to blow across the hills and plains of our island home, and the traditional Jamaican household begins to move towards preparing for it. The items in the bags promised a sweet and wonderful treat that would soon be ours, along with all the fellowshipping, joyful family gathering and community merry-making that it would foster—the making and sharing of the Jamaican Christmas cake tradition!

christmas cake3.jpg    On my kitchen counter sits two large bags of organic raisins, and an equally large bag of prunes, waiting to recreate that memory, in another land, in hope nevertheless, of sealing a prophetic moment for our family this Thanksgiving, as we try to handle family history redemptively. By the end of October, the traditional Jamaican mother-householder has put her fruit to soak— that is, she has seeded and cut up prunes, washed and dried raisins and currants and put batches of them to soak in jars with a mixture of Jamaican overproof rum and Red Label port wine. This is all a precursor to the later grand baking of the cakes, for family festive dining, as well as for entertaining those expected to visit or just stop by throughout the holiday season. This delectable culinary treasure, no doubt, entered the Jamaican culture via the British of our slave- colonial past, the appearance and ingredients being similar to the British plum pudding.

   I am grateful that my mother held to this tradition, though hers was a modest deal: a couple cakes for the immediate family, one for her parents, who lived a few miles away, and one for the visitors likely to sporadically pop in. For my Aunty P, however, who lived on the other side of our extended-family-dwelling, with my paternal grandparents during my growing up years, this was a major happening, almost a community event in scope—complete with laughter, conversation, the sounds of the wooden spoon pounding on the side of the large mixing bowls and the constant whirring of the hand mixer as one of us helped whip the eggs. It was an act of merry-making in itself, this making of cakes that would be given to friends, folks and family and often even shipped to them many miles away, overseas.

christmas cake2     The batches of fruit were substantial and the heavy bowls of batter, comprising pounds of butter, sugar, and flour, which would soon receive the dozens of whipped eggs, seemed massive to my young eyes. To an outsider happening upon the scene, after the fruit mixture, mixed spices, vanilla, brown food coloring, and more wine were finally added, it would probably seem just a gargantuan tub of mud-colored sludge, until …Until!!!! poured into a myriad of lined pans and baked at just the right temperature they became that unimaginably fragrant batch of wonderful Jamaican Christmas cakes that filled the house with the heady festive aroma, sizzling tantalizingly, as more wine and rum are drizzled on.  Other than preparing to sing in the school choir for the glorious carol service at the Parish church, the Sunday School Christmas Program of our neighborhood church and the family Christmas dinner, these sights, sounds, and smells are still my strongest association with Christmas merry-making and sharing!

     As October closed this year, my mind began, perhaps instinctively, to reach out for the Christmas theme that would best connect our family’s holiday gatherings this year with things joyful and eternal, beginning with Thanksgiving— what would be at the heart of our merry-making? And God’s Holy Spirit was faithful to supply it again. In seeking to build our young cross-cultural family, we early realized we had to be intentional in seasons that invoke family of origin memories and traditions, for even sweet memories can come laced with the poison of sad, bad and mad relics—ghosts of human relationships and seasons of generations past or more recent—memories we wish we could erase from the line. But God did not so exemplify. Gire, in describing some of the branches included in Messiah’s family tree, employed words such as, “bent, broken, blighted, twisted and uncultivated”. What a relief that when God came to save us, He knew what He was getting into and did not balk; He is not fazed by broken imperfect storylines. In fact, that’s why He came.

     So, like David, we try to run in faith towards those looming specters, instead of cowering each holiday season, awaiting their dread effect, meeting them head-on—seeking to acknowledge and discern God’s redemptive work through them all. Our hands-on His great ones, sifting and sorting family and cultural traditions, tracing our prophetic history, looking to see, like our Jewish friends still do in their Seder observances—including the bitter herbs alongside the sweet Charoset, facing the bitter past without rancour, accepting it as the dark thread that will make the good times shine even more brightly, when God breaks through. In this way we demonstrate our trust in the Sovereign hand of a good God who is at work, not only on the grand scale, but also in the low estate of our family lineage, weaving away at His grand “Poeima”, healing, restoring, bringing all things together under Him who is the Head.

     Thus, the simple tradition of putting the Christmas cake fruit to soak before Thanksgiving creates anticipation and makes tangible now the full reason for merry-making then, when we celebrate at Christmas that the Savior came! unveiling God’s love and setting His salvation plan in motion. Yes, merry-making, and all manner of effort to that end, is eminently warranted! Purposefully anticipating ensures that when the last morsel and tinsel of the merry-making season is finally savored and supped away, like the last drops from a sweet cup, then what’s left behind is deep satisfaction and also a well-developed palate and appetite for more. It is like the longing after the final crumb of Christmas cake is eaten, which grows on you and leaves you wanting more but willing to wait another year for the Season with the Reason. I wonder if Aunty P knew the extent to which she was cultivating merry-making at its best—an appreciation for everything in its time, for the glory of Him who weaves all our broken stories into His glorious One.

 

Lights are for Shining!

     As my eyes glanced over the Christmas curios on the shelf in Hobby Lobby, I reminded myself, “Only stuff of the true Christmas”.  It has become my safeguard against the wanton spending I am tempted to engage in at this time of year.

1200px-Christmas-2874137_1920     I rehearsed under my breath as I browsed: “The nativity scene—Mary, Joseph, the Christ-child, angels, shepherds, animals; bells to proclaim His birth ; silver and gold for The King; evergreen for the eternal life His incarnation would provide; red—poinsettias, bows and ribbons—for the blood He would shed; ribbons—His cords of loving-kindness reaching out through the Gospel to draw us to Himself in saving grace… out of darkness into light…always light… Oh! Stars!” Continue reading “Lights are for Shining!”

“Down From His Glory” – Condescension

     I remember the crazy rocking of the plastic flowers on top of the little pump organ in response to Aunty Patsy’s efforts.  She coaxed the Christmas carol through its ancient fittings, pressing the pedals below with exuberance. Continue reading ““Down From His Glory” – Condescension”

A New Generation of Women’s Magazine

So, today I received my copy of the Premiere edition of The Joyful Life Magazine! It is beautiful! Over the course of this year, I have had the privilege of watching this project come together. In the process, founder/ editor Sandi Sutton and her team have created a virtual community on Facebook and started a blog to which I am also privileged to be a contributing writer/ affiliate. They threw out the welcome carpet to the female Christian writers and creatives community and, by lots of sweat and hard work, produced a gorgeous coffee table, quarterly holiday edition, titled ‘Abide’.

It is laden with substantial articles, grappling honestly with real down to earth circumstances, yet has a trendy feel and other scrumptious content to which women in any season of life would be drawn. But meaningful content was not attained at the cost of aesthetic flair; this magazine is positively beautiful. It is a restful experience to simply leaf through its satiny pages.

But don’t take my word for it. Click here to learn about The Joyful Life Magazine and to subscribe for your copy of the ‘Abide’ edition. Happy Thanksgiving and have a wonderful Advent season!

FIRST SIGHTING

It was one of those moments in Bible reading —the words of John 10:22 arrested my attention and I could not move past them. In fact, I did not want to. The words had unveiled Jesus to me so poignantly I did not want to let go —

“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.”

The picture of the Lord, draped, perhaps, in a lambskin throw, (it was Winter!) walking among the columns of Solomon’s Colonnade, with the light of the great oil lamps flickering, casting warm shadows about the Lord of glory, drew a blanket of comfort over my heart for the approaching Advent season that would not quit.

I found it impossible to press past these verses in my reading through John. So I turned to the Old Testament passage, which I had also recently commenced, and realized that there I was being similarly arrested; I saw a heart-wrenching parallel,

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”  – Genesis 3:8 NKJV

trees-columns1-croppedBoth passages record eternally significant moments — in the Old Testament, God, searching out Adam and Eve in pursuit of fellowship with Mankind’s heart, among the trees of Eden, in the cool of that dreadful day. Death had descended in the wake of their rebellion and its dark chill had made them flee to shadows and grasp at anything, in their futile effort to cover themselves.

Then in the New Testament: God, the long-expected Jesus, Redeemer, walking in Holy reflection among the columns of Jerusalem’s temple in the Winter, at the Feast of Dedication, as He prepared Himself to be given, to restore Mankind’s fellowship with the Father.

There, through the Apostle John’s recounting, we find the Jewish leaders breaking Jesus’ holy reverie, hounding Him to prove His Messiahship.  Jesus had engaged them earlier in discourse, figuratively outlining the fact of their own spiritual blindness, in shepherd-sheep illustrations, as they had plied their upset with him for His Sabbath healing of a man born blind.  Here, He patiently reinvokes that illustration, emphasizing that their blindness was due to their not being His sheep since only His sheep listen to His voice.

Temple hannakah Menorah1Did the light of the Hanukkah oil lamps, flickering around them in that moment romp in the tufts of the lambskin throw that may have draped the shoulders of the Lamb of God? Did earthly light struggle vainly to compete with the Light of the world Himself? If it did, the Jewish leaders missed it, for their response was to look for stones to slay Him before the appointed time—

My heart throbbed with fresh understanding of the heart of the composer of the Negro Spiritual,

“Di worl‘ treat You mean Lawd,

Treat me mean too,

But dat’s ‘ow t’ings is down ‘ere

WE DID’N KNOW WHO YOU WAS”

Just as the Heavenly Father walked the natural colonnade of Eden seeking His frightened children, so God, in Christ, seeks us in every season and is perhaps nearest, walking among the inner spaces of our hearts, where we hide, especially in our Winter seasons. Did the faithful praying for a way out of dark circumstances sense a lightening of their darkness that day? Did the tossed and torn sense a holy hush as He brushed by? Did hungry hearts feel satisfaction settling unexplainably on them as the Lord of Life hovered over them?

Whether it was a Hannah, or a David or any of the multitudes of Israel’s lost and scattered sheep, from past centuries to ours, the Great Shepherd is found walking among the weak and broken in the courts of prayer, in hearts of brokenness — quickening barren wombs, forgiving repentant sinners, comforting the grieving and gathering the wandering flock into His Fold.

In Divine self-revelation, He is offering to open our eyes to God’s new day, ever breaking upon the night of Man. He is staking His claim of Lordship over every circumstance that could ever face us.

That Great Shepherd of the sheep is wordlessly calling out to His own. The Great Creator God strolls, available wherever we are willing to admit our blindness.  He is willing to not only cover our sin but to wash us clean in His own sacrificial flow, and sweep us up into His greater plan.

trees-columns2-cropHe has come to reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This Advent may we allow our brokenness to push us from the shadows to encounter the One who has come Himself, calling our name, lighting the way, this Winter.

“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.”  – John 10:22

This Advent, see Him in the temple.  Amen.