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Posts Tagged ‘advent’

We approach Christmas with good intentions. We quote the prophets. We place angels and shepherds and wise men carefully in the nativity scene. Yet, we wonder, would we have believed a story about a carpenter and a virgin and a baby born from God? Would we have believed he was born in Bethlehem in order to affirm his connection with King David? It is likely that many saw the star but did not follow. It is likely that people heard the shepherd’s story but did not believe them. The scholars in Herod ‘s palace knew exactly where to find the child but did not make the attempt.

Still, we approach Christmas as if we would have believed from the start. As if we would have stood with the prophet against the king. As if we would have joined the angelic choir in song. As if we would have run to Bethlehem with the shepherds. As if we would have worshipped with the wise men. We would have been there, the shepherds and wise men and us. Yeah right.

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Wise Men from the East came asking for the king of the Jews. They followed the star. They gave elaborate gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They worshipped the child king.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about. We light the second candle and celebrate the good news of great joy the angels spoke of. We light the third candle and are thankful Christmas comes for ordinary people.

Today we light the fourth candle and are reminded that God welcomes unexpected visitors at Christmas.

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God sent angels to announce the Good News of great joy. News about a Savior to be born. News that caused heaven and earth to join together in celebration.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about.

Today, we light the second candle of Advent and celebrate this Good News shared by angels, Good News of glory in heaven and peace on earth.

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A Reading for Advent

The world was a dark place. God’s people had been lost in wilderness and in exile. And the people were unfaithful.

So the Lord planned for a messenger, a prophet to prepare the way. To prepare the way for the Lord to come.

We light this first candle of Advent and remember the message of hope that the prophets talked about. The hope that one would bring light into a dark place. The hope that we could be saved from our unfaithfulness.

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I bet Isaiah 7.14 sounds like Christmas to you. At least it does to me. I can almost hear carols in the background while reading it. It makes me feel like I am opening a Christmas card. I feel a twinge of excitement. I think I can smell Christmas while listening to it. And then, after Isaiah sings it, Matthew sings it again – a remix.

But unlike Matthew, Isaiah was not thinking about Christmas. He was thinking about politics. He was thinking about a clash between prophet and king. He was thinking about how different the world of faith is from the world of fear.

During this time the world power was Assyria. They made the rules and made sure the rules were followed.  The neighbor kings are tired of this and try to get King Ahaz and Judah to join forces to overthrow Assyria. Isaiah goes to the king with a message and a sign. But the king knows how the world works. He knows where the power is. He ignores the request of the neighbors and tries to snuggle up with Assyria. His worst decision, he ignored the message of the prophet. He refused the sign.

The sign that Ahaz ignored becomes important. A woman will be with child. She will have a son. His name shall be Immanuel. Immanuel means literally “God is with us.” A significant part of the sign for Isaiah is timing. Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong the lands of the kings will be forsaken. It seems the child will be living without fear, enjoying meals of curds and honey. In other words, the original sign is to alert the king that God truly is with his people. When this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused “God with us.”

Centuries later Matthew repeats the sign of the prophet and paints for us a picture. There is a woman with child. She will have a son. He shall be called Immanuel. Immanuel literally means “God is with us.” We are more familiar with this story. We know something about this child. We might feel a twinge of excitement. The sign is of great importance. When this sign occurs, when this child is born, when this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. This child is the visible physical evidence that God is with us.

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Luke is a careful investigator. He passes along details learned from eyewitnesses and is a student of history. This is important enough that it is the first thing he tells us in his gospel. He wants us to know that what follows is set in history.

That may be why he goes on to tell us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree and that Quirinius was governor and that a census was taking place. But Luke also wants us to be aware that other things were happening also. Luke wants us to know that the plan of God is in full effect. A new kingdom is on the horizon. The existing powers may continue to act as if they possess some ultimate authority. So Caesar decrees, Quirinius governs, Mary and Joseph try to follow the laws of the land.

Meanwhile a new king is near and with him a new kingdom. Perhaps in effort to emphasize this Luke points out that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem the town of David (home of Israel’s greatest king) and that Joseph was related to David (Israel’s greatest king). Perhaps that is why he records the angel’s announcement that the child is born in the town of David. Is Luke hinting that here lies Israel’s next king? Has kingdom come in a manger?

We sometimes read Luke 2 as instructions to set up our nativity scene. Luke wants us to know that something else is going on. God has invaded history. We sometimes try to spiritualize the work of God as if He only works in some spiritual arena. Luke wants us to know that God invades our real time history. God invades time while Caesar is decreeing, while wanna-be-Caesars debate on network television, while planning menus, while Quirinius governs, while balancing the checkbook, while shepherds watch their flocks, while worrying about fuel prices, while a census is taken, while unexpected weather occurs, while looking for room at the inn. Christmas is the message of kingdom come in a manger.

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There is a whole list of songs we associate with this time of year. I am surprised some of these lyrics are allowed to be sung in public. We sing “Glory to the newborn King.” “Let earth receive her King.” “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King.” We recognize these as songs of Christmas and cannot overlook how they insist that a King is born. When we sing the songs of Christmas we are singing about a change in the political landscape. We are singing about Kingdom Come. We are offering tribute to the rightful King.

It should not surprise us to find Mary singing such a world changing song in Luke 1. Mary’s song does not come out of nowhere. It is a response to the activity of God. She learns of God’s activity in two prior conversations. First, Mary speaks with an angel, Gabriel. This is one of the better known conversations of Advent. Actually, this is the best known conversation in Advent. Simply, it goes like this;

Gabriel – “Greetings… you will bear a son… He will be great and will become King… He will reign forever and His Kingdom will have no end.”

Mary – “Impossible.”

Gabriel – “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

In the second conversation Mary speaks with a barren, elderly woman and we are again reminded “Nothing will be impossible with God.” No wonder Mary sings.

She never would have thought that she, a humble bondslave, would give birth to a King. Her song talks about a Kingdom where the proud will be scattered and rulers will be brought down from their thrones and humble will be exalted and hungry will be filled and rich will be empty handed. It should not be lost on us that Luke goes on to add that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, perhaps because he thought himself king, just prior to the birth of Mary’s child King. We might read these chapters and listen to these songs and say “Impossible.” And Luke might reply that this is exactly the territory where God likes to work.

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