WEEK 3: CANDLE OF JOY
2021 Union Church Advent Devotional
3rd Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021
THE INCARNATION & JOY
Read- Matthew 1:18-25
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1: 19-21
As a teenager, I always looked forward to the day that I could be grown up and no longer stuck with all the problems associated with peer pressure. I remember hating all the picking at each other, meanness, and social mess involved in being a teenager. But then I became an adult. And I realized that we adults deal with peer pressure too. We just changed the name of it. We don’t think about peer pressure. We think about our reputations. If I do this or that, what will the people at work, or in my neighborhood, or in my church think.
I’ve always been someone who decorated the house inside and out for Christmas. But I never really used to give Halloween much thought before moving to my current neighborhood. Where I live now actually has police block off the streets on Halloween. Each year we have hundreds of kids who trick or treat in our neighborhood. My first year here, literally the first conversation I had with a neighbor was him asking me as a pastor what I thought about Halloween and then him not so gently hinting that the street does Halloween pretty big and I better join the party. So my house decorates big. I wouldn’t want our reputation to suffer.
We read in Matthew 1 that Joseph was a righteous man. He didn’t want to shame Mary with her out of wedlock pregnancy. He also didn’t want people to think that he was responsible for that baby bump. Joseph wanted people to know that he was the kind of guy who did the right thing. He did not want a ruined reputation. By staying with Mary, there is no doubt that Joseph experienced whispers and side-eyed glances. I wonder if he even lost business as a carpenter. But if God had let Joseph off the hook, imagine all the joy Joseph would have missed. He would have missed raising a miracle in his midst.
Focusing on maintaining our reputation is a sure fire way to miss out on experiencing all the joy that we can in Christ. I love to imagine what the angels of heaven had to be thinking when they heard about God’s plan of sending his Son into the world. God wanted to become a man… like for real? He’s going to be a baby? The Almighty of earth and heaven was going to have to learn how to walk? He’s going to poop? Imagine the whispers and side-eyed glances from those angels. But because of the incarnation, we now follow a God who really knows what it is like to be human. A God who understands what it is like to grieve and to hurt, but also what it is like to laugh and dance. And through Christ’s death, death no longer holds a sting for those of us who believe. Thank goodness God didn’t care too much about his reputation. Let’s hope we don’t start caring too much about ours either.
Advent Prayer/ Candle of Joy
We invite you today and in the devotions this week to light 3 candles, including the Advent Candle of Joy.
Mighty God, we thank you this day for the gift of Jesus, who brings joy where there is sorrow, and happiness where there is despair, we thank you Lord for Christ’s great mission of joy, which we particularly remember at Christmas. Lord we offer up to you this day our desire to be filled with your joy. We lift to you now the places and people who we want your joy to especially resound. Help us share that joy with them through our words and deeds.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen
By Pastor James Holeman
December 13, 2021
THE NARROW WAY
"For here is great misery, proud man!
But there is greater mercy, a humble God!"
St. Augustine of Hippo
Is the narrow way by which we enter the Kingdom
Related to the narrow way by which Jesus entered our world?
How do we let this mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus?
Paul tells us what his mind was: "Who being in the form of God,
Did not think equality with God something to be held onto,
But emptied himself... being born in human likeness..."
How do we embrace this scandal and this mystery?
Is there something about the Incarnation, the birth of Christ among us,
Which can give us grace to walk in the same humility of heart?
Is there a glory which shines from the time when God became a Child
Which can transform us into the same image from glory to glory,
So that we could enter the Kingdom as little children?
I wonder if the way Jesus entered our world
Is the same way by which we enter his world?
Perhaps our children get it right after all
When they are drawn to the Christmas Story.
Who can describe the change in our hearts
When we see the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay?
Is there power in God's powerlessness,
In the humility of God, which can penetrate our pride,
Undo our pretensions, and open us up to his Spirit,
Which, like water, seeks the lowest place and flows there?
Be careful! - the power is in the sign, the way, the matter itself!
So heaven rejoices in God's downward mobility
And sings of peace on earth and glad tidings to all people.
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David,
A Savior, which is Christ the Lord!"
And this shall be the sign of God's humility:
"You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes
And lying in a manger.”
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 24
December 14, 2021
FACE TO FACE
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. 1 Corinthians 13 v 12
Read 1 Corinthians 13
After eighteen months in Corinth, Paul must have been very familiar with daily life there. The city—as we have seen—was famous for its metalwork. That included making metal mirrors.
It has sometimes been suggested that Paul is implying (by the words “now we see in a mirror dimly”) that ancient Corinthian mirrors were of poor quality. It seems more likely though that Paul is contrasting two different ways of seeing: “dimly” or indirectly (via a mirror) and clearly or directly (face to face). You see only indirectly in a mirror. You see a person’s reflection, not the person himself. Seeing “face to face” is a very different experience.
John tells us that “No one has ever seen God” (John 1 v 18). True, “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33 v 11). But we’re told later that Moses could not in fact see God’s face (v 20—no one could see God’s face and live). In this sense, Moses was certainly brought into the near presence of God; but the time had not yet come for mankind to see his face.
All that changed with the incarnation. It enabled what Moses could not experience. The new covenant provides what the old lacked, because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1 v 14). The Word was with God (that is, he was “face to face” with God, v 1) and “became flesh” with us. In the incarnation, the Son of God became visible in order to be face to face with us as well as face to face with his Father. John saw his glory “as of the only Son from the Father” (v 14). Paul also saw “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4 v 6).
We see him too—in the pages of the Bible. It is the Christian’s mirror. When we look into it, we see him reflected. Although we cannot see him directly, we find ourselves “beholding the glory of the Lord” (3 v 18). We “see” him with the eyes of faith and come to know him. But the Bible, the God-breathed word—no matter how wonderful it is, no matter how clear a picture of Jesus it reflects—is not Jesus himself. The Bible was not born for us, nor was it crucified for our sins; nor did it rise and ascend into heaven for our justification and glorification. Only Jesus did that. The Bible does make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3 v 15). It is absolutely reliable. But the reason we love reading its pages is because we see reflected in them the face of our Saviour. We must beware falling in love with our learning instead of our Lord.
One day we will have no need of the Bible. We will no longer need the mirror that is so essential to us here, for we will see him face to face. “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3 v 2).
I am reminded of a very vivid dream I had as a young Christian. In it I had died and gone to heaven! I was surprised to be greeted and welcomed by friends who were already there, although they were just a little older than I was. But as they crowded round to greet me, I saw myself (in the dream) pushing them away and heard myself saying, “Let me get to Jesus! I want to see Jesus!” I have always felt slightly guilty about the fact that I might have been caught pushing in heaven! But the words I heard myself speak have been a constant reminder to me of the heart and goal of the Christian life: “Let me get to Jesus. I want to see Jesus!”
At the Advent season—at least since the 12th century—Christians have reflected on the three-fold coming of the Lord Jesus: his first coming at Bethlehem to dwell among us in humility; his final coming at the end of time to dwell among us in glory; but also his coming again and again, in between these two moments—when he comes to dwell in the hearts of those who trust him as their Saviour and Lord (Ephesians 3 v 17).
Christ’s first advent is the guarantee of his final return. But through his coming to dwell in our hearts we experience the wonder of the love he expressed in his incarnation, and the assurance that we will be with him for ever when he returns. So there is something particularly appropriate for believers in Christmas Eve services so often beginning with Cecil Frances Alexander’s hymn, “Once in Royal David’s City”. It gives us an opportunity to sing of both the manger in the cattle shed and of Christ’s coming again in glory:
And our eyes at last shall see him,
Through his own redeeming love …
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see him but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high,
And he leads his children on
To the place where he is gone.
Today we see him dimly, in the mirror of God’s word. But then we will see him face to face—what a day that will be!
As a young man my late friend R.C. Sproul often helped to bring his sickly father to the dinner table. After his father’s death, he had a recurring dream in which he would meet his father again. But his father was unchanged, still sickly and weak. R.C. could not understand. The dream continued to puzzle and to haunt him. Then one night he dreamed that he was in heaven and once again met his father. But now he was well and strong and able to guide him around. After a while R.C. asked his father, “But Dad, where do we go in order to see the glory?” His father answered, “Son, we don’t need to go anywhere. The glory is everywhere.”
That much is true—not because R.C. dreamt it but because the Bible says it. In that world there is “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21 v 22-23) Can you imagine seeing the face that illumines all heaven with the brilliance of its glory?
The first advent is meant to make you long for the second advent. Our celebrations of joy this Christmas are only a kind of reverberating echo of the joy we will know in the future when at last we come face to face with Jesus.
The Bible is a mirror through which we see Jesus—what difference ought that make to the way that you approach God’s word? How will your celebrations this Christmas point you to the joy of seeing Jesus at his second coming?
Grant, O God, of your mercy,
that we may come to everlasting life,
and there beholding your glory as it is,
may equally say:
Glory to the Father who created us,
Glory to the Son who redeemed us,
Glory to the Holy Spirit who sanctified us.
Glory to the most high and undivided Trinity,
Whose works are inseparable,
Whose kingdom without end abides,
From age to age, for ever. Amen.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. . Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (pp. 134-136).
December 15, 2021
I WILL JOIN MYSELF TO THEM
I will join myself to them
In the blinking wandering eyes of the unknowing infant,
Whose tiny little fingers curl up into little fists,
With paper thin finger nails that catch and tear
When they are caught in the threads of the blanket.
I will join myself to the faces of those
who rest by the way and sit in the sun
so bright that they must shut their eyes,
their vision filled with the blind crimson glow,
their faces warmed and weathered.
I will join myself to those who are so weary
they cannot take another step,
so burdened that their stomachs churn with dread.
I will join myself to those who dance and sing at weddings,
rejoicing with those who share out of their need
a feast for friends and loved ones.
I will join myself to the unanswerable questions,
the times of doubt and hurt,
the times of feeling alone and lost.
I will join myself forever to those who are born
And who grow and learn to live
And love and die.
I will join my nature to theirs in such a permanent way
that the union will never come undone.
Even death will only make my union with them stronger
and my rising from the dead in their flesh
that I have made my own,
will only temper the link
that I have forged with them forever.
I will join myself to them
by becoming one of them forever.
The chains of my Incarnation will be so strong
that they shall stand the strain of pulling
all my sons and daughters into life.
I will join myself to them in such a way
that Deity and Humanity
will be forever wound together within me —
inseparable in who I am as a Person.
I will join myself to them in such an intimate way
that I will save them from their sins,
their tragic waywardness,
their congenital corruption.
I will join myself to their stupid senseless choices,
their tragic failures,
their heartlessness to one another,
their greed and wickedness,
their folly for which eternity could not contain enough regret.
I will join myself to them in these things
with such a strong grip
that I will be able to pull them down with me into my death
and all will die
and all their sins I will cast down into the depths of death
I will join myself to them
retaining such a grip on them as persons
that I will be able to retrieve them out of death,
yet leave their sin in the grave
I will join myself to them
and with my resurrection,
pull them into my everlasting love and life.
I will join myself to them forever;
I will join myself to them in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will join myself to them in faithfulness,
and they will know me, the LORD.
I will join myself to them in such a way
that they will call me Jesus,
for I shall save them from their sins.
I will join myself to them
and they will call me, “Emmanuel,
God with us.”
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, 33
December 16, 2021
Read Luke 1:26-37, 46-56
THE STORY OF THE INCARNATION BEGINS WITH pregnancy as Mary becomes a vessel for the Holy Spirit, a partner in the creation of new life.
Pregnancy creates a whole series of physical and emotional changes in a mother-to-be. Some women thrive, while others suffer all kinds of complications. It’s a universal condition with permutations that make each experience unique. And though it is one of the most personal human experiences, it is not a private one. Pregnant women are a visible sign of new life. People respond to pregnancy. They offer home remedies for morning sickness, share their labor stories. They speculate about the gender of the coming child. They even sometimes ask to touch the belly of the pregnant woman, hoping to feel a kick from the developing child. This is probably not fun all the time. Doubtless, pregnant women sometimes feel their partnership in new life is a vastly unequal one, and they wish they could get a day off.
Living a life of faith is, in a sense, being pregnant, agreeing to be a vessel for the Spirit, a partner in the creation of new life. Our spiritual pregnancy might cause us to glow with well-being, but it will also cause us to suffer as we come to grips with the things our faith asks of us that are hard, messy, and even risky. And it can be uncomfortably public. It will not be fun all the time. And at times we will feel that we are doing all the heavy lifting and wish we could just take a day off.
Over time our partnership in faith will start to bear fruit. Something will be born from our pregnant faith, and it will grow in ways we could never have imagined. Just like a baby, it may not emerge looking all that beautiful, but it is precious in the eyes of its Creator. And as it grows, certain features will emerge; certain traits that may surprise us, delight us, confound us, as we try to understand what we have created, nurtured, discovered. We will feel new parts of our faith emerge, learn that we are capable of forgiveness and trust in ways we didn’t dream were possible. We will see the world differently considering the love we have experienced. And we will want to offer tangible expressions of that love.
It’s not clear to me how much choice Mary had in her role as the mother of Jesus, but the Magnificat suggests that once she understood some of what it meant, she assented with her whole heart to God’s audacious plan. It’s not always clear to me how free will works and what it means to be called by God before our conscious awareness. The prophets suffered under the burden of election to their task. Jeremiah, in one terrible moment of doubt, likens it to an assault. And yet seeing what redemption might arise from the work he is called to do, Jeremiah assents to God’s relentless call (Jer. 20).
Our work of partnership with God may never bring about words as divine as the Magnificat or as prodigious as Jeremiah’s. We may not even know in our lifetime what our greatest work was, how far its reverberations were felt. As we are stretched and filled and emptied by the power of the Spirit, our call is to be faithful to the particular arc manifest in the pregnancy of our belief, to hope and pray that we have the courage to face its demands and a heart strong enough to bear the love we carry.
Is there a favorite song or hymn that you would sing to God as an assent to the task God has chosen you for? Find a time today to sing it, either silently or aloud.
Let my soul magnify you, Lord, and rejoice in you. Bring about in me the promise of new life.
Tidwell, Melissa. Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation (pp. 55-57).
December 17, 2021
GOD DANCES AMID THE COMMON
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out
in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
There is one word that describes the night he came — ordinary.
The sky was ordinary. An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air. The stars were diamonds
sparkling on black velvet. Fleets of clouds floated in front of the moon.
It was a beautiful night—a night worth peeking out your bedroom window to admire—but not really an
unusual one. Nothing to keep a person awake. An ordinary night with an ordinary sky.
The sheep were ordinary. Some fat. Some scrawny. Some with barrel bellies. Some with twig legs. Common animals. No fleece made of gold. No blue-ribbon winners. They were simply sheep—lumpy, sleeping
silhouettes on a hillside.
And the shepherds. Peasants they were. Probably wearing all the clothes they owned. Smelling like sheep and looking just as woolly They were conscientious, willing to spend the night with their flocks. But you won't find their staffs in a museum or their writings in a library No one asked their opinion on social justice or the application of the Torah. They were nameless and simple.
An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for a God who loves to hook an “extra" on the front of the ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed. The sheep and shepherds would have been forgotten.
But God dances amid the common. And that night he did a waltz.
The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherd was dead asleep; the next he was rubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien.
The night was ordinary no more.
The announcement went first to the shepherds. They didn't ask God if he was sure he knew what he was
doing. Had the angel gone to theologians, they would have first consulted their commentaries. Had he gone to the elite, they would have looked around to see if anyone was watching. Had he gone to the successful, they would have first looked to their calendars.
So the angels went to the shepherds. Men who didn't have a reputation to protect or an ax to grind or a ladder to climb. Men who didn't know enough to tell God that angels don't sing to sheep and that messiahs aren't found sleeping in a feed trough.
The angels came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason.
His most powerful tools are the simplest.
0 Lord, I rejoice that you are the uncommon God who comes to ordinary people like me. As the shepherds did, I simply welcome you to transform my life into the extraordinary by your grace and love. Come and dance with me. In Jesus' name, amen.
The Applause of Heaven/Max Lucado ((Nashville: Word, 1990; chapter 11
December 18, 2021