What Does Advent Mean and Why Do We Celebrate?

What Does Advent Mean and Why Do We Celebrate?

When I was growing up, my Church did not observe the season of Advent in a formal way. It is not in the scriptures but neither is Christmas as we celebrate today. The tradition of focusing on a season of prayer, scripture readings and lighting candles throughout the month of December goes back to the 4th century. The word “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming” and symbolizes the waiting for Christ’s birth but also His final return as was prophesied.

Isaiah 9:6–7 (ESV)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

There are many different traditions around the world but the wreath as we commonly use today first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission fashioned a wheel with twenty small red candles and four large white ones to teach the children the importance of waiting for Christmas. One red candle was lit each morning and a large white candle on Sunday. Today our wreath usually involves four candes around an evergreen wreath and many add a fifth candle in the middle which is lit on Christmas day.

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival. The purple color symbolizes royalty, repentance, and fasting. 
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David. The second candle is also purple to symbolism preparation for the coming king.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy. This candle is colored pink to represent joyfulness and rejoicing.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again. This color is also purple to represent the culmination of love through the Messiah.
  • The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. This candle is white to represent pure light and victory. Copied from Crosswalk.com

The green wreath (and tree) symbolizes eternity, life and hope. A ring shape is used to remember Jesus is the King of kings and would one day wear a crown of thorns for us. In this darker season (in the northern hemisphere) the candles and lights represent Christs’ coming to bring light and love into a dark and cold world. We are to be like lights to show others the only way to peace of heart and mind.

Another popular tool to help children count the days until Chrismas is an Advent calendar which was first printed in 1908. There are many creative versions and I have seen some very elaborate heirloom quality wooden boxes with a small drawer for each day.

I believe we should focus our attention on the reason for the season to keep our hearts centered on what is important. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in all the commercial trappings and lost in busyness. There are many tools we can use to enhance our observance from devotionals to ideas on Pinterest. But first we must purposely choose to keep Christ in Christmas in our hearts and in your homes.

What Haunts Your Thoughts?

What Haunts Your Thoughts?

There is much in this world to worry about; crime, the economy, health issues, natural disasters, war and everyday relationships can weigh heavy on our minds. We all could rest easier if the media didn’t constantly remind us that there is trouble everywhere. What haunts your thoughts throughout the day and maybe even keeps you awake at night?

The body has a wonderfully complex nervous system to help regulate voluntary and involuntary actions, as well as thinking, communicating and memory. Without getting into too many more medical details, the sympathetic system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response we have all heard of. It helps us quickly use our energy in an emergency situation.

Most of the time this system all works very well. However, that fight or flight response can be triggered by small everyday stresses that can cause the body to release too much cortisol or stress hormone. This makes your heart beat faster and blood pressure rise which is good in certain situations but too much cortisol over time can cause all kinds of health issues. Aha! The key is to manage our thoughts and stressors.

Worry is stressing about a situation that may or may not occur and it’s always in the negative sense. – Rob Liano

Worry is worthless. It cannot change th past or predict the future. It only spoils the moment. – Darren Patrick

God’s word has a lot to say about fighting the giants of worry,fear and anxiety . The phrase “do not fear” is used 365 times in scripture. He has also provided tools to use against the things that haunt us.

Ephesians 6:13–18 (CSB)
13For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. 14Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, 15and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. 16In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God. 18Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

Focus on truth , remember past provision and blessings you already enjoy. God has unconditional love for us and He promises to provide for our needs and to never leave us. Hold up the shield of faith to fight the fear that invades your mind and destroys peace. Pray for the strength to face the facts and discernment to deal with them wisely. Replace the negative chatter that invades your thoughts with words of affirmation.

WORRY ENDS WHERE FAITH BEGINS by the Blythe Family

1.You’re worried about tomorrow and what the future holds Your mind is filled with questions as you face the unknown You’ve spent so many sleepless nights trying to work it out Worry has consumed your faith with all its fear and doubt

Chorus: Worry ends where faith begins When you put it in God’s hands and leave it there…Oh just leave it there He’s still in control so trust in Him and take a hold of faith again For worry ends where faith begins

2. Why should we ever worry why should we fret at all When worry only hinders the mighty hand of God He said it is impossible to please him without faith So lay aside your worry walk on in Jesus name

When Life Doesn’t Seem Fair

When Life Doesn’t Seem Fair

Often when I hear news of someone’s else’s misfortune or I am going through a difficult time myself I think, ” life just isn’t fair”. When my kids were growing up sometimes they thought we parents weren’t being fair. But God never promised life would be. Does that surprise you? Jesus told His disciples that there would be trouble in the world. Reading the scriptures gives us a different perspective. I am using a different version of the bible in my blog today because we can discover deeper meaning by using different translations.

Psalm 37: 1–9 (Christian Standard Bible) A Psalm Of David.

1Do not be agitated by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong. – The ESV version uses the word fret. The verb fret means to be constantly or visibly worried or anxious. Why should we not fret? 2For they wither quickly like grass and wilt like tender green plants. – it’s only temporary. Some of the synonyms for fret are agonize, mope, make a fuss, grumble and eat your heart out. It sounds like fretting would make us miserable and those around us also.

3Trust in the Lord and do what is good – we have a choice to do what is good and not grumble or try to get even. ;dwell in the land and live securely. – The ESV tells us to befriend faithfulness but my NIV uses the phrase “cultivate faithfulness” in place of live securely. Did you ever think about cultivating faithfulness? The word cultivate is a gardening term but also means to acquire or develop a quality, sentiment, or skill.

4Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. – This verse does not contain a promise to give us everything we want because you are such a good Christian. Psalm 119 exhorts us to delight in God’s word and Jesus told us to pray according to the Father’s will. When our desires are aligned with his He does bless abundantly.

5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act, To commit to something or someone is to pledge or bind – devote, apply or dedicate. When we do this, we let God be God and trust Him take care of the problem. That trust will take a weight off of our mind by replacing it with peace.

6making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday. Do you remember the old song “This Little Light of Mine”? The light of Jesus in our lives is hidden when we are agitated and worried.

7Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for him; I have a hard time being silent and still. To be honest, sometimes I like to explain to God how He should fix problems. do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way, by the person who carries out evil plans. I remember my mother saying, “you are only responsible for your own actions. God will take care of the rest.” I should be silent more often.

8Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated—it can only bring harm. How did anger end up here when we are talking about worry? Often in the medical arena an agitated person (for whatever reason) necessitates de-escalation techniques before violence occurs. When we allow worry to control us we can end up in the trap of entitlement and feeling like a victim. Our negative feelings and thoughts can get out of hand if we do not give them over to God.

9For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who put their hope in the Lord will inherit the land. Our hope is not here on this planet. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and an eternity with Him.

Please read the rest of this Psalm on your own remembering that …v.24 The Lord is the One who holds your hand and choose wisdom over worry.

When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

Once again our Nation is glued to the media as another horrific and incomprehensible murder of innocent children has occurred. The news reporters and politicians offer their “thought and prayers ” as a way of expressing their sorrow but it doesn’t comfort the grieving families. Our good thoughts or wishes might make us feel better but prayer has no power if it isn’t directed toward the Sovereign God of the universe who hears and sees all. I viewed quite a few memes that stated “thought and prayers” are not enough.

The Jeremiah prophesied, “Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” He depicts the wailing at the time of Israel’s exile to Babylon and it is quoted in Matthew 2:18 after King Herod slaughtered all male babies because he felt threatened by the announcement of the newborn King – Jesus. Today the parents in Texas refuse to be comforted…. there are no pat answers to explain away the terror these children faced in their last moments or why. No amount of words can fill the void in their homes because nothing will ever be the same. It is bad for our own mental health to continuously watch the news but we do need to discuss openly and honestly with our children about what happened at an age appropriate level and then shut the news off.

What to do for ourselves: 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. What you will receive: 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. What we can focus our thoughts on: 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:6-8

Following Him and reading His Word is the answer for the issues of today. Faith should lead to action. Be a positive role model to the children in your neighborhood, church, school or community. Advocate for safety and increased mental health awareness and treatment. Watch your own children and monitor their use of media, violent games and movies. Children need a sense of security and boundaries. They also need to be taught respect for authority. It is our responsibility – not the school or church!

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14

Read some of the promises of God :

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:9-10

…and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 50:15

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:26–27

Truly pray for those who are suffering right now and share the eternal hope we have because of Jesus in word and action .

RISEN

RISEN

As I stood on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I was profoundly moved standing in this place and recognizing my own deep need for soul restoration and peace with God. Tabgha is the traditional site where Jesus first called His disciples, performed several miracles and prepared a last breakfast for his disciples post-resurrection. Here He restored Peter to relationship with Himself and to future service as head of The Church. However, my mind was also flashing back to scenes from a movie we had recently watched called Risen.

The crucifixion of Jesus is over but Pilates’ problems are still unravelling. Three day later the body is missing from the tomb and Clavius, a Roman tribune is tasked with finding the body. He examines the tomb and finds the Roman seal has burst from the inside, the heavy stone moved, used grave cloths lay empty and the guards cannot be found. He begins his pursuit of ferreting out the truth.

The Tribune sends his guards to find all followers of this Yeshua to find what they did with the body and to stop the rumors that their crucified teacher had risen from the dead as He prophesied. Clavius enters the upper room where he finds the disciples with Jesus, he drops his sword as he views the man he saw die on the cross, sitting among them. He watches in shock as Thomas examines the mans’ hands and pierced side. He cannot reconcile two things in his mind, “A man dead without question, and that same man alive again.” He then abandons his post and follows these disciples back to Galilee to learn more. He is at Tabgha with the disciples and realizes this man Jesus is like no other. The Tribune admits his part in the crucifixion to which Jesus replies, “I know”. And then asks him, “what bothers you?” Clavius replies, “being wrong”. “What is it you seek?” but before he can reply Jesus answers,” Certainty, peace and a day without war?“‘ The very same answer this Tribune had given Pilate earlier. At the end of the film, Clavius is retelling his story to an inn keeper and states, “I believe. I can never be the same.”

Have you examined the facts of The Resurrection? Jesus’ willing sacrifice on the cross was for our sin to reconcile us with The Father. His last words were, “It is Finished”. There was no more need for animal sacrifice and we can not earn our salvation by doing good works. The power over death and the grave has only been accomplished by Jesus, the Son of God . Every other prophet and leader in history remains in their grave. Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ, having peace with God, sharing His love and being certain of our eternal future. What bothers you my friend? What is it that you long for? Do you seek certainty and peace? Follow Him and your life will never be the same.

Standing at Tabgha on
the shore of the Sea of Galilee

Behold Immanuel

Behold Immanuel

This advent season I have heard a lot about two terms; Behold and Immanuel. The word “Behold” is used 1298 times in the whole Bible. It means to look intensely not just a glance but to gaze upon, regard, pay attention to something special.

 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. [8]   Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      Isaiah 9:6

Immanuel means God with us. It is a title (among others given) and not another name for Jesus.  Immanuel is spelled with an I in Hebrew (old testament) and an E in Greek (new testament). In Hebrew the title expresses the wonder of the incarnation, that God became flesh and made His dwelling with man. (John 1:14)

Ward Cushman, in an article on To Every Nation, gives four reasons why Jesus’ title Immanuel is important to us.

  • Immanuel means the Father showed Himself to us.
  • Immanuel means Jesus identified Himself with us
  • Immanuel means Jesus gave Himself for us.
  • Immanuel means the Father, Son and Spirit have stayed with us. 

He promises to be with us Matthew 18:20. One way that is fulfilled is by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives John 14:16-18. This means we can rely upon Him. Immanuel is a practical truth that can change your life.   The shepherds were given the glorious message of good news and told to go, see, examine, and investigate for themselves.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-11

Behold -have you examined this good news for yourself? Prophecy was and will be fulfilled because God keeps all of His promises.  The Messiah, our Savior was born as a baby in very humble circumstances and not in a palace so all people could draw near.  And because He was confined to time and space Jesus understands all of our problems. Remember this Christmas that God loves us so much He gave His only Son to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The question remains, is there room in your busy life for him? He promises internal and eternal peace and joy despite our current difficulties. We don’t have to be afraid of the future because Immanuel has come.

***Come and behold Him, born the King of angels . Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. ***