Tag Archives: Advent

Embracing Love

One of my favorite themes for Christmas is “love came down.” It is something I visualize in moments of worship and spiritual reflection. It is the enactment of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” Jesus. This is at the heart of the Christmas story, but only part of the story.

Give Love (temporary body art)

Give Love (temporary body art)

You have undoubtedly heard me say the phrases, “Love God by loving others,” and “We love God best when we love others well.” This is the other side of the story, and I see it exemplified in the lives of Mary and Joseph. It was Mary’s love for God that empowered her to say, “Yes, I will love this child that will be given to me by God.” This act of love ultimately turned out to be an act of love toward the whole world in giving life to the Savior. Likewise, it was in Joseph’s love for God and for Mary that he said, “Yes, I will raise this child as my own son.”

Embracing love isn’t always pretty. When we truly love we take risks, saying yes to others before ourselves. Even though Jesus became our example in this, I believe he also followed the example of his earthly parents.

We hold up love as the highest virtue and plumb its depths for glimpses of beauty. This beauty is rarely found in airbrushed romantic vignettes, but in the nitty-gritty rub of everyday life when we are pushed to give just a little more than we thought possible, that is where we find beauty in love. I know that is what Mary and Joseph would say as they embraced love to become Jesus’ parents. In the counter-intuitive nature of the God’s kingdom, love given is love received and love received empowers us to love yet again. It is from God that love came down, and “we love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

May you experience God’s love as you love one another this Christmas!

Grace and peace,

Embracing Joy

This week has been very busy. I cannot say that I’ve been continually joyful. I have, though, been reflecting on joy a lot this week and realized that joy is not automatic, nor is it something we muster up from inside us. Joy is an outward expression, and we express it when the opportunity meets us, that is if our hearts are open to recognize and embrace it.

joy shining throughTake the story of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20. They receive the message from a band of angels that Messiah has been born in Bethlehem. They hurry off to investigate and discover that it is true. It’s at that point that they are full of joy and proclaim Jesus’ birth to anyone who will listen to them.

The shepherds did not have to respond the way they did. They could have taken one look at Jesus lying in the manger and said that there is no way the promised king from David’s family would come into the world like that. But, in that moment they chose to believe that hope of Messiah would be fulfilled through the life of that baby.

Joy is the recognition, embrace, and reveling in the moment when faith, hope, and love converge and intersect our lives. It may not seem that grandiose, but even in the simple things we can receive a gift of love, the stirring of faith, and the realization of hope, which can only be expressed outwardly with joy.

May our hearts be open to the opportunities to find joy, especially in this most joyous of times, Christmas!

Grace and peace,

Embracing Peace at Advent

While preparing this week’s newsletter I started singing Christmastime Is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas. The first verse goes like this:

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

open handsAs I get older I seem to have become somewhat of a humbug. When I start thinking about the Christmas season a list of negative things immediately forms in my mind. I won’t bother you with the details, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot of mental and emotional work sorting through it all to get down to the good stuff. Sad to say, peace is one of the last things I think of when it comes to Christmas.

As I dig down deeper into the idea of peace, I realize that I’m dealing with a misconception of what peace really is. To quote J. Oswald Sanders, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.” Sanders is getting at a misunderstanding that peace is primarily circumstantial and dependent upon the lack of conflict. His solution, though, is one of presence. Presence requires openness. In order to receive God’s presence, we need to let go of our need for control and open up to the reality that God’s presence brings companionship and resourcefulness. Saying yes to God means that we are not alone and that solutions to what is stressing us are made available.

Peace is the product of making space. We can make space in time, place, and relationships, and space provides avenues of potential. Making space in our schedule allows us to breathe and connect with God and people and to become agents of peace in the process. Making space in the place we live allows us to be open to relationship and provides a place to be that agent of peace. Making space is our hearts allows us to be open relationally, to be Jesus in our world, loving God by loving others.

So, back to the song “Christmastime Is Here,” peace comes when we make space to experience all the wonder and beauty that surrounds us as we celebrate the birth of Jesus with those who are close to us in proximity and in heart.

“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14 CEB)

May you experience the favor of God’s peace as you open up to the presence of God and those who come close to you this Christmas season.

Grace and peace,

Embracing Peace from earlier this year.

Embracing Hope

Every year I write an Advent devotional for each of the four weeks of Advent. I usually employ some sort of traditional pattern along with a theme to walk us toward Christmas. This year I will continue the theme of Embracing with the pattern of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

photo credit – Josh Pinkston

photo credit – Josh Pinkston

When we look at the nativity story of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we see that Jesus was the fulfillment of Israel’s hope for a messiah. This messiah would be a king from the family of David who would establish justice and righteousness for Israel and all those who align themselves with this king. Jesus accomplished this, just not in the way they had expected. The Jews were looking for messiah to bring a national deliverance from the oppressive Roman regime. Instead, Jesus brought deliverance to individuals who collectively and over many years changed the world.

The church today continues to carry this hope into the world. It is a hope for resurrection that all things would be made new. It is a hope for justice that all things would be made right. It is a hope for deliverance that all would be made free, not just free from something, but free for something. Lastly it is a hope for love that through love all things would be restored and made whole again.

Recently at the conclusion of one of our community classes, a conversation begun with the students, the instructor, and others in the room. It was a vulnerable conversation about sad and painful things happening in their lives and in the lives of others they love. It became a moment in which the only appropriate thing to do was listen, acknowledge, and feel. Those that were there knew that the best way to share hope was to simply share their presence.

Hope is not just a dreamy-eyed notion that somehow, someday, everything will be alright. Hope is a substantive belief that we engage through faith. It is the knowing that in Christ resurrection, justice, freedom, and love are all a reality. We know this because we have seen it in Jesus, have experienced it through God’s presence in our lives, and through the love of God’s people.

“Hope is really hope when all seems hopeless.” John Caputo*

This is not to say that since I have Jesus in my life that everything is just peachy all the time. I am currently walking through a season in which I feel that I have lost hope for a number of things and in a number of circumstances. Some days all I can do is receive love from those who love me, trust that God is there, with and within me, and lay my hope down in hope that through all these things it will become hope again.

It is in these times when my hope is challenged that I realize that hope is not something I can muster or conjure up. It comes to me through the love and presence of God and people. Hope is a gift we hold up and hold out.

As we reconnect with the story of hope this Christmas, I pray that we become agents of hope for those around us, believing for them the realization of resurrection, justice, freedom, and love.

Grace and peace,

* From a Homebrewed Christianity interview with John Caputo. Minute 32:00-35:00

A Community of Christ’s Love: Week 4 of Christmas Advent 2012

For this year’s Advent series, we will look at the themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ, through the lens of community. This week let’s see how we can be a community of Christ’s love. (Since my thoughts this year are so close between the last two themes, love and Christ, I will combine them in one article.)


Christmas is love. Or, at least it should be. It is love that gave us Jesus’ birth. (John 3:16, Luke 1:38) It is by love that he lived, died as an atoning sacrifice for our sin, resurrected, and ascended. (Philippians 2:5-11, 1 John 3:16) Advent and Christmas are the remembering and celebrating this love.


To be clear, the definition of love that I am working with is that love is a giving of one’s self. God gave of himself by giving his son. Mary gave of herself by receiving Jesus as her son. Jesus gave of himself by living for God that he may die for us.


I believe that the church is the physical expression of Christ on the earth. As such, the church is to love as Christ loved, since it is his example we are to follow.


The beautiful thing about love is that it can only flow from love. We are only asked to do what Jesus himself has done for us. At Christmas we can receive the love of God in Jesus so that we can in turn love as Jesus loved.


May God’s love be yours as you love those around you this Christmas! Merry Christmas!


Grace and peace,


A Community of Joy: Week 3 of Christmas Advent 2012

For this year’s Advent series, we will look at the themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ, through the lens of community. This week let’s see how we can be a community of joy.


In the Nativity stories (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2), joy is continually expressed upon the realization that Israel’s Messiah has finally arrived in the baby Jesus. The hope of deliverance has come. Israel’s king has come to set things aright. This elicited great joy in Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon, and Anna.


I was pondering where we can find joy today in the Christmas season. It is true that there is joy in our salvation, the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. But, how about as a community? Consider this, Ephesians 5:18-21 says,


Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and submit to each other out of respect for Christ.


Often, when we think we are lacking joy, peace, hope, love, freedom, etc., we find ourselves going to old ways of coping with whatever difficulty we are experiencing. “Don’t get drunk on wine…” can stand for anything we would use or do to find relief. The passage instead encourages us to find fulfillment through the Holy Spirit within the people of God. Joy comes realizing your belong to the family of God. Joy comes through worshiping God in song and through giving thanks. Joy comes when we live openly with one another in Christ.


Let’s not do the same old thing this Christmas season. Let’s have an open heart to experience God in both familiar and unfamiliar ways. And, when you are with others, take joy in Emmanuel, “God with us!”


Grace and peace,



A Community of Peace: Week 2 of Christmas Advent 2012

For this year’s Advent series, we will look at the themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ, through the lens of community. Last week I wrote about hope, this week our topic will be peace.


As I think about peace at Christmas time, I immediately go to the passage in Luke’s gospel where the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14) But as I was thinking about it, I found myself asking, “What is this peace that Jesus brings?”


I believe that it has less to do with the emotional feeling of being at ease than it is the reality of living in unity with one another. I find in both Mary’s song and Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1) that through Messiah’s reign there will be an equalization of people. Everyone will have an equal standing in the kingdom of God, rich and poor, strong and weak. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians picks up this theme.


Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. (Ephesians 2:14-16)


A community of peace is an open community. One that welcomes in those we don’t know and who may be different than us. And if I have learned anything from Jesus it is that openness requires change. If we allow God to change us then we will be more able to embrace others. I’ve also learned that being a people of peace begins with the relationships closest to us.


I pray we have the grace to give the gift of peace this Christmas.


Grace and peace,



A Community of Hope: Week 1 of Christmas Advent 2012

For this year’s Advent series, we will look at the themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ, through the lens of community. As I read through the prophecies of the coming of Israel’s Messiah and the stories of the birth of Jesus they all refer to, are addressed to, or are the object of people groups, communities. In Matthew’s gospel account of the birth of Jesus he tells how an angel announced to Joseph that he should name Mary’s baby Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins, and also that this child will also bear the name Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. (Matthew 1:18-25) This reminds me that Jesus came, first and foremost, to deliver and redeem a people for the glory of God and to be citizens of his kingdom.


Now, why should this community be known as a community of hope? Hope is a hallmark of the people of God. From the time of Abraham, through Moses and the prophets, the people of God held in their hearts a hope of a saving king, establishing freedom and prosperity for them and their future generations. After the advent of Jesus the church bore this same hallmark, except now they had received their salvation and were waiting for Jesus’ second advent and subsequent resurrection of the righteous for the inhabiting of the New Jerusalem. 


Christmas provides the opportunity to look back to the nativity story, reconnecting to the hope that Jesus was and is. The great thing is that we get to continue to pass forward this hope, a hope that Jesus still saves a people from their sin, validating this community by living among them through his Holy Spirit, who is the promise of eternal life. This community of hope is not a closed community, but open and expanding as those who hear the message of hope, receive the gift of salvation, and gather together with the people of God, start the cycle over again, proclaiming the message of hope.


May your hearts be filled with the hope of Jesus as you gather with his people this Christmas season and beyond.


Grace and peace,