We Need a Little Christmas :: Joy of Advent

John 7.37-38
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Reflection: We Need a Little Christmas :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

The musical, Mame, is a classic of American theater and film. The show’s most enduring mark on our culture is probably the song “We Need a Little Christmas.”

In the show, Mame has the notion to put up the Christmas decorations early in order to lift everyone’s mood. In the original broadway cast recording her nephew can be heard objecting, “But Auntie Mame, it’s one week past Thanksgiving Day now!”

That’s right. Putting up the Christmas decorations one week past Thanksgiving was once something only an exaggerated, eccentric, bon-vivant, party girl, like crazy Auntie Mame would think of. How times have changed.

In 2018, the media has been incessantly telling us that “scientists” say putting up decorations early makes us happier and more content. All this journalistic (and consumeristic) gold has been spun out of one study that found that people were seen as more sociable if they decorated for Christmas early, and one psychologist’s statement that early decorating brought feelings of “happiness.”

As we begin this week of Advent that focuses on joy, it is helpful to distinguish joy from the happiness, whether scientifically verified or not, that is derived from putting up decor.

There’s nothing wrong with a temporary mood-booster, as long as you tell the truth about what it is—temporary and emotional. Go ahead. Decorate in October if you just can’t stand not to. Mame would be proud.

But the joy of Christ is no mood-booster—it is a life changer. And it is always accessible to us no matter what season of life we are in or what decorations are hanging on our walls.

We do need a little Christmas joy.
Joy is not dependant on a season of peace and goodwill.
Joy thrives under persecution and suffering.

Joy does not rely on tinsel, lights, and delightful surroundings.
Joy shines brightest when surrounded by hopelessness and fear.

Joy does not require us to dress the part, or deck the halls, or trim the tree.
Joy comes to criminals naked on a cross, hung like gruesome decorations on a tree of suffering.

Jesus brought joy to us not by avoiding suffering, but by seeing past it and willingly walking through it for us. We will find joy when we follow him.

What are we waiting for?
When we walk with Christ, there is joy before suffering, joy in the midst of it, and joy on the other side of it.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
On this day the Lord has acted, we will rejoice and be glad in it  — Psalm 118:24

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 4 (Listen – 1:53)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

Additional Reading
Read More about Finding Joy :: Readers’ Choice
If you get hung up on pleasure you’re doomed. If you pursue joy, you’ll find everlasting happiness. — George Lucas.

Read More about Love in His Name :: Love of Advent
In that Name there is hope and joy and rest
In his Name we are blest.

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Do We Know Him? :: Love of Advent

John 4.10
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.

“We didn’t know who you was.”Sweet Little Jesus Boy, Robert MacGimsey, 1934

Reflection: Do We Know Him? :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

The Samaritan woman was an outcast among outcasts.

With a defiant chip on her shoulder about her race, about religion, and about her sexual past, she stands out as a woman seemingly outside of her time. Her conversation with Jesus is the longest recorded in scripture. She would have more words recorded in scripture than Christ’s own mother if not for the Magnificat which allows Mary to edge her out by about 25 words in the NIV.

Jesus went out of his way to reach out to those who, like this woman, were considered unreachable, and more than that, unworthy of being reached. But despite the social stigma, despite the obvious discomfort of his followers, Jesus pressed in to the hard to reach places and engaged with the outcasts. He still presses us into uncomfortableness, and we, like the disciples, still resist. It may be that we need to sing, confessing in the words of Robert MacGimsey’s song that we have lost sight of who Jesus is.

The author, after walking home from a Christmas Eve mass in New York City past raucous, drunken parties, penned the song as a confession. Just like the disciples, the pharisees, the soldiers, and the other people of Christ’s day, we fail to recognize Christ’s identity. We fail to realize how his identity affects ours and how our identity in Christ should affect the way that we treat others in his name.

The disciples went into Sychar and all they got was food they were ashamed to buy from people they were ashamed to talk to. Jesus talked to a shamed woman, and lifted her up to be the disciple he needed in that moment, who would go and tell. The only thing the disciples brought back from Sychar were the fruits of commerce. The woman went into town and brought out to Jesus the food he wanted—a harvest of souls ready to receive the gospel.

What are we waiting for?
Like the woman at the well, we don’t deserve to learn Christ’s identity. We don’t deserve to have a conversation with him, or to drink his living water, or to invite others to meet him. Yet Christ’s love makes us worthy. He replaces our springs of sinfulness with his living water.

May the gift of his living water fulfill its purpose in us—overflowing to water the desert places and bringing a harvest where before there was only death.

*”Sweet Little Jesus Boy” — Mahalia Jackson

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.  — Psalm 69:7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 1 (Listen – 3:37)
John 4 (Listen – 6:37)

This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 2 (Listen – 1:41) John 5 (Listen – 5:42)
Zechariah 3 (Listen – 1:48) John 6 (Listen – 8:27)

Additional Reading
Read More about Idolatry of Identity
In the Old Testament people reverenced household gods for prosperity, wealth, and identity. Today we reverence household brands. It’s unclear which group is more deceived.

Read More about Suffering for Our True Identity
Peter and John agree that doing good is no guarantee that we will not suffer the hatred of the world, but if we suffer for doing good, at least we are showing the world our true identity.

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Love that Points to the Cross :: Love of Advent

Haggai 2.9
In this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

John 3.14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

Reflection: Love that Points to the Cross :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

There are many miraculous births announced in the Bible. Two are uniquely linked. One is announced to a young girl, told she must bear a child when she is a virgin. One is announced to an old man, told he must be reborn. They respond in similar ways, “How can this be?

Both have concerns—an old man’s doubts and a young girl’s fears. Both are answered with a lesson about God’s Spirit and God’s Word.

The young girl answers in faith and humility, and steps into her role as Christ’s mother and in many ways his first disciple and first evangelist.

The old man’s answers are not so obvious. But the rest of Nicodemus’s appearances in scripture show us a man questioning, risking his position, his reputation, and his life. He is in labor, delivering faith.

That faith crystalizes when he sees Christ lifted up, as he predicted, on the cross. That faith moves him out of the shadows to claim the body of Christ from the cross when Christ’s more public followers were hiding.

The cross is not just the demonstration of God’s love, it is the unmistakable destination of God’s love. Advent’s love anticipates the manger, but it creates an unmistakable vector pointing to the cross. All of Advent’s hope, points to the cross, where Advent’s love is demonstrated.

Hope Leads to the Cross
By Matt Tullos

The cross stands as a monument of grace in all its aspects.
The cross remains an icon representing a moment in history when our glorious God stepped into the suffering of humanity. No longer could one see God as a mere spectator of suffering and injustice. We could no longer look upon the face of a mother holding a lifeless child, an innocent convict, or a casualty of war and not remember Christ, because He suffered too.
He was divine and perfect.
He knew evil.
He saw life in all its wonder and atrocity.
He was triangulated in the crosshairs of nefarious conspirators.
He propelled Himself into the arena purposefully and with full cognizance.
No symbol known to man has endured with as much renown as the cross. The length of it, reaches down to the ground where all men live and die and then back up again connecting heaven and earth. The width of it, like arrows, stretches from man to man connecting all races and generations.
The cross outshines my verbosity. It confounds me. I see it in glimpses.
There is no greater irony.
Beautiful,
ghastly,
wondrous,
humble,
shameful
and stuffed with glory.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light and your just dealing as the noonday.  — Psalm 37:6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Haggai 2 (Listen – 3:49)
John 3 (Listen – 4:41)

Additional Reading
Read More The Path of the Cross :: A Guided Prayer
A Christ who brings earthly victory enjoys near universal welcome. Everyone rejected the suffering Christ. Even the closest of his disciples.

Read More about Evil and the Cross
“Theologies of the cross, of atonement, have not in my view grappled sufficiently with the larger problem of evil,” laments N.T. Wright.

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Involving Christ :: Love of Advent

John 1.50
You will see greater things than that.

John 2.11
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Reflection: Involving Christ :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

In Advent, Christ comes to us softly, intimately, getting involved with us, showing us the signs we need to continue in hope, toward love.

Like the cynical Nathanael, Christ gives to us what we need to abandon our sarcasm, cynicism, and despair, and to put our faith in him. He sees us under our fig tree, startling us with his intimate notice. As Nathanael, we may wonder, “How does he know me,” and “If he knows me, how can he love me?”

However much hope we have, however much we love him now, in the moment of today’s revelations, Jesus shocks us by telling us, he’s just getting started. He tells us, as he told Nathanael and the disciples, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m the stairway to Heaven.

Then they attend a wedding right in the middle of the middle-of-nowhere region they were just making classist jokes about. And here, Jesus shows them something simple and powerful. His mother comes to him with a request. And he helps.

With modern ears, it would be easy to hear the recorded words of Mary, “Do whatever he tells you,” as a huffy, pushy, Jewish mother. Scripture only supports one of those three.

It would also be easy to hear the word “woman” from the mouth of Christ as derogatory, or diminishing. It is, of course, neither. But instead, it is a loving term of respect that he will later repeat from the cross.

Jesus who promised “greater things” to his disciples, goes to a small town wedding and helps his mother…“and his disciples believed in him.” Why?

The miracle we miss here is not the wine. It is the answer to the question, “Why do you involve me?” The shocking answer is that Jesus has come so that we may involve him.

We carry the gift of involving Christ. Christ is lovingly interested in helping, lovingly interested in knowing, lovingly interested in being involved in our embarrassments, difficulties, and failures.

What are we waiting for?

Involve him today. Carry the gift of his willing presence to those around you. He’ll walk miraculously into your real life with the laundry on the floor, kicked around the corner so the company won’t see, and your work project that’s hanging by a thread over failure.

Stand ready as Mary was, to lovingly tell ourselves and others, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.  — Matthew 5:6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Haggai 1 (Listen – 2:39)
John 2 (Listen – 3:02)

Additional Reading
Read More about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel :: Advent’s Hope
In Advent we await the coming of the all-sufficient King; he is the wisdom we yearn for and the power we need. He is God, and his presence brings healing to our world and restoration to our hearts.

Read More about Realizing the Power of Love
As John writes, “In this world, we are like Jesus.” The selflessness of God’s love in us, and the actions that should flourish from it have the power, with the Holy Spirit, to change our world.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation. 

Love in His Name :: Love of Advent

John 1.1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1 John 4.16
God is love.

Reflection: Love in His Name :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

Before there was anything, there was Christ. This poem from Matt Tullos (an introduction to his 39 Words writings) echoes John’s first chapter and reminds us that in Advent, Jesus enters a world rightly his, a world he lovingly created, and a world he now prepares, lovingly, to save.

Introduction
By Matt Tullos

Before there was anything there was a Name
Before seas and land, before dust was formed into flesh
Before Babel’s broken tower. Before the ark was set in place
Before there was anything
Before prophet, priest or king
There was a Name.
No other name in history
could banish demons, calm the sea
it echoes through eternity
chains are broken, souls set free
by His Great Name!
His name birthed stars and pinned them in the sky
His name brought angels to Bethlehem
The greatest and the least came
To see the One True Name
And when we speak His Name all heavenly hosts revere.
It reaches past our weakness and our fragile, thin veneer.
It’s a name above every name- spoken in each race and tongue.
There is power and blessing
Perfection and peace.
There’s understanding!
Even when we feel pain
There’s healing, faith and redemption,
At the mention of His name.
And it doesn’t matter the size of your burden
The scale of your mountain
The weariness of your journey.
In that Name there is hope and joy and rest
In his Name we are blest.
His Name is listening for the echo of worshipers.
In the midst of this earthly mess
His Name redeems
The all-sufficient king
The warrior of righteousness
Over every living thing
And no matter how deep the hurt
Or the chains that have bound you for years
We are free! All those things that drive us insane
Are stepping stones to holiness with the power of that Name.
What is that name that changes us?
Who is the fourth person in the furnace
The One who closed the mouths of lions
Who crushed the head of the accuser
And exiled demons from the weak.
And opened muted mouths to speak.
What is that Name?
What is the greatest name we’ll ever say
Who remains victorious to this day?
Who is this one greater than the grave?
Who lived and died to save?
Who conquered death and walked away
With scars of crimson stain
The one who bears the mark
Jesus is His Great NAME!

It is John who names Christ, logos, “the Word,” and John later who identifies that word—God is love.

What are we waiting for? “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
“Love in his name,” is both what we receive and what we must do.

Prayer: The Greeting
Deliver me, O Lord, by your hand from those people whose portion in life is this world  — Psalm 17:14

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 3 (Listen – 3:38)
John 1 (Listen – 6:18)

Additional Reading
Read More from Matt Tullos about Purpose
No one else was less deserving of Friday. But in a transcendent, eternal sense there was no one else in the history of the universe qualified for Friday.

Read More about Breath, Reconsidered
We are Adam’s first breath,
His first breath, re-breathed.

 

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation. 

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