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.

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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. 

Hark the Herald Angels Sing :: Advent’s Joy

Christmas is a musical outlier—no other modern holiday is set to its own soundtrack. The downside to seasonal music is that nearly everyone has a Christmas song that they can’t stand. Little Drummer Boy, Feliz Navidad, and Santa Baby occur frequently on modern lists of annoying Christmas songs.

For Charles Wesley, the 18th century theologian, the song that bothered him so much that he refused to sing it was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Now a popular carol, it was originally published by Wesley’s student George Whitefield. Most of the lyrics, however did not belong to Whitefield, they came from the pen of Charles Wesley himself.

When Wesley originally wrote it as a Christmas Day hymn for his church. “Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings,” he wrote, echoing the angel’s praise in Luke,  “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” Welkin means sky, and while the skies were filled with praise, there is no Biblical record of the angels singing.

Whitefield went further than narrative adaptation, however. And the verses he chose to drop from the hymn demonstrate Wesley’s ability to capture robust theology in verse:

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

Ultimately the song has stood the test of time, in part because of both men’s work. Whitefield shaped what we now celebrate as heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of Christ, but Wesley’s theology still resonates with our longings in Advent as we sing:

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.

ListenHark the Herald Angels Sing by Paisley Abby Choir (2:59)

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

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus :: Advent’s Joy

“It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror,” Charles Dickens wrote of Scrooge’s meeting with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.

The future of Christmas came as a warning to Scrooge—change your ways, or this is what will become of you. The miser pleads, “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!” As a tool in Dickens’ narrative, this transition serves Scrooge well. As a motto to live by, it would lead readers to misery.

Our hearts and flesh fail us too regularly for this to work—go try harder is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps it’s best to contrast Dickens vision with the words of another literary giant, John Wesley. The pastor and theologian composed dozens of books, wrote thousands sermons, and published over 6,500 hymns during his lifetime. In one of his most famous hymns he wrote:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,Let us find our rest in Thee.

In this, Wesley captures the fulfillment of the first Advent while directing our attention on the brilliance of the second advent. What a miracle that the long expected Messiah was born into our world! How we long to be released from this brokenness. How we long for rest.

The message to Scrooge never led him beyond himself (which was his problem in the first place). The message of Wesley is for those who have met the end of self. For those who haven’t found true joy in success, those who can’t live past their failures, those who cannot find satisfaction in the messiness of this world; Christ is the “Joy of every longing heart.”

ListenCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus by Christy Nockels (2:59)

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

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