FINDING EMMANUEL IN THE STUFF OF CHRISTMAS
Growing up in a liturgical church, the signal that Christmas was approaching was heralded by the Advent Sunday service and the lighting of the first Advent candle in church. That light springing up in the darkened building gripped my young imagination with its profound solemnity, and promise of something mysterious and wonderful to come. Something like C S Lewis described in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“They say Aslan is on the move- perhaps has already landed."
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning… a lovely meaning, too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life, and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside.”
And really, my childish understanding wasn’t so far adrift. The name advent comes from the Latin ‘adventus’ which means ‘coming’. It’s the time when we can focus our gaze and wonder at the three-fold coming of the Lord Jesus.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
God so loved the world that He came…to prise it out of the grasp of the Evil One, to redeem, forgive, heal and restore.
God came Himself, humbly choosing to experience what it is to be human.
Born in poverty, hunted, homeless, a stranger in a hostile land.
On the margins of society, He was not seen, recognised or welcomed by His own.
He was misunderstood and denounced, the subject of transient popularity,
betrayed by friends, standing naked in His extremity.
Our mighty God was ridiculed and tortured,
and violently murdered
A shining light in a world in darkness,
God Himself came to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.
Taking the judgement due to this fallen world,
He came to bring freedom for enslaved humanity.
But when that work was accomplished, Jesus also promised that He would not leave us bereft.
As the old prophecy vowed, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…’
And so, He comes to us here and now through the Holy Spirit;
The separating veil has been forever torn.
God Himself lives in us and is with us,
to fill our lives and circumstances with Himself.
No longer the friend of a select few,
He comes to everyone who will make room for Him.
And lastly, He will come again in glory as the Lord of the Great Feast,
to usher in a new era,
when sorrow and sighing will cease forever,
and wickedness will be no more.
In that day, every knee will bow,
and every tongue will confess that our God reigns supreme.
And we will be with Him forever.
Like many households, we make a special candle-ring for Advent. While there can be some debate as to the proper number, colour and significance of the candles, it is important that we remember that these lovely traditions are a means of grace rather than a stick to beat ourselves (and other people) with.
There are a lot of excellent resources to use with an Advent wreath, but we could keep it simple…
What if we used it as a gateway to a Sabbath moment (see previous posts): set-aside time when we stop, turn the gaze of our hearts upon the Lord and breathe out our stress. Then as we light a candle, whisper ‘Come, Lord Jesus’.
And what if this became our prayer for Advent, one simple prayer that we prayed over and over for the whole season?
Last week, I heard how Brennan Manning challenged his listeners to pray several times, daily, ‘Abba I belong to you’, and I read how lives were changed, and deep wounds were healed in the process.
It is my conviction that this simple prayer, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ can also have a transformational impact.
Maranatha is an Aramaic word (the language spoken by Jesus), and is used at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (16:22)… It means simply ‘Come, O Lord’.
I challenge the Rhythms of Grace Community to take time—moments here and there, to pray this prayer daily during Advent. Let’s pray it when we are shopping, preparing festive food, buying presents, and dressing the tree. Let’s pray it at work, on the bus or at the school gates. And let’s pray it over our families, our friends and our neighbourhood.
Then let’s share our stories…
SONGS FOR THE SEASON
Why not take some time to meditate on the three-fold coming of Jesus, and on these Advent hymns (and the Pentecostal song which also fits here), and use your reflections to stimulate faith as you pray the Maranatha Prayer.
NEXT WEEK: THE CHRISTMAS TREE
A picture of grace...
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[Photo credits: Caleb Stokes (light in dark sky); Max Beck (red candles) @ Unsplash, with thanks]
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