Though we wait in the dark…

Almost a year ago, I took my 2 year old son (he’s 3 now), out one night to walk through the neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights. We made our way around a horseshoe street – a round trip – and found some great houses. My son loved it, and does even more this year; he actually has to point out year round any lights he sees that resemble Christmas ones. It might be needless to say that his excitement is extremely contagious.

Looking at the lights that night on our walk through the neighborhood, something hit me about what Christmas does to the world. Two thousand years ago, the Son of God came into the world to save God’s people, an event that impacted the earth and mankind in such a way that sent reverberations, ripples, tremors forward through history. Though Christ ascended, his presence amongst us, Emmanuel, lit up a dark and dreadful world. And a funny thing about it is that we’ve come to string lights on our homes, bring lighted trees into our living rooms and put light everywhere on display. It might sound strange, but the light of Christ affects even those who don’t know him, but who string their homes and trees with lights in commemoration of him still. All of us Christmas-merrymakers proclaim the incarnation of the Word, in whom was light and life, Light of lights descending. The One in Whom all things hold together became flesh and dwelt among us, so that “the race of Adam’s children, doomed by law and endless woe may not henceforth die and perish in the dreadful gulf below.”

The Morning Star that dawned on the groaning creation at the first advent affected us all, though we’re often unaware of it. Our Maker, our Life, our Light, the “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing” left his created sons proclaiming that profound and intimate moment in history when He dwelt among us to bear our sin. We proclaim it with lights. Christmas, in a sense, proves itself true if you think about it. What are we doing still finding new ways each year to proclaim the advent of the Light of the world? Jesus our Emmanuel, is the Light that has shone in the darkness, “and the darkness has not overcome it.” We see his victorious life even in our Christmas lights.

We can’t help but tell of Christ’s advent with the lights we put up. And if we have the eyes to see it, they can help us wait with joy for Christ’s second advent. Our King is coming again; and though we wait in the dark, we light our lights of hope and expectation. Let’s hope with the strength that the Holy Spirit supplies, and proclaim the grace of our King to those who haven’t come to know him, so they also might have light and hope and salvation.

Thank you Father, for giving us your Son. Come thou long-expected Jesus.

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On Christmas Worship

*The following is the main part of a post I wrote for our church blog, to help folks prepare for Sunday morning worship through December and the Christmas season.

“Each of us know that the Christmas season should be filled with gratitude and expectancy, yet what most of us feel is dread and anxiety. As our hearts race around trying to find the right gifts, we forget theĀ True Gift that we have already been given.”

Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica L. Thompson

You might’ve noticed this coming Sunday is the first time we’ll gather as a church for worship in December. Which you hopefully know means Christmas worship. The Christmas, or Advent, season is one of the richest of the year for the church, and we want to make sure we don’t take it for granted or miss out on the opportunity to make the most of this season of celebration. So here are a few things to think through, and that we’ll talk through on Sunday mornings in the coming weeks, to help us all enjoy God and the Gospel more deeply during Christmastime.

Read the Gospels

God has given us his Word, and when we read it we hear him speaking to us. The Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and is always sufficient to encourage, train and teach, and correct us (2 Tim. 3:16). And the crazy thing we often miss is this – God is a storyteller, and he’s told us the story of his Son coming into the world to save his people. God has given us 4 accounts of Christ’s coming as a means of grace for us to know our Savior, and know God’s saving plan that was revealed in Christ. So if we don’t take the opportunity in the Christmas season to read and re-fresh our experience of Jesus in the Gospels, we’re missing out. Let’s know the story, and know our Savior.

Long for Christ’s Return

One of the great things aboutĀ the historic church’s celebration of Advent, was a cultivation of longing for the Lord’s return. Extending the Christmas celebration to the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas, with the lighting of candles, etc., helped form a deeper sense of our pilgrim status as God’s people, in this world the way it is now. The church would recognize that we live now between 2 advents, or comings, of the Lord. He has come to pay for sin, and has promised to come back for his people; and we wait now in a broken world, for our King to come back a 2nd time to put the world right.

Now I’m not advocating that we start up a high church liturgy for Advent that spans those 4 weeks, but I do really believe the more we can get into the Christmas story in the Gospels, and grapple with the great, glorious meaning of Christ’s incarnation, and extend that out beyond just a Christmas Eve service with our churches, the Christmas season will be very rich for us.

Let’s really feel the longing we should have for Christ’s return, and for the goodness of his kingdom that he’ll bring.

Reading With The Church Calendar

The last several years, my wife and I have been trying to read books along with the church seasons. Granted, we don’t celebrate many of the traditional Church holidays; but for the couple significant holidays and seasons that our local church does observe, we’ve found it hugely significant to not just let those times go by, but treat them as sacred and really dig into framing our mindset into that particular Church season. One of the ways we’ve done this is to try to read purposefully through a book, as a supplement to studying Scripture, that corresponds to, and sheds light and fresh perspective on that particular Church season.

God created us with an orientation toward holidays and toward marking our calendars with days of celebration and observance of God’s great acts of grace toward His people, etc. We find this all over the Old Testament, beginning with the creation of the seven day week (and the institution of the Sabbath!). The two biggest seasons that most Christians will celebrate if nothing else, will be Christmas (or Advent) and Easter (or Holy Week). What a tragedy if we let every rhythm of culture direct our mindsets, our observances, and our habits, without ever following the rhythms of redemption found in the Gospel and in the Church. Or celebrating the rhythms of the Gospel in a token, half-hearted (or no-hearted) way. Doug Wilson is helpful on this point in his book on Advent: “[W]e now find ourselves marking time with dates like Labor Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, MLK Day, and so forth. But Christians must define the year in an explicitly Christian way, and face the objections, or they must acquiesce in the secularization of time” (80). If Christ’s lordship extends beyond our internal spiritual lives, to how we engage and live in the world, then we should consider wholeheartedly observing those Christian seasons that remember and reorient our lives around the grand events of God’s great story of redemption.

So for instance, during the week of Good Friday and Easter, it’s been super helpful to pick something extra, to read during that time. Even if we don’t finish it, it will help us really observe, and celebrate with deep joy, what took place during Holy Week in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And this kind of extra reading and purposeful celebration fuels our worship when we gather with our church family to sing and celebrate together on these holidays.

Here are some things that have been very helpful the past few years, for my wife and I, and now with our kids, in defining our year “in an explicitly Christian way:”

2009-present: As my wife was searching like crazy for some rich theological stuff for Christmastime, she found out about Nancy Guthrie’s Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, which is a collection of readings for Advent from pillars of the Christian faith. There are readings from Calvin, to Spurgeon, to MacArthur. It’s a super rich collection, very well done. Guthrie has since put out a similar collection for Easter, called Jesus, Keep Me Near The Cross. We don’t have it, but it looks great.

2011: I read King’s Cross by Tim Keller, during Good Friday and Easter. This book is excellent. It’s basically a study through the Gospel of Mark, and it’s full of fresh, poignant perspective on Christ’s life, and his ultimate purpose of redeeming God’s people from their sin. Wonderful book, worth multiple reads.

2011-present: The Jesus Storybook Bible is perfect for our kids (and for us) as a creative re-telling of the whole story that Scripture tells, of God making a people for Himself and redeeming them through the blood of His Son. Our kids love this book – the writing and the artwork are so memorable. Really worth your time, whether you have kids or not.

2013: Currently reading The Man Jesus Christ by Bruce Ware. This is great so far, and the perfect read for me this year as I’m thinking about Good Friday and Easter, and planning out the final details for our church’s worship services for this Friday and Sunday. I’m not finished with the book yet, but I think I can heartily recommend it. It gets a little deep, so be forewarned, yet encouraged to take up and read! This one was also published just this year, so here’s a very recent review you might also find helpful.

“The Light” (For Advent)

Since tomorrow’s the first Sunday of Advent, here is a really great short film, artistically adapting the first chapter of John. The 4 Sundays of Advent leading up to Christmas are a time of reflection when we look back to the longing of the Old Testament prophets for a Savior, the glory of the first coming of Christ, and ahead to when Christ will come again to establish His kingdom. This film is neat, in that it lands us right in the middle, with the truths of God’s Word made flesh in Jesus.

More coming soon on Advent; but for the moment, enjoy the film and the words of the Apostle John.

This post is from the blog archives too, by the way – here’s the first post on “The Light.”

Resolved 2011 – “The Light” from FlyFeNniX on Vimeo.

Apologia: Melancholy Christmas Songs

I really enjoy Christmas music. I’m sure you do too. And I often actually enjoy the melancholy Christmas songs the most. I’m talking about the ones usually set in a minor key (though not always), that really have a sadness in them. Sometimes you can find this tone of melancholy or sadness in the song’s lyrics, sometimes in the music itself, and sometimes a combination of the twain.

I want to give an apology, or defense, for appreciating the melancholy Christmas songs just as much as the joyous ones (if not even more, sometimes).

First of all, think of what a minor key does to a song: it often naturally adds dark tones, or a sadness to a tune. A minor key can create not just tones of sorrow, but also of longing. And if the lyrics express sadness or longing, and are reinforced by the minor key of the music, you’ve got a potentially powerful piece of art, developing the content from multiple perspectives.

So take, for example, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The poetry in the song’s verses is full of intense longing, basically crying out, “Come, Savior! How long, O Lord? Rescue Your people from their sins!” The melody reinforces the lyric with its minor key, and a beautifully memorable melody that stirs the affections.

The song also falls into the relative major for the chorus, though, combining the longing with very clear hope. The chorus comes in on a major sound, saying, “Rejoice, for Emmanuel, the Savior has come!” The bright major key sound to the chorus reflects the hope of the lyric, that the longed-for Savior has appeared; the mystery of salvation has been revealed in Jesus.

Now you can give the song a listen.

We live in a world where Christ has appeared to take away our sins, but His kingdom isn’t established for good as it eventually will be. We’re living in the “already-but-not-yet.” So we can sing songs like “Joy to the World,” that proclaim the unspeakable joy of the Christmas season in a bright, major key, because our Savior has redeemed us fully and forever. But we should also sing songs of longing, as we wait expectantly for the final return or advent of Jesus, when sin will finally cease to be. This type of song can give expression to the longings of our hearts. Melancholy Christmas songs are so very appropriate for this reason. We should definitely sing them, and pray together for Christ to come quickly.