Advent – Week Two PEACE

Sue’s Note: I must apologize about the order I mentioned for the Advent candles in my first Advent post. As I said, this tradition is new to me, and I have gotten out of order. In doing a bit more research, however, I see there isn’t absolute unity concerning which candle represents which week. Thank you for understanding!

This week Ron and I lit the second candle on our Advent wreath, a light symbolizing peace. On Week 3, we’ll explore Joy and Week 4, Love. (Today’s post contains excerpts from earlier posts written during previous Christmas seasons.)

 

     Hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus, the prophet, Isaiah, penned these words about the promised Messiah:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

     More than 250,000 nights later a band of angels announced the birth of that Messiah—a baby named Jesus—to a group of shepherds, declaring:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all people. (Luke 2: 14)

     Thirty-three years later the promise of peace, coming as a babe born in a lowly manger, would die a violent death on a wooden cross.

     Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples.

     For three years, he and his beloved friends had done life together. The young men who’d left all to follow Jesus had heard his radical teaching and marveled at miracles he performed.

     Scripture records final words spoken to his friends. Jesus warned them, they would suffer horribly—to the point of martyrdom— because of their alignment with him. Then, he said…

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

     In 1863, war ravaged a divided nation. Brother fought against brother, father against son. The Civil War created many tragic tales, such as that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

     Longfellow’s son had been crippled horribly in a fierce Civil War battle. The grief he experienced as a result of his son’s injury was complicated by the earlier death of his beloved wife, Fanny, who perished in a house fire. During his time of deep despair, Longfellow wrote the words to what has become one of my favorite Christmas carols.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

…Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

     It’s been over 2000 years since angels sang their song, more than 100 since Longfellow wrote Christmas Bells. Still, we ponder peace. Evening news reports scream violence. Christians still are martyred. Mass shootings claim the lives of young students and elderly worshipers. Women and children are sold as sex slaves. Immigrants, fleeing ravaged homelands, seek asylum in a more peaceful place.

     A part of me is tempted to ask, ’Okay, so where is this Prince of Peace?’ Thoughts of world peace seem hopeless. Hate remains strong, mocking the angelic song to the shepherds one night so long ago.

     Yet, a deeper part of my soul—that place that transcends my human understanding—believes more strongly than ever in The Prince of Peace.

     In the next Listening on the Journey… post, I’ll tell you about my friends, Barb and Will. Their story of tragedy and triumph illustrates the relevance of the peace Jesus promised to leave his friends, showing how that same peace remains available to believers in the 21st Century. Until then…

May peace fill your days…

Sue Reeve

Hope Helps Me Hang On…

“Every day I put hope on the line.”

     (attributed to Eugene Peterson)

     In Monday’s post, the first of the season of Advent, we recalled the hope of the nation of Israel. For hundreds of years, prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah.

Some scholars believe there are more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. These prophecies are specific enough that the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling even a handful of them, let alone all of them, is staggeringly improbable—if not impossible.[1]

     Hope concerning the coming of a savior helped many in the Jewish nation hang on to their faith. Others lost hope. They weren’t interested in words spoken by the prophets. Instead, they chose to listen to voices that led their nation into even deeper darkness.

     Hope is huge! Hope helps you and me hold on during dark days, or even long, dark seasons. Sometimes, though, people lose hope.

     A few years ago, a friend of mine ended her life. For some time, the smart, funny, big-hearted lady had been making very unwise choices. Friends and loved ones tried to warn her, but she chose instead to listen to the deceptive voice of a scoundrel she’d never met face to face.

     My friend at last lost hope. I’d like to think her situation is rare, but statistics show that isn’t the case.

More than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, contributing to an overall decline in U.S. life expectancy. Since 1999, the suicide rate has climbed 33 percent. [2]

     The suicide of one we love is devastating on oh, so many levels. The loss feels especially difficult during the holidays. If you are navigating that kind of grief this season of Advent, I’m praying for you right now, asking God to give you a good dose of divine grace and hope.

     Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, lost a son to suicide. His experience makes these words especially powerful.

What gives me the most hope every day is God’s grace; knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face…. [3]

May hope be kindled in your heart this holy season of Advent…

Sue Reeve

  1. https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/old-testament-prophecies.html
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/surviving-suicide/2018/11/28/suicide-prevention- suicidal-thoughts-research-funding/971336002/
  3. https://www.brainyquote.com

 

Advent – Week One HOPE

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.  Romans. 15:13

     Wow, it’s hard to believe! Thanksgiving 2018 is now history, and we’ve entered the Christmas season.

     If you know me well, you know I love everything Christmas. The sights, the sounds, the scents of the season fill me with excitement—and, I admit, sometimes, exhaustion.

     In my non-liturgical faith tradition, little emphasis was placed on Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Last year, I decided to download an Advent devotional, which I read daily until December 25th. Ironically, our pastors also chose to place emphasis on Advent, and each Sunday lit a candle on an Advent wreath.

     I loved my newfound dimension of Christmas, delving more deeply into the sacred meaning of the holy season. I determined to learn more about the liturgical tradition and wanted to create an Advent wreath for our home this year.

     During December, I will be placing emphasis on Advent in my personal devotions and in the Listening on the Journey… blog posts. Each week, my focus will be on traditional themes of Advent:

     Week One, the candle, known as The Prophets’ Candle, symbolizing HOPE;

     Week Two, The Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing FAITH;

     Week Three, The Shepherds’ Candle, symbolizing JOY;

     Week Four, The Angel’s Candle, symbolizing PEACE.

     On Christmas Eve, we’ll have our two young grandkids light a fifth, taller candle, which will be symbolic of Jesus.

     The Jewish nation hoped and waited for a savior for a very long time. More than 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet, Isaiah, foretold their Messiah’s birth,

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

The ancient Christmas hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel summarizes beautifully the hope of the prophets:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

     The first week of Advent focuses on the HOPE of Christmas—the arrival of Immanuel (also spelled Emmanuel) through the mystery of the incarnation.

Christmas is about the incarnation of Jesus. Strip away the season’s hustle and bustle, the trees, the cookies, the extra pounds, and what remains is a humble birth story and a simultaneously stunning reality — the incarnation of the eternal Son of God.

This incarnation, God himself becoming human, is a glorious fact that is too often neglected, or forgotten, amidst all the gifts, get-togethers, pageants, and presents…[1]

     In Thursday’s post, I will focus further on the importance of the hope of Emmanuel in our lives today. Until then,

Blessings as you ponder the mystery of the incarnation and the hope of Christmas…

Sue Reeve

  1. Joseph Scheumann, www.desiringgod.org/articles/five-truths-about-the-incarnation