Alleluia – The Christ Child Comes

Waiting is never easy and often as we await the birth of Christ it is hard to keep our focus on the things that really matter at this season. This year’s Advent video focuses on the joy and anticipation that should fill our hearts during Advent.

The music is “Wait for the Light” from the CD, VESPERS by Jeff Johnson with Janet Chvatal. © Taizé Community / GIA Publishing  Used with permission.

Below is a low quality version available on our YouTube channel. If you’re interested in purchasing the high quality version for projection, please visit the MSA video resources page.

Advertisements

The Wait is Over – Advent Reflection by Dave Timmer

nativity - Lu Lan China

nativity - Lu Lan China

This morning’s post comes from Dave Timmer who works with A Rocha here in the Pacific NW . He also manages Five Loaves Farm in Lynden WA

______________________________________________________________________________________

We’re bombarded with tradition at this time of the year.  As I get older, I think back on the advent traditions of my church.  There was a time that I didn’t think my church really dealt with advent.  That mostly came out of familiarity – traditions often become so second nature that we don’t even realize they are traditions.  It also came out of spiritual immaturity.  Christmas was about presents under the tree and the church rituals were just a sideshow.  Furthermore, and this still happens, my postmodern mind tends to get frustrated by the tradition battles that take place every year.  The fights over which decorations are appropriate in the sanctuary, or the ridiculous “War on Christmas” that a certain cable news station likes to invent.  Now, I see greed creep into my five year-old’s mind as he looks through a Christmas Lego magazine.  This is frustrating.  So, rather than enjoy this time of year, my jaded mind would rather just skip it.

Because of this, I need to remind myself that there are some advent traditions that are good to remember.

Every year, four Sundays before Christmas, the music changed in church.   The kids jockeyed for position to be Mary or Joseph in the upcoming play, not just a stoic shepherd or, even worse, a sheep.  And each week, a church family was responsible for lighting one more candle in the Advent wreath.  Of course, adding a candle each week dramatically increased the odds of lighter malfunctions.

This is probably my biggest advent memory – big brother (who is just old enough to be responsible with fire) is desperately clicking the unresponsive lighter and with an increasing amount of panic, he gives it a bit of a shake before finally making eye contact with dad.  Dad is nervously watching, mulling over his options of how to help.  Then just as dad is about to move, the lighter miraculously ignites and a soft chuckle rises from the congregation.  Big brother redeems himself by getting all the candles lit without also igniting his sleeve.  Dad smiles…disaster averted.

This year, though, I’ve been more aware of an advent emphasis on “waiting”.  It is an attempt to empathize with the young couple at the center of the Christmas story.  This couple wonders what awaits them in Bethlehem – with a new baby set to arrive soon, very soon.  No hospital arrangements are ready for them.  They don’t even have an open couch arranged.  Furthermore, this baby isn’t even Joseph’s.

Today, I’m wondering if this emphasis on waiting is appropriate.  There was a time for waiting, yes.  The Biblical story, brilliantly, plays this out.  As far back as the Genesis story, a promise is given.   A promise of redemption, a promise to make things right again.  The curse will be knocked back.  That is the central theme – and the story is amazing.  No matter how bad things get, God is not about to abandon this promise.  Noah builds a big boat.  Abraham has a son.  David becomes king.  It’s going to happen.

But God’s people rebel and Babylon creeps nearer.  The situation is as bad as it can get.  The prophets describe the scene.  Their sieged capitol city is in ruins.  People are so hungry.  There are stories circulating of mothers eating their own starved children.  The king, cowardly, fled the city.  But he was quickly captured, his sons were murdered, his eyes were cut out, his hands were bound and he was dragged into exile.  The temple is a smoldering pile of rocks.  God is gone and his people are scattered.  They are forced to leave their homes and their farms.  The symbol of God’s promise – the “promised” land – is no longer theirs.  The prophets long for restoration.

Throughout this longing, though, there weaves a beautiful thread of hope.  There are promises of peace and justice (often quite violent justice…but justice).  There are promises of deliverance and re-membering the scattered people.  There is the promise of a Messiah and rest.  There is hope, even, for the land.  The “promised” land experiences a Sabbath.

After these promises, however, there is silence…for a few centuries.  This is the time to wait.

Finally, the silence breaks.  Remember those promises.  There is now a new conqueror with a Roman name.  Remember that royal line.  The people have come back to that same land.  Remember that the land rested.  There is a new temple and new traditions.  Remember the pictures of justice that those prophets painted.  The new conqueror wants to keep track of all those people with all those traditions.  Remember how God uses nations to write his story.  And a poor, pregnant, unmarried couple travels across the country to have a baby in a barn.  Remember the Messiah that they wrote about.

The waiting is over.  This is what they’ve been waiting for.  The rest is history, right?  We’ve even made this moment our fulcrum of time.  Everything has changed.

Jesus’ kingdom has been established.  In it, the hard work of redemption is occurring.  This isn’t happening in some far-off place or some future kingdom.   God’s redemptive work is happening today.  His story continues.

So what are we waiting for?

The Christmas story has happened – remember it, yes.  Empathize with that young desperate couple – definitely.  But the time for waiting is over.

It’s time to join in.

Advent As A Mirror of Possibility and Expectation – Dave Perry

This post was provided by David Perry and was first posted on visual theology as Advent As A Mirror of Possibility and Expectation. If you would like a sneak preview of some of the other upcoming posts check out the links on the Advent synchroblog site:

Advent synchroblog link list part 1 

Advent Synchroblog second link list 

______________________________________________________________________________

Mirror of possibility and expectation

Mirror of possibility and expectation - photo by Dave Perrry

Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror outside the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre offers a strikingly attention-grabbing perspective on what is an otherwise unremarkable and fairly mundane space. It is as though the artist has designed the mirror to take this straightforward reality and imaginatively pour out its essence across the polished surface in a completely alternative representation of the context in which the viewer stands.

This perception-shifting piece of highly polished stainless steel reminds me of the mirror-like qualities of the texts, truths and promises which shape our experience of Advent. These take contexts which appear to be numbingly familiar, dispiritingly hopeless or unchangingly life-sapping and transforms our perception of them on the sparkling surface of possibility and expectation which God inspires within us and amongst us.

Advent challenges us to hold up this mirror of alternative realties and to feel the surge of transformational energy which flows when we see life from God’s perspective. Like the reflection in my image of Anish Kapoor’s sky mirror, the divine viewpoint revealed through Advent is anything but dull or monochromatic; it is colourful, vivid and stunning to behold, full of possibility and expectation. Even in the darkness. Then it is as though the mirrors gathers in all the available light and intensifies it into a freshly meaningful picture of the most brilliant colours and liquid shapes.

In today’s edition of The Guardian the renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz writes of the adventurous expectation which is essential to her creativity as a photographer. Needing to fill herself up again with all that she cared about she set off on a photographic pilgrimage and discovered renewed inspiration and reinvigorated her way of seeing.

In Christian Spirituality Advent serves a similar purpose. We journey to fill ourselves up with all that God cares about, and in so doing find ourselves brought back to the essence of our humanity. Advent is a mirror of possibility and expectation which liberates our seeing and inspires our discipleship afresh.

Through the sheer brilliance of God’s pure primary colours of grace our monochrome world becomes vivid with hope.

What Are We Waiting For – Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent by Dave Hens

Advent-2009-Flyer-300x200

jesus is Coming - What Do We Expect?

This post in the series Jesus is Coming What are We Waiting For comes from David Henson.  I am posting it today because I know that many of us like to get a head start on our reflections for Sundays. If you would like a sneak preview of some of the other upcoming posts check out the links on the Advent synchroblog site :

Advent synchroblog link list part 1 

Advent Synchroblog second link list ___________________________________________________________________________________

Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11, II Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

“First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging in their own lusts saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation … The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance!”

*****

O come, O come, Emmanuel

But God is late.

And ransom captive Israel

But where is this promise of the Lord’s coming, of God with us, Emmanuel, again, for things have continued as they were from the beginning of the world?

That mourns in lonely exile here

But here wolves still tear lambs limb from limb. Captives remain caged. Ploughshares are wielded as swords, and the poor get poorer, hungrier. The wages of sin stalk the world with renewed vigor and devilish creativity. And the good news, too often, drowns in a roiling sea of sorrow and rage.

Until the Son of God appear.

But we are to wait. And we continue to wait.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

But when? The expectation of God’s imminent return, of God’s ultimate deliverance, ripples through these texts of Advent. Set against the backdrop of socioeconomic turmoil, Jewish rebellion, Roman suppression, and the eventual destruction of the Temple, it is easy to understand this apocalyptic mindset. In the context of presumed end-times upheaval, it is easy to ask followers to wait on the Lord if the relief of apocalypse is a mere generation away, as Jesus promised in last week’s texts. It is easier to see the blood of martyrs water the earth and the smoke from a burning Temple choke out the sky when retribution and redemption will follow in just a few years.

It is easy to wait with an end in sight. It is much harder to endure the command to wait some 2,000 years later.

The end that had been promised by Jesus and elsewhere in the Christian sacred texts never came as expected. The return of Jesus has been delayed—maybe indefinitely, or at least that’s how it seemed. Perhaps a union of angels had threatened to strike over some heavenly grievance. It’s not hard to imagine that, say, there were too many damn rooms to clean in the Father’s house and God’s time clock, where a thousand days were like an hour, never paid a living wage. Perhaps Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us—got distracted, lost interest, or just plain forgot what with all the bells, whistles and wings twinkling and fluttering around him as the Resurrected Lord. Perhaps that chair at the right hand of God reclined a bit too much, was a bit too warm and cozy beside the fiery warmth of God.

Whatever the case, he’s late. And, yet, we are still to wait, despite the deep temptation this Advent season to simply open ourselves up to the pain of a hard truth: he’s not coming back as we have expected him to.

And, for that, we should be thankful, because the way in which Christians for centuries have expected the return of God isn’t exactly the good news we might expect from the Son of Man who came to heal the sick, preach good news to the poor and usher in the peaceful, reconciling Reign of God. The author of second Peter reminds his readers that, in the end, instead of persecuted Christians being burned up as they were then, it would be the nonbelievers, and, indeed, the entire world that would be dissolved in flames. In fact, the world, as it is now, is being stored up specifically for fire.

In other words, it turns out that our current terrestrial, island home has been made, in the end, to be obliterated. When Christ returns, the author of the epistle informs us, Emmanuel won’t come bearing a cross, offering to wash feet or restoring sight to blind. He will instead bring a blazing torch and the heavens and earth, and the sinners within, will burn in white-hot retaliatory rage.

In that case, then, don’t come back at all. If the epistle’s author is indeed correct in his eschatological vision, then, forgive me for saying so, God, but I’d rather you, regardless of your immanence here, simply keep your distance.

In that case, the cruelty of humanity might just be a mercy compared the judgment of God. Or at least there’s very little discernible difference between a God who wants to watch the world burn and a species all too ready to light the match. Indeed, perhaps we are made in the image of our Creator.

It’s not that we’re handling things just fine down here on this tightly wound mortal coil. Clearly, we are not. We’ve bound ourselves in enough knots that it might take another millennium to untangle ourselves. Or perhaps a fiery meltdown is the only way out of the mess we’ve made of things. But I’d like to think things aren’t quite so bad, that not all hope is lost.

I’d like to think that there is yet reason to still wait.

And if we can manage to listen closely to what the author is saying in the epistle, there is a beautiful truth to be found among the deathly cold indifference of bombastic end-of-world warnings, like a bright crocus blooming and shivering in a quiet blanket of forest snow. The author’s surprising point isn’t that the return of the Christ means the destruction of the world. That was already an expectation of his readers and an understandably human vision of divine retribution from an author who had likely seen his brothers and sisters murdered, burned, plundered and raped. The unexpected assertion—the joyful good news of it—isn’t that God is coming back, but that God has not yet come back as promised.

The good news is that God does not want the earth destroyed in fire, that God does not want anyone to perish. God wants all to come to repentance—which is to say, God wants all to live under the Reign of God, the way of peace, reconciliation and kenotic grace incarnated by Jesus. And when more and more of us commit ourselves to these kinds of “lives of holiness and godliness” as we wait for the return of Emmanuel, then, by the time our waiting is complete, we will have been co-creators and citizens of the a new heaven and a new earth already thriving on earth.

In other words, this Advent, realize that we are what we have been waiting for. This Advent, amid the old heaven and old earth in which things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation, be the return of Jesus,be Emmanuel, the God with humanity, be the second coming of Christ, bethe new heaven and the new earth.

The good news this Advent is that all this time, while we thought we were waiting on God, it was in fact God that was waiting on us.

And God is waiting still.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

David  Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalist. He is currently a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. His meditations and reflections on Scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk Through Advent, a 2009 publication of the Episcopal Church, Patheos.com, the Christian Century Web site and various blogs. Follow his writing at his Facebook page or on twitter. This post was first published at Patheos.com as What Are We Waiting for – Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent.

_____________________________________________________________________

Expect the Unexpected by Tracy Dickerson

Today’s post comes from Tracy Dickerson. It was first posted on her blog Nacreous Kingdom as Expecting the Unexpected. If you would like a sneak preview of some of the other upcoming posts check out the links on the Advent synchroblog site:

Advent synchroblog link list part 1 

Advent Synchroblog second link list 

_________________________________________________________

Giotto - annunciation

Giotto - annunciation

During the Advent season, we are in a state of expectation. We are waiting, longing, and looking forward to the arrival. But how that plays out over the period of a fortnight or so is as individual as it is intriguing.

The word “expecting” is an interesting one. It can be a verb: “I am expecting a package in the mail.” It can also used as a descriptor: “She is expecting.” (Similar to: “She is glowing.”)

When we link the idea of advent and expectation, what immediately comes to mind is how a pregnant Mary must have felt…what she thought…how she dreamed and planned…

 

We get a glimpse of that when we read her words in Luke 1:46-55~

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

It is clear from these words, exclaimed in response to the angel Gabriel’s declaration that she would bear the Messiah, that she fully expected the babe in her womb to very literally overthrow the Roman occupiers of Palestine. It is- I suspect- how any one of us would have reacted…what any one of us would have imagined. As we also often do, Mary was “pondering the things of the past” (Isaiah 43:18) and based her reaction on what she already knew of God- a very human response.

 

But as she watched the babe grow into a young man and a then a full-grown man, her relationship with God and His son matured. As this happened, we can be sure that she developed a more knowledgeable and informed understanding of her son and a broader understanding of the full scope His mission to the entire world. We can see this process clearly developing in the next chapter of Luke, where we see Mary watching her twelve-year-old son ingeniously debate with the learned religious leaders in the temple. Observing his keen spiritual insight and maturity, she “kept all these things in her mind, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) It is quite clear that her understanding and expectations of Him were being transformed. Observing what she did in the temple, she could not help but realize that God was preparing Jesus for so much more than what she had originally imagined.

And so it is with us. When we begin our walk with him, we have certain expectations of what Jesus will do, and how he will “show up” in our lives. But as our relationship with Jesus develops with time and intimacy, our expectations of how He “shows up” in our lives begins to expand and transform. We move from mere expectations of salvation, protection, and prosperity (very ‘me-centered’ expectations, if we are honest with ourselves about it) to expectations that are more Christ-centered, more wholistic, more robust.

An important question to ask ourselves (not only during the Advent season, might I add) is this:

 

“Jesus is Coming: What Do We Expect?” 

The God Who Would Be Friend – Theresa Froehlich

The following post was submitted by Theresa Froehlich for the series Jesus is Coming What Do We Expect? which should begin tomorrow with the beginning of Advent. However it seemed a very appropriate forerunner to the season so I thought that I would begin a little early with the journey.

Advent candle holder waiting to be filled

Advent candle holder waiting to be filled

 

The advent candle holder is on our dining table, ready for the special advent candles that represent Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

The candle holder is a round one with five Angels looking outward. After we carefully insert the Advent candles into their individual cavities, we light the candles and we read from the Advent devotional book. The devotional readings remind us that Christ has come, that he is Immanuel, God with us, and that he will come again. This simple ceremony is a powerful and profound experience as we look on the flames of the flickering candle giving light in darkness, savoring the real presence of Jesus Christ.

Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, reflecting and anticipating. The whole world is reflecting on their life during the first eleven months of the year and wondering what they could expect in the New Year.

During the Advent season, Christians attempt to focus our attention on the coming of Jesus Christ. Almost 2000 years ago, the coming of the Christ Child turned the world upside down. When this child became a grown man, he was crucified on the cross to save us from our sin. Throughout the centuries, the world continues to debate about Jesus. Who is Jesus Christ? Why did he come? Why would he give himself as a sacrifice? Why do Christians continue to make a big deal about his coming?

The answer to all these questions is found in an unlikely source. When Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate, the governor found no guilt and wanted to release Jesus. The Jews put pressure on Pilate to crucify Jesus, saying “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar’s (John 19:12).” To the Jews, the choice was rather clear: the choice of friendship is mutually exclusive. To the Jews, choosing Jesus Christ as friend is to turn away from other allegiances.

The coming of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy about him, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). But this prophecy was not fulfilled in the usual, political manner that most people would’ve expected. The God-King came to offer friendship so that he can become the king in our hearts. When we accept his offer of friendship, he becomes the Emmanuel, God with us, in our lives.

While the world is marking the beginning of Advent with a Black Friday shopping spree, we have an invitation from the Christ-Child to become his friend. How might you respond to this invitation?

Theresa Froehlich is a Certified Life Coach, Writer, Speaker, and ordained minister. She is a native of Hong Kong. She is married to Hervey Froehlich and they have two grown children. You can read more of her postings at http://www.transitionslifecoaching.org

 

Lord Jesus Christ Draw Close – A New Advent Video for 2011

This year’s Advent video focuses on our need to draw close to our Lord Jesus Christ during the Advent season. The music is “In Toto Corde ~ Lament” from the CD, ANTIPHON by the Coram Deo Ensemble.

Below is a low quality preview, which you are free to use. The high quality version is now available for download ($15) from our Mustard Seed webstore.

Also available are the videos from the past four years for immediate download or on DVD.

Music by Janet Chvatal, Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning
℗© 2011 Sola Scriptura Songs / ArkMusic.com
Used with permission. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Lord Jesus Christ Draw Close

Draw close, Lord Jesus Christ
Draw close, lead us with you light
Teach us the wonder of your love
Show us the glory of your saving grace
Draw close, God’s beloved son
Born to be redeemer of our world
The promised saviour of all creation
Draw close, shine for the world to see
Ignite in us your flame
Prepare us for a world of justice
Prepare us for a world of peace
Prepare us for a world of righteousness
Draw close renew our lives
Until our hearts ache for freedom
Our minds long for holiness
Our spirits seek for unity
Draw close we long for your coming
God of compassion and mercy
God of might and power,
God beyond imagining
Draw close, transform all things
Fill us with you love
Draw close, shine for the world to see