We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Monthly Archives: December 2010
At this Christmas season we at All Saints Church would like to remember our brother Jack Walp who has this year gone home to be with the Lord. In the past, Jack has been a valued contributer to our Advent Devotionals, and below is a reprinting of one of his works.
Christmas was a big deal in my non-Anglican, Calvinistic childhood. We were Presbyterian, so “Advent” was some sort of a season, but Christmas was the important thing, and, in my family, we celebrated Christmas from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
The house was decorated inside and out; lights, leafs of holly, wreaths of green and crinkling wrapping were my earliest memories, as well as the annual expedition to seek out the perfect Christmas tree. Early on was the making of the fruitcake… lots of fruitcake–baked in November, wrapped in rum soaked towels and put away to season for a month, finally to be sliced on Christmas Day.
We had a life-sized figure of Santa Claus too, a cardboard cutout, gleaned from a department store display. He was seated in a chair, beaming broadly, a pipe ready to be stuck in his droll mouth. Each year a photo was taken, me beside Santa, smiling as if I had just been admitted into the “Secret Society of the Young Friends of Santa Claus,” and given a code word no other kid on my block would know. Then, the year came that I was taller than the cardboard Santa, and the photos stopped!
We sang carols, played a special collection of 78s, and heard the story of the trip to Bethlehem, the shepherds the wise men and the creatures gathered round. On Christmas day we gathered round Santa and that perfect tree, to exchange presents, wonderful gifts to be opened one at a time. There was a sense of delicious expectation to Christmas morning, when opening presents lasted till noon.
But, there was a problem. In my very young mind there was rampant confusion; I couldn’t separate Santa and God. What did Santa have to do with the Christ child, let alone with God? And where exactly did he fit into the Christmas story, the one about the star the shepherds, the stable and the wise men? It was all very puzzling, and for a long time Christmas, or Advent, was a pair of parallel paths, never meeting. Santa on one and the Christ child on the other. With maturity this conflict resolved itself. But in today’s world, the one that glorifies Santa and marginalizes the baby Jesus, I sometimes wonder if I was not the only one to be confused by this dichotomy.
AM Psalm 2, 85; PM Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 132
Zech. 2:10-13; 1 John 4:7-16; John 3:31-36
What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.
Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished,may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.
To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
AM Psalm 45, 46
Isa. 35:1-10; Rev. 22:12-17,21; Luke 1:67-80
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth andteach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)
I wonder what it was like for the generations of God’s chosen people to wait and wait and wait for the promised Messiah: all those who lived and died inthe years between the prophets of the Old Testament and the arrival of John the Baptist finally proclaiming the news that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
I, too, find myself in a place of waiting. I’ve been here before and I don’t like it. But, here I am and God has brought me here, so I will wait for him – and with him – as he does his work in me. I know it’s a time of preparation. In past seasons of waiting, there has been healing, a stripping away of those things that have been between me and the Lord, a spiritual house-cleaning.
Prior to this, I have enjoyed a long, unprecedented season of sweet communion with the Lord – a time of open communication almost along the lines of “downloading.” It’s difficult– painful, really – to come from that place of green pastures and fresh breezes to a place that feels arid and lonely. But I know this Waiting Place is holy ground and anywhere God is working is where I choose to be.
Just as there was “darkness over the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2) at the time of creation, the Spirit of God was “hovering.” Just as there was silence from the likes of the prophets in the Old Testament, God’s Spirit was still hovering and at work preparing the way for Messiah’s birth. Just as there was darkness in the hearts of mankind, the Light of the World “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Here in my Waiting Place, even though my light feels a little dim and my quiet time with the Lord can be a little too quiet, I know the Holy Spirit is hovering, preparing and shining his light in my darkness. I will try to wait expectantly because God has shown me his faithfulness and love. He is making me to know his ways, leading me in his truth and teaching me. He is the God of my salvation and for him I will wait all the day long.
AM Psalm 80; PM Psalm 146, 147
Isa. 29:13-24; Rev. 21:22—22:5; Luke 1:39-48a(48b-56)
Have you ever seen one of those crystals hanging from someone’s rear-view mirror? Have you ever been driving along, or maybe sitting at a stoplight, and all of a sudden the crystal dangling from the rear-view mirror of the car in front catches the sunlight just right and FLASH this amazing explosion of color appears out of nowhere? I don’t know why, but this used to happen to me fairly regularly. It seems to have tapered off lately, though. Maybe the folks who were into crystals have moved on to something else.
Now don’t worry, this meditation is not about crystals! It is not even about whether you should dangle stuff from your rear-view mirror–though I will confess to you that the father in me is saying that you shouldn’t! What this meditation is about is that FLASH, that explosion of reds and blues and purples that grabs you and causes you to look twice. It arrests you. It makes you focus your attention to seewhat happened and whether it will happen again.It yanks you out of your normal everyday rut of thinking about bills and meals and kids and parents and pets and friends and work and school and… It takes you someplace else: What was that? Did you see that color? Did something really happen, or am I just “seeing things”? Will it happen again?
Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth in the second chapter of his Gospel account. The story of the shepherds begins in verse 9. I love the shepherds. Ordinary guys doing a dirty job that respectable people would not do. It’s nighttime, and they are out keeping track of the sheep.
Maybe you can feel the moment. It’s pretty quiet. Sheep are all around. You can smell them. It’s late, so the shepherds who are still awake aren’t talking very much. It’s chilly out. There’s a fire. A couple of the shepherds have gathered around it to warm up. They are staring into the fire, lost in their own thoughts…
FLASH: An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. (v 9)
What was that? I can’t believe I’m not dead! Let’s get out of here!
FLASH: And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”(vv.10-12)
Did you hear that? What did he say? Is this all just in my head?
FLASH: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (vv. 13-14)
Did you see that? And the music–such music–such glorious music!
So the shepherds say to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (v. 15) They head to Bethlehem, and…
FLASH: They found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (v. 16)
Wow! It was just like the angel said it would be. Can you believe it? Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!
What will Christmas be for us? Will it be a FLASH? Will we open our hearts enough, lower our guards enough, humble ourselves enough to see the FLASH? Will we have the courage to refrain from telling God what this FLASH must look like for us–will we allow the FLASH to be His FLASH for us?
Here’s the incredibly good news. If we humble ourselves to see His FLASH, if we will let the FLASH be His FLASH, that FLASH will be for us the first flash of the dawn…
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
Father God, may this be so for all of us. Bless us with the light of life. Lead us out of darkness and death. Lead us into your peace. Amen and Amen.
AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 111, 113
Isa. 28:9-22; Rev. 21:9-21; Luke 1:26-38
When we lived in Chicago, my husband, Craig, taught first and second grade Sunday School. His class was often done early with the lesson, and so they played “Flashlight Tag.” Craig and his co-teacher, Kyle, turned off all the lights in their basement room (which made it fairly dark) and turned on a flashlight. Craig or Kyle shined the flashlight around the room, and the kids got on their hands and knees and scurried around trying to avoid being “hit” by the flashlight. I’ve always found this game hilarious, because Craig and Kyle could hit anyone they wanted at any time, but the children had no idea. They loved the game.
In Flashlight Tag, darkness is where you are safe, and light is the uncertain aggressor. That’s not usually how we think of darkness and light, is it? Usually, we associate darkness with things like criminals and monsters. Light, on the other hand, has much more positive connotations: children can play outside when it’s light and the truth comes to the light. The Bible uses light in similarly positive ways. John’s gospel ties light to life (1:4) and knowledge (1:9) and Jesus declares that he himself is “the Light of the world” (8:12). Light is where God is, while the darkness is where evildoers dwell (3:20).
However, even though light is associated with truth and knowledge and Jesus, living in the light isn’t easy. We are all like the famous prisoners of Plato’s Cave: sometimes it seems a bit safer to stay where we are than to walk into the light and be momentarily blinded. For us, coming into the light can be much more traumatic than simply being hit by a flashlight. Let’s face it, Jesus isn’t a wimpy flashlight. He is an avalanche of light, and this light is full of conviction, hope, truth, and beauty. These are all good things, and we want them for ourselves and our world, but they are not easy things.
This Advent, may we all learn to walk more in the light of God’s presence. In fact, we are commanded to do so: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him (Jesus) and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). As we celebrate the coming of Jesus as a tangible human baby, may we also welcome his presence–his light–in our darkest places. Some of us may be holding the light of God back on purpose, and I pray you will start to let it shine through cracks in your soul. Some of us may sense God is waiting for us to take steps into his light to live more full of grace and peace. Let’s take those steps, because although the darkness may feel safe, the light is life everlasting.
AM Psalm 66, 67; PM Psalm 116, 117
Isa. 11:10-16; Rev. 20:11 – 21:8; Luke 1:5-25
I walk out onto the deck of my cottage, looking up at the great river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky. A sliver of a moon hangs in the southwest, with the evening star gently in the curve. Evening. Evening of this day. Evening of my own life.
I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? All kinds of estimate have been made and, as far as we can tell, not one is accurate. All we know is that once upon a time or, rather, once before time, Christ called everything into being in a great breath of creativity – waters, land, green growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures – the beginning, the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that God’s time is different from our time. A thousand years for us is no more than the blink of an eye to God. But in God’s good time the universe came into being, opening up from a tiny flower of nothingness to great clouds of hydrogen gas to swirling galaxies. In God’s good time came solar systems and planets and ultimately this planet on which I stand on this autumn evening as the Earth makes its graceful dance around the sun. It takes one Earth day, one Earth night, to make a full turn, part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And God called it good, very good.
A sky full of God’s children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a subatomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are made in God’s image, male and female, and we are, as Christ promised us, God’s children by adoption and grace.
Children of God, made in God’s image. How? Genesis gives no explanations, but we do know instinctively that it is not a physical image. God’s explanation is to send Jesus, the incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don’t try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God’s limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.
Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?
(this selection is available in this collection)
Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
AM Psalm 61, 62; PM Psalm 112, 115
Isa. 11:1-9; Rev. 20:1-10; John 5:30-47
It was cold and cloudy on the park at the top of South Mountain, and our host kept saying he wished that the sun would come out so that we could enjoy our trip more. Still, the view of the city was magnificent from up there, and the rapid development of the place was evident everywhere. Western China is no longer the underdeveloped, out-of-the way place it once was, at least not in the cities. Cranes and skyscrapers dominate the skyline in every direction, and shiny new buildings seem to appear out of nowhere. But we didn’t enjoy the view for long, as we all wanted to get down the mountain and find a place to get warm.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
As we approached the temple at the bottom of the mountain, the sun came out, warming our windblown faces and hands. But the light of the sun couldn’t mask the darkness around me. People stood in front of the temple, burning incense and paper “money” and little bundles of food in prayers to the dead, to false gods, to some combination of the two. The remains of their offerings littered the ground. Daoist priests sat in dark robes at low tables, telling the fortunes of successful looking young Chinese with searching eyes. Beggars sat on steps hoping to benefit from the temple-goers good deeds. The sun was bright by then, but the darkness surrounded us.
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
We made our way to a café to get some hot chocolate, a treat not available here ten years ago but easy enough to find thanks to economic development and the arrival of many foreigners. This particular café supports development work among Tibetans, selling handcrafts made by women in rural parts of the province, women who offer part of their meager income to Buddhist monks in hopes of gaining favor. I’ve been to one of those monasteries. I’ve not found a darker place since.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
On our way back, our bus passed a mosque, one of the biggest in China. In just a few days, that mosque would be the site of a huge yearly sacrifice, where every family who can afford it slaughters a cow or sheep to pay for their guilt. The Muslims here follow the rules well, and it leads to blood… blood and darkness.
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
So much death and fear of death and darkness and lostness prevail in this place. Not even the shiny new high rises or glitzy department stores can hide it. But He is here, too, the Dayspring, the one who came as a baby and died as a man and rose as a new creation. He is here in the hearts of those who love Him, foreign and local. He longs to bring light to the temple, the monastery, the mosque. He is the Light to disperse this darkness, and I wait for the day when all of the people here can sing with us:
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!