Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 2016: Prince of Peace, Week 3 (Sun., Dec. 11/16)

We are celebrating Advent using the acronym, “P.E.A.C.E.”  to focus our hearts and minds on the Prince of Peace. The first week we contemplated the “P” in P.E.A.C.E., which represents “Prophecy.” The people were walking in sorrow and darkness, but they saw a great Light breaking into their lives and restoring their hope (Isa. 9:2). Last week we focused on the “E”, which symbolizes “Expectation.” We reflected upon the Israelites’ expectation of Messiah and noted that when Christ was born in a setting fit for peasants versus a castle, most were unwilling to acknowledge Him as the One for whom they had been waiting.  This week we continue the “A”, which stands for “Announcement” (the pink Shepherds Candle or Candle of Joy).

The long-awaited Messiah was born, but many of the travel-worn people in Bethlehem were focused on registering for the obligatory census, paying their taxes, and finding shelter for the night. Meanwhile, shepherds in nearby fields were occupied with the demanding and arduous job of vigilantly caring for their flocks. Their daily responsibilities included leading their flocks to the pasture early each morning, keeping the sheep together, searching for any sheep that may have strayed from the flock, and making sure there was an adequate water supply. Each evening shepherds lead their flocks back to the sheep-fold, often standing watch through the night to protect the sheep from wild animals and thieves. They would have been exhausted from their day’s work and were probably sleepy on the night the angel broke through the inky sky, filling it with light. Nothing in their experience had prepared them for this spectacular heavenly encounter, and they were terrified!

The angel’s first words were, “Don’t be afraid”; he needed to be certain they could absorb the grand heraldic “Announcement.” Isaiah had advised the people to look for a sign that would signify Messiah’s arrival (Isa. 7:14), and now the angel confirmed the prophecy had been fulfilled (Lk. 2: 10-11). The proclamation of Messiah’s birth was joy-filled good news for all people and included His birthplace, and identifying details: He would be wrapped in cloths and resting in a manger-bed (Lk. 2:12); it was imperative that they locate the correct baby. Furthermore, to emphasize the magnitude of the announcement, the angel was joined by a whole host of angels, and they were saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” (Lk. 2:14). After the angels had gone, the shepherds didn’t linger; but they hurried to Bethlehem, where they saw Messiah for themselves. They wasted no time in joyfully announcing the good news to everyone they met on their return trip.

There are three significant factors to consider concerning the Announcement: 1) There is no need to be afraid of God’s messengers; 2) Jesus’ birth fulfilled Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy (Isa. 7:4); and 3) the discovery of God’s provision for salvation needs to be joyfully shared with others.  Our challenge is to ask ourselves if we joyfully and excitedly share with others our discoveries and insights we find as we study God’s Word.


Elizabeth Hayduk

Former Salvation Army Officer



Canada


Suggested Daily Readings:
Sun. Dec. 11/16 The birth of Jesus. Luke 2: 1-7
Mon. Dec. 12/16 Angel’s Announcement to Shepherds Luke 2: 8-12
Tues. Dec. 13/16 Promise of Peace from the Prince of Peace Luke 2: 13-14
Wed. Dec. 14/16 The Shepherds Hurry to Discover Messiah Luke 2: 15-21
Thurs. Dec. 15/16 Promise of peace in a turbulent world.  John 16: 33
Fri. Dec. 16/16 Jesus comforts the disciples and promises peace. John 14: 1-4; 21; 23-27
Sat. Dec. 17/16 Promise of peace that passes human understanding. Phil. 6: 6-7



Saturday, December 10, 2016

What a Rabbi Taught Me About Keeping Christ In Christmas



When people come to your church this Christmas season, they want to hear the story of Jesus. Give them what they came for.
by Karl Vaters

 “Keep Christ in Christmas” is a familiar saying this time of the year. But you don’t expect to hear it from the local rabbi.

For several years I was involved in our town’s Police Chaplaincy. One year, at our December meeting, the Methodist pastor noticed that the napkins had a picture of Santa Claus on them. He slid one across the table to the rabbi from the local synagogue.

“Hey Steve,” he asked, “what do Jews think about Santa Claus?”

“Nothing,” the rabbi responded as he picked up the napkin. “Santa is a Christmas character.”

“But he’s a secular figure,” countered the Methodist. “Don’t you even let the kids get presents from Santa so they won’t feel left out?”

“No,” he responded. “We don’t worry about that. Actually, I think Christians ought to keep Christ in Christmas.”

Until this point, my interest in the conversation had been minimal, but when a rabbi tells me to keep Christ in Christmas, he has my full attention.

“Did I hear you right, Steve?” I asked him.

“Absolutely,” he said. “As Jews, we don’t secularize our holidays. It amazes me when Christians water down their message with things that have nothing to do with their faith.

 “In fact, I’ve actually delivered a ‘keep Christ in Christmas’ message to my congregation as a lesson about not diluting our faith with non-Jewish images and celebrations.”

As the conversation went on, my attitude shifted from curiosity to gratitude as my friend, the rabbi, taught me the following lessons about Christmas – and about being Christian:
1. They’re coming to church for the Jesus story
“When you come to a synagogue during any of our holiday seasons, you will never be confused about which symbols are religious and which ones are secular. I assume that if people are coming to a synagogue they are coming to see Jewish symbols and receive Jewish teaching, and that’s all I give them. Holiness means ‘set apart’. When we add non-religious symbols to the picture, we make it less than holy.”

People can, and do, go to a lot of places to get Christmas cheer. When they choose to come to a church during the Christmas season it’s not because they want to see more of what they can get elsewhere. They’re coming to church because they want to hear about Jesus.

I don’t see any need to be an anti-Santa zealot. But let’s not let this once-a-year opportunity pass us by. And don’t water it down.

Give them what the came for.

Give them Jesus.

2. Believe what you believe, but don’t be a jerk about it
“What do you do when someone wishes you Merry Christmas?” asked my Methodist colleague.

“I wish them a Merry Christmas back,” responded the rabbi. “We’re allowed to say the words, you know,” he smiled. “What would you say if someone wished you ‘Happy Hanukkah’?”

“I say Happy Hanukkah back,” the Methodist answered.

“There you go.”

3. Why blend in when we can be set apart?
“So, being around the Christmas images doesn’t make you uncomfortable?” I wondered out loud.

“No,” he replied. “The vast majority of our society claims to be Christian. If you lived in Israel, you’d expect Jewish celebrations to be predominant, right?”

“Which brings me back to my original question,” my Methodist friend responded. “What about your kids? Don’t they feel left out when almost all the other kids are celebrating Christmas?”

Separation from the culture isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s who we are.

“No,” responded the rabbi. “What some people call left out, we call set apart. Being different is central to what it means to be Jewish. It always has been. So that’s what we teach our kids. That kind of separation from the culture isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s who we are.”
After that, the conversation ended with thanks and farewells – and a few Merry Christmases and Happy Hanukkahs, of course.

I went home pondering these things in my heart.

And I’ve never looked at Christmas the same way since.

Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today.



Friday, December 9, 2016

How Far is it ?


Major Danielle Strickland
USA Western Territory




Dante’s version of hell had many levels. One of them was called limbo. Catholics call it purgatory—it’s where you aren’t where you’re going but you’re not where you’ve been. You are in-between. Caught between two worlds. It’s a hard place to be.

I’ve read that living a completely free life means to be fully present. Letting go of yesterday and not being concerned with tomorrow. “Just live for today.” It looks way easier on Pinterest than in real life.

How do you live in expectancy without anxiety?
How do you hope without wanting?
How do you live in the present with meaning without wasting time?
When I started asking questions about this season, it dawned on me. We are all in this season. Together. This is the walk of faith. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s the “now and the not yet” of God’s Kingdom. We are all “not where we are going” but “not where we were.” Amen.

We are the in-betweeners in this world.

And that’s why living this life of faith is so truly difficult. We are called to live in the present with expectancy, hope and meaning…but the tendency we all have (because we are human) is anxiety, wanting, and wasting time. So, I’m taking this season as a lesson in faith: in real, living, Kingdom style faith. I’m letting go of the past. Yesterday is overrated. and I’m losing a preoccupation with what I can’t control about tomorrow. Instead, I’m choosing to practice an expectant hope for today. What is in front of me today? What does Jesus have for me today? “Give me my daily bread” comes to mind. Oh yeah, that’s the way Jesus taught us to pray and live. I’m looking for the deep meaning of my faith in this day. I refuse to waste my limbo.


I’m embracing in-between as a way of life.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

GENERAL JOHN GOWANS


https://youtu.be/VcYUGCa13lA

He died four years ago today, December 8, 2012.

I met him only on three occasions.  I’m quite certain our brief encounters didn’t make much of an impression on him but they made quite the impact and impression upon me then and still to this day.

In remembrance of the 16th General of The Salvation Army.

“Jesus didn’t only die to give you your sins forgiven.  He died to release in you his Holy Spirit and develop you into such a beautiful person…that you look something like him!”

André L. Burton
Former Officer – Greater New York

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

‘IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR’

 I love it, I love everything there is about Christmas.  Carolling with an SA band … the buying of presents, wrapping them … writing of endless cards … the decorations …  turkey on Christmas day with all the trimmings … giving time to those who would otherwise be on their own and sharing Christmas with them, trying to help them feel part of the family.  

I love the cold weather, clear, dark starry nights and walking Mr Ben, our Cocker Spaniel, and as we walk gazing into people’s windows and admiring their Christmas trees.  I love it when people are kind enough to decorate the outside of their homes too and put lights on trees in their gardens. 

Just last week Sven and I were in London and briefly saw some of the Regent Street and Oxford Street lights; this year the sky is filled with angels and as I delight in all the lights I am reminded of the words from Isaiah 9 ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned;’ words of prophesy spoken more than 400 years before the birth of Christ. 

At the end of the Old Testament God was in hiding.  For a long time He had threatened to hide His face … and He did … and a dark shadow fell across the world.  For four centuries, the four hundred years of God’s silence, people searched for, longed for the promised Messiah. .. And then, He came to a dark, hurting world.

Ironically, in the western world we celebrate Christ’s coming to earth as a babe on the 25th December. In Europe, this follows the darkest time of the year, but what kind of dark world did He come to over two thousand years ago?  What was happening at the time of Jesus’ birth?  There was violence, injustice, abuse of power, homelessness, refugees fleeing oppression, families ripped apart, and bottomless grief.  Sound familiar?  Sound just like today?

The world has and always will need Christ, Light of the World and advent is a constant reminder of this eternal gift.

Hans Christian Anderson’s story of 'The 'Little Matchgirl' reflects, for me, something of the spirit of Advent. The little Matchgirl was a young child, undernourished and very poor. She earned her daily bread by selling matches, but the earnings were sparse and at home a cruel father was waiting to punish her if she failed to bring home enough money. One dark winter night she was standing in her usual place, shivering and gazing at the lighted windows of the big houses all around her, catching fleeting glimpses of all that was going on inside those rooms … the preparations for Christmas, the lovely gifts, the bright decorations, the happy faces, the smell of Christmas puddings and roasting goose.

All she had was a box of matches and there were no customers that night.   Everyone had other things on their minds. 'Dare I strike one?' she wondered. She took out a match, and struck it, gazing for a few brief moments into its blaze of light. As she did so, she imagined that it was one of those lighted windows.  She looked inside, in her imagination, and entered into a warm room where loving friends welcomed her.  Another match; another scene.  Another window to look into.  Perhaps a fine dinner set out for a family.  The crackling of the goose, the aroma of mince pies.  Food and shelter.  And so she continued, until she came to the last match in the box.

As she strikes her last match, the little Matchgirl sees a shooting star falling across the night sky and her granny is standing there, smiling, waiting to gather the child into her arms and carry her home to heaven. The frozen child is discovered the next morning, with an empty matchbox in her hands and a deep, contented smile across her white face.'

That night, in the darkness and in her pain, the Little Matchgirl experienced something of mystery and hope in light. 

Advent, invites us to gaze with awe and wonder into God’s great light, and discover again something of the mystery of His coming to earth as the Christ Child.  As we sing the old familiar carols:  ‘Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.  The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.’  May we recognize afresh:  ‘How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.  So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heaven. 


No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him STILL the dear Christ enters in.’  Emmanuel, God with us, leading us closer and closer to Him, the mysterious light of the world.

Glad Ljungholm
Major
The Salvation Army, UK

Monday, December 5, 2016

O come, O come, Emanuel


                                                                     Since the first humans were exiled from Eden, we’ve been waiting for Messiah. Yet, when Jesus came, only a handful of Judean shepherds and three Gentile wise men welcomed His much anticipated arrival. Other than that, His entry went pretty much unnoticed. John wrote, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11, NIV).  “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .” (John 1:12 NIV).

Then, the promised, resurrected Messiah, left His followers standing open-mouthed on a hillside, watching Him ascend. . . leaving them again with a promise of His return to unite them to Him forever. And so it began again. The watching. The waiting. And like the exiles from Eden, and in Babylon, or during the days of the Roman occupation, here we wait centuries later. As the bride who eagerly anticipates her wedding day, we yearn for the day of His for His Second Coming.
We are standing on the edge of eternity, perhaps as the last-century Church. Waiting. Watching for the promise of Emmanuel to come and ransom captive Israel. How do we wait?

Mark, who ministered with the apostle Peter, shares an insight with us of the experience the disciples had in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was arrested. His purpose for coming to earth was about to culminate in His suffering on the cross. So prior to the soldiers’ arrival, Jesus asked His disciples to wait and watch while He prayed a little distance away from them. But when Jesus returned from agonizing prayer, He found the disciples asleep, “’Simon,’” he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Mark 14:37-38). 

Years later, perhaps remembering Jesus’ warning in Gethsemane, Peter admonished the first-century Christians: “The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (1 Peter 4:7). We have so much in common with those first century believers. The world is looking to stamp out Christianity. Our brothers in the Middle East, and in many parts of the world face brutal persecution. Who would have thought that in the 21st Century we would be witnessing imprisonments, crucifixions, burnings, and beheadings of Christians? Who would have thought that in the Western hemisphere there would be the cultural war on Christianity? Who would have thought that within the church itself the cultural war and apathy eats away at our very faith?

Jesus and Peter saw it. Peter warned us to watch and remain sober. Stay rooted in God’s Word. Keep alert so you can pray! Jesus posed the question, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith left on earth?” But Jesus also promised, “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. (Mark 13:26-27). The question is, will He find us equipped, vigilant, and ready! Even so, Lord Jesus, come!

Jean Kellner
Former Salvation Army Officer

USA