Daily Archives: December 2, 2013

ours for the asking

O come, O come, Emanuel
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!

I literally hear a stringed orchestration of this song in my head when I read the title.

Beautiful

Haunting

A song about preparing

A song about waiting

And one of my favorites

As I read through the lyrics again, the music (again, in my head) pours over me and I feel hope.

2954f38ee615dc90269b6b4a24201813This song reminds me that hope doesn’t always mean that all is well. Hope doesn’t always mean we are on the right path or that everything will be okay. There wouldn’t be a need for hope if it were.

Hope is the sense that words like right, well, peace and wholeness are possible, but not right now.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11

The mournful sound of this song doesn’t gloss over the harshness of our world nor does the yearning downplay the sure and certain hope of God-with-us, light that puts dark to flight and peace for all creation. This song, more than any other for me, captures this state of in-between-ness. We’re caught between the hurt and the healing, the despair and hope  and the waiting for and seeing God’s Kingdom.

It’s when I listen to these words during the long, dark hours of winter (nights like this):

O come, O come, Emanuel
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!

My heart cries right along with it and those tears are as healing as the waters of baptism.

My challenge to you: listen to those words again in a version more to your liking. Join the generations that weep for los and long for hope. Know that despite of all that we see and experience here, this isn’t our final destination. Ask God to make that abundantly clear to you this holiday season.

O come, O come, Emanuel

—And if you’d like to “hear” what I often hear in my head…take a look at this arrangement by one of my favorite groups: The Piano Guys.

traditions: trimming the tree

I’ve said it before and have no shame in mentioning it again.

I love Christmas.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to decorate my apartment since I would be away during the holiday 14aa4b07b7c8e786dcf8d175e25282a0weekend and wanted to come home to Christmas. The balcony had been decorated during one of the last 50 degree days of October (early, I know, but that’s what we do in Minnesota).

I hauled out my new tree, last years’ ornaments, the matching, deep-red tree skirt, and other odds and ends. As I was wrapping glittered, net-style ribbon around my little tree, I pondered how they got their start and the connection to Jesus.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him… John 19.17-18

Let’s start with the Christmas tree’s history: It’s been said that the Christmas tree has its roots buried in Germany. Ever hear of the term tannenbaum? It’s the German word for Christmas tree. In 1570, a small tree was decorated with what we now consider holiday foods and was set up in the 16th century equivalent of today’s gentleman’s club: a guild-house. Children were allowed to collect those treats (apples, nuts, dates and pretzels) on Christmas Day.

Wax candles were added to the mix in the 18th century and eventually, the tradition spread to other countries.

By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was termed a Christmas tradition. Artificial trees were introduced and they, too originated in Germany.

The connection to Jesus: I think of God’s story…our history.

When you start in the book of Genesis and follow His story to Revelation, there are two trees: The first trees in the garden and the tree where Jesus gave his life.

Trees are a symbol of strength, growth, prosperity, intimacy, life and death. They provide context for both the sorrow and hope of mankind. A tree is at the center of our fall into sin and is also at the center of our salvation.

God created us in his image; to commune with him through an eternal life of worship. This life was embodied in the Tree of Life in the midst of Eden. And it was through the abuse of another, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that Adam and Eve were separated from the Tree of Life; from God himself. Hope seemed lost forever.

But God, in his great mercy and grace, offered another way through his Son at Calvary.

At Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We celebrate our hope.

His story climaxes on the tree at Golgotha; on the cross.

That last tree, the cross, was a far cry from the one gracing my living room. That first tree wasn’t a beautiful evergreen found among many on a tree farm or in the woods. It was a piece of rough-hewn wood with no natural beauty and its sole purpose was to bring misery and pain and eventually death. Its only beauty was in the purpose for which God intended in using it: to restore our relationship with him.

Instead of being decorated with white lights and ornaments from my childhood, the Light of the World hung upon its limbs, his body beaten and bruised by those responsible for his punishment.

There was no tree skirt or fake snow beneath this tree. Instead, the ground was stained crimson red by the blood shed for the sins of the world.

We share stories of Christmases past, sing Christmas carols and joyful laughter around our trees today. Those who did so then were hurling insults and mocked the Son of God – Emanuel – God with us. He was shown no mercy and yet, chose to show us mercy.

Remember those gifts tied to the branches of the first originating “Christmas trees”? This may very well be the only similarity between our tree and the tree on which my Savior died. The greatest gift of all was “tied” to the branches of the tree on Golgotha. There he died and paid the penalty for not my sin, but the sins of the entire world. There, he gave a gift, a free gift, so unlike those we give to one another and this gift is still active, alive and available today.

My tree is placed in a prominent position in my living room: right in front of the giant glass patio doors for the world (well, my little world anyway) to see. Just as my tree has that vantage point, I have to make that same choice to have the cross placed in a prominent position in my life and in my heart. Does the world see him through the way I live? Through my actions? Through my words? Do they?

I challenge you to look beyond the tree gracing your home, if you have one, and see the tree on which Jesus gave his life – for you and for me.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. 2 Corinthians 9.15

December 2: Mary’s magnificent God

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has show strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1.46-55

Mary sees clearly a most remarkable thing about God: he is about to change the course of all human history. The most important three decades in all of time are about to begin. And where is God? Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women – one old and barren (Elizabeth), on young and virginal (Mary). And Mary is so moved by the vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song – a song that has come to be known as “the Magnificat.”

Mary and Elizabeth are wonderful heroines in Luke’s account. He loves the faith of these women. The thing that impresses him most, it appears, and the thing he wants to impress on Theophilus, his noble reader, is the lowliness and cheerful humility of Elizabeth and Mary.

Elizabeth says, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1.43) and Mary says, “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1.48).

The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary – people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by condescension of the magnificent God.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org