I always loved chocolate advent calendars as a kid (and still do). These have a little door to open with chocolate or candy inside, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. Some might criticize this as a commercial side of Christmas, but I think it teaches anticipation, which is a central theme in the Christmas story.
Anticipation is one way to describe the period after the Old Testament while the Jews waited for a new revelation from God. Anticipation might not even be a strong enough word, considering this was about 400 years. Longing, yearning, desperation, doubt: these round out the feeling of God’s people as they had to accept centuries of silence with no prophecies or prophets and no new scriptures.
In this long period of waiting, the Jews learned two sides of anticipation: hope and patience. Hope fixes our eyes on a better future; patience strengthens us in the present until we get there.
The Jews clung to the hope that their fortunes would be reversed. After the destruction of the temple and the exile to Babylon, the words of the prophet Zechariah were especially comforting. His bold visions told of the restoration and prosperity of Jerusalem; of the Lord Himself defending them against Satan’s accusations and of the coming Messiah who would save His people and reign over all the earth.
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation” Zechariah 9:9
Although these words offered great hope, the Jews gradually realised that they would have to be patient. The bright promises would wane and turn into years, decades and centuries. Another prophet, Zephaniah, had this message: “’Therefore wait for me,’ declares the Lord” (3:8). Many generations of God’s people had to live in this tension of anticipation: being emboldened by the hope of things to come, but sobered by the need to be patient and trust in His timing.
Where are you in this balance of hope and patience this Christmas? What is a need or prayer of yours in this holiday season? Anchor your hopes in the sureness of scripture, which shows us a good God who fulfills His promises.
Is there some area that you need to learn patience in? This is the other side of anticipation, and is one of the hardest lessons to learn, but remember that when you feel you don’t have the patience to wait any longer, the Holy Spirit is there praying for you.
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we await for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8: 24-26
“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16
“What does this mean?” We have always asked this question in some shape or form throughout our lives: as a toddler pointing to a word in a picture book, as a teenager coming across new SAT vocabulary, or even as an adult Luddite dealing with a pop-up message on a new gadget. More existentially, we grapple with the meaning of life, or we try to make sense of a loss—“Why did this have to happen?” In psychology, the process by which we understand, interpret and make sense of life events, relationships, and ourselves, is called “meaning-making.”
As Christians, we can rest in the knowledge that while we may not always know the meaning, we can know God, the ultimate meaning-maker. His being is the root of all meaning, and his relationship with us gives our lives overarching meaning.
As I sat across a sister who was trying to work through repressed anger and depressed thoughts, a struggle that I had known intimately, it also cast new meaning over my previous battle. I could comfort her with the comfort that God had shown me, and the experience brought a new layer of restoration into my heart.
We are interpreters of our own lives, and how we choose to deal with the loss, confusion, and hurt depends on how much we decide to trust God with our being. We may not know the meaning in this lifetime but peace comes when we are all right with not knowing. We can say, “God, I don’t know why that had to happen. But I trust you because your ways are higher than my ways, your thoughts higher than my thoughts.” We can stop our relentless, exhausting search for meaning, which in itself can become an idol, and press on to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In the process, we may find what we had really been looking for.
Let us answer "What Does It Mean?" by:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4
How does James’ directive on the sin of partiality connect with our Bold Faith initiative?
During our recent sermon series on James, we have been reminded of Jesus’ brother’s straightforward admonitions in a number of areas of our lives.
As a part of the Bold Faith team, it was a great reminder of the Biblical way to encourage generous giving or more precisely of how not to motivate generosity. While our Bold Faith initiative starts with generous giving of prayer time and focus, this passage is most connected in the giving of financial resources or more correctly returning to the Lord a portion of the resources—time, talent and treasure that He has entrusted us to steward.
The lesson provided is that the Lord will reward according to His understanding of our hearts. So we do not need to use recognition programmes rewarding worldly values: Gold or Silver achievement levels; special clubs—“the pastor’s mega givers;” naming rights for rooms or halls or even listing those who have or are giving.
Our reward is not here on earth! It is so different from the secular fundraising that we are used to seeing and participating in.
Let us forbid favouritism by:
First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. Proverbs 16:18 (MSG)
Recently I was re-reading How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. It talks about how once big and formidable companies eventually fall from “great” to “irrelevant” or even "non-existent." According to Collins, the first step of this fall is called “hubris”—pride, arrogance, and a sense of entitlement.
Pride is deadly in business. Pride is also deadly in personal life.
In my ministry experience, most of the people whom I have met are truly humble. The few who I would describe as prideful was outside of ministry in a relatively short time.
Pride may exist in many forms. The most common ones that I have encountered are:
1. I am indispensable.
2. I am always right.
Whether it is at work, in business, or at home; pride shows up easily. I am amazed to see how this plays out even in parenting and marriage.
C.S. Lewis says, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” A good way of fighting pride is to turn our mental energies to focus on the needs of others.
But wait! Don’t say, “I know their needs, they need to...”
Why don’t we do an exercise? Why don’t we access their needs as they define it?
Ask your wife or husband, “How can I love you better?”
Ask your child, “What did daddy or mommy do that made you feel really loved?”
Ask a colleague, “What is it like to work with me? Can I do something different to make me a better colleague to you?”
As James 4:6 says, “It’s common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’”
Leanne was born into a Christian family and grew up understanding the faith on an intellectual level. She knew that something was not right with the way she knew God because she saw Christians around her exhibiting a joy she neither had nor knew. One day, she encountered a verse from the scripture that convicted her for having a lukewarm faith and realised that she had to embrace her beliefs fully to move forward from where she was. She decided to immerse herself and found a strong group of Christian friends that helped her develop further. Life has been different for Leanne since committing herself completely to Christ, discovering how God has been caring for her, and maturing her all along.