By Daniel Zamora
Increase your Joy and Rejoice!
Have you ever tried to walk in the darkness, at least a few steps to reach the closest light switch or perhaps when the power is out during a big storm, and are trying to reach your cell phone or any other source of light? We tend to do it very slowly to avoid bumping into furniture or stumbling on a toy or rug. Suddenly, you reach the light switch or the power is back. Can you picture yourself with a big smile on your face?
Yes, after struggling with limited or no visibility, the light is back on and we can see everything around us making it easier to walk or returning to our previous activity with a joyful attitude. It has been said that people who live in areas with limited lighting tend to be sad and depressed while those living in sunny places all year round have a more cheerful mood. If one light gives us that much joy, two or more lights can bring us lots of it.
In Advent, we light a candle to symbolize each of the gifts that God sent with Christ: hope, peace, joy and love. These presents are not part of a menu from which we choose from but, they come altogether. Thus, the light coming out of these candles increases every week and finally, on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle is lit giving us the better perspective of what the prophet Isaiah referred to seeing a great light.
During this season, let every light be a reminder of increasing our joy and rejoicing before the Lord.
By Dena Dalton
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you…”
I am partial to Christmas Eve. We attend church. We have our Christmas dinner. We stay up late watching old movies, listening to music and wrapping last minute gifts. We celebrate European traditions and sneak around putting candy outside each other’s doors in empty slippers. But the best part, the very best part, is when the house is finally quiet and I am blissful in the calm that comes knowing my loved ones are safe and resting peacefully. My grateful prayers and ardent, soulful meditations are quietly offered up to God. “If day’s cares tempt us to forget God, it is well that night’s quiet should lead us to remember him. We see best in the dark if we there see God best.”
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” Theologian John Gill wrote: “Whether David is writing about the wings of the cherubim stretched out over the mercy-seat, between which God was said to dwell; or to the wings of a bird, under which her helpless young ones have shelter, in all life’s dangers and difficulties we place ourselves under God’s protection.”
According to the NIV Study Bible: “The psalmist’s night meditations nurture his longing for God.” He waits for the morning trusting that God will watch over His people, provide for and protect them. Understanding the metaphors in scripture we know that darkness and light have many meanings. We have all experienced the many meanings of both. I choose to see light in the darkness. I look forward to my Christmas Eve meditation. During this Advent Season may you find hope, safety and peaceful rest in the protecting power and mercy of God.
By Erica Hanchey
In Psalm 27, David calls upon his experiences of strife, war, and fear in the face of his enemies. He expresses, through prayer and song, his heartfelt desire to worship, even in the midst of war, personal battles, and fear. It isn’t just David’s experience. It is the experience of many today who are battling in war, as refugees, as victims of assault, fear, personal and family struggle, and mental strife.
I envision the strength, light and salvation of the Lord as an armor or force field that moves with and within David. It is a rising spirit that deflects the assaults and speaks to David, saying “No fear.”
There is nothing to fear, for the Lord is our light, our salvation and our stronghold. No advance, no enemy, no threat breaks His shield. As long as we dwell in His house, in the presence of the Lord, fully present and calling upon Him in word, in song, in worship, in prayer, and in action, we take on the shield
“I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, so shall I be saved from mine enemies.”
Instead of crying S-O-S, call upon S-L-S … Strength – Light – Salvation. Be immersed in the light and face of God rather than misled in the face of oppression, temptation, and selfish ways. Find patience and strength through faithfulness and through focused, praise-filled and prayerful worship. It is only when we are armed with the strength, light and salvation of the Lord that we are able to see His goodness that surrounds us, without the distractions and challenges to our faith that attempt to break us down. In this we may fulfill the purpose for which we are each uniquely created – to be His light on Earth and a shield for those whose fear and darkness crowd them.
As Jesus called upon the strength of his Father in the wilderness and in the final moments of his sacrifice, God reveals that there is no greater defense than a focused and spirit-filled discipline to worship and serve a higher calling. In this time of Lent, develop a heart for worship and summon your senses to experience the full beauty and loving armor of the Lord.
By Lance Mayes
Joy seems elusive at times; sometimes non-existent for long stretches of me. Such is the case for Israel. These were dark times. No joy. No hope. No way out of the mess they were in. Captivity was no fun for God’s chosen people. Where are you, God?
Many of us today can relate. You want a child and you wait. You pray and you wait. You hear nothing except for happy and crying babies. Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, friends and admirers oohing and aahing over the little ones. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are times of isolation and hiding. Where are you, God?
Maybe it is depression or another mental illness. No light. No hope. No activity. No joy. It takes everything in you just to get out of bed. You let things you used to be passionate about slide. Darkness rules your nights and days. Where are you, God?
Both of these are not just in my imagination. They are real experiences to me and my family. We prayed and waited for a long time before we adopted Nicholas and then Leah. We are so glad God answered our prayers in God’s time. We love our kids! We are honored to be their parents! God brought light to our darkness through them.
We also face depression and other mental illnesses. Parenting is not for wimps, especially parenting kids with challenges. Many days are dark. And then, God sends some light through a loving friend, a caring teacher, a wise doctor, and many others.
This promise of light and joy for Israel came in the form of a baby years later. This baby grew up and as the Messiah brought us grace and joy. Thank you, God for your grace, your light and your joy in our lives. We rejoice together!
What a spectacle those shepherds witnessed the night Jesus was born!
Picture them out on the hills, minding the flock, perhaps chatting among themselves. Suddenly the entire sky was filled with light! The light of heaven, the glory of God, blazed down on them. Maybe they stood in astonishment, looking at one another as if to say “Can you believe this?” Maybe they fell to their knees, or hugged the ground in fear and awe. But the show had only started!
An angel appeared, announcing the birth of the Messiah. Then a great company of angels appeared and began singing a heavenly chorus, praising and glorifying God. Can you even begin to imagine what that sounded like? A perfect composition, sung in perfect harmony by perfect voices. Every note, every phrase perfectly shaped, every moment so exquisite that there was no past, no future, only the all-consuming now. It must have seemed as if time stood still.
But time did pass, the composition came to an end, the Conductor put down His baton and the angels returned to heaven, taking with them the spectacular light. I imagine the shepherds needed a few moments to adjust to the reality of the dark night, the quiet hillside. They must have talked excitedly, saying “Did you hear…?” and “Did you see….?”
Then I picture them gathering their robes above their knees, sprinting to Bethlehem, the flocks forgotten in their excitement. Laughing, crying, stumbling and tumbling, they found their way to the humble stable and the manger where the Messiah lay.
Holy Father, thank you for the wonderful gift you gave the world that night so long ago. Open our hearts to your glory and splendor so we too will be excited, awed, and humbled by the birth of the Christ Child.
By Ed Twedt
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
What a beautiful psalm. It divides easily into three parts. Verses 1 through 4 are about community, verses 5 through 21 are about the individual, and verses 22 through 29 are about the worshipping community. The psalm also uses the personal name of God (YHWH) 28 times within its brief 29 verses, a strong reminder of who is the central focus in this psalm. In each of the first four verses we are reminded that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” As if that isn’t enough reminding, the psalm ends with that same reminder. God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” Could any words more powerfully point us to the culmination of the season of Lent? Perhaps the most powerful message of all is found in verse 22 in the beginning of the worshipping community section. There we read of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone. This passage is frequently repeated in the New Testament, for example, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7, all references to the Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder this beautiful psalm fits so beautifully into the Lenten season.
As I read this psalm I can’t help but think of how similar Advent and Lent are. They are both anticipatory, they are both filled with sorrow and joy, and they both point us to our Lord and Savior. Now we look back at them with the eyes of hindsight, but we still can feel the enormous strength and encouragement they bring to us. Just as we looked forward to the coming of our Lord into human history as a little baby, now we look forward to His coming to us, our risen Lord. So with all the darkness that one might suppose is found in the season of Lent, we know there is light, God’s light. Thus it is that the psalmist tells us, “O give thanks to YHWH for he is good.”
By Diana Bridges
I’m always a little troubled when I read that someone “doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” Rather than being a sign of enlightenment or sophistication, it strikes me as a mark of willful blindness. In John 1:14 the apostle declares that “…we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” Certainly, many who heard Jesus teach and experienced his healing touch saw the glory for what it was, a sign that God was indeed among them. Others saw his unconventional behavior—healing, forgiving sins, speaking easily and kindly with women, sinners, cultural outsiders—and judged him to be out of his mind.
In Wonderful Fool, Japanese Christian author Shusako Endo tells the story of Gaston Bonaparte, an awkward, trusting Frenchman who is an embarrassment to his Japanese hosts. He stumbles through a variety of misadventures, trying to help others, but far from heroic. Through his unremitting goodness, however, he ends up saving lives and giving others new purpose.
In this fictional account, Endo points out two things that have always been true. First, spiritual light often comes from strange and unexpected sources. St. Anthony, the best-known of the Desert Fathers, could have given John the Baptist a run for his money when it came to asceticism. Francis of Assisi, when taken to court by his father for giving away family resources, left the courtroom—and his clothes—behind to follow Jesus. 20th-century Baptist saint Will Campbell became very unpopular for his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and then confounded even his admirers by reaching out in friendship to opponents of integration. Second, people who are paying attention are much more likely to recognize light when they see it.
This is our joyful Advent task. Be on the lookout. And don’t just look in the usual places.