Written by Kate Krumreig
"On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me"...you know the words...sing it! FIVE GOLD RINGS!!!
I just love this part of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for so many reasons. First, I currently teach music to about 500 elementary school students and to hear them sing "five gold rings" at you (ok, maybe closer to shouting than singing on the last day of school before a two week break is a more accurate description) is a sound to behold.
Second, I cannot think of this song, particularly this part of the song, without thinking of the version recorded by John Denver and The Muppets where Miss Piggy adds her "ba dum bum bum" to the last 2 times through and the whole crew joins in on the last time. Don't know it? You will now! Click here to give it a listen.
Third, and maybe my most favorite reason, it that it is the first point in the song where things slow down and change what has come before it. The words remain the same for "four collied birds, three french hens, two turtle doves" but the melody changes and becomes, in my opinion, sweeter and no longer monotonous.
Isn't that just like God? Doesn't He jump right in when things feel like they're just going to be exactly the stay the same, when they're boring day after day, when you need things to change? Doesn't He shift the direction of your song? Read these words from Isaiah (43:19):
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
As we finish these final sixth-twelfth days of Christmas, ponder the idea that God is bringing you, one of His true loves, five gold rings. He is doing a new thing in you as he softens your heart regarding all that has happened in your 2019 song. He is making your song sweeter as He makes a way in the wilderness you face. He is preparing you not for monotony, but for new, exciting, and wonderful things to bring Him glory in 2020!
Written by Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
“And it will be said that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him.and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” (Is. 25:9)
Perhaps every adult, while reflecting on their childhood, can remember a Christmas or Christmases when they had high hopes of receiving a special gift and the excitement that grew within them as the great day approached. Perhaps your dream was realized, perhaps it was not. I guess I have been fortunate enough to have experienced both, the realization that my dream gift was not to be obtained as well as the temporary joy of having been given my hearts desire.
I use the word “fortunate” in both circumstances because nearly seven decades of experience have afforded me an appreciation for the gift of anticipation. What I am getting to is the fact that so much of what we desire on this earth has only temporary value and thus can provide only momentary satisfaction; but the anticipation of the gift often leaves us with cherished memories and lasting rewards.
Yet today, I remember with a smile how I longed to find an electric train under the tree, but it never arrived. Later, I would just as fervently anticipate the gift of a new ball glove which I did receive. Yet, I can’t perceive how either event appreciably changed my life one way or the other. However, the anticipation of those gifts has stayed with me; perhaps because I now understand the sadness in my parents’ hearts when they were unable to provide my coveted toy, as well as the joy they shared when they were able to bless me.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote [in my weekly E-Musings] about the traditions of Advent and mentioned that the four candles of an Advent Wreath represent the gifts of hope, faith, joy, and peace. All of these can be seen as subsets of the greater gift of love, the Love that came down at Christmas in the person of Jesus Christ; and they most often are listed among the greatest of our heart’s desires.
Among the several lessons Jesus taught in what we know as The Sermon on the Mount is a section testifying to the Father’s desire to give good things to those He loves, and He loves us all. Matthew 7:7 begins, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” Then, beginning in verse 9, He asks the following, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Jesus then answers his own question for us: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask of Him!”
The issue here isn’t the gift but the love of the Father. Any loving father knows that sometimes the most loving thing he can do is to refrain from giving his child what they are asking for. It will do no good to grant the child his most heartfelt desire if the end result would be to do him harm. Even the harm of allowing his selfish wishes to be granted. But at the same time, a loving father will go out of his way to give his child the things which will benefit him most.
The season of Advent is arranged such to encourage and enhance our anticipation of the Coming of Christ. Not just a remembrance of His coming as a child in Bethlehem of Judea, but anticipation of His coming again to judge the living and the dead. This is an event worthy of anticipation; it is the gift that is assured.
Written by Kate Krumreig
Are YOU ready??
I survive on checklists. Well, checklists and coffee. OK, checklists and coffee and...that reminds me: I need to pick up half and half, romaine lettuce and cucumbers when I head to Aldi later. Oh, I keep forgetting dental floss. And gallon freezer bags, but the double lock ones, not the slide ones. Those things leak every time! Ugh, I need to write a checklist... Folks, this is my life. Anyone else?
I had the pleasure of having dinner with some of my best friends last night and, as we were in conversation enjoying our chips and queso, my friend said to everyone the table, "Wow, it's almost Christmas. Are you ready?" My mind immediately went to my Christmas gift checklist: Mom, check! Dad, check! Siblings, check! Oh my gosh, my nephew is going to love his new BoomWhackers (Don't know what these are? Look them up - they're fun!), Still need to get a gift for my friend Sara by Friday, Tracy, Isaiah... And then my brain made a drastic switch.
Mary. What about Mary? Was Mary ready for Christmas? Was Mary at all aware of what she was about to endure? Would Mary ever know that her son and his birth would be celebrated year after year? Did Mary have a checklist??
My guess is no. I don't think Mary was ready. I don't think Mary was aware. I don't think Mary would ever know and I certainly don't think Mary had a checklist. However, Mary had trust in her God, our God. Mary knew that, no matter what was coming her way, she had the favor of her Lord, our Lord.
I absolutely love the Magnificat - Mary's Song - as is written in the Gospel of Luke (1:46-55).
And Mary said:“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
OK, God. I hear you. Thank you for redirecting my thoughts, not on "the stuff" of Christmas, but on the Christ of Christmas. Thank you for allowing me to spend time, as Mary did, considering Your greatness and praising You for Your mighty works. Thank you for reminding me to be humble, selfless, and to serve only You. Now, that's a checklist.
So...are YOU ready?
Written by The Very Rev. Mark A. Engel - Gateway Church
A Childlike Advent
Growing up in a small, Ohio village with a rich, German heritage, the advent wreath was always a part of our seasonal celebrations, both in church and in our family home. Terri and I continued that traditional, family practice in our home with our children as they grew.
I must admit, that as I reflect upon my own experience of this practice as a child, my mindset was, perhaps understandably, childish. While we read the appropriate Scriptures and prayed the appropriate prayers, the lighting of the candles was, in my view, a countdown to Christmas that focused on the soon to appear presents under the tree and the delicious, big family meal (both of which I still enjoy each year!). My focus was more on the fun aspects of celebrating the Christmas holiday (including the story of that first Christmas) than on a heightened expectancy at the hope and joy of Christ’s future appearing.
Now, like Paul, I am endeavoring to “…put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 – NKJV) Rather, I am aspiring to a more childlike advent season. Allow me to explain.
As a child, we lived on the north edge of town on the state route that bisected our village. My father, along with several of our neighbors, carpooled daily to work at the railroad terminal in the small town 4 miles north. Many late afternoons after school, I would wait in our front yard, watching for the carpoolers to appear and my father’s return home hoping for a quick game of “catch” in the front yard before supper. I waited and watched, hoped for and anticipated my father’s return. That is the heart attitude and focus of thought that I desire for this year’s season of advent. I want to be a believer in Christ who waits and watches with hope-filled anticipation of our Savior’s return! Lord, let me be numbered among the saints “…who have loved his [Jesus] appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8 – ESV)
Will you join me in a prayerful longing that our hearts and minds will be rightly focused this advent season. Let us have hearts and minds that joyfully celebrate the reality of His first-appearing in the flesh and that expectantly look for His second-appearing in glory…“Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus!”
Written by Rev. Heather Ghormley - Tree of Life Anglican Church
In November of 2013 a massive Typhoon hit the island nation of the Philippines. Roofs came off, buildings filled with water and then were swept away and many people ended up hanging on to debris as they floated through the flood. It was a good day to be an able-bodied young man…but of course not everyone in the typhoon had that luxury.
In the chaos of the storm, most people ended up fighting for their own lives, but not Dolores Baculanta and Oscar Macaray. These two workers at a government-run orphanage for about 100 orphans in Palos, one of the hardest hit cities, chose to rescue others. Dolores says she was getting ready to bathe all the preschool-aged children when all of the sudden she heard screams coming from the toddler room of the orphanage. Like most buildings in Palo, the roof was starting to fly off the building and the children were being swept up in an inflow of water. It would have made sense for Dolores and Oscar the security guard to simply grab what children they could see and run for the safest part of the building, but they didn’t. They risked their own lives, forcing their way into the toddler room, scooped up every screaming child and put them into two cribs, which as the waters rose became makeshift rafts. They managed to wheel the cribs out of that room just as the walls caved in and the swell rose. As the water seeped into the hallway they pushed the toddlers from room to room and helped other children crawl on top of tables and any other structure they could find until the waters subsided. Everyone prayed. The cement wall of the orphanage held. And when the waters subsided, not a single child had drowned.
It would have been easy, and even understandable for these orphanage workers to simply seek their own refuge in the face of that horrible storm. Who would miss a few dozen orphans in the midst of what seemed like the end of the world? These orphans have no mother or fathers to mourn them, no one threatening to sue the orphanage if they get hurt. What could a couple of aging day-care workers do against the power of a wind that could lift the roof right off a building? But in the moment, of crisis, Dolores and Oscar didn’t think like that; they had only one thought: save every child we can or die trying. They were heroes.
Of course Typhoon Haiyan isn’t the first time a giant surge of water has given people the chance to be heroes, and won’t be the last. In the Gospel reading for the first week of Advent, Jesus reminds his listeners of the terrible story of Noah’s flood.
Often in movie versions of the flood story, we see Noah and his family trying to save others. We see them begging other people to get in the ark with them…but actually, the Bible doesn’t say anything about that- Noah only saved the people and creatures God told him to save. When you actually read what the text says, you get the sense that the flood was more like how Jesus described it; no one else even saw it coming: “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until flood came and swept them all away.”
No heroes putting toddlers in cribs here. The only people who saw this thing coming were working for PETA; everyone else drowns. This may be the most troubling story in whole of Scripture. It’s not like other troubling stories that tell of horrendous acts done by humans. In this story God destroys the earth. God kills unsuspecting men, women and children not to mention puppies and baby elephants. But according to Scripture, this isn’t just a simple act of violence. It’s an act of judgment, and it’s an act of mercy. The earth had gotten too evil. God couldn’t let it go on like that. Just as in the original sin of Adam and Eve, God instituted human death as both a judgment and a mercy, so now God intervenes in a sick, demonized society, to put an end to the cycles of human torture-it can’t go on forever. It’s got end. So God leaves no mourners, save eight brave survivors on an exotic floating zoo.
But after many days the waters receded and God told Noah and his family it was safe to leave the ark. Then God made a covenant with Noah, “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God puts a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of hanging up his bow and arrow. God won’t be at war with humans anymore.
The rest of the biblical story from Genesis 9 on is about God living out that promise. God did not stop being a God of both judgment and mercy- God is good, which means God can’t just turn a blind eye to evil and injustice. Nevertheless, although every human heart has a taste for sin, God promises that never again will God destroy the whole earth, with only an ark full of righteous survivors to keep things going. Instead, God takes another approach, a costly approach, an approach that requires not just people who can escape judgment but who will be heroes in the midst of an evil age. God selects a people and tasks them not just with staying alive, but with becoming a blessing to every nation on the earth. Instead of an ark, God builds a church- a church not separated out of the wayward world, but engaged in it, inviting all people to be saved. And yet, God won’t let the age of human evil and sorrow continue forever. Another day of judgment will come.
Jesus says that as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be the coming of the Son of Man, by which he means, so will be the day that he, Jesus, returns again to judge the human race. Like we talked about a couple weeks ago, no one will be able to predict exactly when this day will come. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36) And yet, just like Noah sitting in the ark waiting for the flood, we know that day will come…only unlike Noah we won’t be in the ark. Jesus says, “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left” (40-41). Those of us who trust in Jesus are not going to be on a ready-made zoo on the Day of the Lord. According to Jesus, we’re going to be out with our friends, alongside our co-workers or at home with our family members. And there in the midst of our ordinary, everyday lives, when we least expect it the day of reckoning will come…
In the season of Advent, Christians observe Advent by preparing themselves to greet Jesus. Some people choose to make more space for Jesus by fasting from things like streaming Netflix or Christmas sweets and remembering their need for a savior. Some pick up extra practices of prayer or good works. Thought these practices we try to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our savior.
But preparing for the coming of Jesus isn’t just about getting ourselves ready. It’s about calling the whole world to get ready also! Advent isn’t just a reminder that we personally must be ready to face the Day of the Lord. It’s a reminder that we are called to be heroes clothed in armor of light in the midst of a dark world. We are called to be the ark so that on the Day of the Lord, so that more of the people around us might be saved! That’s why we’re here.
Advent reminds us that once we’ve found Jesus our time on this earth has essentially two main tasks. The first is to prepare our own souls for the day we will meet Jesus face-to-face. We do this by rooting out all the seeds of darkness within us and submitting ourselves again and again to the Lordship of Christ. And the second, task is to be heroes- people who help the rest of the world meet Jesus now, so they will be ready on the Day of the Lord.