by Dr. John DelHousaye
Advent is a delicious thirst. We remember the Incarnation, when God became flesh to become one flesh with us—a mystery the fourth Gospel calls “abiding.” This love began in the Father (John 3:16) and was completed by the Son on the cross (13:1).
John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” reclined on the chest of the Son, who, in turn, knew the Father this way (1:1, 18), and offers this love to anyone who believes the message (20:31; see 15:1-17).
The Holy Spirit brings this love into our hearts in a way that both satisfies what is necessary to trust the message and yet leaves us thirsty for the transformation of our bodies at the resurrection.
God loved the world in the Son. This love has been rejected, but God offers his love to every generation. God loves our children and grandchildren. We discern the many wounds of sin in our lives and the world around us, which, like the ministry of John the Baptist, prepares us to hear the call of the King today.
The most cited saying of our Lord in the early church was “love your enemies.” I can think of no better way to embody and celebrate Christmas.
by Jeff Skeens
“Dashing through the snow, on a one horse open slay, over the fields we go, laughing all the way, “Ha, ha, ha!…” This song filled my heart with joy when I was a young boy. The imagery of being on a Christmas slay going up and down hills like a roller coaster whipping us side to side, laughing and screaming and wanting it to never end; oh, those were the days! The innocent days when joy was so close you could reach out and touch it whenever you would like. Oh, to greatly rejoice so easily and to celebrate without fear of what you looked or sounded like.
This type of childlike joy is part of what Advent was meant to bring back into our lives each year. The joy of our imaginations bringing us to the place where the Prince comes to rescue us and bring us to live safely within the walls of his land, with him forever, living off the bounty of his father, who’s the greatest, kindest King of the land.
But this begs the questions, Why would the princess long for the prince to come rescue her? Why would you long for the coming of a hero to come rescue. Why would it be good news for someone to come renew. One word: distress. We long for rescue when we’re in distress. Suffering creates longing. When things are broken and we can’t fix them, we call someone who can; or we long for someone who has the skills to show up make things new. Distress is at the heart of Advent.
I’d like to think that this is somewhat close to what the prophet Isaiah was thinking when he wrote this:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)
Oh, the joy of our salvation from God! This ancient passage was joyous in light of the nation of Israel’s distress and suffering. On this side of redemptive history, the longing for Advent is encouraged by distress, whether it’s distress in our lives, or in the lives of those we grieve with. So as Christmas Eve approaches, I’m reminded that I’m not just eager for the joy of a savior, but for the joy of a savior who is coming to alleviate distress throughout out earth. His arrival is a sign of this.
From the most unlikely of circumstances, as prophets foretold, God comes to earth to begin the salvation process by the means of a helpless babe, born to a refugee teen mom who’s never known a man, and a father who’s family tree is littered with promise and scandal, and the only family tree from the days of old that included women… brave, scandalous, promiscuous women, who God called righteous for their faith.
This is the savior who has come. He has turned the world upside down, he has included those who others exclude, He touches the untouchable, He is friends with the heathens, and undoes the broken religious system by creating a community of people who long for him, for justice, for goodness, and who will do whatever it takes to follow him in a world full of pain and suffering. In our solidarity of suffering and longing… hope arrives and we rejoice.
This is fuel for child like imaginations. This is what suffering can create when there’s hope for an end to our suffering. We gather together with others and find comfort in our together-ness and feed off of each other’s imaginations. We begin to get giddy and laugh even before the distress is remedied, much a child before Christmas Eve so excited for the gifts yet to come… We start telling stories of what’s yet to come, and we join together to listen, to sing and dance and laugh, and we actually transform the way we experience our distress… for those brief moments, we can bear the burden and things don’t seem too dark. May this advent bring joy to you in the dark and the distress, and cause laughter and love and joy to well up deep in your soul, as you hold on to the promise, that this is not how it will end.
“Christ is breaking open his way to you. He wants to again soften your heart, which has become hard. In these weeks of Advent while we are waiting for Christmas, he calls to us that he is coming and that he will rescue us from the prison of our existence, from fear, guilt, and loneliness. Do you want to be redeemed? This is the one great question Advent puts before us…. But let us make no mistake about it. Redemption is drawing near. Only the question is: Will we let it come to us as well or will we resist it? Will we let ourselves be pulled into this movement coming down from heaven to earth or will we refuse to have anything to do with it? Either with us or without us, Christmas will come. It is up to each individual to decide what it will be.”
Prayer of the Bible
“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 shown 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.”
(Free expression of praise and thanksgiving to God)
Confession of Sin
I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. O Lord, do not forsake me; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord of my salvation.
-Psalm 38:18, 21-22
(Time of silence for confession of sin)
The Life of Jesus
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
-John 1: 1-5
(Think deeply on these words of life)
Prayer for Ourselves and Others
Lord, help us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ
(Time to bring before God our own needs and the needs of others)
Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.
-Augustine of Hippo
by Maureen Alianza
I have concluded that, at our core as human beings, hope is an experience that is most necessary for our wellness of soul. Hope is feeling a state of expectation or anticipation that something in the future will be better than the present. Over the past couple weeks I have ventured toward the Old Testament and explored the words translated as hope. The most common words speak of waiting, tension and expectation. Like a cord pulled tightly, creating tension until release occurs with the breaking of the cord. Biblical hope differs from mere optimism. Optimism expects the best possible circumstantial outcome from any given situation. Biblical hope is not anchored in circumstances. Biblical hope is anchored in a person. We see over and over again, people in the Old Testament stories, and more than 40 times in the Psalms, an expectation in some of the worst circumstances that God Himself would be their sustainer and deliverer. Their experiential relationship with God becomes their ongoing hope. Hope was found in the person and presence of God alone. Those in the New Testament cultivated the same habit and too were formed in a reality that allowed hope to sustain their souls in the most difficult of circumstances. Jesus came into the world as the living hope. We join those who, from His arrival, have found a place for waiting and tension to rest. We rest in the living presence of Christ with us who stands ready to give of Himself in all of our circumstances.
Henri Nouwen offers a way to posture ourselves this Advent as we wait for the person of Jesus in the tension of expecting and in midst of all the emotions that accompany our longing for release. “Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the Word. It is waiting in the knowledge that someone wants to address us. The question is, are we home? Are we at our address, ready to respond to the doorbell? We need to wait together, to keep each other at home spiritually, so that when the Word comes it can become flesh in us.”
“……someone wants to address us.”
Take a moment and make yourself available to receive from Jesus even now. He continues to come to you, sustain you, comfort you, encourage you, guide you, steady you, heal you, teach you, and save you.
How am I feeling right now? Am I tired, stressed, or a bit out of sorts? Can I take a deep breath or two or three and relax myself. Can I quiet myself and become aware of His presence? Can I rest my thoughts for a bit of time? Can I become aware that He is aware of me?
I read the Word of God slowly, a couple times over, and I listen to what He is saying to me.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
I begin to talk with Jesus about the Scripture I have just read. What part feels “personal” or stood out as I read them? Read them again. Are their personal circumstances or feelings that come to mind that these verses may be speaking to? Take a moment to talk with Jesus about these things.
End with a simple prayer of gratitude.
Yes, we hope not in circumstances but in the living person of Christ who is with us. He stands ready to give of Himself to us in all of our circumstances. We are never without hope. May this Advent be an intimate reminder of this reality.
by Dr. Timothy Smith
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not
one thing came into being. What has come into being in him
was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines
in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Imagine walking with a friend in a snowy forest on a December day. White feathery flakes float to the ground as a rabbit darts for cover. Suddenly you are stopped in your tracks! You are startled at a large translucent ball before you. You look at your friend and your friend looks at you, wondering, “How did that thing get here? Who put it here?” It would never have occurred to either of you that this thing just appeared in the forest. Someone must have made it. Someone must have placed it here.
Yet, you could be asking that of anything you see in the forest that day. “Who made this tree? Who made this rabbit, or these snowflakes almost infinite in their variety? How did they get here?” We would do well to be startled by the wonder of anything we see in the world. “Why this magenta sunset? Why this green-throated hummingbird darting from flower to flower?” All but tired eyes see and wonder.
G. K. Chesterton hoped to always wonder at God’s world around him: “When all my days are ending/And I have no song to sing,/ I think that I shall not be too old/to stare at everything;/ As I once stared at a nursery door/Or a tall tree and swing.” (G. K. Chesterton, “A Second Childhood“, The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton)
Today’s Scripture highlights Jesus the Word as the creative cause of all these wondrous things. It states it positively, then employs the negative, lest we miss the point: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” It is the same Jesus who created all things and put them in their appointed place, who gave Himself to be a helpless baby. The Gospel puts to rest any notion about the eternity of matter or of how, given enough time and chance, the boundless universe came to be. Everything in this world has a beginning except the Word. There never was a was when the Son of God wasn’t. “The universe came to be, not out of some pre-existing material ‘something’, but out of ‘nothing’, non-existence, void. This truth implies the unqualifiable dependence of all things upon the Word of God.” (Bruce Milne, The Message of John)
The apostle Paul joins the joyous chorus praising Jesus the eternal Word: “All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). The book of Hebrews also celebrates Jesus who “created all things” and “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:2b, 3b). The Word speaks and it is done; the Word speaks and holds all things together! When theologian Karl Rahner was asked if he believed in miracles he replied, “I don’t believe in miracles, I rely on them to get me through each day.” (Quoted by Roland Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern)
Paul preached to ancient Athenians who were not yet believers, telling them God was “not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being‘” (Acts 17:27b-28). As the God by whom and for whom all things are created and sustained, Jesus comes into the world closely connected to all His creation. He is truly Emmanuel, “God-with-us“, closer to us than we are to our own selves. Or, as St. Augustine wrote from experience: “Higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self.” (St. Augustine, Confessions, III) With almost mystical awareness, fourteenth century theologian Nicholas Cassabalias rejoiced, “God is more a part of us than our own limbs, more necessary to us than our own hearts.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way)
Who put that tree there? Who put that rabbit there? More importantly, who put you there? Can you see and can you be in wonder of Jesus the eternal Word: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
Dr. Timothy Smith is a friend and a gifted writer. If you want to read his daily Advent devotions,
by Ryan T
Advent is a gift. It is a time to slow down, savor, reflect and see things in the light of Christ.
The Christian year divides first into the seasons that lead us through the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. This Sunday is the beginning of Advent, which means, "a coming, approach, arrival." In this season we wait with open hands to receive the fullness of Jesus, who has come once and will come again. It is a time to say yes to the cleansing and expanding of our hearts to prepare 'a place' to welcome Jesus.
Waiting gives space for reflection and If we are honest and in touch with the world, then our Advent reflections must begin with trouble. Trouble in our world, in our communities, in our families, and in ourselves.
"The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come."
There is deep brokenness in our world that no Black Friday bargains can fix; there is a yearning for connectedness and belonging that no holiday party or family gathering can meet. The damage is too extensive and cannot be covered up no matter how hard we try. So we wait longingly; aching for God’s saving action. O God, that you would tear open the heavens and come down. Jesus is breaking open his way to you, longing to soften your hardened heart. He has come to release you from the prisons of darkness and hopelessness.
"Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power."
– Robert Webber
What does God have for us in this season of Advent? How can we enter into this season and receive it as a gift? What will we need to change in our lives to be able slow down long enough to get in touch with the pain and longing in our lives and that of our neighbor? I believe God can answer these questions for each of us, if we will risk asking them. I also believe we have to ask these questions with others in community, recognizing that we need each other to be able to live vulnerably, bravely, and expectantly. O God, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.
photo taken: Gozo, Malta
By Amber Hunter Jesse
I’d like to share with you a truly special place where all are welcome, sunrise to sunset.
I wonder, have you heard of this treasure that’s hidden in our city?
Its name is Canaan in the Desert, and I personally think it’s one of Arizona's best kept secrets.
I once wrote a song that says, “I’m a tortured soul and I don’t rest easy.”
Jesus invites us in this way, "Come to me, all who are weary with heavy burdens and I will give you rest." This beautiful desert prayer garden has become for me a sacred space, a place where I can take a deep breath and find rest.
It thrills my heart to share Canaan with you. I want you to know that it’s available for you too!
The sky is bright blue here this morning and perfectly clear. It's quiet, except for singing birds. The unique beauty of the desert is highlighted here. The beauty of God, even more so.
I’m often surprised that there aren’t more people flocking to this outdoor sanctuary. There have been times I've had this whole garden to myself!
Do you need some quiet in your day? A place of peace? A place to rest and think? To pray? To experience beauty? Maybe even a place to grieve?
Come to Canaan in the Desert. Really, Come!
There's so much I could tell you about this wonderful place. Here's a bit of history.
Canaan began in Darmstadt, Germany. On September 11th, 1944, an air raid left their town in ruins, with over 12,000 dead. Two young women and their little Bible study group sensed an invitation from God to help bring healing and reconciliation in the midst of the horrors of war. They decided to live together in community, and with only $15 dollars in their pockets, they began building with their own hands- a motherhouse, a chapel and a garden for prayer.
Many miracles later, their passion for prayer, healing and reconciliation has spread to various places around the world, including right here in the middle of our desert city!
Sit and read under the olive trees. Walk along the pathways. Drink from the "Fountain of the Father's Goodness." Journey through the "Stations of the Cross." If you see one of the sisters, feel free to say hello! They are warm and hospitable. Christmas is an especially comforting time to visit Cannan in the Desert.
Just below are are some photos I've snapped over the years.
Grace and peace to you,
9849 N 40 St.
Phoenix, AZ 85028
"We invite you to our Christmas Prayer
Daily Dec. 14 – Jan 1, at 3:00 pm
in Jesus’ Victory Chapel
Come and sing with us at the manger"
by Ryan T.
biblical lament soothes the suffering and disrupts the comfortable
Bad news swirls around us blowing our hopes and dreams like leaves in the fall wind. A long awaited for baby born to parents who have already seen their share of hardship only to be taken away days later, Eleven Jewish worshipers gunned down during Shabbat services, neighbors who have the calling to protect one another and work for the common good together instead choose to ignore, violate and even attack one another. These are just a few examples of the violence and loss from this past week for me. I deeply struggle to sit with the pain, betrayal, loss, and fear that wash over me. I have learned to stuff and avoid these uncomfortable emotions. Dan Allender articulates it this way,
Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality. Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God…Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice…However, we often turn a deaf ear—through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement.
We not only have our own suffering but can easily be overwhelmed by the numbers of people who are forgotten by our society—the last, the least, and the lost among us—and wonder who is there to help and to save them from drowning.
It is hard to keep our eyes open to suffering. It drains the soul and numbs the heart.
It is in these times that lament can become a precious companion. We can take great comfort in the loud cries and mourning that have echoed throughout time and history as captured in the poems, songs, and statements of lament. Indeed, a great portion of the Hebrew Scriptures comes in the form of lament, both individual and communal lament
In the psalms of lament, the anguished cries of the prophets, and in the life and ministry of Jesus, there are pioneers who have gone before all who grieve and suffer. They have experienced the terror of all the twists and turns, the drops and descents of human life. They gave voice to their lament.
A biblical lament cries out to God. This is not an internally focused process of grieving, it is first and foremost a prayer, a conversation. A lament deals with a specific situation that is painful, or unjust and expresses our raw emotional responses: sorrow, anger, disappointment, etc.
Below is a lament written by Ann Weems that is helping me learn to lament.
O Holy One, I can no longer see.
Blinded by tears
that will not cease,
I can only cry out to you
for your footsteps
Are you, too, O God,
blinded by tears?
Have you watched this world
pile its hate
onto the faces
of your little ones
until your eyes are so filled with tears
the you cannot see me
waiting for you?
Are you, O God,
deafened by the expletives
of destruction and death?
Have you heard
so many obscenities
that you cannot hear
O God, if you are blind,
can't you hold out
your hand to me?
If you're deaf,
can't you call my name?
How long, O God,
am I to sit
on the plain of blindness?
How long am I to listen
to the profanity
of my enemies
"Where is your God now?"
Show them, O my God,
that you remember.
Reach out your hand
and dry my eyes
that I might see
a new beginning
Open your mouth
and call me by name
that I might know
you remember me.
Claim me that I might
announce in the marketplace
that my God is here.
O my heart,
My God is here even
in the midst of destruction
-Lament written by Ann Weems
By Amber Hunter Jesse
Here's a song I wrote called "On the Mount."
What can I say? I feel genuinely thankful to get to share this today.
It's a small thing with a lot of love poured into it... It's rooted in a bigger story.
I wrote this song roughly twelve years ago, by a little pond in Alaska. I paraphrased the Beatitudes, the blessing taught by Jesus, and put them to music.
A couple years later, my friend Danny led a study on the Sermon on the Mount. Several friends started meeting every week for 5 months. We went phrase by phrase, trying to grasp this otherworldly, and heart-enthralling Love that is expressed in the Kingdom of God.
Since then, this little network of friends has expanded and continues to seek out the treasures of Jesus.
Thank you Matt for creating this music video.
Thanks so much to all the friends who are in it!
Thank you Richard for your mixing/mastering skills.
Thanks Justan for the beat.
Thank you, Ryan, for encouraging me to reach out for help.
And thank you Apprenticeship to Jesus (A2J) for covering the recording costs.
This makes me wonder what other kinds of creative collaborations are possible, for the sake of Love.
Even more than sharing songs, I really desire to find creative ways to live out the Sermon on the Mount!
If you're encouraged by this, would you consider sharing it with a friend?
Peace to you!
Amber Hunter Jesse
Download song here
By Daniel Malakowsky
“From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
Five years ago I was preparing to join my mother and aunt in picking up the ashes of my father who had recently passed away. It had been several weeks since his memorial and death and there had been space to grieve. Still, we knew that in receiving his remains that a finality would set in in regards to the grief we had come to know so unexpectedly.
As I was leaving a morning class to proceed to join my family, I received a phone call from my wife. Nearly three years earlier she had been experiencing some fatigue and unstable blood sugars and we took her in to check for the potential of diabetes or some other related cause. Instead of discovering some underlying health issue, we were surprised to find out that she was pregnant. This phone call would be reminiscent of that time, with her asking me to pick up a home pregnancy test as many of the same symptoms were present.
So on the day that I was to take home my father’s ashes, I also found myself in the nearest supermarket buying a pregnancy test. I had 15 minutes to spare in bringing it home to my wife before I had to leave, but in those 15 minutes we discovered that we would soon be welcoming our third child into the world. Unlike the few weeks after my father’s death, there was no time to process or space to reflect on this gift, the time had come to join my family.
About an hour later we were leaving the facility where we had gathered my father’s ashes. I offered to be the one to carry them out and on the drive home. It is rather difficult to put into words the overwhelming and confusing emotions that were conflicting within me. There I was sitting in the back of a car holding my father’s ashes and all that remained of his 58 years, the vapor and mist of his life, and yet cherishing in my heart the joy of knowing a new life was forming within the womb of my wife.
For a number of years I have had the privilege of imposing ashes on the foreheads of many followers of Jesus on Ash Wednesday, reminding them that they are from dust and to dust they shall return. On that fateful day I, perhaps more than any other, felt the tension that sits between those two short clauses. Holding in my lap the fragility of life and in my heart the miracle of its existence.
We are mortal beings and the finality of our existence is beyond our control. Despite our cultural impulses towards immortality (soaring medical expenses, plastic surgery, anti-aging products, etc.), those words hold in them a truth and reality that no human being has been able to, nor will they be able to, exploit or overcome.
The words from “dust you came” remind us of both the humility and majesty of our beginning. We are not the source and foundation of life, but its recipient. That God would breathe into the dust of the ground and bring forth his likeness, those who in his image create and recreate, extending his presence throughout his created realm, reveals the dignity of our being. Still our life is dependent upon something outside of ourselves, the someone who brought us forth in love.
We are frail and mortal, and our fragile frames will once more return to the dust, relinquishing the breath that was first put within us. With that we are also eternal beings, though we are still temporally bound. Our days are numbered and we walk in perishable tents, tightly gripping the vapor and mist that ultimately is slipping through our fingers.
Embracing this truth holds within it a hidden gift though, one that allows us to hold that vapor and mist lightly, letting go of fleeting promises and vain pursuits. It is so easy to see only the present, the tangible elements of our life, and as we do they begin to spread and take anchor in our hearts. We become trapped by the temporal, locked and imprisoned by the idols of our day and unable to see beyond them, only chasing after vanity of vanities.
The gift then is one of letting go. Letting go of our control...letting go of our temporal treasures so we can receive eternal ones...letting go of our life so that we can truly find it. As we let go we discover the treasure and truth of Jesus. The One who said that if man wishes to find his life, he must first lose it, invites us into the riches of himself. It is then that our hearts can truly desire his will be done on earth as it is heaven, because we are living for heaven, receiving the incarnate love that is available to us here on earth.
Five years ago I was forced to sit in the midst of that tension. To sit with the invitation that is embodied within it. To sit with my mortality and yet the steadfast faithfulness of the One who conquered death and declares a love so bold that anyone who believes him is guaranteed not to perish, but to embrace an eternal and everlasting life.
So repent, turn from your sin, and believe in the Gospel.
photo 1 Taken in Sedona, AZ
photo 2 Taken in Mt. Lemmon, AZ