Preparing Well

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By Brian Waple

Well, it’s almost Christmas. It’s about now that I start to think of all the things we are normally doing as a family (planning get-togethers in Oregon and/or Washington, developing ideas about gifts, making a list of calls we need to make to connect with long-distance family members, dropping off presents at the UPS store for shipping) as well as things we normally do with our church community (coordinating the Christmas Eve service, wrapping things up for the year in our small-group communities, planning activities that will begin with the new year), and it starts to get a little overwhelming. Not in a bad way . . . it’s just that my calendar starts to fill up with all the things I need to “do.”

This season of Advent reminds us that this is a time of preparation. By that, I don’t mean activities that we necessarily do, although it can look like that. It’s more a state of the heart, a state of being. After 400 years, the silence that the Jews had experienced from God was about to be broken. What He was about to do would be the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy concerning a Messiah. But it wouldn’t come as they had expected. Rather than a mighty king overcoming the occupation forces and reestablishing Israel as a powerful empire, the Messiah would come in the form of a little baby, born to a poor couple staying in a nondescript little town south of Jerusalem. The fulfillment of the prophecy would be born out in the life and ministry of an itinerant preacher—not extraordinary, but simple. But this simple life would become the hope for us all.

So, as we prepare for Christmas this year, remember that in all the doing, take time to just remember. Remember the birth of a little baby in a plain stable on a lonely night in southern Israel. Remember a heavenly proclamation sung to those who were called to be present at the scene. And remember God’s promise to those who accept and preserve the hope brought by the birth of Jesus. Following all the events of that night, it says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Let us do the same.

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The Bread of Life Never Grows Stale

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AdventBy Cindy Waple  

The Bread of Life never grows stale. I saw this recently on a church sign and thought what a wonderful message for the Advent season. Advent, which means “coming,” is the season of preparation to celebrate Jesus’s birth, in whom all of God’s promises are fulfilled. In addition, it is a time to celebrate Christ’s coming into our own lives as our Savior and Lord and to prepare and await His second coming.

Advent is like an icebreaker—those large ships built to cut through the ice on the frozen Arctic waters. Advent breaks through the onslaught of the economic-driven and worldly messages of Christmas that promise happiness by receiving the right gifts being offered now at the lowest prices of the season. Advent also breaks through the familiarity and rote traditions, bringing a new and fresh vision of God’s faithfulness. Advent breaks through empty messages and unrealistic expectations of a Pinterest-perfect Christmas with the enduring truth that the sovereign, holy, almighty God of the universe, our Creator, because of His immeasurable love for us, took on the form of man and came to dwell among us—Emmanuel, God-with-us. Advent invites each one of us to step out of the holiday-prep-merry-go-round and take time to stop and pause, to consider afresh with eager expectation the gift of Christ.

Here are a few ideas and practices that Brian and I engage in during Advent. First, be intentional and make space for God and those opportunities that are energizing and life-giving, not life-draining. Try to under-schedule your time this season, rather than over-scheduling. Take time for Advent devotions and perhaps schedule a half-day (or full-day) retreat. A friend and I did this recently using a guided Advent-retreat resource. It was a wonderful time of rest and perspective shaping as we worshipped, prayed, read Scripture, and spent time in silence, listening and reflecting. This is a great way to slow down and cherish the Good News of Christmas.

Second, I have been captivated by the idea of “one thing.” During this season of many lists—to do lists, wish lists, gift lists, and so on—I am encouraged by David in Psalm 27:4, where he writes: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple. There was only one thing David wanted—to be with the Lord and enjoy the beauty of His presence. What if that was the only thing on all our lists? Or what if that was the first thing on our lists? I wonder how long (or possibly short) our lists would be if that was our primary focus.

Lastly, the greatest way to enter into Advent, to prepare our hearts, to break through the hype and ward off staleness, is to consider Christ Himself. What do you really need the most this Christmas? What is going on in your heart?

  • Are you struggling, disappointed, or tired of the trials and the hardness of life? Isaiah 61 reminds us that Christ “comforts the brokenhearted.”
  • Are you grieving a loss—loss of a loved one, a job, health, or a relationship, or a loss that comes from change and transition? Jesus promises a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:3).
  • Is your hope diminished because of unanswered prayers for healing, for prodigals, nagging sin, the lack of transformed lives? In Christ, we have been born into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). He is our sure and steadfast anchor (Hebrews 6:19).
  • Are you tired and weary? Christ is our Strength, our Refuge, our Rock (Psalm 62:5-8).
  • Are you in need of peace? He is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • Are you in need of love? His love for us is inexhaustible. (Ephesians 3:17-18).

This is a list that, thankfully, goes on and on. Here is the truth—whatever your deepest and greatest need, it is found only in Christ.

In a few weeks, the tree and lights will come down, the credit card bills will begin to arrive, and the gym will be overly crowded for a week or two as we try to hold to our resolution to finally lose weight. Christmas will be over, but the truth of Christ will not. We have Him and His promises into eternity. With our focus on the one thing, the only thing that is necessary (Luke 10:42), the Bread of Life will never grow stale. This Advent season, may your heart be renewed and refreshed as you ponder the good news of Christ, and “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit Romans 15:13.

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