Don’t Miss What’s New

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It can be so easy year to talk about all the traditions we wish we could enjoy but cannot now due to the pandemic or the limitations imposed because of it. I get that because I have experienced it as well. So many memories are etched in our memories of how this Advent season is “supposed to be.” If we are not careful, we can get lost there.

If we do, we could fall prey to what so many did during that very first Advent season. They had been waiting during 400 years of silence for the hope of a king to be born, the Messiah, and most had defined what that was “supposed to look like.” But it didn’t. Only those who had been blessed to have heard a full teaching of the scripture would have known the clues about what the first Advent might be like, but even then, all the details were not filled in.

Did the pandemic and all of its repercussions catch God off-guard? Of course not.

What if God wants to do something new, show us something new this Advent season? Could we miss it if we keep longing for what we can’t have this year? Because we can’t see what He has in store, could we be more like those in scripture who were just getting by without hope?

These questions began tumbling in my thoughts after we watched and heard Mandisa sing the new song she authored for The Chosen Christmas Special – “Get Used to Different.” Many of you have likely seen it and if not, You Tube can give you that experience or you can experience it again.

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After all, we expected life would be more “normal” than it turned out to be and most all of us are longing for that “normal” again versus “the new normal” some say we need to accept. We want to be able to be with our friends, go to a movie, eat at our favorite restaurant, enjoy a vacation without limitations, enjoy a trip to the local shops with a stop at our favorite coffee shop, and more. We would like to have the life we used to have and could not have imagined would change as much as it has. Mandisa seems to have had some of those same thoughts and feelings as you listen to or read her lyrics to “Get Used to Different” as she considered how Mary might have reflected on the upending of her life when the angel told her she would carry the Son of God within her when the Holy Spirit hovered over her.

The song begins with these words:

“This year doesn’t look at all the way I thought it would

This year I’ve been looking hard to find a little good

I see the world on fire

Find it hard to breathe

It’s like a cloak of fear

About to smother me”

Authored by Mandisa

How poignantly her lyrics remind us of some of the thoughts we have or may have had during these months. Many of us never knew how much we live in the illusion that life will largely go on much as it has when a new year rolls around, but a more sobered look would inform us that it is a dream only. If we could once again love studying history and learn from it, we could adjust our illusions into more reality.

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Few of those who went to sleep on December 6, 1941, on the idyllic islands of Hawaii could have expected the following morning would change everything about that beautiful harbor of Pearl and alter the direction of WW II and history. It wasn’t what we expected back then even though the war was already going on in many and varied places.

Sir Alexander Fleming did not expect to see mold on the contaminated culture plate he had been working on in 1928 and how that would lead to the discovery of penicillin that would alter medical help for untold numbers of people around the world up to the present day.

It can be too easy to look at the unexpected things on an historical timeline and see only the tragedies, but looking more carefully we can discover more things than the discovery of penicillin happened because of something different than we expected. Even though we may say we like surprises we actually tend to like things to be within a range of predictable or what we would call “normal.”

This year we have a chance to be reminded that God often does a new thing in a new way and if we get lost looking in the rear-view mirror, we may miss it. Another portion of Mandisa’s lyrics of “Get Used to Different” gives a glimpse of how the Lord might respond to Mary or to us in the lines I quoted earlier:

“Don’t You see that I’m doing something new

You can trust that I’m working for your good

I’m not doing what you’ve seen before

My favor is on you for so much more

Do you perceive it

Get used to different”

Authored by Mandisa

What might happen if our approach was less of a resigned waiting and more of an expectant hope based on a good God who was never thrown off by the pandemic of 2020?

“The bottom line is that we will all walk through seasons that look more like dark than light. The depth of this season does not matter as much as breathing deep to soak in the strength of God.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
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The Perfect Gift

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So often this season involves shopping for gifts to bless the people in our lives that we most cherish. For some of us it is a major chore because we are not a fan of shopping or because we are never able to think of what to get for the person. For others it is a grand adventure because they love shopping or are simply great gift givers.

This year shopping for Christmas gifts has likely been a bit more of a challenge no matter which category any of us may fall into. Perhaps we or a member of our household is ill, or the pandemic has brought a job loss and a financial strain. Maybe we can’t go out to the usual shopping malls or stores or we have tried to find things to order online and now it is ten days from Christmas and the tracking shows the gift hasn’t moved beyond its original destination.

If we’re honest, some of us just aren’t in the mood to shop or do the usual things for this particular Advent season.

When I was growing up, our family had more than one or two special traditions around this season, but gift giving was not a highlight of the time. There was never a great deal of money, but even so there was not a lot of time spent considering what gifts would most bless each one. My precious dad was a dear, but very poor at choosing gifts for my mother and though she loved him dearly I knew she was sometimes disappointed.

As a result, the very first Christmas that I was allowed to go shopping for gifts for our family with my dad, I couldn’t seem to stop finding things that I thought would delight and bless my mother. We were walking up and down the streets of my small hometown, stopping in the popular shops of the era such as Sear Roebuck, Woolworths, and others you can guess or add to that list.

At some point on the shopping trip, my dad checked in with me to see if I had found something for each person and was somewhat dismayed to discover that I had spent all my money and had a number of parcels, but they were all for my mother.

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I still recall my dad pulling change from his pocket and a couple of dollars to give me to try to find something for my brother and him. It was already time to be heading home and I needed to hurry. Somehow, I had a harder time shopping for them because I was so aware of the desire to bless my mother with some things she would never expect that I had spent it all on her at the beginning of the shopping trip.

That early experience left an indelible impression on me that is still present today. I am not a big fan of “shopping,” but I love to give gifts for almost any reason or season. I will always honor the requests for some things if given a list, but I go on a quest to find something special for each person. It may not be the most expensive gift, but I am always looking for something that communicates to them that I “see” them and have a sense of what delights them. If I don’t meet that goal of something special, I am invariably not all that excited even if I bless the person with some nice things.

The first year my husband and I were married I went on a quest to find a Daisy Red Rider Air Rifle. He had something like it as a boy and his had been loaned for an event and was totally used up by the time it was returned to him so off I went to get my sweet new husband a facsimile of his boyhood favorite.

Two years ago, I gave my husband a special box at Christmas. A note was attached with little envelopes tucked inside. The note explained that the box represented “a year of dates.” Each month he would open a small envelope to discover a surprise date I planned for him for that month and we would end a year ago in December for our 55th anniversary. It was the most fun I have ever had surprising him with new places or old haunts and a few double dates. (I think he loved it as well.)

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As I look at the gifts we have purchased waiting to be wrapped and placed under the tree, I am aware that there really aren’t as many of those special surprises for those whose hearts I would seek to delight. A variety of things got in the way of the usual shopping trips to places that fueled my imagination. In the process it seems our whole family is aware less of what they would like to have and more about what they are most grateful for. And even though we all won’t be able to be together in one place this year, we celebrate the gift each of us is to the other. We celebrate our son’s health after a cancer diagnosis in the spring followed by treatment and knowing he is now in remission.

We celebrate my husband’s health after several unexpected things sent him to the hospital this year and in addition, I think we realize the gifts of freedom, food, fellowship, and friends more than ever after a year that reduced our chances to share them as a result of the pandemic.

For each of us there is a fresh awareness that we have already received the perfect gift. It isn’t wrapped with tissue paper and ribbon under the tree but arrived at different times for each one of us at just the right time. It fit perfectly the size of our hearts and was and is the person this season is supposed to be about.

Jesus is the perfect gift and each day of the year we can enjoy his presence. He knows us best and even in shadowy places and hard times, He seeks to delight our hearts with the love, joy, and peace that can only come from Him.

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God With Us

When our minds and hearts are longing for what is missing during this Advent season, those missing pieces, people, places, and traditions can loom large. Other times during Advent we may have faced challenges, but this year has weighed on all of us differently over the many months the pandemic has haunted every aspect of our lives.

Some of us have done all the decorating and even some baking, but few of us have felt the same special something that the Christmas season tends to bring us.

As we wait for the pandemic to end and the Second Advent draw near, can we remember God is with us now in this moment, in this season, in this wilderness sort of place?

Have the schemes of the purveyors of darkness caused us to forget?

“Hope is a person and His name is Jesus. We all have access to Him if we wish.

Hope is on the other side of letting go of all control to God.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

My reflections in recent days have reminded me of one of my favorite Christmas carols that I will miss singing with our full congregation this season. It reminds me of that focus that God is with us, but the lyrics contain the sobering truth that calls for Him to come in the midst of darkness. Of course, you may well know I am speaking of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

This hymn that is less well-known than most of the others is a ninth century Latin hymn that opens with these words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The hymn’s origins go back to monastic life 1,200 years ago during the eighth or ninth century when monasteries would sing a metrical phrase of O Antiphons during the final days before Christmas in anticipation of Christmas Eve. Latin documents show the title of the hymn as “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.”

The English translation came into being in 1851 when John Mason Neale, a priest and scholar, featured it in a hymnal. It’s difference in tone from other Christmas carols or hymns sets it apart for sounding less joyful than others commonly sung, but its message resonates in this season as we read or sing the lyrics.

The word Emmanuel in the title and lyrics refers to the Hebrew word, Immanuel, meaning “God with us”, first appears in Isaiah 7:14 and we see it again in Matthew 1:23. In each case the name represents a hope that is to come and in the first verse speaks of Israel mourning in exile while they wait for the Lord, a reminder that God is and will be with them in the midst of their hard time.


There is much we can learn from the lyrics as we “wait in exile.” Israel was not certain when that period would end for them even as we are not certain when this time of being shut off from much of our usual activities will last.

Are we so caught up in what is happening now that we have lost track of the “not yet?” Have we missed that He is with us even now as we wait for the Second Advent?

“The present age does not have the last word.

Life that leads us through the wilderness is unexpected and daunting. It can drop us to our knees in prayer and supplication or cause us to ignore what’s best in order to gain a quick entrance to the other side. This is the intersection of life where God is waiting. This is where we either say “yes” to God and trust Him to provide and protect, or we grab the steering wheel to maneuver the path in our own power.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

Perhaps the words of this hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, might echo in our prayers this Advent season.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Right now, in the midst of the pandemic that has spread around the entire world bringing life as we know it to a snail’s pace, consider Mary Geisen‘s words:

“But in the middle of this crisis, we as believers can rest in the truth that Jesus arrived two thousand years ago as a baby ready to live and die for our transgressions. We can proclaim with the authority of Jesus that He will come again as we wait for the pandemic to subside. Most of all, our hearts can cry together “Come, Lord Jesus” as we hold the present and future in the palm of our hands, believing that God already has this figured out.”

The Advent Narrative

Seeing, But Not Seeing

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Reading Luke’s narrative of the first Advent tells us much about those who lived during that time, but is it possible that his words penned so long ago also say something about us?

Prophecy about the expected birth of Jesus had been around for a long time for those who had heard it and yet the question that came to the lips of more than one or two were, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting?” A casual reading might make it too easy to scoff at the uncertainty that lays behind the question. After all we may think, how could they have missed this?

There can be many answers that come to mind including what Luke says:

“He said, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. There are others who need stories. But even with stories some of them aren’t going to get it: Their eyes are open but don’t see a thing,
Their ears are open but don’t hear a thing.”

Luke 8:10 (MSG)

Were they asleep or only dull of hearing and murky in sight? The people of the first Advent knew the One was to come, but what did they expect?

What we expect often determines what we see and hear. There is a narrative at work in each of our hearts, minds, and spirits that has been sown over the course of our lifetime. It is that narrative that we believe to be true and we take in things we see and hear that align with that narrative and set aside those things that do not.

And narratives run through every area of our lives and if we are not alert to them, they open the door to deception and choices that lead us down paths the Lord never intended we take.

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At the time of the first Advent many were surely looking for a king who would bring the harsh rule of the Roman Empire to an end. Others were looking for a warrior who would take over by force and root out the evil conditions so many were enduring during that time so that justice could prevail. Despite the prophecies they had heard, they were not thinking about Him coming as a helpless baby to a nondescript couple in a stable in Bethlehem. That didn’t fit their narrative of what they wanted to see happen, hoped would happen.

They missed seeing how Jesus comes in the midst of the ordinary, the common small places and things in life.

John gives an even more unique image of the One that was to come and will come again:

“The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.”

John 1:1-2 (MSG)

How abstract it can sound that when mankind was looking for a king or a warrior “the Word” was sent.

“Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? This question betrays the sin of our age: to treat lightly the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit. What else in the world is as capable of bringing man and man together over the distances in space and time? Of all things on the earth, words alone never die. They have so little matter and so much meaning…”

Abraham Heschel in Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

Scientists and researchers spend their days looking to try to see what they have not seen previously in order to understand it or discover secrets previously unknown. Yet, many of them looking through telescopes, microscopes and vast amounts of data can miss what is there. Consider how Alexander Fleming returned to his lab in Scotland in 1928 after a two- week vacation to discover mold had accidentally contaminated a culture plate of staphylococcus that led to what he didn’t expect – the discovery of penicillin.

I think God must delight in times He surprises us. It reveals how far beyond our imagination He is, but yet He wants us to “see” Him and “hear” Him, to not miss Him.

In the midst of the “not yet” as we wait on the second Advent, might we also miss Him?

I think the key is not only whether or not we are awake and watching, but whether our hearts are beating at one with Him as a result of our intimacy with Him.

Our heart is never fooled in recognizing the person on whom our affections are set. We sense the person before they even speak when they enter a room. We recognize the fragrance that is them before they ever touch our hand. It is a knowing born of much time spent together.

After all, where it is, we first encounter Jesus? Does He not come knocking at our heart?

“For those who listen for Christ’s coming, a knock sounds over and over again. The things that come forth are not necessarily highly spiritual. Sometimes they are very simple things.”

Mary Geisen quoting Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt in The Advent Narrative

Scripture tells us the Second Advent will not look like the first, but not unlike the First Advent, those whose hearts are already aligned with Him will surely not miss that glorious appearing.

Yes, 2020 is a different season, but we must not lose sight of Him in the midst of all that would cloud our sight or distort our hearing.

“When God wrote the script for our lives, He linked hardship and goodness in an effort to reach us in our reality. Independence is admirable, but dependence on the One who created us is where we meet Hope for the first time.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
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What A Choice!

How easily we can miss the significance of the choice God made to humble Himself and choose to come to earth in human flesh to show us what mankind had been missing for thousands of years about how great was his love, grace, and mercy. Somehow, we think of it at Easter on the cross as He hung there without considering what is beyond our imagination to consider about his choice to come to earth as a baby in the humblest of places.

The nativity scenes we set up during the season of Advent are so pristine compared to the reality of that manger where Mary and Joseph first laid Him. Any farmer would tell you in vivid detail the sounds and smells that would have surrounded them. Stables smelled of hay and straw (both old and new) and of the dirty stalls of the animals that spent time there. Dust was everywhere. It was not pretty or clean.

How like Him to come into the mess of such a place! He comes into the mess of our lives and chooses to live within us when we accept Him.

It wasn’t just on the cross that He showed his love in his humility. But none of us mortals are very good at humility if we’re gut-wrenchingly honest.

“Humility looks like caring for others more than we care about ourselves. It is looking beyond ourselves and recognizing the beauty around us. Humility keeps the spotlight on Jesus. When we shine it on ourselves, it reflects the flaws and messiness that Jesus has already redeemed through His death on the cross.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
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Perhaps our struggle with humility is not only about pride, but our unwon battle with selfishness that requires us to lay down our lives for others as Jesus so clearly showed us and still shows us each day. Maybe we don’t spend enough time looking in the mirror of the Word and seeing ourselves as accurately or clearly as we ought.

Over and over again humility is the convicting message of that first Advent. It was the manger, the humblest of parents chosen to be the earthly parents of Jesus, and it was the shepherds who were considered lowly in that culture who were first blessed to hear the news and see this babe in the manger who had come to save them. Consider who God honored with this privilege we read about – shepherds of all people, not the religious leaders of the day, not the chief rabbi of the town – shepherds.

This Advent that may seem constricted gives us space to make room for Him in our hearts and enter into the scene more deeply and personally, to finally grasp just a bit more than we have had time for other years when we were out doing more, busier with the seasonal traditions we loved. It can serve as a time to consider with greater anticipation the Second Advent yet to come and where we are in that journey.

“A life worth living takes us on a journey of preparing well. But it is not just the preparation and awakening of our hearts. God leads us through the “not yet” as a challenge and call to let Him dive deep into our very core. He wants our faith to look like the roller coaster ride that we hold onto for dear life because we don’t know what else to do. It is wondering and believing for more. It is saying “yes” when we prefer the “no.” God knows, and whether the path feels comfortable and familiar or takes us off road on the adventure of our lives, He is with us in every step forward and backward.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
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This year when we are less busy is perhaps when we ought to remove the masks we can often wear when we spend time with the Lord, the masks that we foolishly use to be less honest and real with Him than He deserves or that we need to be in order to lead a more sanctified and holy life. That would be humility.

“The first requirement in a personal relationship is to be ourselves. Off with the masks. Away with the pretense.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

This Advent season of 2020 is not without hope, not without promise. If it seems that way, where are we looking? The smelly dusty manger in the midst of a world ruled by the Roman Empire should adjust our perspective if we pause to really see it and enter into the story behind the scene our nativity sets depict.

“The best part of our God-driven stories is the hope that is ours every step of the way. It is ultimately the desire to end up at the manger to see Jesus and the gifts He left there for me and you. Max Lucado says it like this: “The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

The lowly shepherds became the first eyewitnesses of what God was doing. God has not stopped the story, his story, and we are eyewitnesses to what He is doing now in big and small things. We are part of the story.

How will we spread the word and share the story so that no one will miss the Second Advent because we were asleep or silent?