Untriumphantly: Joy in Simple Things

This third week of Advent is the week of Joy!

In the days of Herod, King of Y’hudah, there was a cohen named Z’kharyah who belonged to the Aviyah division. His wife was a descendant of Aharon, and her name was Elisheva. Both of them were righteous before God, observing all the mitzvot and ordinances of Adonai blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elisheva was barren; and they were both well along in years.

One time, when Z’kharyah was fulfilling his duties as cohen during his division’s period of service before God, he was chosen by lot (according to the custom among the cohanim) to enter the Temple and burn incense. All the people were outside, praying, at the time of the incense burning, when there appeared to him an angel of Adonai standing to the right of the incense altar. Z’kharyah was startled and terrified at the sight. But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Z’kharyah; because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elisheva will bear you a son, and you are to name him Yochanan. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many people will rejoice when he is born, for he will be great in the sight of Adonai. He is never to drink wine or other liquor, and he will be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the people of Isra’el to Adonai their God. He will go out ahead of Adonai in the spirit and power of Eliyahu to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for Adonai a people prepared.”

Z’kharyah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man; my wife too is well on in years.” “I am Gavri’el,” the angel answered him, “and I stand in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, to give you this good news. Now, because you didn’t believe what I said, which will be fulfilled when the time comes, you will be silent, unable to speak until the day these things take place.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Z’kharyah; they were surprised at his taking so long in the Temple. But when he came out unable to talk to them, they realized that he had seen a vision in the Temple; speechless, he communicated to them with signs.

When his period of his Temple service was over, he returned home. Following this, Elisheva his wife conceived, and she remained five months in seclusion, saying, “Adonai has done this for me; he has shown me favor at this time, so as to remove my public disgrace.”

Luke 1:5-25 (CJB)

            I imagine that reading was a little tougher for you. I love the Complete Jewish Bible translation for it’s ability to shake me out of my know-it-all-Sunday-School-complacent self. So, I’ll give a tiny guide—though maybe in trying to read through that particular story, you opted to grab your own Bible and read it in a more familiar way, which is fine. The characters in this story are Z’kharyah (Zechariah), Gavri’el (Gabriel), and Elisheva (Elizabeth). You also have mention of the name the child will have, Yochanan (John). I suspect you wondered what a cohen and mitzvot are. (The answer would be a priest and a commandment, respectively.) 

            Now that we have that out of the way, we can dig into the story a bit more. Zechariah (Z’kharyah) is doing his job as a priest. He’s in the Temple burning incense like he did regularly. This is an ordinary day on the job. Then, God disrupts Zechariah’s ordinary. An angel steps into the scene. Angels always seem to start by saying, “Do not be afraid”, which makes me think the natural reaction to seeing an angel is fear. But here is Zechariah, interrupted and awed by what God is going to do. And as God is known to do, He interrupts the ordinary for something even more ordinary—a baby. Zechariah and Elizabeth are old and barren. They have no heir. It seems that common dream is one Zechariah gave up long ago because he questions the angel’s message. But there is no mistake. There will be a miracle-baby named John who is coming to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. 

            Babies are born every minute. In fact, as mentioned before, about 250 babies are born every minute. That is an extremely ordinary and normal occurrence. But ask any parent, and they’ll tell you, whether it is their first baby or their eighth—every baby is a blessing and a miracle. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, this baby is even more of a miracle. (Infertility will make you appreciate the simple act of a baby being born a little more.)

            There is so much joy in this rather ordinary story. I’m going to admit, an angel visitation is not ordinary. I’m not denying how miraculous this story is. But heaven is peeking through the ordinariness and making it holy. The light of the coming Messiah is peeking through the curtain. 

            Have you stopped to examine your ordinary to see heaven peeking through? This time of year, I feel like you can see those little pinpricks of joy more easily. Look around you. What do you have to be joyful about? I’m listening to the Dora theme song for about the thousandth time, but hearing the giggles of a very content three-year-old sprinkled in. What joy! I’ve got a fat little baby napping and dreaming of more milk, an eighth baby after being diagnosed with infertility. What joy! I’ve got fuzzy slippers on my feet that are completely not stylish but are oh so cozy and warm. What joy! Joy comes from the simplest things. This Advent, this week, let’s take the time to notice and take note. If we’re still and look hard, we’ll see a little heaven peeking through. 

Today’s song: Today Is the Savior’s Day by Rend Collective

Untriumphiantly: Gratefulness

This third week of Advent is the week of Joy!

Then Miryam said,

“My soul magnifies Adonai;
    and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,
who has taken notice of his servant-girl
    in her humble position.
For — imagine it! — from now on, all generations will call me blessed!
    “The Mighty One has done great things for me!
Indeed, his name is holy; and in every generation
    he has mercy on those who fear him.

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm,
    routed the secretly proud,
brought down rulers from their thrones,
    raised up the humble,
filled the hungry with good things,
    but sent the rich away empty.

“He has taken the part of his servant Isra’el,
    mindful of the mercy
which he promised to our fathers,
    to Avraham and his seed forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (CJB)

            I’m always amazed at Mary’s (Miryam) gratefulness and joy. This is a girl whose entire world is going to be turned upside down. Her reputation will be completely trashed. Her life plans and goals—there they go out the window. Most people aren’t even willing to move to a town a few miles away at the call of God, and here, this girl is willing to give everything up to be part of His plan. It is hard to even fathom faith and sacrifice like that. 

            Christmas is the grinchiest time of year. It comes right after Thanksgiving, where we try to remember to be grateful, until those Black Friday sales drop. Then we head right back to our consumeristic mindsets, and gratefulness is a thing of the past. 

            The day after Christmas, my inbox will be flooded with advertisements from companies telling me to now buy what I really wanted for Christmas but didn’t get. How selfish are we? The kids don’t buy us “the right” thing, so we’ve got to treat ourselves to what we “really deserve”. I have to say, the gift-giving scene around Christmas makes me want to never buy a gift again. 

            Even beyond gifts, the self-centeredness this time of year is evident everywhere. Everyone insisting on having their tradition in their way. People just get so set on having their holiday the exact way they want them; they don’t even have room for anyone to participate. It is sad, really. 

            What would it look like for us to be radically grateful this Advent? Grateful for that little nip in the air (even if it isn’t exactly the white Christmas of our dreams). Grateful for the long nights, the hot chocolate, the silly Christmas movies, the neighbor’s inflatable Rudolf. That little bit of gratitude in those simple, ordinary things would begin to look a lot like joy. We can choose this Advent to have a soul that magnifies the Lord. We can choose gratefulness in the simple that leads to joy in the eternal. 

Today’s song: Shepherd’s Song by Josh Garrels

Untriumphantly: Peace on Earth Begins at Home

This second week of Advent is the week of Peace!

I may speak in the tongues of men, even angels;
but if I lack love, I have become merely
blaring brass or a cymbal clanging.

I may have the gift of prophecy,
I may fathom all mysteries, know all things,
have all faith — enough to move mountains;
but if I lack love, I am nothing.

I may give away everything that I own,
I may even hand over my body to be burned;
but if I lack love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful,
not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered,
and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over other people’s sins
but takes its delight in the truth.
Love always bears up, always trusts,
always hopes, always endures.

Love never ends; but prophecies will pass,
tongues will cease, knowledge will pass.
For our knowledge is partial, and our prophecy partial;
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
thought like a child, argued like a child;
now that I have become a man,
I have finished with childish ways.

For now we see obscurely in a mirror,
but then it will be face to face.
Now I know partly; then I will know fully,
just as God has fully known me.

But for now, three things last —
trust, hope, love;
and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (CJB)

            I know what you’re thinking. Or, I know what I would be thinking if I were you. “This idiot is ending the week of Peace talking about love.” It is intentional, I assure you. Mother Teresa is cited as having said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I think that is how peace begins. How do we cultivate peace? Through love. Where is that best expressed? At home. 

            Too often our families get the worst of us. We’re tired, we’re spent, we’ve had enough, and we certainly don’t feel like cultivating peace in our homes right now. As a mom, I often feel like so much hinges on me. The mood of the house is determined by me. The priorities in the house are determined by me. I feel so much pressure to make it all so perfect. (And let’s be honest, I’m not the only person in my house, and the pressure is self-inflicted.) I am often going on such little sleep that I cannot fathom how to encourage peace on earth, much less peace in my own home. The problem is this big, complex whirlwind in my own head. “How can I keep the kids from bickering?” “How can I put something positive out into the social media atmosphere?” “How can I speak peace into the lives of hurting people?” “How can I keep my cool with this obstinate child who wants me to lose it?” It seems so complex, but it is simple: love. 

            I’m in that in-between generation between Gen X and Millennials. I refuse to be called a Millennial because I did not grow up with technology being a constant as they did. I grew up more like a Gen Xer, mostly because of small town life. But I did grow up with that heavy New Age influence that the answers to all life’s problems are in myself (please reject such garbage) and that I’m special. So, I’m a realist (Thanks, Gen X.) who thinks I’m responsible for changing the entire world (Thanks, Millennials.). That pressure gets to me. I feel like I need to change the world, but then I look at the world and think, “Who can change that dumpster fire?” The answer isn’t me. It’s Jesus. And it is only through Jesus that I can be changed with it. 

            Where does that change begin? In my home, loving my family. Flipping the Mother Teresa quote, if I love people, I’ll have no time to judge them. And that starts at home. That starts from the middle and works its way out. If my home lacks love, it is nothing. Love is where it all begins. So, instead of yelling, I’ll get busy loving. I will take delight in the truth and pointing my family toward truth, and I’ll bear them. I’ll bear with them, and I will bear them. As this dark season gets into the busier, more harried parts, I’ll remember that peace on earth begins here. It begins with Jesus loving me and changing me, and me overflowing with His love. 

Today’s song: Lift Up Your Eyes by The Brilliance

Untriumphantly: A New Beginning

This second week of Advent is the week of Peace!

You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice in your presence
as if rejoicing at harvest time,
the way men rejoice
when dividing up the spoil.
For the yoke that weighed them down,
the bar across their shoulders,
and their driver’s goad
you have broken as on the day of Midyan[’s defeat].
For all the boots of soldiers marching
and every cloak rolled in blood
is destined for burning,
fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us;
dominion will rest on his shoulders,
and he will be given the name
Pele-Yo‘etz El Gibbor
Avi-‘Ad Sar-Shalom
[Wonder of a Counselor, Mighty God,
Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace],
in order to extend the dominion
and perpetuate the peace
of the throne and kingdom of David,
to secure it and sustain it
through justice and righteousness
henceforth and forever.
The zeal of Adonai-Tzva’ot
will accomplish this.

Adonai sent a word to Ya‘akov,
and it has fallen on Isra’el.

Isaiah 9:2-7 (CJB)

            Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. I know I’ve already mentioned this fact, but it bears repeating. This dark season of waiting is how we begin the year. I know everyone around us is just counting down the days to the end of this year. But as the Church, we stand and say, “This is the new beginning.” It might seem odd to begin a new year with waiting, but we often begin things with a season of waiting. When we’re getting married, we typically preface that with a season of engagement—the time of waiting to be married. When we’re having a baby, we must first be pregnant for what seems like both the longest and the shortest nine months on the planet. We begin by waiting. When beginning a new job, there is the interview process, which then turns into the days before we begin our new path—a time of waiting. When we begin college, we first apply and decide which college we’ll choose, and there is also a time of waiting before that first class begins. Waiting is a common way for things to begin. 

            Waiting in the dark of December often doesn’t feel like a new beginning. For me, August feels like the beginning of a new year. Those sharp new pencils just scream “new beginning” for me. Dead trees, long nights, sometimes cold temperatures—none of those things says “new” to me. But this is how it is. 

            A seed begins by sleeping. It is just a seed as it waits. It waits to be buried, fall apart completely, and sprout up something new and green. But that seed—that’s the beginning. By the time we see that little plant above the ground, so much work has already been done. 

            In Isaiah, we find this expectant waiting. He knows the Redeemer is coming. He knows God always fulfills His promises. He waits. Something is happening. Something is coming. This waiting is part of the beginning. The Child born so long ago for us—that is the beginning. These days waiting to the second coming—this is also the beginning. Jesus is making something new—not just for Israel, but for me now. Jesus is making me new. As I wait in the darkness, as I fall apart completely, something is growing—something new.

Today’s song: We Three Kings (We Are Not Lost) by Rend Collective

Untriumphantly: Against Busyness

This second week of Advent is the week of Peace!

It was at that time that Yeshua said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you concealed these things from the sophisticated and educated and revealed them to ordinary folks. Yes, Father, I thank you that it pleased you to do this.

“My Father has handed over everything to me. Indeed, no one fully knows the Son except the Father, and no one fully knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

“Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

One Shabbat during that time, Yeshua was walking through some wheat fields. His talmidim were hungry, so they began picking heads of grain and eating them. On seeing this, the P’rushim said to him, “Look! Your talmidim are violating Shabbat!” But he said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? He entered the House of God and ate the Bread of the Presence!” — which was prohibited, both to him and to his companions; it is permitted only to the cohanim. “Or haven’t you read in the Torah that on Shabbat the cohanim profane Shabbat and yet are blameless? I tell you, there is in this place something greater than the Temple! If you knew what ‘I want compassion rather than animal-sacrifice’ meant, you would not condemn the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of Shabbat!”

Matthew 11:25-12:8 (CJB)

            You won’t find this as part of any productivity lecture. Resting in Jesus isn’t about being your best you. So often, when we talk about Sabbath and rest, we talk about the practical applications and advantages, rather than just looking at it as a command we are to obey. While it is true that you cannot pour from an empty cup, this isn’t about that. And while it is true that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, this isn’t about that either. This is about resting in Jesus and seeing things how He sees them. 

            I find it profoundly interesting that Jesus is talking about coming to Him and resting and then immediately begins discussing the Sabbath laws. We’ll get to the Sabbath laws in a minute, but I want to first point out that connection. 

            Jesus says to come to Him, take up His cause, and His cross. We read “come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” and think more of something like a spa day than what Jesus is really talking about. He says to take on his yoke. Know what a yoke is? Yeah. A harness for animals so they can pull a burden of some sort. Jesus isn’t promising a life of ease as that flobbit in “Lord of the Beans” fondly dreamed of. Jesus is asking us to take up His cause, His burden—to put ourselves willingly into His yoke and pull His burden. That isn’t a spa day. But that is a sort of rest. 

            It is a rest from our overscheduled suburban life. It is a rest from trying to fit everything in and always missing out on the most important, eternal things. As a pastor’s wife, I can assure you that I have heard just about every excuse for missing church that exists. I’m not shaming anyone right now, just giving perspective, so bear with me—this isn’t to guilt you into going to church. “It’s the only day we really have as a family.” “The soccer season ends soon, and we’ll be back in church.” “It is so hard to get up with little kids on Sunday morning.” “I didn’t get much sleep last night.” “It is so hard to sit through church with a wiggling baby.” “It is so hard to sit and listen in church with my child.” “We decided to head out a day early for our vacation.” “Our family scheduled a family reunion that morning. They don’t go to church.” All these excuses are really just that: excuses. It becomes very easy for our excuses to just become our “regular”. As one thing after another vies for our Sunday morning attention, it can be easy to say, “I can talk to Jesus anywhere, anytime. There is nothing special about going to church.” The problem, of course, is that you won’t talk to Jesus anytime, anywhere unless you’re in crisis. You won’t raise a family and establish the habit of “the strong start on Sunday”, to quote Kanye. Soon, our excuses define our lives—not Jesus. You’ve put a yoke on yourself (and your family if you’re a parent or spouse) that isn’t the yoke of Jesus. You’ve taken up causes that aren’t His. And you’ll find yourself heavy. You’ll become burdened. Meeting together with other believers to celebrate our risen Lord each week isn’t just another thing to add to our to-do list. It is a way of ordering life that says, “I’m putting Jesus first.” First day of the week (the day of the Resurrection, not the Sabbath)—I’m putting aside for meeting with God and His people. We’re starting the week strong. We’re taking on Jesus’s yoke. Know what happens when you do that? You can’t get yourself into another yoke. You can’t burden yourself with lesser things. Seek the Kingdom first and you’ll find that your entire direction is toward the Kingdom. You do yourself and your family a great disservice when you let lesser things become first things. That altar of soccer, ease, even family—it isn’t one that will be light or easy. And it isn’t one that will save. That is a path to destruction. I don’t want that for you. Jesus doesn’t want that for you. You don’t want that for those you love. 

            Now, we get to the Sabbath. Jesus tells his disciples to find rest in Him and take up His cause. Then in a turn of the chapter, it flips to Jesus seeming to flick away the Sabbath. What gives? The Sabbath laws were intended to help the people of Israel, but they became a burden to them instead. Why? They didn’t understand the point. God wants mercy from us, not sacrifice. So, in your quest to end busyness, make sure you leave room for rest and mercy. One reason to resist filling your schedule and living a busy life is so you’ll have room for the cause of Jesus, room for other people. You may say, we rest on Saturday. But if a friend calls and needs you to come and have coffee and talk and pray with them, we don’t say, “Sorry, today is my rest day.” We’ve made the room for precisely this thing! This Advent, as you make room for rest, make room for mercy with it. Make room at your table for those who may be alone or struggling this holiday season. Make room to prepare an extra meal to help someone else this season. Take up the Kingdom’s cause this Advent. 

Today’s song: The Hope of Christmas by Matthew West

Untriumphantly: Sit Down!

This second week of Advent is the week of Peace!

On their way Yeshua and his talmidim came to a village where a woman named Marta welcomed him into her home. She had a sister called Miryam who also sat at the Lord’s feet and heard what he had to say. But Marta was busy with all the work to be done; so, going up to him, she said, “Sir, don’t you care that my sister has been leaving me to do all the work by myself?” However, the Lord answered her, “Marta, Marta, you are fretting and worrying about so many things! But there is only one thing that is essential. Miryam has chosen the right thing, and it won’t be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (CJB)

            You probably know this story. Hopefully the translation did its job of making it feel a little bit new, but you know this story. Not only do I know this story; I feel this story. I’m usually pretty good about balancing my Martha and Mary (Marta and Miryam) sides in life. But this time of year is just a Martha time of year. There is so much to do. There is so much magic to create. There are still the usual Tuesday messes to be attended to, but these are magical Tuesday messes. There is more baking. (And more baking messes.) There are more crafts. (And more craft messes.) There are more guests. (And more cleaning the bathroom for those guests.) There is so much to do; it is far too easy to slip into harried Martha mode. 

            But there is one thing essential during this season. Those cookies—they aren’t necessary. The elaborate Christmas dinner—not necessary. (We all know that from A Christmas Story.) Those gifts—not necessary. The pony bead candy cane ornaments (Lord, help me!)—not necessary. What is essential? What is necessary? Jesus. Taking the time to sit at the feet of Jesus during this season—that is necessary. 

            Learn to sit. Learn to just be with those you’re with. Learn to ignore what we feel is pressing in on us for what is eternal. Those people, they’re always more important than presents. (Presence over presents!) That Baby in the manger is so much more important than a stocking on the mantle. Sit with your people. Sit with Jesus. 

            Those stockings aren’t bad—if you’ve got time for them, fine. The cookies aren’t evil—make them, and sit and enjoy them with your little ones (instead of cleaning while they enjoy them). The gifts aren’t awful as long as you know they aren’t the most important thing. Anything that is taking you away from sitting at the feet of Jesus—give that up. If Santa turns your house into a gimme zone, kick that fat man out. If the elf on the shelf occupies too much of your cuddling-by-the-fire time, the elf can pack his bags. If anything is keeping your eyes off Emmanuel, be done with it. Embrace a Mary’s heart this Advent, and sit down! 

Today’s song: Carol of the Banjos by Beta Radio 

Untriumphantly: Calm Down

This second week of Advent is the week of Peace!

Here is how the birth of Yeshua the Messiah took place. When his mother Miryam was engaged to Yosef, before they were married, she was found to be pregnant from the Ruach HaKodesh. Her husband-to-be, Yosef, was a man who did what was right; so he made plans to break the engagement quietly, rather than put her to public shame. But while he was thinking about this, an angel of Adonai appeared to him in a dream and said, “Yosef, son of David, do not be afraid to take Miryam home with you as your wife; for what has been conceived in her is from the Ruach HaKodesh. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘Adonai saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this happened in order to fulfill what Adonai had said through the prophet,

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son,
and they will call him ‘Immanu El.”

(The name means, “God is with us.”)

When Yosef awoke he did what the angel of Adonai had told him to do — he took Miryam home to be his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Yeshua.

Matthew 1:18-25 (CJB)

            First things first—the first thing you probably focused on in today’s reading is that weird name “Ruach HaKodesh”. This is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit—Ruach being breath, spirit, or wind. (If your mind went to Genesis, you’re not alone, my friend.) HaKodesh meaning something like Holy One. Now that we have that burning question out of the way, we can continue. 

            So, here we have the story of Joseph. His tale was destined for the Maury show—am I right? His fiancé is pregnant; he resists the urge to put her on blast and instead is trying to come up with some way that he can handle this quietly. Now, I’m just going to say that not many of us would be so gracious. We’d definitely be tempted to blast this girl all over social media. But Joseph, well, he’s a man of great character. 

            Joseph (Yosef in Hebrew) is pondering all this when he falls asleep. An angel appears to him in a dream and tells him that the baby daddy is God and he should still marry Mary (Miryam in Hebrew). He wakes up, and he does what the angel in his dream told him. 

            Most people these days would find this story even more odd. Not only does an angel tell Joseph about Jesus in a dream, but then Joseph follows the dream advice. Most people these days find dreamers a bit strange. I’ve got a secret for you. I’m a dreamer. I’ve been told a number of things in dreams and then, in my waking moments, have had to make the choice to do what my dream said or not. That is such a weird place to be. “Honey, we’ve got to do X.” “Why? That doesn’t even make sense.” “God told me in a dream.” Such a weird conversation… (And probably equally weird to be on the other side of the conversation.) 

            Joseph is faced with a problem: he dreams the answer. His waking self then accepts this, and he calms down and does what his dream told him to do. In all of this mystery, in the miracle of a virgin conceiving the promised and long-awaited Messiah, we have a man sleeping and then waking and obeying the voice in his dream.

            You might not be a dreamer. You might not have these deep revelations or instructions from God laid out in a dream. But what we all do have is the Word of God in our hands and in our hearts. If we can quiet the noise long enough, we can hear the voice and obey. I know it isn’t popular to talk about hearing the voice of God, but if you aren’t listening, you’ll never hear it. And if you never hear it, your soul will never find the calm you’re looking for. So hush! Sleep! Dream! Read! Listen for the voice of God, get comfortable with living this mystery, and obey His Word. God is really with us. We can all calm down.

Today’s song: Noel by Chris Tomlin with Lauren Daigle

Untriumphantly: All Things New

This first week of Advent is the week of Hope!

Adonai, you are my God.

I exalt you, I praise your name.
For you have accomplished marvels,
[fulfilled] ancient plans faithfully and truly.

For you have made a city a heap of stones,
turned a fortified city into rubble,
made the foreigners’ fortress
a city that will never be rebuilt.
Therefore mighty peoples glorify you,
the city of ruthless nations fears you.
For you have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in distress,
shelter from the storm,
shade from the heat —
for the blast from the ruthless
was like a storm that could destroy a wall.
Like desert heat, you subdue
the foreigners’ uproar;
like heat subdued by a cloud’s shadow,
the song of the ruthless dies away.

On this mountain Adonai-Tzva’ot
will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food and superb wines,
delicious, rich food and superb, elegant wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil which covers the face of all peoples,
the veil enshrouding all the nations.
He will swallow up death forever.
Adonai Elohim will wipe away
the tears from every face,
and he will remove from all the earth
the disgrace his people suffer.
For Adonai has spoken.

On that day they will say,
“See! This is our God!
We waited for him to save us.
This is Adonai ; we put our hope in him.
We are full of joy, so glad he saved us!”
For on this mountain
the hand of Adonai will rest.

But Mo’av will be trampled down where they are,
like straw trampled into a pile of manure.
They will spread out their hands in Mo’av,
like a swimmer using his hands to tread water;
but their pride will be humbled and sunk,
no matter how clever the strokes of their hands.
Your high, fortified walls he will level,
strike to the ground, lay in the dust.

Isaiah 25:1-12 (CJB)

Let me say this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot share in the Kingdom of God, nor can something that decays share in what does not decay. Look, I will tell you a secret — not all of us will die! But we will all be changed! It will take but a moment, the blink of an eye, at the final shofar. For the shofar will sound, and the dead will be raised to live forever, and we too will be changed. For this material which can decay must be clothed with imperishability, this which is mortal must be clothed with immortality. When what decays puts on imperishability and what is mortal puts on immortality, then this passage in the Tanakh will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

“Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin; and sin draws its power from the Torah; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah!

So, my dear brothers, stand firm and immovable, always doing the Lord’s work as vigorously as you can, knowing that united with the Lord your efforts are not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (CJB)

            There is a difference in what is eternal and what is temporal. We all know this deep down, yet we all spend our lives toiling for the temporal. We all hang our hats on pegs that will not last. We know this, deep down. In the musical Hamilton, King George famously sings, “Oceans rise, empires fall!” We know this to be true from history class. Yet, none of us really thinks about these things as they pertain to us. Yes, we think, America won the Revolutionary War! We don’t think about the fact that England lost. We don’t think about the fall of Rome—not in a way that pertains to us, anyway. 

            Isaiah says, “Look, we’ve been hoping in this God, and He’s now saved us!” And we think, “Yes, yes! He did come and save us. We know about that Holy Baby in the manger. We know about that King who died for His people. We know how He rose again!” We rejoice in a day that was saved. But the saving isn’t over; it’s still underway. All things are being made new as we speak! Because of the lowly, lovely king (mewithoutYou), I’m being made new, even now. The Day-with-a-capital-D is still coming. And we’re still waiting. While oceans rise and empires fall (Hamilton), we’re waiting. Because on that day, we’ll all be changed! The temporal things—they’ll do what temporal things do: they’ll disappear from sight and, eventually, memory. What will remain? The eternal. Those things that are really important. Those people made in His image who He came to save and change into something new. There will be victory in Jesus for the slaves who have remained captives all these years. We’ll be changed. We’ll still be

            This Advent, as we prepare for that coming Day when we’ll be changed, let us remember to spend our time on the eternal things.  What are the eternal things? Not the presents, not the tree, not the tinsel—but the people you’re sharing the season with. The people you worship alongside. The neighbors you pass on your drive home. The family you sit and enjoy the season with. The beggar on the street. The foster child whose gifts you buy. People. That is what is eternal. Pointing those people to the God we have waited for and still wait for, Who will save us—that’s eternal. That’s worth our focus. 

Today’s song: Joy Unto The World by The Afters

Untriumphantly: Hope for Now and the Future

This first week of Advent is the week of Hope!

This is the word that Yesha‘yahu the son of Amotz saw concerning Y’hudah and Yerushalayim:

In the acharit-hayamim
the mountain of Adonai’s house
will be established as the most important mountain.
It will be regarded more highly than the other hills,
and all the Goyim will stream there.
Many peoples will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Adonai,
to the house of the God of Ya‘akov!
He will teach us about his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For out of Tziyon will go forth Torah,
the word of Adonai from Yerushalayim.
He will judge between the nations
and arbitrate for many peoples.
Then they will hammer their swords into plow-blades
and their spears into pruning-knives;
nations will not raise swords at each other,
and they will no longer learn war.

Descendants of Ya‘akov, come!
Let’s live in the light of Adonai!
For you have abandoned your people
the house of Ya‘akov.
Now they are filled from the east,
full of sorcerers, like the P’lishtim;
even the children of foreigners
are enough for them!
Their land is full of silver and gold;
They have no end of treasures.
Their land is full of horses;
They have no end of chariots.
Their land is full of idols;
everyone worships the work of his hands,
what his own fingers have made.
A person bows down, a man lowers himself —
don’t forgive them!

Come into the rock, hide in the dust
to escape the terror of Adonai
and the glory of his majesty.
The proud looks of man will be humiliated;
the arrogance of men will be bowed down;
and when that day comes,
Adonai alone will be exalted.

Yes, Adonai-Tzva’ot has a day in store
for all who are proud and lofty,
for all who are lifted high to be humiliated;
for all cedars of the L’vanon that are high and lifted up,
for all the oaks of the Bashan;
for all the high mountains,
for all the hills that are lifted up;
for every high tower,
for every fortified wall;
for every “Tarshish” ship,
for every luxurious vessel.
The pride of man will be bowed down,
the arrogance of men will be humiliated,
and when that day comes,
Adonai alone will be exalted.
The idols will be completely abolished.
People will enter cracks in the rocks
and holes in the ground
to escape the terror of Adonai
and his glorious majesty,
when he sets out to convulse the earth.

On that day a man will take hold
of his idols of silver and idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
and fling them away to the moles and bats!
Then they will enter the cracks in the rocks
and the crevices in the cliffs
to escape the terror of Adonai
and his glorious majesty,
when he sets out to convulse the earth.

Stop relying on man,
in whose nostrils is a mere breath —
after all, he doesn’t count for much,
does he?

Isaiah 2 (CJB)

            I’m sure coming to the end of this year, all Christians breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this isn’t all there is. We’re in on a secret. This world is being remade, even now, and there is more than just this sickness, this bickering, and this violence. We have this hope in a coming day. 

            Advent is all about waiting with hope. We’re waiting for that coming day. We celebrate Jesus come to earth in that manger in Bethlehem. But we’re also waiting for his second coming. Talking about the second coming gets weird for most Christians. Some talk about it like an escape ticket. Some talk about it like the apocalypse. Some just don’t talk about it. But our hope isn’t just in what Jesus has done, but in what He is doing and what He is going to do

            This waiting might be especially hard for you this year. You may be mourning losses from this year. You may be mourning the loss of your usual Advent. Whereever this Advent finds you, know that this isn’t all there is. There is more. The day is coming. We’re another year closer to our hope, and we’re another year comforted in that hope. Hope in Jesus is a now-and-not-yet business. 

            Preparing for Christmas looks different in a Christian household. The Christmas holiday has been largely secularized. While we could rant all day and night about it, it won’t change if we don’t change. Let’s face it—a season devoted to looking toward the second coming of Jesus is going to be weird. It is going to look different. If it doesn’t look different—question what it is you’re doing and where exactly your hope lies. But that takes some pressure off, doesn’t it? It isn’t about buying the perfect gift or having Instagram-worthy decorations. It isn’t about being busy and doing all the things. That is a load off my plate, for sure. 

            Preparing for Christmas looks like preparing for the day when the Lord alone will be exalted. What does that look like? Are you living the kind of life that finds good news in Yahweh alone being exalted? (That means I will not be exalted.) Preparing means preparing my life and my family for that day when the idols (of busyness, consumerism, pride, selfishness, haughtiness, self-righteousness) will vanish completely. That is a hopeful day. It is a day that we prepare for now because the day is coming. It is a day we hope in now, knowing, one day, it will be. Stop relying on man, yourself included; instead, put your hope in Him. 

Today’s song: In The Morning by JJ Heller

Untriumphantly: A People of Hope

This first week of Advent is the week of Hope!

Concerning love for the brothers we do not need to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other; and you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do it even more.

Also, make it your ambition to live quietly, to mind your own business and to earn your living by your own efforts — just as we told you. Then your daily life will gain the respect of outsiders, and you will not be dependent on anyone.

Now, brothers, we want you to know the truth about those who have died; otherwise, you might become sad the way other people do who have nothing to hope for. For since we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, we also believe that in the same way God, through Yeshua, will take with him those who have died. When we say this, we base it on the Lord’s own word: we who remain alive when the Lord comes will certainly not take precedence over those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-18 (CJB)

            This is a dark season. I’m not just talking about this year. In general, Decembers are dark. The days are short, the night is long. For many people, they begin to feel the effects of diminished vitamin D and seasonal depression can set in. Specific to this year, we may be missing some normalcy. We’re missing our trips, our shopping, and our parties. It’s just dark. It’s perfect for Advent. 

            Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical calendar. It is how we, as Christians, kick off our new year. That’s right! You don’t have to wait until January 1st to ring in the new year. It starts now. There is so much hope in a new year. We make New Year’s resolutions because we want to be better this year than we were in the last. This year, most people are excited to be leaving behind the dumpster fire that was 2020. We’re hopeful that this new year will bring with it something better. 

            But for Christians, this new year, this hope—it isn’t in what is around us. We’re not people with hope because of a vaccine, the government, or the media. I’m not saying we don’t care about and aren’t involved in those things; what I am saying is that is not where our hope lies. Our hope lies in Jesus. And during this season where we wait for His coming, our hope is in Emmanuel, God with us.

            I think it is funny that Paul gives us the secret to “the happy life”, as a youth once said to me. Live quietly, mind your own business, and earn a living with your own hands. We aren’t just milling about and getting through life because we are not a people without hope. We have hope. Jesus was born. Jesus died. Jesus was resurrected. That is why we have hope. We can encourage one another, knowing that we don’t have the grieve like the rest of the world. Our hope is in Jesus.

Today’s song: What A Year for A New Year by Dan Wilson