Category Archives: Pastor’s Blog

What is Advent?

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word, adventus for “coming” and thus describes the first season in the church calendar year. It is observed as a season of preparation for what is the “Christ-Mass” — the service in which the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, is celebrated.

In today’s celebration Advent and Christmas are conflated into one season. Sadly, we miss an opportunity to prepare. Tish Harrison Warren, writes this weekend of the significance of Advent. The title in her article in the New York Times gets to the heart of it. “If you want to get into the spirit of Christmas, face the darkness.” You may read it here.

Many churches (and Grace is one), mark the season by lighting Advent wreath candles. The use of candles during the Advent season originated in Germany prior to the Reformation. Originally, there were only four Advent candles: three purple candles and one pink candle. The purple candles matched the purple paraments (the cloth that lays on the altar and the pulpit) and signified the coming King Jesus. (Purple is the color of royalty). The Pink candle is the third candle to be lit, and it is lit on Gaudate Sunday, (the third Sunday in Advent). “Gaudate” means “Rejoice!” in Latin, and is the first word for the traditional introit for that day which is taken from Philippians 4:4-5 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” The white candle or the Christ Candle was added later and obviously represents Christ and was to be lit during the twelve days of Christmas (Dec 25-Jan 5).

GPC follows a common practice of identifying each of the candles with a theme. The themes each week are: hope, love, joy, and peace. The sermon passages will pick up on those themes.

As you prepare for the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ, you may want to look at these resources.
How December 25 Became Christmas.
Malcom Guite speaking on Advent.
Biola University’s Advent Devotional.

Could We But Stand Where Moses Stood

This Sunday we start the Christian year with the first Sunday of Advent. We will be marking the Sunday’s in Advent by lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. This tradition serves as a countdown to Christmas. The first candle in the Advent wreath is sometimes called the Hope Candle or the Prophecy Candle. “Hope” will serve as a theme of sorts during our worship service and sermon.

The experience of Israel in the Old Testament provides numerous stories in which the New Testament church understands her present circumstances. The two most common metaphors employed are that the church and the Christian are either sojourning in the wilderness as Israel did before entering the promised land or they are living in exile while awaiting the promised return. In either case the destination is the promised land where God’s people find their home and place in the midst of God’s creation and their hope fulfilled.

In the 1700 and 1800’s many song and hymn writers employed the metaphor of sojourning in the wilderness. Songs such as “I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, “Farewell My Friends I’m Bound for Canaan,” and “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” all speak to hardness of life for those in the wild beyond Canaan and hope of home and place and rest.

This Sunday we will sing a re-tuning of an Isaac Watts hymn entitled, “There is a land of pure delight. Here are Watts’ lyrics as Red Mountain Music makes use of them in their re-tuning of his him. You may listen to their version below.

There is a land of pure delight
Where saints, immortal reign
Infinite day excludes the night
And pleasures banish pain

There everlasting spring abides
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er
Not Jordan’s streams nor death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore

O could we make our doubts remove
Those gloomy thoughts that rise
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er
Not Jordan’s streams nor death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore

You may listen to the song on Youtube HERE.

Christ the King

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday and marks the last Sunday of the church calendar year. Christ the King Sunday is the culmination of the Christian year and celebrates the church’s hope that Jesus Christ shall return again to establish his Kingdom forever. The hope of Christ’s second coming is a consummation of sorts. The courtship begins with the promises of the Old Testament which are veiled in poetic prophecies. The sincerity of those promises are pledged by the gift wrapped in Christmas’ swaddling cloths; that gift is Jesus. The promise of rescue which God accomplishes through Jesus Christ is realized during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. The resurrection inaugurates the betrothal of our salvation which Jesus has secured, and the promises of that salvation are applied by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Since then, the church continues to await her wedding day when the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, returns to take his bride, the church, to be with himself. And so, Christ the King Sunday speaks not only to a promised event and to an orthodox view (as the Creed says, “[I believe]…he ascended in heaven, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and dead“), but it speaks to the fulfillment of our deepest desire: to enjoy the full-peace, beauty, and goodness of the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Sunday at GPC we will also begin a new sermon series entitled, The Jesse Tree, which will also serve as our Advent series. I will share more about the Jesse Tree next week. This Sunday we will be doing double-duty as we look at kingship and particularly at King David. The events recorded in 1 Samuel 16 and 17 show us that the kind of king we want is oftentimes not the kind of king we need. It is so important for us to recognize the differences. We want a mighty man, but we get a shepherd. We want our choice, but we need a man whom God choses. We want someone who will lead us in victory, but we get a man who is a go-between for us. We want a king who will straighten others out, but we get one who takes away our shame and disgrace.

What will help us grow in our faith is to see the kind of king Jesus Christ is. Over and over again God shows us that his ways are not our ways. We will always be quick to co-opt the Kingdom of God in order to enrich or advance our own kingdom. It never works. Those who do so are constantly disappointed and mystified. Eventually, they lose interest and move to more profitable deities. We however, must be ready to receive him when he comes to us. We must be ready to humble ourselves. In fact, Jesus tells us in the parable, that he does and has come to us and often in many little ways, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me'” (Matthew 25:35-36). As we await his final coming, let us not miss the many ways he comes to us daily.

Happy Christ the King Sunday! It is a festival day for us to feast on God’s grace. Enjoy feasting on his promises and our hope.

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artwork: The Jesse Tree in the Lambeth Psalter, unknown English miniaturist, c.1140s

Grace in Ordinary: Daily Gratitude

This Sunday marks the end of what the church calendar calls Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time falls during two seasons in the calendar year. It first comes for several weeks in winter after Christmas and Epiphany and then comes again several months later to mark the season after Pentecost.

Ordinary Time is a season in which it seems nothing is happening. There are a few special days which come, but there are no special seasons or holidays such as Christmas, Epiphany, or Easter. I tell the children that when they see the green banners (aka paraments) in the church, they should remember that “green means grow.” By this time in ordinary time, the green is tiring, and the daily, weekly, monthly work of doing what the Lord and Christ has commanded as we await Jesus’ second coming, seems unending.

Experiencing the fullness of the gospel in the Ordinary may sometimes feel difficult. We like verbs or descriptors that are action words that speak of the special, radical, extreme, and powerful. Words or actions which speak of the every day such as duty, discipline, making your bed seem to wear us down. Ordinary just seems so ordinary, and who wants that?

A couple of those words which are ordinary words but which get pulled down into the mundane and unexciting of the life of waiting are “gratitude” and “thanksgiving.” Depending on when you hear the word it may be that you either ought to be more grateful or should be ashamed that you aren’t. And so we muster up the strength, rally our sluggish wills and write the note, send the text, or say the words, “Thank you.” Those moments seem a far cry from the flying high, powerful experience of the extraordinary.

The question we’re confronted with in Ordinary Time is, “Can I get to gratitude from where I am right now? In the wreckage of life, in the tediousness of details, and the pang of waiting, is there any way into gratitude which is full and humbling and joyful?” Psalm 75 gives us map, and we will be looking at the map this Sunday. I hope you can join us.