Well, another year has almost come and gone! I’m thankful for many things as I look back on 2012, including the following:
- that the Lord allowed us to celebrate a few significant milestones in our family: our 15th wedding anniversary; my 5th year of ordained pastoral ministry; our oldest child’s 13th birthday
- that the Lord continues to sustain my wife in her nursing studies and me in pastoral ministry
- that our children are healthy and whole and are enjoying their mentoring and education.
- that the Lord provided two very significant learning opportunities for me this year: a preaching seminar called “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching” and a two-day personal spiritual retreat. Both events were formative and renewing.
- that the Lord continues to form me spiritually as a person and in leadership as a pastor. Happily, He has sent some godly and gifted people to guide me on my spiritual pilgrimage.
So what are you thankful for as you look back on 2012? Whatever it is, I encourage you to share your testimony of thanksgiving with at least one other person before the end of the year. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever!”
It gives me joy to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I enjoy this time of year for a number or reasons: (1) because we celebrate the birth of Christ and reflect on the mystery of the incarnation (that Jesus, the Son of God, was born with a real human nature with all its weaknesses, except for sin); (2) because it’s a time to fellowship and celebrate with family and friends; and (3) because this is a time of extraordinary openness to the Good News that Jesus was born to save. I encourage you to spend some time this Christmas season (all 12 days!) reflecting on the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, celebrating with family and friends, and announcing the birth of Christ to at least one person–preferably to someone who really needs to hear it. One way to do that is to invite a neighbour to a Christmas program, like the Lacombe Community Christmas Eve Event, which will occur at the Lacombe Memorial Centre (Dec. 24 @ 7pm). Other ideas include inviting a neighbor over for tea over the holidays, or going Christmas caroling in your neighborhood, which is what we did on December 22. Whatever you decided to do this Christmas season, I pray that you will truly feel the presence and love of the Jesus the Immanuel—the “God with us.”
On December 16 we complete our Advent sermon series based on the Book of Ruth. Accordingly, one last time I invite you to read the overview of the text provided by the creators of the series, “Under the Bethlehem Star” (Reformed Worship 101), Dianne [Rop] Elders & Dale Fopma:
God carries on the promise of redemption in ways we couldn’t have expected. Boaz sits at the town gate, where the real business of the community is conducted, and presents Ruth’s case to the kinsman-redeemer as an opportunity for him to get land and increase his wealth. But the kinsman-redeemer refuses to marry Ruth. In love, Boaz redeems Ruth, they are married, and they have a child. Eventually they become the great-grandparents of King David. And from the line of David comes Jesus Christ, who was sent to redeem the world. Christ is our Redeemer! In love, Christ rescues me before God so that my name is written in the book of eternal life. And now I belong to him for eternity.
As a pastor I have the privilege of talking to a number of people on a regular basis. When I ask them how they’re doing at this time of year, the common response is “I’m very busy!” And if they don’t say it, I often see it on their faces–especially on Sunday mornings when I mount the pulpit. So, why is that? At this time of the year our lives become full with Christmas programs and parties and carol festivals, etc.–all good things, right? But sometimes I wonder if we let our culture dictate our schedule more than we know.
I read an article this week called, “The Practice of Paying Attention,” by Ruth Haley Barton. It speaks to the problem of busyness in our culture. Ruth was one of the pastors of a large local church. Her schedule was constantly full–so much so, that she had little time for herself, not to mention for her family or community. Eventually she came to the realization that she was letting this happen to her. It was her fault! She was allowing herself to get too busy, and so she began to change her pattern of life to allow more time for paying attention. Now, I know that we all have many responsibilities. Our basic tasks are demanding enough, not to mention the expectations put on us by our churches and communities. But I do wonder what it would be like to slow things down a bit–to take more control of our schedules and begin setting a different pattern of life for our family, friends and neighbors.
Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation–for the (Second) Coming of Christ. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m too busy to even think about watching for the coming of the Lord. So I invite us all to slow things down a bit. What “extras” can you cut out, so that you can focus on what’s really important–spending time with the Lord, family and friends, etc. As you slow things down, I daresay you will feel more rested, have time for more meaningful conversations, and become more attentive to what the Lord is doing in your life. I can’t think of too many better Christmas gifts than that!
This Sunday we’ll talk about identity. Who are you and to whom do you belong? And we’ll reflect on this theme as we continue our Advent journey via the Book of Ruth. Accordingly, the following comments from the creators of our sermon series (Diane [Rop] Elders and Dale Fopma) help to take us one step closer to Bethlehem:
Naomi doesn’t know if her dream for a redeemer will really come true. But she tells Ruth to “Wash and prepare herself” to meet a husband—a gift. Do we expect too little from God? Are we afraid to let God take control of our lives? Are we too afraid of failing to risk serving God? In fear, Ruth takes a risk and asks, “Will you redeem me?” Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, provides all that she asks for: a husband, a child, a home, and complete redemption. Our salvation is free, but Jesus Christ paid the price so that we could be redeemed (Gal. 4:3-5). We long to feel God’s protection and care, which God provides in Jesus Christ.
Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. As Philip F. Reinders writes in Seeking God’s Face (Faith Alive Christian Resources & Baker Book House Company, 2010), “A good celebration requires proper preparation for us to fully enjoy it. During December, however, we mostly confuse helpful readiness for the hustle of Christmas shopping, parties, and preparations. The Advent season, more reflective in nature, can feel out of sync with all this noise and busyness” (p. 23). I didn’t grow up observing Advent, so Christmas, although enjoyable, seemed a bit abrupt and almost anticlimactic. But all this changed when I started to observe Advent. The time spent preparing for the grand celebration of Christmas really helped me to enjoy it more. So, what am I doing to prepare myself this year? Well, we’re going to a few Advent/Christmas programs and parties, because the birth of the Savior is a cause for celebration. And I love to sing Christmas carols! In fact, we’re planning on going caroling around the neighborhood. But we’re also trying to slow things down and be more reflective by reading Scripture via an Advent devotional series. Plus I’m reading a book by Ruth Haley Barton called, An Invitation to Solitude and Silence (IVP Books, 2010), as I want to learn more about how to rest in God’s presence this Advent. We’ve also said no to one or two things that we do through the year, so that we have more time to reflect and celebrate. So, what intentional things are you doing this Advent to prepare for the birth (and Second Coming) of the Savior? What ever they are, may the Lord use them to draw you to himself and prepare you for the grand season of Christmas.