The Quiet Secret

The Quiet Secret

We are halfway through Advent as we light the third candle, Joy.

In preparation for this devotional on joy I spent days pouring over verse after verse on joy. I was amazed how often joy was used to describe something so difficult. I began to think about my greatest teachers of joy this year, my friends who are currently incarcerated. You see they graciously accept me and my friend and our simple church set up with warmth and enthusiasm. They cheer their fellow sisters on when one is getting released and the love and cheer is so beautifully genuine. They respond with a joy in the midst of their deep longing for their own release. They exemplify true joy to me, their joy is tangible and contagious.

I think joy is really the deep understanding of morning coming, of night ending, and of knowing the sun is going to rise. It’s the quiet trust of knowing sorrow and intense loss, yet pursuing Jesus and placing that despair at his feet. It’s a conviction that sorrow may last for a night but joy really will come and when it does, it floods our hearts with light.

Joy is our flashlight in the darkness that shines a light on our faith. It’s a compass pointing to a true north. I love that peace comes before joy in the Advent celebration because joy is not an emotion and it’s not really a choice. It’s a quiet secret, a truth buried deep down in your soul that keeps you going. And it rides on the coat tails of the peace Jesus gifted us.

It was on day seven of my trip to Jordan that I found myself alone at the top of a place called Mukawir, a fortress belonging to Herod Antipas where John the Baptist was imprisoned and then killed. I had come to Jordan to help in the filming of a short piece on the Biblical sites of the country. Every day held some new adventure and it was the most I had ever been in the front of the camera. However, day seven proved to be the most memorable of adventures. Just me, on top of the ruins of a fortress and a drone filming me overhead. Somehow we had managed to choose a time in which there were no other tourists. Mukawir held an incredible view of the Dead Sea and on a clear day, the towers of Jerusalem.

I had time to worship and be with Jesus after filming my scene. I stood looking out into the sea and down the hillside to the various caves that John the Baptist was believed to have been held.

A cave wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to this man as he had been known to call a cave his home. Jesus called him, “the greatest of men.” A simple life he led and yet supposedly some scholars argue that he was treated well in captivity as Herod Antipas carried some fear/respect for John. But the thing I wondered most is not found in any document or Bible verse. What were John’s final thoughts before his life was taken? It was so quiet on top of that mountain. Just the wind was all that I could hear. As I reflected on the famous life taken at the very spot I stood, I was humbled. John lived and died for a cause greater than himself. I can imagine he suspected he would die and that he felt his cause and message worth the cost.

John the Baptist was a man who had been given the job of preparing the way for Jesus. This job had required consistent preparation, waiting, hoping and trusting. Finally, the day comes and Jesus walks down the hill and is baptized by John. Then shortly after this event, John is arrested and placed in prison (Machareus/Mukawir).

Once again, he is waiting and hoping and trusting. At one point, he even sends his disciples to check that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. 

In reflecting on this man’s life and important role in preparing people for one of the greatest gifts the world would ever receive, I was humbled. To be standing in the place where this man breathed his last breath made me realize how easy it is to become disappointed or disillusioned when waiting and hoping seem to stretch out longer than we anticipated. To trust as deeply as John did, to the point that he dedicated his whole life to the mission of preparing the way for Jesus, required sacrifice and absolute surrender to God. And maybe his final thoughts were on the deep joy he carried of a greater understanding of things yet to come.

“….we who have taken refuge may have powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us, which we have like an anchor of the soul, both firm and steadfast, and entering into the inside of the curtain, where Jesus, the forerunner for us, entered, because He became a high priest forever….”

Hebrews 6:18-20

God, help us to cling to the promise of your joy and may our hearts truly be flooded with light. Thank you for the gift of your son and thank you that He will return. We place our hope in your unfailing love and may our lives shine bright this advent season.

I chose not to list as many verses on Joy because I would love to just hang on a few this week.

Psalm 16:11

Isaiah 35:10

Romans 15:13

Unwrapping the Gift of Peace

Unwrapping the Gift of Peace

On this second week of Advent, we light the peace candle. I can’t help but think about the weight of this world and how busy our lives can be around this time of year. When you look up the definition of peace in the English language, there are several definitions often referring to a tranquil state, an end to war, harmony among a group of people or persons, etc. And yet, I bet many of you reading this can think of several situations where peace is absent according to the definitions above, especially this time of year.

Peace is something that I would often find myself fighting for. Over the the years I have found ways here and there to combat the chaos and stress but never fully felt peace. One year, probably one of my hardest to date, I went for a walk. It was cold and I was home in Kentucky for the holidays. I found myself walking to an old park that I grew up playing at as a child. So much of that park had changed but as I kept walking, I followed the path that lead to a bridge over a creek. And there, at the end of that bridge, was a tiny red bench. Sitting on that bench in dead winter, I felt like I could finally hear. I felt peace and the only sounds around me were the rushing of the water and the wind blowing through the trees.

I had no idea how bad I needed that bench until I sat down on it. I realized that my life had become very loud, the demands and stress of my job were not lessening and I was just starting to cave. I remember being so discouraged by some devastating situations going on around me that I could not change and just the general feeling of being overwhelmed.

But as I sat at that bench, alone in silence, I could hear my own heartbeat. It had been a long time since I had experienced that kind of quiet. And on this day, I realized that the version of peace that Jesus promised in John 14:27 was not my definition of peace. Yes, the silence was beautiful and necessary for the moment but it was a moment and it was not my every day.

I tend to think peace is a quiet day where everything goes right, or my house is clean or my phone is not constantly lighting up with new messages, or a completed task list or a day without people needing something from me. I used to measure peace according to how high or low my stress level would be. However, Jesus used that bench to remind me of my own disconnect with him, with myself, and with the true meaning of peace.

I think about Jesus’ parting words to the disciples on the night before he would be arrested. It was customary and still is in that culture to wish someone peace when you leave them. But often, a simple formality or just another way to say goodbye. When Jesus says it to the disciples, these parting words held a deeper meaning and he even clarifies by stating:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

It is his last full night with the discples. Men he had done life with and built friendships. As he is sitting down to his last meal with them, he is sharing with them of the importance of his departure. He shares how he will send the Holy Spirit to guide them. And then he says, he will leave his peace. Peace was his parting gift. And it was not just for the disciples alone. Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit and His Peace.

I don’t know about you but I can forget that second part and focus on the first. Jesus saw them both as two important gifts, first, a helper and guide but then the second, his peace. He left behind His Spirit and His Peace. Just like the Holy Spirit, peace is not something that can be earned or bought, it is a gift that is to be received.

I have come to learn and understand the incredible privilege of the gift of his peace. It’s a peace that runs deep, it’s a gift and a peace that lasts, if we let it. The peace that Jesus gives is a state of the heart that brings a steadfastness and calm even if everything around us may not be calm. His peace feels better than that moment on my little red bench and lasts much longer.

This Advent season, I pray we all remain steadfast and rooted in His peace no matter what may be going on around us and our loved ones.

God, grant us the deeper understanding of your peace and help us to truly accept it as the incredible gift it is. May others recognize the peace we carry and may our peace this holiday season be contagious to those we encounter.

Verses for this week:

Sunday- Luke 14:27

Monday- Isaiah 9: 6-7

Tuesday- Philippians 4:7

Wednesday- Psalm 29:11

Thursday- Romans 8:6

Friday- Isaiah 26:3

Saturday- Ephesians 6:15

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A Thrill of Hope

A Thrill of Hope

Advent week one

“The whole world trembles with hope…”

Cantique de Noel

Can you feel it in the air? It’s momentum as the anticipation of the holiday season builds and people begin to make plans. Decorations go up, calendars fill and some, like me, pray for snow. Many of us have waited all year for the season that makes hope contagious.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the beginning of Advent kicking off a week long reflection on hope. Today is the first day of Advent and this evening I’ll be lighting the candle of hope. And lately, I have needed to hold on to a whole lot of hope and a decent amount of coffee.

It feels like the perfect time to hope like crazy. You know why? Because right now people around the world are celebrating Advent by lighting the first candle. And when I think about that, my heart wants to explode with hope at the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of candles interrupting darkness. We need hope to keep burning. I need hope to keep burning.

“Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.”

1 Chronicles 29:15

I recently learned about the incredible true story of the famous and loved Christmas hymn, O Holy Night.

In 1847 in France, a young poet, Placide Cappeau, who rarely attended church, was asked by a local priest to write a Christmas poem. While on a long journey to Paris, Cappeau penned words about the birth of Jesus . He contemplated the story of the nativity and as he poured over his words, he felt inspired and hopeful. His inspiration lead him to collaborate with a famous composer, Adolphe Charles Adams, to put music to the words. Adams, who was Jewish and did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, agreed to put notes to his friend’s words. Three weeks later in a small French town, Cantique Noel was sung at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

While the song grew in popularity with the church and towns people, its popularity would be short lived with the church. When discovered that Cappeau left the church and Adams did not believe in the birth of Jesus, the church felt they could no longer endorse Cantique Noel. And even though the church stopped singing it, the town people continued. The song continued in popularity and spread from town to town. Eventually the church in France would pick it back up and make it a part of their Christmas tradition.

A decade later John Sullivan Dwight, a writer and passionate abolitionist, had the words of Cantique Noel translated to English. Dwight was eager to introduce the lyrics to Americans and was especially partial to the third verse “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” This verse supported his passion to fight against slavery. His efforts paid off and America quickly grew to love the song.

In 1906, with composer Adams no longer alive and Cappeau and Dwight in the latter stages of life, Reginald Fessenden, a universtiy professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison, did the impossible on Christmas Eve. With the help of a microphone and a generator, Fessenden, quoted verses of the birth of Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Ship radio operators and newspaper decoders sat stunned and mesmerized that a human voice was breaking through the air waves for the first time ever. As Fessenden finished quoting Luke, he picked up his violin and played, O Holy Night. I am sure it seemed like a Christmas miracle to the few that had access to a radio as it was not a common household item at this time.

O Holy Night became known as the very first song to ever be played on raido air waves. This historical song had its own journey of hope as people in different stages of their faith pioneered its introduction into the hearts and homes of people everywhere at Christmas.

I have been so touched to learn the powerful story behind a song I already loved. From now on, every Christmas, I will think about this song a little deeper and the people who fought to keep it alive. I think the story of this song is the perfect example of keeping hope alive in the midst of insurmountable odds or maybe our own questions of faith, doubt, disappointment, or pain. After all, hope isn’t a wish or a feeling-it’s the foundation of our faith in Jesus and the story of a baby boy who changed the course of history. And still today, His story continues to change the history of people’s lives all over the world.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

This week as I light the candle of hope each night, these following verses will be part of my reflection. I am excited for you to join me and to hear of your reflections as we journey together this Advent season!

Verses for this week:

Sunday- 1 Chronicles 29:16

Monday- Romans 8:24-25

Tuesday- Romans 5:5

Wednesday- Romans 15:13

Thursday- Colossians 3:2

Friday- Psalms 147:11

Saturday- Isaiah 40:31

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