Advent -Does It Even Matter?

advent wreath intro

It’s here. Finally. My absolute favorite time of year! The anticipation. The celebration. The love. The joy. The light.

Advent – a “church-y” word that isn’t often used in mainstream Christmastime conversations is the beginning of the church year and comes from the Latin word for “coming,” as in the Christian faith, we anticipate the “coming” of Jesus in human form to us here on earth.

This definition alone, while good, can leave us wondering if any of this even matters. Does what happened 2,000 years really matter today? Jesus was born humbly, did some neat stuff, died a pretty awful death – but it was a long time ago. Why dwell on the past? Is it really that important?

Advent signifies the beginning of the church year and the time up until Christmas (where we began to focus on Jesus’ earthly birth and life) explores the Old Testament prophecies and promises of Jesus’ coming. Often we think of the time leading up to Jesus’ birth as just including the events and people in the early part of the Gospels but the truth (and an incredible one at that) was that the world was yearning and preparing for Jesus much, much earlier.

Did you know the recognition and celebration of Advent is multi-sensory? We get to primarily see and hear (and secondarily even smell, touch, and taste) the full anticipation of our Lord’s coming during this season. Keep reading!

Even though Advent focuses primarily on Christ’s coming,  the Scripture readings in the church during this season generally look at how Christ comes to us in three different ways: through the past, the present, and the future. The readings that highlight the past show us where the Messiah, or Savior, was promised in the Old Testament to God’s people. Readings focusing on the future show us that Jesus will return to rescue his people, and readings on the present reveal how Jesus makes himself known through the Sacrament (Holy Communion and Baptism) and His Word today.

Probably the most well-known “religious” symbol of the Advent season is the Advent wreath. It consists of 5 candles – 3 blue (or purple) candles, a pink candle and a white candle in the middle. The evergreen of the wreath symbolizes life and its circular shape without a beginning or ending symbolizes God. The wreath as a whole symbolizes eternal life and the continual lighting of the candles celebrates our emergence from darkness to light as we wait for the coming of Christ – the Light of the World.

When the candles are purple they symbolize royalty (The King coming down to us) and when the candles are blue they symbolize hope (we wait with Hope for Christ). The white candle, in the center, symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas. I will talk more about the candles and their traditional meanings over the next few weeks, but here’s a quick overview…

 

Week 1: Hope – Prophet’s Candle

Week 2: Faith – Bethlehem’s Candle

Week 3: Joy – Shepherd’s Candle

Week 4: Peace – Angel’s Candle

These candles are traditional in the church and not specifically mentioned in Scripture. Many Europeans lit candles on wreaths during the dark days of Winter when they were longing for the light and warmth of Spring. Through time the wreath became woven into Christian tradition and the meanings that the wreath and candles have been given through time certainly are Scripturally-based and they have tremendous implications and significance in the world in which we live today.

I’ve been thinking and praying that God would prepare me and my heart for this season, and one way he’s doing that is by sharing my thoughts and experiences and where I’ve seen Him working during these four weeks of Advent.

Often, as much as many of us love Christmas, we see things like Advent, the familiar verses, the symbolism of the wreath and its candles as comfortable “traditions”that give us the warm fuzzies. We struggle with viewing it as the real, living, tangible, Word of God that it is. These aren’t just traditions – they are gifts given to us to experience and trust in the promises of HOPE, FAITH, JOY, and PEACE that can come only from our Savior – given to us just as they have been given to God’s people from the beginning of time.

“The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

 “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Stick around the next few weeks and experience this anticipation and application of the season with me!

Be blessed,

Steph

(Advent information adapted from previous knowledge, www.lcms.org/faqs & the back of my Advent candle box from the Vermont Christmas company 🙂 )

 

10 Months Old!

 

 Our sweet Lukey boy has changed so much this month!

10 Months Old

  • 19.5lbs
  • Eats three meals a day, still haven’t found any food he doesn’t like
  • Crawls everywhere – fast!
  • Finds anything and everything on the floor and our shelves within reaching level
  • Survived and conquered first major winter cold
  • In a “separation anxiety” stage – somewhat mild but loves to be with mama!
  • Loves to pull up on furniture, dog gates, legs, etc.
  • Walks with help
  • Loves to bang the dog bowls on the floor and try to find the water bowl
  • Enjoys playing with his activity cube and his box of “kitchen stuff”
  • Says “dada” a lot!
  • Loves lots of playdates and Little Gym time
  •                            

An Honest Prayer

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing this. I wrote this out because it was how I needed to process the recent events in our world but am hesitant to post it. These issues are so heated. Entwined with so many opinions and so much passion. I get it. It’s big, life and death stuff. I guess I’m posting  to show I don’t have it all figured out. I’m struggling. I  don’t understand what is going on in the world around us. But, I have faith in the one who has WON this battle, and every battle. He reigns.

Here’s a little bit of my honest conversation tonight and what God tells me in response to my fears, worries, and concerns. God doesn’t only listen to our prayers, he answers them. I wrote this in the style that my church body prays, with the petition and then the response “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.” I actually started out writing first with the response of Lord in your mercy hear MY prayer, but 2 things: 1 – I think a lot of people have these same thoughts and prayers, whether or not they vocalize them, and 2 – The fact that there are others that are in the same boat as me with these petitions is a gift from God in and of itself. He provides us with a family of believers so that we don’t have to go through this alone.

 

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Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

It’s so scary God, what’s going on in our world. Especially for a news junkie like me. It hurts to watch, almost bringing me to tears every time, but I can’t turn away – trying to imagine the hurt and pain and always wondering what will be next. Why? Will it be here? Will it be someone I know? So much sin. So much hurt. So much sadness.

17 And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Genesis 3:17

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You promise us though, time and time again, YOU are good. YOU are faithful. YOU keep your promises. YOU will take care of your people, even in the midst of unimaginable evil and pain.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, my heart is breaking for all those that are suffering. Families ripped apart in the middle of normal everyday life. Why them and not me? I see the images of pain, heartache, lives cut too short, fear. I don’t really understand, and I’m not sure I want to. But you do. You gave your Son. You feel their agony. Comfort them. Assure them of your presence. Give them peace.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:18-23

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

I’m worried, God, so worried about the future. I wonder often if it is selfish of us to bring an innocent child into this world. The anxiety sometimes is almost too much. Help me to trust God, that you love my son more than I do. The promises that you give to me you gave to him too through his baptism. You can use him, and his friends, in the future to be a great light in this dark world. Help me to raise him up to be a faithful servant.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

There’s so much turmoil, God. I’m blessed by the education you have given me through multiple degrees, especially in the areas of theology and religion, but I just feel clueless and scared so often. I still feel like I don’t know enough to support decisions made by our leaders, or to make a real difference in this world. Lord, I want to live like you, be like you, love like you. You call us to live by faith, not by sight, and you call us to love the lowly and the needy. This refugee situation, gosh, God, I want to BE you to the people who need it most, but it’s so scary.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:31-40

Open my eyes to see like you. Open my heart to love like you. Help me to trust you fully and completely. You promise you’re there.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Cor. 5:6-10

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Guide our leaders, Lord, to not just think about right political moves, but to make decisions that are honoring to you. I can’t imagine the pressure they have, but help them to be faithful. Protect those who protect us. Keep their eyes and hearts focused on you in the midst of the difficult situations they are in. Be with their families.

My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. 4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

2 Samuel 22:3-4

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, this part is hard. Really hard. But I pray for those who are persecuting so many. Who hate you. Who hate us. I don’t want to love them. They are your children, too, even if their hearts are hardened to the truth. Help them to turn from their evil ways to you, dear Jesus. To know your love and grace. To believe that there is nothing that they must do to earn an eternal reward other than trusting in the one true God.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43:-48

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Lord, our lives are in your hands. May everything I say and I everything I do be to your glory.

Amen.

For the Bible Tells Me So

Jesus loves me this I know, For the Bible tells me so.

Any mom can tell you that they will pull out every trick in the book when their child is freaking out. You feel awful, for your kid and everyone around you, and oftentimes you have no idea what the problem actually is. This especially seems to happen when you’re in public, like at Target or at a restaurant. Or church. That’s the worst. Kids should be quiet in church right?! …that’s a whole other post in itself (and I WILL write on it, because I feel pretty passionate about the topic).

Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. 

Why is it that babies and toddlers wait until the most inopportune times to shriek their lungs out like their dying? Or when their parents are finally getting a few precious hours of uninterrupted sleep only to be awoken (again) by a bawling infant through the monitor speakers. That one I think is the hardest. You know your child is safe in your warm, secure, locked-up home, tucked in their crib with their lovey, pacifier, lullaby worship music playing and calming ocean waves coming from the sound machine (yes, we use all of those, and yes, I 100% believe it works), yet in one instant in their little mind it seems that their world is crashing down around them.

All that will calm them is to be held, comforted, and reminded that their provider is present.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so. 

Sometime really early in Luke’s life, maybe even at just a day or two old, I started singing “Jesus Loves Me” to him. Of course I want him to grow up in love, knowledge, and service to the Lord Jesus Christ his incredible Savior…

Jesus loves me He who died, Heaven’s gates to open wide. 

Yeah, that Jesus…but that wasn’t really why I started it at first. It was an easy song that I knew the words to. I have a lot of really talented friends plus my own mother that are elementary school teachers and early childhood educators that know all of the cutesy little songs and nursery rhymes, but I spent the last 5 years working with middle and high school students. If I sang them one of those songs they would probably think I had completely lost my mind (though I did often times tuck them on trips like little children – once again, another post) and wonder if I was smoking the magical Colorado plant. “Jesus Loves Me” was one I already knew and didn’t have to google the words to (yep, done it) or listen to Toddler Pandora (yep, almost every day) to learn.

He will wash away my sin, let His little child come in. 

Over the first few months, I started to realize an interesting effect that the song was having on Luke. Even though I did high school choir I really wouldn’t consider myself a singer by any means, so I knew he wasn’t overcome with awe of my beautiful voice (ha), but it almost instantly would calm him down. I started to sing it to him when I was changing his diaper and he was wailing his face off at me (Really? You want to stay in that wet, dirty mess?) and he would change from screaming banshee to a relatively content little boy. I thought it was a fluke at first, but I continued to use it as my “trick” to calming down the inevitable fit from many a diaper change over the next several months.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so. 

A couple of months ago, maybe from about 6 or 7 months into Luke’s life, I branched out a little bit in my “use” of the song. I started to sing it to Luke as I was swaying him back and forth in his bedroom before laying him down in his crib. His heavy eyes and restless little body would fairly quickly drift into contented sleep. I would sing it as I rubbed his back when he woke up in the middle of the night. I sang it sitting in traffic in Austin on our last trip there when my normally happy child was throwing a hysterical fit in his car seat with 3 other people beside us in the car. And you know what? Every time that song would eventually calm him down, allowing him to feel reassured and reminded of the love and care that he most certainly has.

Jesus loves me, He will stay, close beside me all the way. 

Sure. It could be all coincidence. It could be purely a coping mechanism that Luke uses if that was the only song that I knew (I have learned LOTS more children’s songs since the beginning of Luke’s life thankyouverymuch.) There could even be some early childhood psychological reasoning behind the whole thing. But for some reason, that particular simple little song, even more so than the sweet beautiful songs that are on his worship lullaby play list every night, seems to put my sweet boy at ease.

I started thinking about why this was happening. Certainly its a great tool to have to get my child to stop screaming when we are checking out at the grocery store, but is that really it? Was I really limiting the Holy Spirit to thinking it was a cool trick that I came up with to get Luke to quiet down? Or could the Holy Spirit actually be actively working in the heart of this precious boy to remind Luke of Christ’s love for him, promised to him in the Word of God and through the waters of his baptism through this really simple song?

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Luke’s a pretty cool kid, but really, he’s less than a year old. God can work in him like that?

 “But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them.” Matthew 19:14-15

YES! Jesus loves LUKE! The Holy Spirit is working in Luke to remind him of this – even at 1, 2, 9 months old and beyond. It is an absolutely beautiful thing to witness and be a part of! Scripture promises this not just to my baby to each one of us. Not just to children through a simple little song, but you, and me. Yeah, Jesus loves STEPHANIE, too. I remember a friend from high school telling me once she would sing this song to herself when she was scared, like walking alone at night or before a big test. It would give her comfort and peace. These basic words hold so much truth, friends. Jesus loves YOU. He wants you to know His incredible love and desire for perfect relationship in eternity with him forever. My heart almost overflows with joy thinking about that for Luke, but I must remember that Word is true for me, too.

He prepares a place for me, and one day his face I’ll see. 

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:2-4

How? How do I know this is true? Do I know enough? Have I learned enough? Can I fully comprehend what this sacrificial love is anyway? It makes my brain hurt!

With faith like a child…even a baby like Luke that can’t express his emotions verbally yet has been given that gift of faith…

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Matthew 18:2-5

and because, well, like the song says,

The Bible Tells Me So. 

Rest in these promises, friends. May the words of this simple yet profound song give you peace and comfort when your sad, hurt, scared, and worried. His love for you is real, powerful, and eternal.

“The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:8

You can check out our current  favorite “audio” version of the song from Luke’s lullaby mix here. And in full disclosure, I didn’t know the words to the 3rd verse until I listened to it multiple times.