Finding Peace: Isaiah

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[This is the devotional I wrote for the first week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

There was a telling headline in a newspaper not that long ago: “Are We More Divided Than Ever? Yes!” The number of divisions and levels of distrust feel stronger than ever in the public square, and we’re feeling it in our lives. A recent study from a psychological journal traced a marked increase over the last thirty years in individual’s anxiety levels corresponding to indicators such as trouble sleeping, inability to remember, poor appetite, and more. Divided on the outside and anxious on the inside…we need peace.

The prophet Isaiah spoke a word from God at a time that is more like our own than we might realize. In his day, the 8th century B.C., turmoil at the national and international level had reached a fever pitch, eventually leading to the exile of the Jewish people from their homeland. People felt conflicted and confused, and people were even described as “the people walking in darkness” (Isaiah 9:2). In the midst of this reality, God inspired Isaiah to bring a word about peace that was on its way from God Himself. There was a miracle child coming, and in the midst of the might and wonder coming with that child, He would ultimately be called “Prince of Peace” (9:6). For the fear-filled people lost in the dark clouds of divisions and distrust, Isaiah’s word pierced through the dark clouds like a shaft of heavenly light.

In the gospel of Matthew we are told that Jesus’ birth fulfilled the promise of God-given through Isaiah (Matthew 1:22). In describing Jesus in one of his letters, the Apostle Paul wrote: “he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus brings both inner peace and relational peace, both peace with God and peace amongst humanity. This is very good news for those of us living in a world tortured by anxiety, conflict, and chaos.

Near the end of His earthly ministry, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). This Advent, let us join Isaiah as one of the people of Advent, turning toward God for the gift that only He can give in Jesus, who is our peace.

Reflect:

  • Why do you think Prince of Peace is one of the key titles given to Jesus?
  • As you consider this season in front of you, in what ways do you need to experience more of the peace Jesus brings?

A Prayer for the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of justice and peace,
from the heavens you rain down mercy and kindness,
that all on earth may stand in awe and wonder
before your marvelous deeds.
Raise our heads in expectation,
that we may yearn for the coming day of the Lord
and stand without blame before your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

All Saints’ Day: A Celebration

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.

All I Want for Christmas

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Beginning this weekend, November 29/30, we begin a new series at Eastbrook entitled “All I Want for Christmas.” Christmas is a time when many of us begin to write down what we hope to acquire. Sometimes we write down simple lists of gift ideas, but other times we begin to write more serious lists of personal needs or world hopes. In the church year, Advent is a time of anticipation and expectation leading up to the Messiah’s arrival that focuses some of our strongest hopes and desires through the word of the prophets. So, what are you really waiting for this year?

November 29/30 [1st weekend of Advent] – “All I Want Is for God to Show Up”

December 6/7 [2nd weekend of Advent] – “All I Want is Some Good News”

December 13/14 [3rd weekend of Advent] – “All I Want is a New Beginning”

December 20/21 [4th weekend of Advent] – “All I Want is Someone to Believe In”