Psalm 79: His People

Reading Psalm 79, it’s a bummer to see how not that much has changed in relation to God’s people and the scorn they get at the hands of the world around them. Such as in Psalm 79:4 – in Asaph’s words, do you feel echoes of things you’ve heard recently? Of people deriding, mocking, looking down upon us for our faith? Everyone seems to have more and more stories today of encounters or experiences with those scoffing at expressions of faith while propping up secularism, mysticism, and antitheism on pedestals.

In times when faith is tested, especially in monumental ways like today’s vast cultural schisms, some can see it as a reason to doubt God’s providence; rather, surely these are signs of the church’s ever-greater need to outwardly display it. And Psalm 79 is a great example in my mind of doing so by holding fast to hope in God’s righteousness. Verse 9 in this passage says, “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive us our sins for your name’s sake.” We must set ourselves apart as Christ-like in all words and actions in this world, letting all people see and experience the changing power of Christ in our lives through our abstinence of sin, deliverance from evil, and embracing of visible, indisputable spiritual transformation. 

As verse 10 put it, “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”” We should offer non-believers no opportunity to point out hypocrisy in God’s people as we walk blameless paths in life and reflect Christ’s grace towards us to those around us. People should be able to see our lives and clearly know where our hearts lie. But this doesn’t always turn out to be the case, does it? Amidst this Psalm, Asaph’s own people are likely experiencing the long-term after-effects of Israel’s works of evil (2 Chronicles 36). But like Asaph approached God in begging for forgiveness of their sins, rather than clinging to the sins of our past – “do not remember against us our former iniquities” needs effort on our part too – we must embrace repentance & embody Christ’s forgiveness, and become a people radiating that undeniable love right now in a way that can’t be ignored. I read Romans 12, and ask myself: what could possibly be more radically astounding and mind-blowing to today’s world than a true Christian?

Let this be a reminder that when expressing and living our faith is perilous, God has ensured victory for His faithful. When we cry out to God despite whatever has happened to us, we know He will address His enemies appropriately in our stead, and deliver us into His kingdom. Verse 13 of this passage says “Then we the people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” Take a deep breath this Friday morning, and remember how God has delivered His people through trials before; and when they remain faithful, they have endured by His might. Pray with me now for the day that we are justified; that Christ would soon claim His victory over His enemies many times over; and for the day after God’s people once more overcome their trials, when we too will recount His praise forevermore through eternity.

Psalm 67: All the People

I love Psalm 67 for how rich with thankfulness of God’s nature it is. “May God be gracious” – He has shown incredible grace throughout time to the undeserving who have pursued only damnation but turned instead to Him. “And bless us” – the joy, provision, peace, meaning, stronghold, and much more He has blessed and enriched our lives with. “Make His face to shine upon us” – this language of our God pleased at our actions done according with His will & His word, exuding a wondrous & contagious joy!

We see God’s mercy and grace span all time – from echoes of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12 (“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”), to referencing Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-26, for the future provisions we know He will sustain. Finally, all the way down the line to Christ’s call to discipleship in Matthew 28:18-20. It’s a thankful expression of the hope we have diligently maintained that one day soon, the whole earth will bow to Christ and hear His word as a whole, as was ordained. As well as appreciation of every gift from God we’ve received along the way!

This psalm highlights the necessity of missions in this day & age – we need those called by God to spread His good news across the planet more than ever now. While I’ve never been much of a missions guy myself, but when I’ve talked to friends & church members who’ve traveled the globe sharing Christ’s word, I am reminded of the true awe-inspiring power of the Holy Spirit. For it seems everyone I’ve talked to knows it’s not from them that the glory is God is originated, but through them & their acts God is magnified and His blessings are distributed, and that it is wholly by God’s grace they are able to share it. It exemplifies humbly moving our prayers for self-sustenance – “bless me, Lord” – to all people beyond just ourselves. It is in this humility and selflessness that I hear echoes of Psalm 67 – “Let all the peoples praise you!”

As this song includes Selah – a break of peace, of refrain & reflection – so should we too take a moment of quiet reflection to consider how our acts and support shares the Gospel with the world – both near and afar. The people of Earth need the assurance of Psalm 67, like we find in Deuteronomy 4:7-8: “What other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?” We are truly a blessed people, for the Lord our God guides our actions, doles out His fair judgement, and ordains the truest and fairest of laws we could ever follow. All praise to God the Father, and let all the people praise Him today and forevermore!

Psalm 55 – Casting Your Burden

What does it look like to you to cast your burdens on God? When something weights considerably on your heart, how inclined are you to deal with your problems on your own? And when it becomes too much, what does surrendering control of your burdens to God entail? I, for one, don’t do very well with asking for help. When encountering a problem, I always want to find a solution on my own first before asking for help, whether it’s digging through documentation of code for hours at work, trying to DIY a fix when something around the house breaks, or encountering a tough life situation I haven’t been through before. But most things in life aren’t so simple that you can power through on gumption alone.

Psalm 55, written by David, was borne of a time of incredible grief. It was probably concerning Absalom, David’s son who revolted and overthrew David’s rule. Deep, intentional betrayal can be one of the most painful experiences for many of us – moreso when, like David expresses, they were once a trusted confidant. Perhaps even family, or a brother/sister in faith. The language in this passage – “I am restless in my complaint and I moan”, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.” “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” – expresses such heartbreaking pain, it moves you just reading it.

Such serious experiences are something each of us can vividly recall from times in our lives – maybe some of you are dealing with this pain as you read this. Dealing with all that hurt on your own can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Praying desperately for an easy escape as David did is all too relatable. Believe me, I’ve tried shouldering this pain before, and detachment and isolation seemed way more appealing than strength to endure. But what I love about Psalm 55 is how quickly David goes from lamenting his pain and heartache to praising God, expressing at verse 16 how God uplifts those who call to Him: “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.” He goes right from focusing on himself to focusing on God’s sovereign control over his circumstances.

David’s reaction is a great example to me: amidst his desperate plea for deliverance from his pain, he shares His pain with the Lord and thanks Him for redemption. It’s so easy to cling to our human pride, and hold the guilt, shame, embarrassment, betrayal, frustration, and anguish that come with the bad things that happen to us. It can be incredibly tough to admit we can’t handle things ourselves, and it can often feel impossible to consider even asking for help in those times. But God has promised, time and time again, that He is here to bear the heaviest weights His faithful followers carry. And it’s a habit we as believers should practice through prayer, speech, song, and community, so that we may immediately share our troubles with Him when the need arises. Humbling ourselves enough to admit we need His help is a show of strength in your faith, one I believe through experience that the Lord rewards in kind.

In Isaiah 41:13, the Lord says “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter assures us: Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Christ comforts us in Matthew 11:28, assuring His followers “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I pray for those of you feeling strained or crushed by the loads their hearts bear, that you can share your troubles with the Lord. I offer thanks and praise to God for helping the hopeless and healing the broken time and time again, and for the relief we can find when we no longer hold to our griefs and sorrows. And I simply want to close with Psalm 55:22 as our reminder: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Pslam 43: In Tough Times

As the author of this psalm knows, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of seeing the state of the world and succumbing to depression and despondence – alluding in this passage to their feelings of being “cast off” and of “mourning” as a result of the unfairness of men. I, as well as numerous friends & family members, have dealt with depression in various forms to various degrees throughout the years. And with this psalm specifically, I can personally attest to seeing how cruelly and unfairly people can act towards each other, and falling into that depressive spiral. But for any huge number of reasons, it is part of our human nature to feel deep sadness at times.

In what feels like a continuation in yesterday’s Psalm, Psalm 43 is a statement on the necessity, within difficult times, of reminding ourselves that God will make Himself known. God will free us from blame and unjustness; He will lift our spirits and bring us back to His sanctity; when He leads us to worship, He will show us a joy we can not know on our own. In Him, and only in Him, the joy of being alive (both in the present and eternity) are found. The psalmist’s reminders: verse 3, “send out your light and your truth; let them lead me”; verse 4, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy”; verse 5, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”. These all remind me of my own battles with depression, where turning to the Lord for guidance rekindled my delight in Him.

In my past struggles with depression, I was helped in part by reaching out to friends and family, and visiting and communicating with professionals who helped me process & address my feelings in a healthy, Christ-centered way. If you are fighting that deep melancholic struggle, I wholly encourage those who need it to do the same, and engage in the healing help the Lord has blessed us with to help navigate these trials. But Scripture’s clear through statements like Romans 15:13 (“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”); overcoming despair and finding joy, much more so than any earthly step we can take to heal ourselves, hinges on our devotion to Christ. Only in Him can this unfailing hope be found.

If you are struggling with these feelings yourself, I pray for healing and vulnerability in your journey to return to God’s altar where your joy lies (and please, don’t be afraid to go to others for help on the way). For those who know someone struggling, I pray for generous spirits and wise discernments to help shine Christ’s healing light in their lives. And above all, I exalt God the Father, whose light and truth will always fill our spirits up and bring us joy.

Fully Devoted

In times of distress, what does your faith look like? When things really take a turn for the worse and the headaches pile on, what do you turn to for reprieve? When earthly things take their toll on our mental states, it can be easy to turn to things of this world to befittingly distract ourselves. From escapism in media and stories, to enjoyment of the arts and the outdoors, to our physiques and checkbooks, it can be scarily easy to throw our worries at frivolous things. Reading it now, what Psalm 31 tells me is David’s commitment in difficult times to giving his ordeals to God. Verse 5 is a good summary – “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a talk about how being stressed and dealing with it is bad. Stress is physically draining, and coping with our stress through healthy means and positive action is totally necessary. But these things can’t be our cornerstone. I’ve had a lot of experience with healthy ways of blowing off some steam, like exercise, writing, practicing instruments, cooking elaborate healthy meals, and playing board games with my wife. In worse times of my life amidst sadness and depression, I’ve definitely had some much crummier ways of dealing with it. But these things only offer a little relief – they can’t shoulder your burden when it gets too much. They won’t shield you from your afflicters, from the evils of the world, and those who seek to do wrong against you. Only the Lord ever offered me true respite and healing against these torrential downpours of trouble; not just simply respite of the body, but much more importantly, of the spirit.

Think about the wildly stressful times David endured along the road to writing this psalm – fleeing for his life, armies gathered against him, cities of people slaughtered for unwittingly helping him out, bunkered in fortresses under siege amidst war. It is through these incredible trials David finds his faith tested, and discovers how the Lord preserves and saves, time after time, those who turn to Him – but it requires total commitment in your surrender to God’s will. Even if the things of this world help deal with physical stress, David must have seen that earthly remedies have their limits. When he says he despises idols in verse 6 (alongside his hate of actual idol worship, of course), I can’t help but see this as his warning against the idols we make for ourselves in our lives getting in the way of connectedness during our own time. In this context of describing his agony, I feel especially convicted in what has been an extremely stressful period in time for many of us, that nothing but Christ and our conviction in His word will get us through times like these.

Even in Psalm 31:22, David feels fear: “I had said in my alarm, ’I am cut off from your sight,’” he says. David, of all people! Even the guy who whooped Goliath can be afraid. But his message is clear: we are all human, with all the downside of humanity, like fear, anguish, anger, pride, and all that. But the Lord is always there to offer hope, no matter how hopeless our times can seem. It requires dedication, immersion, devotion to the Lord though – the kind built up through a lifestyle centered around Christ, through daily time with God in prayer and scripture. Through seeking and being part of Christ-centric community, pursuing and growing in our faith alongside others. The Lord appropriately pays those who pridefully cling to the things of this world for deliverance, but we know our continual devotion to Christ is the greatest reward in itself. This year has been both a practice in, and testament to, coming to Christ for provision – for me, and many of you as well, I’m sure. Pray that the recent lessons in committing your spirit to God’s hand last year serve you well in the coming years, and reflect on how you’ve learned to place your trust in Christ when things go haywire, so you may better reflect David’s words every new day.

Why I Believe – Psalm 19

When Psalm 19 comes up, one of the things that comes to mind (aside from how much we need to echo David’s prayer in Verse 14) is the song Indescribable. It’s a beautiful song about the glory of nature and how in the beauty and vastness of nature and the countless stars in the sky, we are rendered awestruck at God’s great glory. It mostly describes the enormity of creation made to display God’s wonder. But I love how it ends, in the last line of the last chorus, with “You see the depths of my heart, and You love me the same.” Our God simultaneously displays His power in creation, yet His word is deeply personal and intimate, deeper than we know ourselves.

According to Paul’s words to the Church of Rome in Romans 1:18-20, he recognizes that even the unrighteous person recognizes God’s glory through creation, made evident through their suppression and violence against truth. God’s glory is so overwhelming obvious through the scale of His creation, even the ungodly recognize His power. That alone seals the deal for me as evidence of God’s truths – Paul’s reasoning of people serving idols of the creatures of the earth back then still seems pretty applicably self-evident today. But we, as believers, know and must share that logical next step in living not by seeing, but by believing, by faith.(immediately before the above in verse 17-“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”) Creation points to God, but God’s word paints us the entire picture of His plan for salvation within this creation!

In Psalm 19, we see that God’s word in Scripture is:

  • Perfect, reviving the soul – Isaiah 57:15 says of the Lord, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” God, who dwells within the vast heavens, also hears our prayers and pleas for forgiveness. And how else could you explain that soul-crushing, inescapable guilt being lifted rather than the God bigger than guilt?
  • Sure, making wise the simple -Through Proverbs 2, I am humbled through knowing the Lord can answer the questions I never could. I’ve seen the Lord make clear and take away the frustrations of so many difficult questions – that is how I know He is my shield.
  • Right, rejoicing the heart – God is always right, we never have to guess if He is right or wrong, and you know that makes me rejoice – how thankful I am that there’s something in this crazy world I can always know to be true!
  • Pure, enlightening the eyes – God’s word provides light in dark times; this we can all attest to. Psalm 119:105 says God’s word is the light to our path – He opens our eyes to how we should be living and walking in His path.
  • Clean, enduring forever – Hebrews 13:8 y’all, what else can be said but how thankful we are that the Lord will be our Lord eternally.
  • True, righteous altogether – What better summary could David give for why I, and all of us, follow God. No matter what, God’s truth has always been there: attested to in both the majesty of the world around me, and in the effects of His precepts upon each believer’s heart.

I read through this and can see echoes of these sentiments when I think back to trials in my own life. In times of grappling with questions about life and the world around me, my burdens were immeasurably lifted when I surrendered the need to know all answers over to a God who knows all. When life came to crashing standstills and I was left wondering “where do I go from here,” God provided direction and encouragement to grow. In the darkest times, when I felt defeated by my failures and like I had irredeemably squandered my own potential, who else but God could redeem me and fill my head with hope and my heart with joy. When we listen to God’s rules and follow Him, we reap incredible rewards – I can attest to that for sure! David’s totally right – that’s a reward sweeter than any honey and finer than any gold. And for that, I think we should all pray today for our words & meditations to be pleasing to God, that we may reflect even a portion of how necessary and wonderful God’s words are to us.

Why I Believe – Psalm 7

Throughout David’s ordeals on his way to becoming king, I can’t imagine the extent of the feelings he battled. The fear for his life from his enemies; the anger towards his father-in-law’s behavior; the frustration of those who twisted Saul’s ear with deceptions against David; the deep resentment over the betrayal of Saul after all David did for the kingdom of Israel; the loneliness and exhaustion from fleeing danger across the country all on his own. As faithful a man as David was, I can only assume in his human condition he fought these things the same way I imagine many of us would. I imagine most would people nowadays may feel a thirst for justice or desire for revenge in David’s shoes.

Psalm 7 is an incredible song of deliverance from these captive chains of revenge. David demonstrates an incredible surrender of his own accord to God’s judgement; as he states in verse 8, “The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.” God will shield the righteous from destruction, and will rightly punish those who do Him wrong and refuse to repent. David could totally get mad and go all Goliath round 2 against those chasing him and take his rightful throne by force. But even as death chases him, he knows his opinion of who is in the right and wrong is purely subjective, and instead sings for the Lord to judge according to His standards, even if it ends with David punished for wrongdoings of his own.

The freedom from hatred within the heart, the recognition of an authority over right and wrong beyonds our capabilities and judgement, the practicing of God’s control over our lives; David’s words speak to reasons my own faith is essential. When the world feels so saturated with evil, full of men only after the desires of their own selfish hearts, my belief in God’s continued sovereignty and righteous judgement calms my heart and assuages my reactions towards these things. In David’s actions and words of mercy towards his pursuers (1 Samuel 24:12-13, 1 Samuel 26:19), I see faith in action. I see the Lord healing the scars borne of our fallen humanity and bringing a righteous calm to a raging storm.

This is one thing I think clearly demonstrates God’s existence and the enacting of His will. I have borne the burden of a fallen human heart myself, and empathize with the feelings David must have felt. To hear him take his burden to the Lord and praise His righteousness and judgement above all else – to experience this lightening of burdens when I likewise bring my own troubles and failures to the Lord – this is more than proof enough for me that God changes the hearts of those who believe. Knowing the condition of our sinful hearts firsthand, I know no one and nothing other than God could possibly put minds at true peace and fill hearts with joyous praise, despite our natural inclinations otherwise. This is part of why I believe: from experiencing firsthand the refuge and deliverance David describes when we right ourselves with God.

Like David in his time of need, we must hold firm against Satan whispering in our ears, encouraging us to overstep our bounds over God’s rights. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:38-39).” Our culture encourages – and often even celebrates – vengeance and payback against the perpetrators when we are wronged. We as Christians demonstrate our belief  when we defy this and surrender our need for justice to Him – not that we should at all tolerate or accept wicked deeds, but knowing recompense for wickedness extends beyond our human reach. When our actions display our trust in God’s judgement and we relinquish our pursuit to ruin those who wrong us, we defy the way of the world and show faith in the Lord’s deliverance. The world needs a ridiculous love, and I can attest we offer proof of a ridiculously loving God when we trust in Him to right things when we are wronged – if not in this life, then the next. And let us always sing alongside Psalm 7:17: “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.”

A Day of Praise

Merry Christmas! Rejoice! Our Savior is born! Today is a day of jubilee as we celebrate Christ Jesus, true unique Son of God, fully God yet still flesh, being born in Bethlehem many years ago. Today commemorates humanity receiving the greatest gift we could hope for; the prophesies of Christ the Messiah throughout the Old Testament coming to fruition; the realization of God’s plan for our guarantee of salvation. Today is a wonderful day of joy and triumph, and I hope you all enjoy this time of celebration with family & friends, whether together in-person, or over the phone, or just in your hearts.

Now that Jesus is born, how could we properly express our excitement? Luke 2 tells of many reactions to this great and glorious news of our living Savior. Mary was filled with thoughtfulness and thankfulness for a truly miraculous gift, in deep adoration and love of the Lord’s gift to her. The shepherds spread this news all over in awe of a declaration the likes of which they’ve never seen. Later, Simeon, waiting to fulfill his life’s last purpose of welcoming Christ, praised God for His deliverance of salvation and excitedly sharing the amazing plans he knew God had in store for this baby. And Anna, the elderly prophetess widow, immediately lovingly started telling all around her of God’s works immediately upon seeing Jesus for herself.

Just as each of us are unique individuals, our manifestations of praise and worship in times of closeness with the Lord are deeply personal and one-of-a-kind. But all the same, when we share a deeply personal experience with the Lord as all these people did, we can’t help but express our awe at these moments; it’s almost reflexive for us as Christians. Christmas Day is more than just a day to spend with family and share presents: it is a day to experience the closeness and blessings of a God who would send His own son to die in our stead. It’s a time to reflect upon every little gift God’s bestowed upon you in the last year, and how they’ve prepared your heart to receive Him today. It is a day to focus on & be moved by God’s works, to treasure His gifts and to share them with the world through our own one-of-a-kind voice and praises.

Merry Christmas to you & your families, and may this be a wonderful praise-filled day of shared adoration for our Savior. I pray that you could all use today to draw close to the Lord and be filled with His Holy Spirit. Among the festivities and jubilation, I pray that we could all experience a deep, loving closeness with the Lord, and that this would be a day of energy and excitement for sharing the good news of Christ’s birth.

Preparing His Way

A big component of Advent is the anticipation of our Savior’s birth; every year as our country engages in the usual festivities, we reflect and wait excitedly for the celebration of Christ’s birth. But whereas the other Gospels begin with the news of Jesus and His birth, Mark’s Gospel is notably more centered on Jesus’s works and services, focusing on Jesus as servant of God. Beginning with Jesus’s baptism and the start of His ministry, Mark writes in Mark 1:1-3 a recollection of the prophet Isaiah’s words in the Old Testament, saying: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

John the Baptist had been preparing the way for Jesus very literally in this scenario – by preaching of the forgiveness of sins and baptizing the people in Jerusalem, he was preparing the hearts and minds of those around him for Christ’s arrival, when He could share His good news. In living this life of asceticism and committing himself wholly to teaching of the Lord, John prepared his heart to welcome and accept Christ when He was ready to appear.

In this season of anticipation, Mark focuses on this as a call to action: actively preparing for the Lord by clearing His way. We’re called to prepare the way for Christ’s return, to make His way as easy and clear as possible for His second arrival, just as John cleared the way for His first. There is much that needs done both within our hearts and shared with the world around us before Christ comes. Preparing His way and making His path straight is something we can all actively focus on this Advent season. By living in His word always (Psalm 1:1-3), continually diving into His word (Psalm 25:4-5), and sharing His word with all the world in need (Psalm 96 1-6), we help ready ourselves and the people of the earth for His return. By outwardly living the renewed lives Paul describes in Ephesians 4:25-32, we show the world a glimpse of Christ’s transformative love and ready it to accept His return.

This season of reflection and excitement centered around Christ’s return is always encouraging, as we marvel at how Christ’s way was prepared for His birth and ministry many years ago, and how even now we get to do the same for His second coming. The actions you take right now that reflect Christ’s impact on your life are important for demonstrating Christ’s redeeming love to the world, and for preparing the hearts of even more people for His return. Are you acting as a stumbling block for your fellow Christians through unloving words and actions, or are you helping His works, helping to keep His path straight as Isaiah’s words encourage us to be? Do you contribute to Christ’s ministry positively as John 13:35 asks us to? Take a moment of reflection this Friday on what you can do to help prepare the way of the Lord as Mark wrote about, and may these blessings of the Lord shine through you today.

Advent

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the holiday season is finally upon us and the end this rollercoaster of a year is coming close. For those of us who haven’t already done so, it’s time to start preparing for Christmas. Time once again to put up the Christmas tree, pour yourself a cup of eggnog or two (or the whole bottle, in my case), get your gift ideas together, and build up the mental fortitude to get through what will be a very different Christmas season than usual. Among the rigor of what our culture seems to commodify into a more stressful holiday every year, we need more than ever to set aside this time to prepare our hearts for reflecting on the blessings of Christ this season.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, I remember lighting the candles on our Advent wreath every Sunday evening leading up to Christmas and weighing those serene, meaningful moments against the Scriptural theme of that morning’s service. The first candle symbolizing the hope we find in Christ’s promises, the second one our preparation for His return, the third the joy & celebration of His birth, and the fourth, the love we feel for our Savior, who came down to earth from heaven for our sakes. These lessons have reminded me every year since why we do all this at Christmas time, about how all the presents and decorations and festivities are secondary to our living Savior’s appearance.

Advent is a season of centering focus on Christ’s coming to earth, to give due diligence to the miracle of God humbling Himself by being among man; the incredible sacrificial love shown by sending His son to earth to die for our sakes. When Christians began celebrating Advent as a time of remembrance back in the 4th or 5th century, it has been a time of reflecting upon Christ’s promises, for preparing new Christians for baptism and for penitent prayer and dedication to studying the Lord’s word. It was as much an act of anticipation of Christ’s second return as His first, but at some point the focus turned more towards His birth.

Just as equally as His first coming to Earth, in this time, we can prepare for Christ’s second coming. While we traditionally use this time is for celebrating that quiet night many years ago, just as much as it is for readying for that day when Christ will make all things new and we will dwell with Him. It’s about looking back on the promises God has already fulfilled in Christ’s birth, as foretold in Numbers 24:17: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”. But just as we celebrate God’s fulfilled promises, we proclaim our faith in the promises He still will fulfill, like in John 6:39 & 40: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Just as we celebrate Jesus’s rise out of Israel, we can focus our hearts on Christ until that last day arrives.

So as we explore Scripture throughout Advent centered on Christ’s birth and prepare our hearts for the Christmas season, think about not only the joy and love Christmas morning symbolizes, but on the hope for salvation Christ’s return will herald, and the preparation our hearts and minds need to remain faithful amidst our exile until that day. Amidst the kindnesses we get ready to show our families and communities, we reflect on the perfect selfless act of Christ’s love, and for His deliverance to come. I pray God’s love fill all of you in this time, and may this Advent season be a thoughtful and penitent one as we use this season to focus on Christ as the center of our lives.