When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5).
By all appearances, Christmas and New Year’s would seem to have nothing in common. Christmas, at least for most Americans, looks like opening festively wrapped presents beside a tree decorated with bright lights and ornaments. It involves singing about snow, Santa, reindeer, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, and the Wise Men. New Year’s, on the other hand, typically looks like postponing sleep to enjoy raucous parties and nostalgic ceremonies, such as watching the ball drop in Times Square. While the Christmas tree may be present for both, Christmas and New Year’s differ drastically in terms of atmosphere, sounds, and traditions.
Nevertheless, in the providence of God, Christmas and New Year’s fall within close proximity to each other. To be sure, diverse historical contingencies contributed to our Gregorian calendar and its placement of Christmas on December 25. Yet the Scriptures show us time and time again how the Sovereign Lord of the universe commandeers the warp and woof of history to accomplish His ultimate purposes. Consequently, it would be a mistake on our part to overlook the relationship between Christmas and New Year’s.
As Paul reminded the Galatians, we measure time by Christ’s life. The time designations BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (Anno Domini=“Year of Our Lord”) hold a sacred significance for Christians—the secularizing trend toward using BCE (“Before the Common Era”) and CE (“Common Era”) notwithstanding. Unlike many other cultures, both ancient and modern, we don’t measure time by leaders or events (e.g. “In the eighth year of so and so’s reign…” or “In the tenth year since the battle of such and such…”). On the contrary, we believe time must be counted, weighed, and determined by Immanuel’s entrance into our finite sphere of existence. The world is qualitatively different because at just the right moment “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law,” for us and for our salvation.
So, what does Christmas have to do with New Year’s? Although we celebrate them in different ways, the two holidays enable us to approach the future with hope. Because Christ has come into our world, we need not hear the ever-ticking clock of time with despair and cynicism. That sound signifies another moment, another year, lived “in the year of our Lord.” Christmas shows us who holds the future—and the New Year—in His hands.
May we, therefore, approach 2018 joyfully and hopefully. Happy New Year!
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48a).
Are you in the Christmas spirit yet? What’s your usual technique? Sometimes we take the sacred ritual approach — watching a sentimental movie, dining on some annually-craved comfort food, and reminiscing about Christmases of yesteryear as treasured decorations are unpacked and nostalgically positioned. Sometimes we utilize the giving approach — donating to worthwhile charities, picking out the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones, and baking treats that never disappoint. At still other times we try the bonding approach — overlooking past grievances, spending quality time with family and friends, and nurturing the relationships we hold dear. Whatever it takes for you, the goal is the same for us all — to reach a heightened sense of contentment, generosity, and happiness. In short, we all want some warm and fuzzy feelings this Christmas.
If you haven’t yet enjoyed such bliss this season, I sincerely hope you will. But I also hope you’ll join me in praying for something more steadfast and sure. As much as we’d all like to permanently bask in the glow of Christmas merriment, here’s a harsh spoiler alert: eventually the Hallmark channel will return to its regular programming (broadcasting uplifting tear-jerkers without the holiday glee), the decorations will need to come down and be put away, and bleak winter conditions will persist for months to come. Then what?
You might be thinking, “Oh come on, can’t we just savor Christmas without being reminded of how quickly it comes and goes?” Trust me, I’m really not trying to be a Scrooge. I just believe God wants more for us than fading joy. God wants us to experience a joy that flourishes throughout all seasons. Even though such joy may lack fading joy’s glitz and glamor, flourishing joy brings infinitely more happiness since it derives from the Infinite God.
So how can we have flourishing joy? Mary’s exuberant testimony shows us that the difference between fading joy and flourishing joy hinges on one word, namely, Savior. While fading joy depends upon our ability to create something for ourselves — a mindset, an emotional state, an experience — flourishing joy depends upon whether or not we receive the baby in the manger as Immanuel, God with us and God for us. So may God save us from our frenzied — and ultimately fruitless — efforts to turn happiness into something we can achieve. Instead, like Mary, may we receive Christ as our source of joy and well-being. And may God grant you and your family a Merry Christmas marked by joy that flourishes long after December 25!
On Sunday, December 3, the TBC Children’s Choir presented “Jingle Bell Beach” to a large audience of parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends. The musical was directed by Paige Williamson and Katy Moore, with Jonathan Moore and Dale Williamson handling the soundboard. Afterward, everyone was invited to a pancake supper prepared by Ernie and Meghan Rushing and Dane Hadley.
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How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good reports, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7).
This verse is simultaneously stirring and puzzling. Since we all seem to be continually confronted with bad news, we can’t help but resonate with the image of someone who has good news to share—news of peace and salvation. Such a reality, we no doubt think, is a beautiful thing to consider. In fact, we might just be able to look beyond our present circumstances when we consider the beauty of peace, salvation, and the proclamation that God reigns.
Yet before we pursue that train of thought too far, let’s notice what the verse actually describes as beautiful: “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet…” Feet, you say? First, how could feet be beautiful, especially when compared to the lofty ideals described in the verse? Secondly, why would we discuss feet in preparing for the Advent season?
Let’s take a look at the broader context. To deliver his message of hope to Israel on the backend of exile, the prophet seems to be picturing a besieged city. Surrounding the city are hostile forces scheming their next assault. Inside the city are citizens battered by the ravages of war. While most of the inhabitants hunker down and brace for the enemy’s attack, a few watchmen courageously stand their ground on the city’s walls. Suddenly, in the distance, a running messenger comes into view. Despite the obstacles in his way—uneven, mountainous terrain and sharp rocks—the messenger doesn’t relent. He maintains a steady yet vigorous pace as he makes his way toward the city. Before he even utters a word, the watchmen can tell by his buoyancy that he brings good news—news of peace and salvation! God himself has arrived to save them (cf. Is. 52:7-12).
For those who find themselves feeling overwhelmed, burdened, afraid, discouraged, and hopeless the mere sight of a messenger bringing good news—indeed, even the messenger’s feet!—can be seen as beautiful. Are you looking for such a messenger this Advent season? Take a few moments to stop worrying about whether or not all the Christmas decorations are up, put aside your shopping list temporarily, and focus on the beauty revealed by Christ’s arrival. The birth of Jesus demonstrates that God himself has come to bring peace and salvation, to say, “Your God reigns!” Likewise, consider who in your life right now—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.—might need to hear about this good news from you. And may we all grow in our appreciation for the beauty of both the message and the messenger.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Thanksgiving is almost here. Alongside feasting with friends and family, this time of year moves us to take stock of our lives. We assess the good, the bad, and the ugly. We try to look for the silver lining. Usually, though not always, we can identify at least a handful of elements in our lives that inspire gratitude. Harmonious family dynamics, trustworthy companionship, good health, vocational fulfillment, and/or meaningful pursuits can each lead us to give thanks. Even when one of these life variables is missing or uncertain, we still attempt—even if for just one day—to look on the sunny side. We realize not all of our circumstances are ideal, but we strive to look for the more favorable circumstances whenever we can.
How different is the urging of the Apostle Paul to “give thanks in all circumstances”? All circumstances? Really? Surely we are not to give thanks for dysfunctional family dynamics, loneliness, sickness, vocational confusion, or an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, right? What could Paul possibly mean? To look on the bright side of things is one thing; to give thanks “in all circumstances” is another matter entirely. Was Paul simply out of touch with reality?
Take another look at what Paul said. He presses us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Far from being out of touch, Paul came to know the full range of human circumstances during his lifetime: “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to have scarcity, and I know what it is to have abundance” (Philippians 4:11b-12a). The secret? “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). For Paul, gratitude wasn’t merely an exercise in trying to see his cup as half full. Instead, Paul recognized that because Christ reigns victoriously as our Risen Savior we have an unshakable hope— “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”
(Hebrews 6:19a). Jesus lives, and there is no putting Him back in the tomb. Because He lives and reigns, moreover, “we have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Whatever your life is like this Thanksgiving, hear the Spirit’s summons to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances. In Christ Jesus we can receive the grace to be forgiven, the strength to endure, and a hope that transcends this life. So may God richly bless your time with family and friends this Thanksgiving, and may we all fulfill God’s will for us in Christ Jesus by giving thanks in all circumstances.
Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Follow her. But Ruth said,
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn away from you. For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God (Ruth 1:15-16).
Who doesn’t love convenience? From gadgets and appliances to schedules and travel, we all seek out whatever happens to be most convenient for us. Regrettably, however, we often apply the same desire for convenience to our spiritual lives. We’ll do whatever Christ asks us to do—as long as it doesn’t cause us any inconvenience! Consider the times when Jesus called individuals to follow him, and he got responses like “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” or “Lord, first let me go say goodbye to my family” (cf. Luke 9:57-62). Such individuals were perfectly willing to follow Jesus as long as they could do so on their terms.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with convenience, but we need to beware of how it can insidiously become an idol that encroaches on our commitment to follow Christ unreservedly. To prevent this danger from creeping into our discipleship and causing us to love comfort more than Christ, we are aided by studying the exemplary commitment revealed in Ruth.
1. Commitment is a choice.
After Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, had lost her husband and two sons, she decided the only course of action was to return to her home in Judah and absolve her two Moabite daughters-in-law of all obligations toward her. Naomi believed she couldn’t possibly ask them to leave behind their homeland, their families, their cultures, and their gods. Nevertheless, Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, loved Naomi so much that they chose to remain with her no matter what inconveniences lay ahead (1:10).
2. Sometimes, it’s a lonely choice.
Naomi recognized the gravity of their choice and urged Ruth and Orpah to consider the fact that they would probably never marry again in Judah. While Orpah turned back, Ruth remained steadfast in her commitment to Naomi—even when she was the only one still standing (1:11-15).
3. It’s a choice tested by time.
Regardless of the inconvenience and the potential loneliness, Ruth wholeheartedly cast her lot with Naomi (1:16-17). The sincerity of such a commitment can only be revealed over time. It’s one thing to make a commitment under a certain set of circumstances. It another thing entirely to make a commitment regardless of circumstances (e.g. the traditional wedding vows, “For better for worse, for richer for poorer…”).
May Ruth’s commitment to Naomi reflect our prayer to Christ, especially when we become spiritually tired and disheartened. May the Spirit lead us to choose commitment over convenience.
Our annual Fall Festival is for people of all ages, and we always expect great attendance by children. This year we also had several youth and many adults join the fun. And, of course, we had lots of games, food, prizes and prize winners.
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Some of our prize winners:
Our annual Homecoming Celebration included special music by our guest instrumentalists, the Handbell Choir, the Chapel Choir, and our Minister of Music Ernie Rushing. Our Pastor Dane Hadley led the Children’s Message and Dr. John Allen, a former pastor of Tabernacle, provided the morning sermon. A luncheon followed, and we were pleased to reconnect with many former members and friends of our church. Many thanks to the Homecoming Committee for their planning and preparations for this happy occasion!
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