Merry Christmas from the Czech Republic! As our family prepares to celebrate our first anniversary since moving to be missionaries here, we are filled with so much gratitude. Thank you, Southern Heights, for standing with us in faith, and believing God for great things in the hearts of Czech young people.
This has been a year of special celebration in the Czech Republic, as it is the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. During the biggest day of celebration I took my family to the square in our city of Ostrava to watch a special procession. There were brass bands, Czech scouts, and many people dressed in 1918-era clothing. It was spectacular!
But the most magnificent moment was yet to come. At the rear of the procession drove a classic black car, surrounded by legionaries on horses. The first Czechoslovak president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, had arrived.
Of course, it was just an actor! But the excitement in the air was palpable. I motioned over in the president’s direction for my sons to look: “There he is! He’s coming! He’s coming!” It was as if Masaryk’s return meant that all would be made right, that the divisions in this nation would cease, and he would reestablish a republic based on faith, truth, and justice.
This memory stands out in my mind this Christmas. Why? Because this is what Christ’s coming means for us. When Jesus comes, he comes to make all things right. And that is very good news!
The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s coming as King to the exiles in Babylon, in a way that is strikingly appropriate for how we should see Christ’s arrival.
Isaiah 52:7-10 (CSB)
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the herald,
who proclaims peace,
who brings news of good things,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
The voices of your watchmen--
they lift up their voices,
shouting for joy together;
for every eye will see
when the Lord returns to Zion.
Be joyful, rejoice together,
you ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has displayed his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
Isaiah can see a messenger running across the plains (52:7) to bring a message back to ravaged Jerusalem: “Good news! Good news!” He shouts that the battle has been won, the exiles have been ransomed, and this means: “Peace! Goodness! Salvation!” But what is at the core of his message? What is the most important good news? “Your God reigns!” God has proven himself to be the rightful King. And he is coming home!
The watchmen on the walls hear this good news from a distance (52:8), and they can’t contain their excitement. This is incredible! They shout for joy, as they anticipate the return of their King to Jerusalem. The message quickly spreads to the rest of the city (52:9-10). Jerusalem had been ravaged by Babylon, left in ruins. But the King is coming. He will heal all.
When God comes as King, he comes to make all things right. And that is very good news!
God rescued his people from their captivity in Babylon, and brought them back to Jerusalem. But this was just a foretaste of the Kingdom to come. When the angel Gabriel reveals to Zechariah that he will have a son that will prepare the way for the Messiah (Luke 1:17), we are reminded of passages like the one in Isaiah 52. It comes as no surprise then, that when Zechariah prophecies about his son John, he also speaks in the language of Isaiah (Luke 1:67-79). John is like the herald, announcing that the King is near. The king is on his way home.
That is what Jesus’ birth is all about. It is about God coming back as King. It is about God proving that he has not forgotten about those lost in darkness, breaking under the yoke of oppression, evil, and sin. He comes to make his salvation known to all peoples, near and far. God has come to take up his rule, to fix what was broken, and to establish his kingdom of peace, goodness, and salvation for all.
When Jesus comes as King, he comes to make all things right. And that is very good news!
This Christmas, let us, like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, expectantly anticipate the return of our King. This simple, quiet, humble birth means the greatest revolution the world had ever seen. God has come back. And he will make all things right. What good news!
Have a blessed Christmas with your families and friends. We will be celebrating with you from afar! May this Christmas season fill you with joy because of this great news. May we also anticipate the future and final coming of our King. As Jesus said to John in Revelation: “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20). Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! That really is good news!
This year our church is reading through the Book of Common Prayer's Advent readings. The Book of Common Prayer is a literary tradition spanning back to the time of the Reformation. It is a compilation of hymns, readings, and prayers which have helpfully drawn God's people into prayerful reflection. Our church, while not an Anglican church (for some very important reasons) have found these readings on Advent to be particularly helpful.
So as part of the Advent season, we are reflecting on the various Advent collects, or prayers, on this blog. You can visit the first Advent Prayer here. The second Advent prayer says this:
Like last week's reading, this one is made up of three parts. The three parts reflect on the coming of God to his people. They present us with the prophets who made clear the way of the Lord, they present us with the last Word of God, who has revealed to us the wonderful mystery of the Trinity.
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation
This first prayer fixes our minds on the God of the prophets. Those angsty, gnarly, cranky, and, at times, hangry, men. They were haggard and bent over. They came wearing only shreds of clothing. They told us of the coming judgment. They scowled. They grunted. They waved their arms in the air. At times they went to radical extremes to tell us the Day of the Lord was on its way. Sometimes, it was encouraging. Most of the time we ignored it.
Masters of the literary form, they wrote long treatises and preached long sermons. They ranted. They built exacting argument upon exacting argument. They delivered their message with forcefulness. We put our thumbs in our ears. We didn't want to hear. They took our thumbs out and shouted. "You have to hear!" they said, "God is coming!"
The most remarkable thing about this prayer is the simple ascription to a God who sends envoys such as these. He is called, "merciful." It is merciful for God to send to us those who will prepare a way for salvation. It is merciful that they came to us, in the world but not of it. We are able to see past all the distractions of the world, the world with all its trinkets and its toys, its wit and wisdom, its novelties and knowledge. In these simpletons a complex God makes himself known. God's mercy to us comes because he did not send them as foreign dignitaries in all the trappings of respect and reputation. He sent them to us, as harbingers of another world, wearing camels' hair for belts and eating locusts dipped in honey.
Hebrews says this of those hallowed heroes, "What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel, and the prophets-who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of earth." (11:32-38)
Truly, they are not of this world. This strange fact is, in fact, their credibility. It is merciful of God to send us messengers as such as these, and it is they who make clear the path of the Lord.
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer
The second section of this prayer is a request to the Lord. It asks for grace, the precious grace, that the scales on our eyes might be washed away, that the plugs in our ears might be removed, that the cast over our hearts might be cut away. It asks for the eyes to see and ears to hear the words of the Lord. Such strange messengers speak a strange language that is unnatural and revolting to the unredeemed ear. Only by the grace of God can we hear God's words. It is for the grace of repentance, that sweet gift, sweeter than any honey, that we speak.
Give us grace to turn from our sins. Give us grace to see our sins for what they are, to behold them in all their ghastliness, and their ugliness. Help us to "uncultivate" our tastes to the pleasures of our world. Of course, that is only the first half of repentance. For just as we have cultivated a taste for sin which must be uncultivated, so we must acquire a taste for the things of God. To ask for the grace of repentance is not only to ask that God would help us turn away from our sins, but also to ask that God would help us to turn to God. It is to ask God for the gift of conciliation, not just contrition.
Without such gifts, we will never hear the Word. Hebrews tells us, "Long ago at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Heb 1:1-2) In Christ, God got his last Word in. Christ is the last thing we need to know about God. Every prophet before him spoke of the one who was to come. Every prophet after him spoke of the one who already has come. Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. The first and final, clearest and most mysterious, Word of God.
Such a Word cannot be heard by fleshly ears or stoney hearts. We cannot hear about Christ so long as we are enraptured with sin. Christmastime, this prayer teaches us, is a time to reckon with this Word about God. This, the last Word of God, spoken of for long before, has finally come. Have we prepared Him room? Have we attended our hearts to Him? Have we hushed our whispering in his presence? Christmastime is a time for repentance. And this is only grasped by grace.
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Just as last week, we are caught up into the heavenly throne room. Christmas repentance transposes us before the Almighty Lamb of God, standing as though he had been slain, amidst the sea of glass and storm, and in the presence of the Great Throne. Christmas Repentance brings us into the midst of this, the most transcendent of mysteries, the most lucid of dreams, the most seen unseen. It is nothing less than the presence of the Trinity. Here, adopted through the Son, filled by the Spirit, and loved by the Father, the elect of God gather with one voice to praise Him from before all time and now and forever. Christmas time realigns us, attunes us, shapes us, molds us, exposes us, fills us, strips us, clothes us, takes away and gives back, questions and answers. Christmastime is the coming of the Son of God, the very God of very God and very light of very light. This is not a sight for the amateur sightseer. One must cultivate and acquire this taste. We must train our eyes to see this vision.
This is what Advent prayers are for.
Southern Heights Christian Church
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