Randy Odom, Jason Hollinger, Jess and I led a group of teens over to Atlanta Georgia this last week for the yearly Passion Conference. This is a large gathering of students that come together for 3 intensive days of worship. communion, encouragement, and incredibly challenging words of wisdom that prepare these students to be sent back to their homes and campuses as lights. When I say a large group I mean… Enormous! 65,000 people filled up the Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta Georgia! I can’t begin to describe how incredible it is to see that many young people all together worshipping for hours and listening attentively to more than 6 incredible speakers. We worshipped into the New Year on Tuesday and Wednesday and I can’t think of a better way to start of the New Year. Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the thoughts from a few of the speakers and some of the incredible experiences we shared together.
The holidays are over. The food has been eaten. Presents delivered and strewn about. The New Year is FAST approaching! We tend to look forward to the new year and all the possibilities it offers. We see a fresh slate and a new start. We see a chance to put all the struggles, problems, and challenges behind us and move forward unhindered. However, when we enter the new year we end up making some of the same choices. We create new bad habits and make excuses for keeping the old ones. We back track and end up desiring a fresh slate once more. We forget sometimes that we’ll be facing some of the same challenges and most likely some new ones as we move forward. These challenges will not disappear. They will not be easier all of a sudden. They will still be surprising and life shaking. We tend to assume we can move forward unhindered.
God made a promise to the Israelites in Isaiah 43:2 that still applies to us today. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. At first look we see the promise that God will always be with us. But this promise is given BECAUSE of the reality that we WILL “pass through the rivers” and “walk through the flames”. God promises to be with us but demands that we take up our cross and walk with confidence to face life’s challenges with faith and endurance. This new year, place the Kingdom of God first in your New Year’s Resolutions and strive right alongside God to declare the Gospel in your life and serve the Kingdom of God!
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'”
The description of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 is incredible for a lot of reasons. The creator of the universe comes to earth as a humble human. He is born of a virgin. Born in a manger: an animal feeding trough. His arrival is welcomed by a choir of angels and is heralded by a bright and shining star. And shepherds are the first visitors to welcome God made flesh. The miraculous and universe altering experiences on this night are held in contrast to the humble and seemingly trivial nature of a baby being born out of wedlock in a barn and being greeted by smelly sheep herders. And the phrase that bridges this gap and helps me make sense of it all is declared by the Angels as they follow God to earth and sing praises “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people”. This is what we’ve waited for. This is what we’re waiting for. This is what we are invited to participate in. Bringing good news that will cause great joy for all people. You, me, democrats, republicans, your nearest neighbors, those overseas, the rich and the poor. GOOD NEWS AND GREAT JOY FOR EVERYONE!
The Advent season is marked by waiting expectantly for the birth of Christ. When we observe this tradition we spend 24 days in anticipation of the birth of Christ. The Jews however, waited for generations. They knew the prophecies that the Messiah would come and they waited hundreds of years for this prophecy to be fulfilled. One of the many scriptures prophesying the coming Messiah is found in Isaiah 9:6.
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.
What an incredible prophesy! No wonder the Jewish nation was on pins and needles waiting for the arrival of the Messiah! The way Jesus interacted with people like Zacchaeus and the woman at the well left them with a sense of peace and comfort. He can fully empathize with us as the Wonderful Counselor. The incredible miracles He performed left people amazed at this man who made claimed that He and the Father are one, the Mighty God. We find in John and Hebrews that all of creation was made by Jesus. He is the Everlasting Father. Jesus defeated death! He stormed the gates of hell and defeated satan. Through Jesus there will be everlasting peace for He is the Prince of Peace. How do these descriptions of Jesus impact your life? How has your life been changed by Jesus? Let this lead you into a time of great joy and anticipation for the second coming of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace!
I can’t tell you how many times I remember waiting anxiously as a kid for something. A vacation, an expected present, an event or party, something in the mail, the list goes on. I wish I could say I’ve gotten better at waiting patiently as an adult but, even with Amazon and 2 day shipping, sometimes I still catch myself wishing it would happen NOW! And these are small things. Materialistic things. Things that don’t have a whole lot of meaning right now and absolutely no meaning in light of eternity. And yet, the advent, or introduction of, something new and exciting, always has me on pins and needles waiting apprehensively for this NEW thing!
From December 1st to the 24th many Christians observe the advent season of waiting expectantly for and preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the return of Jesus at His Second Coming. I think the only time I’ve involved myself in this season is taking advantage of chocolate and prize filled calendars that count down the days to when Santa will deliver EVEN MORE presents and sweets. I’ve gotten to see this season observed in much more meaningful ways a few times as I’ve watched families, churches, and missionaries lead others and themselves into a more meaningful time of waiting expectantly for the coming of Jesus Christ. The more I study the Advent season the more I fall in love with this beautiful tradition. Join me in looking into Advent this season and sharing your hope in Christ with your family, friends, and whoever else God places in your life.