Into the Darkness

Click here for this year’s Advent Prayer Guide.

The light fades earlier and earlier this time of year and darkness falls upon us. Darkness can easily be associated with evil in antithesis to light, but in the beginning it was not so. In the beginning, God created the heavens in the earth and separated the light from the darkness and said it was good. Total darkness is not good. Only darkness is not good. But darkness followed by light followed by darkness is good. God said so, in the beginning.

The fact that there is more darkness this time of the year is also good. God created it this way. It is good. On the fourth day God made two lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night. He also made stars to be co-regents of the nighttime sky. Thus Night is never totally dark. We are not meant to dwell in total darkness. Even in the deepest night there are lesser lights ruling over it reminding us of the greater light to come. When God placed these greater and lesser (and even lesser) lights in the sky he said it was for “signs and for seasons.” This means we are to learn from the darkness; it is a sign for us. This means that the changing seasons are also good. This dark part of the year is the way God made things. It is good. We are to meditate on what this means.

It’s hard for us modern people to think about the meaning of darkness because we never really have to be in it. Our world is always lit. Darkness is rather foreign to us. But if we think about the world without modern amenities, the darkness is a natural time to rest. Without light we cannot work. We can think. We can pray. We can talk. We cannot work. Darkness implies the need for rest. Darkness also implies the need for quiet. It gets quiet at night. You can become aware of this if you are out in the woods just before dawn, especially in the late fall or winter when the bugs are no longer active. It’s quiet. Deafeningly so. And then just before dawn, when the light begins to grow in the sky, noises start happening. Birds start chirping. Squirrels start messing about. The noises are distracting, but the night is quiet. Quiet for meditation and prayer. This is how Jesus spent his last night before the cross. And he implored his disciples to join him, though they became overwhelmed with sorrow.

Watch and pray. This is the theme of Advent. Advent is not preparation or prelude for the babe born on Christmas morn. Advent is a watchful expectation for the King to return and dispel darkness and usher in his kingdom of light. We inhabit the darkness. We watch and pray in the darkness. And we know that after darkness, the light will come.

Many of us have had much to mourn this year. Many have experienced pain and loss. Many suffer under the weight of depression and anxiety. Many endure profound sadness due to unrealized dreams and unanswered prayers. Many have seen the lives of loved ones shattered by oppression and violence. We should mourn these things. Part of mourning is leaning into the reality of death and the brokenness of this world we live in: that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Advent is a season to cry out to God to come and deliver us from our pain; our sadness; from sin. The prayer of Advent is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The word Advent is from the Latin word advenire, which means “to come to.” Advent is about the various comings of Jesus. He came 2,000 years ago as God incarnate of the Virgin Mary. He will come again in glory to set up his everlasting kingdom over the new heavens and the new earth. But there is also a very real sense in which Jesus comes to us today, in the in-between-time. Jesus shows up every Sunday when we worship him. Jesus also shows up to intervene in various ways in our lives when we call out to him. So when we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are not asking for the end to come. We are crying out for him to show up now and deliver us in our present situation.

As we enter into Christ’s life, we enter into the life of God’s people who have been trained through the millennia to hope and pray for peace, security, justice, and welfare (Psalm 122). Have we expected too little? Have our hopes been dulled by our sorrow? Great David’s greater Son is coming! Can we set our hopes to the whetstone of the Word, renew our sharp edges, and hope for something preposterous?

Will you join me in entering into the darkness this Advent season? To watch and pray? To rest? To simplify? To be still and quiet? To mourn? To see the moon and stars and believe that dawn is coming? To cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus?”

May you have a blessed Advent season.

For more Advent reflections, click here.

Featured image: St. Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Come, O Root!

Download my 2018 Advent prayer guide.

O Radix Jesse… These are the opening words of the traditional antiphon on Dec. 19 each year (that the cover art of this prayer guide depicts). In English the prayer is worded this way:

    O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

    before you kings will shut their mouths,

    to you the nations will make their prayer:

    Come and deliver us and delay no longer.

The “Root of Jesse” is an image used by the Prophet Isaiah in his eleventh chapter. This “Root” will come and deliver the people Israel and extend their territory to the ancient boundaries promised to the Patriarch Abraham. Paul quotes Isaiah 11 in Romans 15:12 and interprets the prophecy not to be about the extension of the kingdom of Israel, but the gathering of the nations into the Church. Just as in Micah 7:11-12, Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed the Lord’s promise to Abraham, is fulfilled in the Church, whose boundaries extend to the ends of the earth and whose inhabitants include every tongue, tribe, and nation. The above prayer then is for the prophesied One to come and deliver us. The need is urgent. “Delay no longer!” we cry.

Root. Radix. The interesting thing about the concept of the Root of Jesse in the text of Isaiah is that it is not entirely clear who the Root is. Is Jesse the Root from which Christ springs? 11:1 certainly leads us in this direction. Or, on the other hand, is Jesus the Root from which Jesse springs? Verse 10 leads us in this direction. The answer to the question is, “Yes.” Jesus Christ is both the Root and the Shoot, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the author and the finisher of our faith. He is Ancient of Days and yet lately born. He ushers in the beginning and also the end. Jesus is the Root, the ancient ancestor of Jesse and also the Shoot, the one who springs forth from Jesse’s lineage to usher in the everlasting kingdom and the renewal of all things. Jesus is David’s son and David’s Lord.

Radix. This Latin word for “Root” is where we get the word radical. Jesus is radical. Jesus gets to the root of things and he calls us to get to the root of things. The word radix is also where we get our modern abbreviation for medicine. Rx is an abbreviation for radix because many ancient medicines were made from the roots of things. Jesus is radical. He gets at the root. He is our medicine. Come, O Root, and deliver us!

The most important thing to remember about Advent is that Advent is not Christmas. The word “advent” is from the Latin advenire which means “to come to.” Advent is a season reflecting on the “comings” of Jesus. There are three distinct comings of Jesus that are in view in the season of Advent. The first coming was in the past and was the birth of our Lord Jesus. The second coming is at the end of history and is the bodily return of Jesus Christ to judge the earth. Yet there is another coming of Jesus that we should not miss. The third coming is how we long for Jesus to appear and visit us now, in the present, to right wrongs and advance the kingdom of God in this world. In Advent we do cry out for Jesus to come again. But we also look for his coming to us today in his Word, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ who bear his image. Christ comes to us in all these ways, and we need him to come. We need him to visit us this Advent. Come and deliver us and delay no longer!

As we look around us we see a great need for The Root to come and deliver us. We have our own personal needs. We have the needs of our church and our community. There are national crises that we should be concerned about. We need the Lord to come. Now! we cry. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. This is the spirit of Advent.

The Good News is God will answer our cry for deliverance. The Root has come to set us free. The Root will come again to renew all things. And the Root promises to meet us in the here and now. He promises to be present with us through His Word. He promises to be present with us through his sacrament. He promises that when two or three of us are gathered together in His name, he will be smack dab in the middle of us.

This Advent let us commit ourselves to preparation and prayer in joyful and hopeful expectation that King Jesus will come and deliver us. Let us watch and pray and not give in to despair, though it seems he never hears us and never answers us. Many times, when we are praying we are expecting a big act of God, a mighty work, a life changing event. But often God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to give us a sustaining grace instead of that life changing event we prayed for.[1] We may wonder why he does this, when we know he has the power to move mountains and stop time. Maybe he does it because His greatest desire for us is that we would be satisfied with what he daily gives us in his regular, ordinary comings to us: The very substance of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is enough. Let us be satisfied with Him.

[1] I credit my friend, Pastor Thurman Williams for this idea.

Cover art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg. Click here to order her Advent art series.


Download my 2018 Advent Prayer guide here, and bookmark the link to listen to the tunes for all the psalms, canticles, and hymns: http://christourkingcolumbia.org/advent/

St. Ambrose of Milan – Savior of the Nations, Come

This is one of my favorite Advent hymns. It has some of the most powerful lines in the history of Christian hymnody, written by one of the first to really emphasize congregational participation in worship, Ambrose of Milan.

This hymn is also deeply theological. In Ambrose’s words we find the various theological controversies of the day reflected. Namely, the heresy of Arianism, which said that Jesus Christ was not fully divine, is combated in verse 4. Nestorianism, which argued that Jesus Christ was not fully human, is combated in verse 3. But beyond that, the hymn promotes the wonder and awe that we should all have when contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation. Verse three into the first phrase of verse 4 gives me goosebumps. Every time.

Give a listen to Christ Our King’s arrangement of this hymn from the 4th century. I hope it instills in you the wonder that it did for its first singers in Milan.

1 Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

2 Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh —
Woman’s offspring pure and fresh.

3. Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

4. Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.

 


Savior of the Nations, Come
St. Ambrose of Milan, 4th c.
Translation of verses 1 and 2 by William M. Reynolds, 19th c.
Translation of verse 3 by the Lutheran Service Book, 2006
Translation of verse 4 by F. Samuel Janzow, 20th c.

Tune: Johann Walter, Wittenburg, 16th c.
Arranged by: Timothy R. LeCroy 2016

Performed by Christ Our King Musicians
Vocals: Tim LeCroy and Liv Cordray
Violin: Erica Kallis
Piano: Liv Cordray
Guitar: Tim LeCroy
Bass: Tim LeCroy

 


If you want to be added to my Advent devotional emails, just leave a comment below!

 

2018 Great O Antiphons

I am a fixer. I have to fix things. Sometimes I find it hard just to simply listen to people’s struggles without needing to fix them. But the reality is that I am not the one to fix them or myself or anything. I need someone greater than myself to fix things.

When John the Baptist came Jesus called him the greatest to be born of a woman. He was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, greater than Moses even! If anyone could fix things it was John the Baptist.

And yet John the Baptist was not a fixer. He said, “I am not the Christ.” He said that his mission was simply to point to Christ and bear witness about him and say, “One is coming whose sandals I am not even worthy to untie.” John the Baptist, who was much greater than me or you or anyone alive today, could not fix things. He knew that only Jesus could.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Behold Jesus! He comes to set you free!

I invite you to enter into the last 8 days of Advent with me as we recite the Great O Antiphons together and meditate on a few scriptures, quotations and songs. If you would like to be added to this email list this season, just leave a comment and I will add you to the list.

Let us enter into the Great O Antiphons again. Let us pray for our King to come and deliver us.

2017 Advent Prayer Guide

Each year I produce an Advent Prayer guide for the use of the folks at Christ Our King. We also put it up on our website in electronic form so that people can download and use. There are also audio clips of all the tunes for singing the psalms, canticles, and hymns in the guide. My hope is that this will deepen your prayer life and enable you to seek the Lord during this season.

Come, Lord Jesus!

2017 Christ Our King Advent Prayer Guide – CLICK HERE

Advent Expectancy

Rembrandt_Simeon_houdt_Jesus_vast

By Bill Yarbrough

Advent has everything to do with expectancy. Expectancy about all the comings of Christ and expectancy about all that he will do among us as we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

During this season, I am always moved by Luke’s account of Simeon’s prophetic embrace of the Christ child when Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. That day for Simeon was the fulfillment of a life-long, prayerful expectation of the first Advent. Of Simeon, Luke writes, “this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (2:25-26). Seeing the baby, this aged saint took the Divine Child from Joseph and Mary and holding him in his arms, blessed God saying “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:29-32).

We are all the covenant family of that dear saint and, as family and friends, a question we could be asking during this Advent season is, “Who or what are expecting this Advent season?” I am hopeful that we would all be expectant for a deeper and more intimate fellowship with our Lord and for his healing and saving work in Columbia, or whatever city we reside in, through hearts transformed by grace and through our common life as the Church. May God graciously lead us to take unique and individual steps that would help us cultivate and nurture that relationship both to God and to one another.

Have we considered meeting with someone to pray on a regular basis, with confession and thanksgiving? Have we considered how we may best connect with Love, Inc., Granny’s House, participate in Christ Our King’s Advent food drive, or partner with local ministries that help those in need in whatever town we may reside? Have we considered some fixed times of fasting and intercessory prayer for the many heartbreaking situations, racial, cultural, and sexual that surround us? Have we considered exploring the possibility of personal spiritual direction or participating in a spiritual retreat? Advent is a time for searching our hearts and, with Spirit-filled expectancy, making choices about how to best love and serve God and our neighbor.

Simeon lived expectantly for the “consolation of Israel.” May we join heart and hands with that righteous and devout man during this Advent season, with that same spirit of expectancy about Christ coming to us. Expectancy, most certainly about that ultimate Advent, the second coming of Christ, but equally so, expectancy about our lives and city being transformed by the love of the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.


Here are some resources for deepening your expectancy for Christ to come this Advent:

If you want to learn more about spiritual direction, contact Pastor Bill via Twitter below, or visit the Christ Our King website and drop us a note.

Bill Yarbrough is a Senior Dircector with Mission to the World and is an assisting pastor at Christ Our King. Follow him on Twitter @billyarbrough
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Why We Need Advent, Now More Than Ever

Not feeling the Christmas spirit this year? That’s what Advent is for. Let’s keep the season of Advent to mourn the brokenness of this world and to prepare our hearts properly for the celebration of Christmas.

Advent-Christmas-candle-10

I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble summoning up the Christmas spirit this year. Thanksgiving is over and now our culture is trying to force us into full on Christmas celebratory mode. Our culture wants us to give into the swelling wave of sickening consumeristic bacchanalia. But, I want to ask a question: is it the time for feasting yet? Is it a time for emptying our pocketbooks on ourselves just yet? Should we push back against our culture just a little, this year of all years?

How can we feast while a great American city burns? While a family mourns the reality that no one will be held accountable for the death of their son? While brothers and sisters cry out against what they see as systematic oppression, and folks across the racial and socio-economic divide struggle to listen? How can we feast while Ebola ravages the people of West Africa and threatens to move in on other parts of our world and while now the bubonic plague is becoming a threat to the people of Madagascar? How can we celebrate when campus rape culture has been exposed to be a system where victims are not always protected and the reputations of venerated institutions are instead? How can we go into full on Christmas mode when tanks continue to line up in Ukraine and heads continue to roll in Syria and Iraq? How can we feast when millions upon millions of poor immigrants and refugees in our own country struggle to meet the basic necessities of life? How can we be so tone deaf as a culture? Before we feast and celebrate, would it be appropriate to stop and pray and fast for the many sad things we see around us?

The great history and tradition of the Church may have an answer for us. You see, traditionally there was a preparatory season of prayer and fasting that preceded Christmas. Christmas is not just a day, but a season of the Church year and a time of celebration in the life of the Church. And while we are seemingly always ready to remind others to keep the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember that this feast of Christmas must also be kept in its proper season and its proper proportion. As long as there has been a feast of Christmas, there has also been a preparatory time that preceded the great feast, a period that the Church has called Advent.

Traditionally, the Christmas celebration season followed Christmas Day, while the season that preceded Christmas Day was set aside for preparatory prayer, meditation, and fasting. So while we are keeping the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember to keep a holy Advent to prepare for his coming.

What is Advent? In short, Advent is a season for us to cry out against the brokenness, the injustice, the sin, the disease, the hurt, the oppression, and the fallenness of this world. Advent is a time for us all to hit pause for a moment and as a church, as a human race, to pray and cry out to God to come and fix our broken world. Ultimately God, the All-Powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, is the only one who can fix our world in a lasting way. But we must not forget that God, while he can intervene supernaturally, almost always uses people to meet his ends in this world. So while we are praying and fasting, let us also be doing. James says, let us not be hearers of the word only, but also doers. Pure religion he says is to serve widows and orphans – to love the poor and the foreigner; the oppressed and downtrodden – to welcome, to host, to listen, and to serve. In short, to love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor, you ask? Friends, who is not your neighbor?

So Advent is a time to pray, a time to fast, a time to listen, and a time to do. If it seems that feasting may be inappropriate this year, or any year, let us first prepare our hearts for the feast. We will feast – we will eat and drink and celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God into our flesh – but before we do that let us first press pause for a moment. Let us first pray and mourn awhile. It will be good for our souls and it will be good for our world.


Here are some resources for praying, listening, and doing:


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