Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Advent, Genealogy of Christ
Volume 6 No. 389 December 16, 2016
II. Advent Reflections

Advent: The Real Meaning of Christmas Lights

by Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.

As fall moves onward towards winter we have places to go, things to do, people to meet. Yet as we go about our business, we notice the days are getting shorter. Sweaters come out of storage, we close the windows, and turn on the heat.

Advent is a season where we stop and remember that the light of this world is waning in more ways than one. That the world as we know it is passing away.

The world "secular" comes from the Latin word for this present world with its priorities–getting a job, paying the bills, finding a mate. Politics, economics, entertainment, sports are all realities of the secular world. "Secularism" is the modern program that insists that this is all that there is. A version popular in America says that there may be more to life than this, but it is entirely a private affair that you may not talk about in public. God, higher values, heaven, are all out-of- bounds topics in school, politics, and the news media.

Secularism wants us to live under the illusion that things will always be the way they are. There may be ups and downs in the economy, but it will keep humming along. Elections may change the office holders, but the government will just keep on keeping on. That’s the way people thought in Noah’s day. But then the flood came (Mat 24:37-44).

St. Paul calls this attitude being asleep (Rom 13:11-14). God breaking into space and time, in a manger in Bethlehem, changed things forever. The central moment of human history has come and gone; we’re in the end game now. The things that now seem so real, so ultimate, will come to a crashing halt.

For many of us in December, the bleak light injects a dose of melancholy into our disposition. But then we remember that "the holidays" are coming –there is something to look forward to! We string lights on our shrubs and put candles in our windows to cheer ourselves up and thumb our nose at the darkness.

For Christians, these lights have a deeper meaning. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. At the moment when darkness of human society is at its deepest, the Light of the World will come.

So it is a waste of our time to get educated and employed? Should we just spend our days praying, reading the Bible, and trying to predict dates for the Return of the King?

St. Paul sharply rebuked some for taking this approach. As focused as Paul was on the age to come, he was thoroughly engaged in this one. Besides his profound life of prayer and preaching, he labored with his hands to the point of exhaustion so as not be a burden on anyone, and have something to give to the needy. He said that those that refuse to work should not eat (2 Thes 3:6-13). The Second Vatican Council said that living for the future world should make us more, not less, committed to improving this one (Gaudium et Spes 37).

Besides, the Lord clearly says that his Second and final coming will be at the time we least expect it (Mat 24:44). If God is purposely designing it to be a surprise, I don’t think there is much hope of outsmarting Him.

So what do we do about His Coming? Very simple. By the power of his grace, let’s make sure that when the Light arrives that it won’t for us be a cruel light. Are there things in your life that you’d rather not be seen by God and everyone else? Then you’d best get busy rooting them out of your life. Because the Light will reveal all.


Sentimentalizing, Sanitizing, and Spiritualizing Christmas

Bob Kauflin, Director of Sovereign Grace Music

It's difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the Incarnation.

Writers, philosophers, poets, and composers through the centuries have searched in vain for words that adequately capture the wonder, mystery, beauty, and power of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can give up and start to view Christmas in ways that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story. Even in the church our songs and reflections about about Christmas can fail to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe that God would come to dwell among us.

Sometimes we sentimentalize Christmas.

Sentimentalism is focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas that give us good feelings. Dazzling decorations, fresh baked sugar cookies, poinsettias, family get-togethers, gift shopping, twinkling lights, Christmas carols, cards from friends, tree-cutting expeditions, wrapping presents. Of course, all these Christmas traditions are an expression of common grace, for which we can joyfully thank God. My family has developed a few of our own over 30+ years and I look forward to them every year. But man-made traditions aren't the whole story, or even the main story of Christmas, and they fail to solve our deepest problems or fulfill our deepest needs.

Sometimes we sanitize Christmas.

We sanitize Christmas when we only present a picture-perfect, storybook rendition of what took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Kind of like the picture above. The straw in the manger is fresh and clean. There's no umbilical cord to cut and no blood. It's a “silent night.” The surroundings are strangely free from the pungent odor of manure. Joseph and Mary are calm, cool, and collected. Everyone gets a good night's sleep. There's no controversy or gossip surrounding the birth. It's a pleasant, appealing way to think about Christmas, but obscures the foulness, uncertainty, and sin that Jesus was born into. We forget that rather than coming for the put-together, well-to-do, and self-sufficient, Jesus identified with the rejected, the slandered, the helpless, and the poor.

Sometimes we spiritualize Christmas.

Spiritualizing Christmas is ignoring Christmas as earth-shattering history and using it simply to promote general virtues like brotherhood, peace, joy, generosity, and love. And tolerance, of course. Again, it's evidence of God's common grace and a reason to give thanks that our culture sets aside a time of year, however commercialized it might be, to celebrate and commend loving your neighbor. But the fruit of Christmas is impossible to achieve or sustain apart from the root. We understand what love is by looking not to ourselves and our good deeds, but by considering Jesus, who came into the world to lay down his life for us (1 John 1:16). Preaching or singing about peace without recognizing our need for the Prince of Peace, is a shallow peace indeed.

By this time, most of us have already made our choices about what Christmas means to us and how we're going to present it to others. But Christmas comes every year. And it's not too early to start thinking about next year.

More importantly, the glory of God becoming man was never meant to be marginalized to a few weeks. It means something cataclysmic every day.

• Jesus, the eternal Son of God who before time was worshiped by countless angels, set aside his glory and entered the world through the birth canal of a young woman he had created.

• He came not into a 21st century environment with trained doctors, sterilized instruments and fetal monitors, but into a 1st century cave filled with flies, animal excrement, and filth.

• The fullness of deity took of residence in the body of a baby gasping for its first breath.

• The one who spoke the universe into existence lay silent, unable to utter a word.

• He came by choice and with the sole intention of redeeming a fallen and rebellious race through his perfect obedience, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection.

If we have the privilege of leading others in corporate worship at Christmas, let's be sure to help them understand why nothing is more wonderful about Christmas than Christ himself.

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
(Nicene Creed)

The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.
(Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word)

He deigns in flesh t'appear, widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near, and make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know, for God is manifest below.
(Charles Wesley)

The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin's womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning.
(John Calvin, institutes of the christian religion, II, xiii, 4)

See the eternal Son of God, immortal Son of Man,
Now dwelling in an earthly clod whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, look at this! See the Lord of earth and skies
Low humbled to the dust He is, and in a manger lies!
(Charles Wesley)

Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery, he came,
God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
(The Valley of Vision)

Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
(Charles Wesley)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
(Galatians 4:4)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

O come, let us adore him.

About The Author:

Bob Kauflin traveled with the Christian group GLAD for eight years as a songwriter and arranger. He is now the director of sovereign grace music, overseeing its music projects and teaching on congregational worship.

Copyright © 2013, All rights reserved.

Why Did He Come?

by Colin Smith

Why did Jesus come? Why is His coming important to folks like you, living two thousand years after He came into the world? I'd answer that question with one word - "life."

My life was a shadow

All of us are looking for life. But we don't quite know what it is that we are looking for. We have a sense within us that there is something more, some greater purpose, than to be born, to eat, to sleep, to learn, to work, to love, to play, and then to grow old and die.

And there is. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10), and "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25). Jesus even said one time that when we hear his word and believe, we cross over from death to life (John 5:24).

That's what happened to me. I look back now, and I see that my life was a shadow until I began to follow Jesus, "in Him was life, and that life was the light of men" (John 1:4).

I always "believed" in God, then I began to "know" God

A lot of people think of eternal life as a kind of possession - as if it was a commodity that you could add to your list of assets, "I have a four-bedroom house, a great job in the city, a Lexus and eternal life."

But eternal life is not an asset; it is a relationship. When Jesus prayed for us the night before he died, he said, "This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). I always believed in God, but when I started following Him I began to know God.

Eternal life begins when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and start to follow Him. Eternal life begins now for all who will come to him, "our fellowship is with the Father and the Son" (1 John 1:3). The amazing thing about this life is that it never ends. I followed Christ for 60 years, then the time came for me to face death. It was like walking through a curtain, and on the other side, I was in the presence of Jesus.

Take hold of the life that is found in Christ!

I have been there for the last two thousand years of your time, though nobody is counting up there. The joy is unspeakable. I'm not allowed to tell you about it, and even if I was, you wouldn't understand.

All the talk and anticipation up here is about the moment when He will come for you. Then the whole church, in heaven and on earth, will be joined together, and we'll be with the Lord forever, "He who has the Son has life and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 1:12).

This is how I put it at the end of my gospel. Its my life message, "These are written so that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

This message is adapted from a first-person message by Pastor Colin in the character of the apostle John.

Why did Jesus Christ come? - Resurrection of the Body

By John A. Huffman Jr.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:51-53

The historian Luke records the declaratory statement of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11:

"'Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.'"

The word savior literally means "rescuer." So why did Jesus come? Jesus came to give you salvation. He came to rescue you.

It is important to realize this salvation, this rescue, has individual and corporate implications. Let us look at this rescue, this salvation, in a three-step, time progressional perspective.

First, Jesus came to give you salvation (rescue) from an old style of life — an END.

Jesus came to help people with a past put that past behind them. Salvation is rescue from the past. You can't do this on your own. You need a Savior. What is for certain about the past?

Jesus rescues you from your bondage to past sin.

The fact is that none of us is perfect. All of us have sinned. The Bible tells us that there is no way in which we can atone for our own sins. We need a Savior. God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ to die for your and my sins. If we repent of sin, confess our need, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all iniquity. The Bible uses a most graphic description when it declares, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."

Jesus also rescues you from a meaningless existence.

Meaningless is the human predicament, isn't it? Is there anything more empty than trivial cocktail-hour chatter? Oh, it is nice at times, in a laid-back situation that has no pressure. Some people spend all their lives flitting around to such non-pressured situations, talking about shopping, golf scores, and the escalation of housing prices. All topics of some importance, but not of ultimate significance. How easy it is to anesthetize ourselves to the deeper significant issues of life, living trivial, surface existences that, at the end of the day, leave us empty.

And Jesus rescues you from successes of the past.

Many of us look back to days in which, on human terms, we would be perceived to be more successful than we are at this moment. Our athletic prowess fades. Our earning capacities are diminished. Our physical bodies age. Our minds are not as sharp as they used to be. And the list goes on.

Jesus came to rescue you from an old style of life. He wants to bring to an end your and my bondage to past sin. He wants to bring to an end our meaningless existence. He wants to bring to an end our preoccupation with a backward look to the successes of yesteryear.

Second, Jesus came to give you salvation (rescue) to a new life now - a NEW BEGINNING.

Salvation is rescue to be all you were created to be in the now.

You can't do this on your own. You need a Savior.

This is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes so exciting.

The Apostle Paul declared to fast-living, bogged-down sinners with meaningless first-century existences, struggling with success issues, that they could have a new beginning in life. He put it in these words: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). He wrote that to people living in that very materialistic coastal city named Corinth, with pressures on them so similar to those on us today.

He wrote to citizens in the northern Greek city of Philippi on the major East/West trade route, declaring how he had learned to "forget what lies behind," based on what God had done for him in Jesus Christ. No longer was he weighed down by the sins of the past. He was a forgiven man. No longer was he trying to energetically please God, saving himself by zealous actions. No, he had learned God's love, His amazing grace, and his life had been transformed by the person of Jesus Christ, who offered meaning and purpose for existence. He no longer had to define himself by past successes and failures. He was free to live in the now as he was created to live.

Some of us have a very distorted understanding of salvation.

Whether we have thought it through or not, we live as if becoming "born again" is the end instead of the beginning. We forget that to repent of sin and put our trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation is not only the end of an old life; it is the beginning of a new life. The day a baby is born is the day of beginning. It is not the end.

Or you can put it in the terms of graduation from college. What do we call graduation? It is "commencement." What does commencement mean" The end? No! It means the beginning of a whole new life. When a person graduates from college it does not mean they now never need to open a book again, or study, or have creative thoughts. It means they now have been given, at great expense and effort on the part of many, including themselves, the tools to be an intellectually growing person. I have read the average male college graduate reads less than one book a year. I am not certain if that statistic is accurate. I am not certain I have ever met an "average" person. But I do know there are people who assume the life of the intellect is of formal, academic matriculation. A period of formal education brings us to a point, if we take advantage of it, that we see a larger world of ideas in the natural and social sciences. We have an appreciation for art, literature, history. If we nurture that, we are a growing person intellectually all through life. Graduation is truly a commencement, a beginning.

Or take your wedding day. It is meant to be the beginning of a life long commitment to a growing relationship. For some of us, it becomes a kind of de facto end to romance. We have accomplished what we have set out to accomplish. We are now married to that person of our dreams. And we begin to take each other for granted. We would never have done that during the engagement. Symbolically, as a couple kneels at the altar having their vows consecrated, they then stand up, receive the blessing of the pastor, priest or rabbi, and they turn and walk down the aisle into a brand-new life. It is not the end. It is the beginning. Oh, there will be sorrows. There will be joys. And most of life will be lived in an oscillation between those two extremes. That life will have its problems. But it is a new life in which one is able to see in the perspective of "'til death doth part." That's what marriage is meant to be.

Some of us view salvation this way. We see it as the end, not the beginning. We forget that salvation is not only with our past, but it is transformational of our present.

Brian D. McLaren, pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in suburban Washington, D.C., quite insightfully addresses this dynamic in his book, Adventures in Missing the Point. In his chapter titled "Missing the Point: Salvation," he writes that the modern Christian way of missing the point is thinking that salvation is only about escaping hell after you die. There's another approach: that salvation means being rescued from fruitless ways of life here and now, to share in God's saving love for all creation, in an adventure called the kingdom of God, the point of which you definitely don't want to miss."

He goes on to acknowledge that salvation does involve the wonderful gift of assurance that you and I will not perish after this life, but will forever be with the Lord. Then he illustrates the importance of how distorted we can be in our understanding of salvation as an end in itself for this life, instead of a beginning with what he calls the "Parable of the Race."

Once upon a time, in a land of boredom and drudgery, exciting news spread. "There is going to be a race! And all who run this race will grow strong and they'll never be bored again!" Exciting news like this had not been heard for many a year, for people experienced little adventure in this ho-hum land, beyond attending committee meetings, waiting in lines, sorting socks, and watching sitcom reruns.

Excitement grew as the day of the race drew near. Thousands gathered in the appointed town, at the appointed place. Most came to observe, skeptical about the news. "It's too good to be true," they said. "It's just a silly rumor started by some teenaged troublemakers. But let's stick around and see what happens anyway."

Others could not resist the invitation, arriving in their running shorts and shoes. As they waited for the appointed time, they stretched and jogged in place and chattered among themselves with nervous excitement. At the appointed time they gathered at the starting line, heard the gun go off, and knew that it was time to run.

Then something very curious happened. The runners took a step or two or three across the starting line, and then abruptly stopped. One man fell to his knees, crying, "I have crossed the starting line! This is the happiest day of my life!" He repeated this again and again, and even began singing a song about how happy this day was for him.

Another woman started jumping for joy. "Yes!" she shouted, raising her fist in the air. "I am a race-runner! I am finally a race-runner!" She ran around jumping and dancing, getting and giving high fives to others who shared her joy at being in the race.

Several people formed a circle and prayed, quietly thanking God for the privilege of crossing the starting line, and thanking God that they were not like the skeptics who didn't come dressed for the race.

An hour passed, and two. Spectators began muttering; some laughed. "So what do they think this race is?" they said. "Two or three strides, then a celebration? And why do they feel superior to us? They're treating the starting line as if it were a finish line. They've completely missed the point."

A few more minutes of this silliness passed. "You know," a spectator said to the person next to her, "if they're not going to run the race, maybe we should."

"Why not? It's getting boring watching them hang around just beyond the starting line. I've had enough boredom for one life."

Other's heard them, and soon many were kicking off their dress shoes, slipping out of their jackets, throwing all this unneeded clothing on the grass. And they ran — past the praying huddles and past the crying individuals and past the jumping high-fivers. And they found hope and joy in every step, and they grew stronger with every mile and hill. To their surprise, the path never ended - because in this race, there was no finish line. So they were never bored again.

McLaren concludes with these observations:

Is salvation for you a one-time experience? Or is it a lifelong journey? It is about rescue from your uncomfortable circumstances (as it was for the ancient Jews), or rescue from this world after death (as it is for many modern Christians) - or is it about being rescued from a life that is disconnected from God and God's adventure, both in this life and the next? Is salvation about stepping across a line - or is it about crossing a starting line to begin an unending adventure in this life and beyond?

What is for certain about the present?

Jesus came to give you the privilege of a mystical experience with God.

John writes, ". . . we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). You and I are set free in this life for that mystical dimension of daily relationship with God, the fellowship that comes from reading the Scriptures, prayer, spiritual meditation, and from being a part of the community of faith called the church. You are privileged to engage with God in ways that go beyond the commonplace, boring, day-in, day-out, prosaic existence.

Jesus came to give you the privilege of being a healthy materialist.

You didn't expect that, did you? Those of us who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ so often elevate the spiritual to the neglect of the physical. We become content with the mystical part of our faith, tending to see that which is spiritual as at a higher level than that which is physical and material. The fact is that God created all that is. He looked at it, saw it, and declared it "good." He put Adam and Eve, the highest of His creation, in the garden to preserve, to watch over all His creation. When they disobeyed, sin entered the world. God's redemption in Jesus Christ is to set right that which is broken. He has redeemed His creation. He wants you and me as His people to be part of His enterprise here on earth, to be caretakers of His kingdom, which exists in a world as fallen as it is. We are His ambassadors to do and say what He tells us to do and say.

We do not earn our salvation by the works we do. But we do flesh out the work of the Holy Spirit of God in the world by taking seriously our responsibilities for this world.

You know how, during His public ministry, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath at Nazareth. Luke tells us:

He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:17-21).

He calls you and me to be engaged in this kind of enterprise with Him, in which we have a healthy materialism. We understand that people have physical needs as well as spiritual needs. The two are interlinked. You cannot separate one from the other. We are called to join Him in His enterprises here on earth.

It has been exciting to see some of you tutoring over at Shalimar and to see these precious Hispanic young people move forward educationally because of your servant ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is exciting to see some of you engaged with Habitat for Humanity, building houses for the poor right here in Southern California, or going down across the border into Mexico to build houses, churches, orphanages, and to run daily vacation Bible schools, all in the name of Jesus Christ.

How exciting it is to see some of you who are trained Stephen ministers or serve as Deacons here at St. Andrew's. Many of you have gone through the Lay Ministry Discovery Class so you can know your spiritual gifts, your passion, and your natural style for ministry.

Thank God for the commitment many of you have toward peacemaking. War is not the only way of solving problems in a marriage, in a home, in a community, between nations. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers.

How special it is to see how many of you are doing something for the poor of this world. Bill Flanagan and I figured up the other day that over $350,000 is given each year from those of us at St. Andrew's to World Vision for special projects and disaster situations, and through the close to 800 child sponsorships to which St. Andrew's members are committed. Recently we have focused on the matter of AIDS. Some 380 of these children are in an area development program in Malawi, and teams from St. Andrew's have gone and will go to provide linkage in Christ.

Jesus came to give you and me the privilege of reorienting ourselves to joyful living.

Years ago, when I pastored in Pittsburgh, I got to know a Roman Catholic priest, Father Rick Jones. It has been over 25 years since we have seen each other, but we have carried on correspondence. I received his Christmas letter this week. In it, he writes about the number of times in the biblical accounts of the coming of Jesus that we read words such as joy, joyful, joyfully, rejoice, glad, exalt, gladness, glad tidings. He writes:

The tensions, problems, stresses, and realities of contemporary life can weigh us down so much that we find it difficult to rejoice. We simply want to survive!

There is much written today about addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, work, and even cleanliness. Enjoying "good things" can be overdone. Ill health, low self-esteem, shame, guilt, sarcasm "veiled anger," cynicism and alienation from God are all results of compulsive or addictive behavior. These behaviors keep one from freedom that God's grace will bestow. For the gods of this world bring only emptiness, isolation, and loneliness. Unless we keep our heart secure with a lock and a chain, we will become attached to something of this world that is not for our ultimate good.

Being right with God is the source of our order within. But, since we are all limited human beings, we only have so much "spiritual" energy. If we waste our energy on lust, nursing past hurts, anger, pride, frustrations, being right, being popular, "looking good," or any of "countless" hosts of replacements for God — there is no room left for God. We must put all things in proper place and abandon those things that disorder, disease, and lead us down a path to spiritual death. Unless we "die" daily to ourselves, Christ is not the center of our life. For only then can we truly heal the disorder in our souls and experience the tranquility of order and true joy. Our self-centeredness keeps our lives "off-key" from God's plan and will for our well-being, happiness, and joyfulness.

Jesus came to give you and me salvation, rescue, to a new life now, a new beginning!

Third, Jesus came to give you salvation (rescue) for the life beyond this life - a GREAT FUTURE.

He came to help people live with an expectant, positive hope for the future.

Salvation is rescue for the future. You can't do this on your own. You need a Savior.

I have observed some people who have tried to figure out the future life on their own. We read more and more about "near-death" experiences.

Several weeks ago, someone described to me how a friend of theirs was literally proclaimed dead by the doctors, but he had come back to life. He told a graphic story about hovering above his own deathbed, watching as the doctors applied the heart paddles, doing their best to revive him. He saw the light of the future and was convinced that he was on his way to heaven — only to suddenly be brought back into his body as he was revived.

A few days later, a woman came in for counseling, quite concerned. She herself had recently had a cardiac situation in which she could not be revived. The doctors had used the paddles, they had flat-lined her, declaring her dead — and then, amazingly, she was revived. She came to me with great concern as to why she had not seen the light and had the near-death experience of which others had spoken so graphically. What was wrong? After all, here she was, a believer in Jesus Christ. Did this mean that there was something wrong spiritually with her?

I was privileged to share with her the fact that we claim the promises of God's Word in the Scripture, not the stories of experience of others who, although medically declared dead, weren't really dead because they are still alive here. We are not dependent on stories of near-death to know what the future holds.

What can we for certain know about the future?

For some weeks now we have been studying The Apostles' Creed. The Creed declares, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." That phrase was not put there by accident. It was put there to emphasize biblical promises of a life beyond this life.

I hope that you are familiar with 1 Corinthians 15. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares the wonderful teaching about the life beyond this life. He writes: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).

Then he goes on to state this:

"Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality"
(1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

We must be very careful not to make the Bible say more than it says about the life beyond this life. At the same time, we dare not minimize what it does say that is very specific.

Jesus came to set you free from the specter of hell to life in heaven.

The Bible speaks of hell. Some of its language is quite graphic. Some of our conceptions of hell are shaped by medieval literature, not by the Bible itself. What we dare not do is eliminate the fact of hell because we don't like the notion. In its most basic definition, hell is eternity absent from the presence of God. We must remember that the same Bible that talks about heaven also talks about hell. To claim what we want without acknowledging the reality of what we find abhorrent is to play a game of self-deception, isn't it?

The Bible says that when a believer in Jesus Christ dies, he or she steps into the presence of Jesus Christ.

We are told that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Jesus turned to the repentant thief on the cross and declared, "'This day shall thou be with me in paradise.'" Our next conscious thought is to be with the Lord.

We are told we will have a new/perfect identifiable body.

I have heard some biblical teachers wax on eloquently as to the precise nature of that body. I don't really know. All I know is that we are told that life does not end with death, that we are not just a spirit floating out in space. We are told there is the resurrection of the body. What that means in technical, physiological reality I don't know. But we are assured that we will be recognizable to each other, and that our bodies will be without blemish. That which is corruptible will be exchanged for that which is incorruptible. I don't know what will be the physical appearance of a baby who dies in the early hours of life, or an elderly person who lives to be 100. I do know that the Bible says that we will recognize each other in a reunion with our loved ones, and we will recognize the saints of history who have gone before and those who will come after.

The Bible says that you and I will have a life beyond anything we have experienced here.

Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for us. The Bible speaks in graphic terms about mansions and streets paved with gold. This week I have been reading the Book of Revelation. It is mind-boggling to try to comprehend the meaning of all of that graphic description. My human mind can only just begin to sense a bit of the grandeur of heaven and the life beyond this life.

Jesus came to give you and me salvation (rescue) for the life beyond this life and a great future that goes beyond anything that we can fully comprehend.

Several years ago, as a young man, I was privileged to work with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. For four summers, I traveled with him internationally. For two years, I worked for him at New York's Marble Collegiate Church.

I will never forget the story he would often tell about a little unborn child in his mother's womb during the eighth month of her pregnancy. How eloquently he would describe the conversation of the mother telling the unborn son that soon he would be born. He would argue back, "I don't want to be born." She would say, "But there is laughter and music and dancing, family and friends." His response would be, "I don't understand any of that. I like it in here where it is moist, dark, warm, and all my needs are met." She would argue back, "Little one, for another month and a few days that's alright, but you can't stay in there too long, or things will turn ghastly." But the little one, incapable of understanding the life she described outside the womb, would fight with everything he had to maintain the status quo.

Then Dr. Peale, in his own way with words, would shift venues, declaring that now it is 90 years later. That unborn child is now a man close to death. This time, his argument is no longer with his earthly mother. This time, it is with the Father. The Father is telling him of the provision He has made for the life beyond this life. The man argues back, "But I like it here. I don't want to die!" The Father says, "Life with me in heaven is so much greater than anything you have experienced on earth. Just trust me. You will no longer be subject to sin, sickness, broken relationships, war, the aging process, betrayal of friends — all the brokenness of the world in which you live. Yet the argument goes on. We never learn, do we, to really trust the Father?

Thursday morning, I went to the bedside of Frances Boice, 101 years old, in the last days of her life. I stroked her head, talking to her about some of the times we have had together here at St. Andrew's. The morphine drip was doing its job. Occasionally her eyes would open. I am not certain how much she comprehended. Then, I put my hand on her and said, "Frances, soon you will be in the presence of Jesus Christ." Then, with family members joined hand in hand in a circle of prayer, we prayed a prayer of committal of Frances into the mercy of Almighty God.

Yesterday morning, as I was completing final preparations for this message, my office phone rang, and I received word that Frances had just died and I paused to celebrate. She is now in the presence of Jesus Christ and those who have gone before.

Why did Jesus Christ come? He came to give you and me salvation (rescue) from the past, new life for the present, and a great future beyond this life!

About The Author:

John A. Huffman, Jr. is the Senior Minister at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Senior Contributing Editor to Preaching.


Why We Need a Little Advent

by James Tonkowich

It's been more than a month since Election Day. A surprising number of people I know don't seem to be able to move on. I have friends who will listen to anything in the car as long as it's not news. Another friend, a TV news junkie, hasn't watched since early morning on November 9.

"I'm depressed over this whole thing," they say. And their mood certainly seems to have crossed the line from sadness to low-level depression.

For those who voted for the losing candidate, there's plenty to be unhappy about. But depressed? Maybe those without Christ have cause for depression, but not Christians. God's church has survived worse.

In AD 476, the Goths sacked Rome. I would imagine that barbarians inside the gates of the greatest city of the ancient world was cause for bewilderment, anger and depression. Christianity was blamed for the mess.

In response, Saint Augustine wrote 'The City of God', in which he argued that there are two cities that coexist in this world - the City of Man and the City of God. These "two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self" (XIV.28).

Christians belong to both cities and Augustine is quick to say that the City of Man is not altogether bad. The earthly city can secure earthly peace that benefits everyone. Victory and peace, he wrote, "are good things, and without doubt the gifts of God." Then he went on to warn of an inordinate love for the City of Man and it's goods: "But if [people] neglect the better things of the heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed to be better - if this be so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever increase" (XV.5).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things God provides through the City of Man. Our country admirable and laudable for many reasons. But the City of Man, founded as it is on misdirected love, is always unstable. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal." Without exception, they do not last.

Which makes Advent God's annual cure for the this-worldly focus that can, with enough bad news, lead us into depression.

Advent is not focused entirely on Jesus' coming in humility as the infant in the manger. Advent points us to his future coming in glory as the victorious conqueror who establishes eternal peace.

Advent reminds us that the City of Man will one day be nothing by a distant memory. "But by God's final judgment which shall be administered by His Son Jesus Christ," Augustine continued, "there shall by God's grace be manifested a glory so pervading and so new, that no vestige of what is old shall remain; for even our bodies shall pass from their old corruption and mortality to new incorruption and immortality" (XX.17).

In the meanwhile, insofar as we are citizens of the City of Man, we share in its benefits and fate. Because of that and because of love for our neighbors, we work for its good (Jeremiah 29:7) and mourn for its ills.

At the same time, this country, for all its good, is not our future and hope. We live as citizens of the City of God joyfully anticipating Christ's second coming even in the face of elections that don't go our way, bad public policy, barbarians inside the gates, and the rising and falling of nations.

The observance of Advent reminds us that regardless of what happens next, the King is coming.

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