Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: Advent I and II

Volume 3 No. 181 December 5, 2013

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Advent Week 2
Advent - Week 2 - Messiah is Coming!!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

Advent is the time of the year when we look forward to the arrival of Jesus. The word Advent comes from the Latin word 'adventus', meaning coming. Advent has its origin when the early Christians looked forward to the second-coming of Jesus as promised. Many thought that it was going to happen during their lifetime. Later, this practice of "looking forward" to the coming of Jesus Christ was combined with the "looking back" to the first arrival of Jesus (incarnation) on Christmas Day. ...

2. Bible Readings for This Sunday (December 8)

Birth of John the Baptist
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_birth-of-john-the-baptist.htm

3. Sermons for This Sunday (December 8)

Sermons for the Birth of John the Baptist
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_birth-of-John-the-Baptist.htm

4. Nine Months Later - a Sermon on Luke 1:57-80 - What a Difference a Year Makes

In our reading this Sunday from Luke's gospel, it's nine months since we last came across Zechariah and what a difference those nine months have made! Nine months previously he came across as an old man, concerned with his duties in the temple, burdened by the terrible worry there was no child to succeed him. And look at him now! No mention at all of his age, no sign that he is in any way an old man. The years have literally rolled back and here he is praising and worshipping freely in a way quite unheard of for a priest. What is the cause of this change?...

5. God's Mirrors - John The Baptist

As we await anew the advent of the author of salvation, John 1:6-9 tells us about John the Baptist. Instead of shepherds and seraphs, mangers and myrrh, John tells us about this wild-haired wilderness wonder, shining the light into the darkness. He tells us that John the Baptizer "came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:6-9). ...

6. Featured: Story of Joseph 4: Are You Willing to Wait for God?

In this series on the life of Joseph, we're looking at nine crucial questions. So far we have considered two questions:
Do you know why you were born?
Do you know who you are?

Here is today's question: Are you willing to wait for God?

In this chapter Joseph is waiting because there is nothing else he can do. He can't get out of prison, he can't appeal his sentence, and he certainly can't escape.

We will all spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen. The question then becomes, what do you do while you wait? I find three answers from Joseph's prison time in Genesis 40.

Be faithful.
Be ready.
Be bold. ...
 

7. Advent ... A Time to Prepare

Advent is best understood as a period of celebration and preparation for the commemoration of Christ's entry into our world as an event in salvation history. It is a reminder that we were made for God; that He loved us enough to enter into our existence. It is a time to ponder which world we wish to be permanent citizens in… this flawed but beautiful and passing one or the eternal world to come. That is the invitation; the decision to live as a Catholic Christian is up to each one of us to make. As Catholics we are encouraged to be in this world, but not part of it. ...

8. Advent: More Is Yet to Come

The word Advent literally means "the coming or arrival". As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed. Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby. His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold. The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.

As believers, we look back, but we also look forward. Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree. More is yet to come. As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world. We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new. More is yet to come. ...

9. Advent I: Waiting for Christ's Return

Advent is rich with theological significance, and the Scripture readings and spiritually symbolic practices of the season help focus our attention on the first and second coming of Christ. The Advent season is a somber time of personal reflection, hope and longing, and joyful expectation for the coming of Jesus. ..

10. Advent II: The Messiah Is Coming

The second Sunday in Advent (Advent II) continues on the path started in the first week by looking forward to Christ's first and second coming. Advent II focuses on John the Baptist, the Gentiles being included in God's family, Christ's coming in judgment and peace, and the church's hopeful expectation of the completion of his promises. ..

11. Family Special: How to Deal with Holiday Family Tensions

We tend to idealize holidays, but human depravity doesn't go into hibernation between Thanksgiving and New Year's. One thing that will hit most Christians, sooner or later, are tensions within extended families at holiday time. ...

12. Recipe: Curried Cauliflower and Apple Soup

13. About Malankara World

Foreword
Advent is the time of the year when we look forward to the arrival of Jesus. The word Advent comes from the Latin word 'adventus', meaning coming. Parousia is a Greek word found in the ancient text of our scripture which, when used, represents an imminent return. Advent has its origin when the early Christians looked forward to the second-coming of Jesus as promised. Many thought that it was going to happen during their lifetime. Later, this practice of "looking forward" to the coming of Jesus Christ was combined with the "looking back" to the first arrival of Jesus (incarnation) on Christmas Day. There is some difference in the way Advent is practiced in the Western Tradition versus in the Syriac Tradition.

Western churches celebrate 4 Sundays prior to Christmas as the Advent Season. This year (2013) Advent I was on December 1 and Advent II is on December 8. During the first 2 Sundays in the advent season, we look forward to the Jesus' second coming; the last 2 Sundays we look back to the first Christmas.

In Syriac tradition, we have an extended advent season. We look at the second coming of Jesus during the period of Sleebo Feast and Koodosh E'tho. Then we look back on the events of the first Christmas from Hoodosh E'tho to Christmas.

From Hoodosh E'tho, that was on November 10 this year, we recall the significant events that led to the incarnation and birth of Christ on Yeldo (Dec 25). So far, we had looked at the annunciation to Zachariah, annunciation to St. Mary and Journey of St. Mary to Elizabeth. This week, we celebrate the birth of John, the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Zechariah, who lost the power to speak when he doubted the angel's pronouncement that his wife Elizabeth will become pregnant and bear a son, gets his speech back when he tells those assembled around the baby that the baby should be named John.

Once Zachariah realizes that he can speak, he gives a magnificent testimony on the power and grace of God. This poem or psalm is called Benedictus or the Canticle of Zechariah and is given in Luke 1:67-79. This is the second psalm in Luke, the first being the Magnificat pronounced by St. Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth.

Birth of John the Baptist also marked the end of 400 years of silence from God for the Israelites. The Canticle of Zachariah may be regarded as the official end of God's silence when Zechariah sings his prophetic song! It is a song of salvation and the advent of hope!

Benedictus tells us that God is redeeming His people. He is coming to set them free. God was going to concentrate His divine strength in One who would bring salvation to His people.

John's arrival means that Messiah will be soon coming. This means a future without fear where His people could live in the presence of the Lord, serving Him in holiness and righteousness.

Like Mary, Zechariah also points out that God keeps His promises and covenants.

As the Savior's forerunner, John's mission was to make the people ready for the Christ's arrival. John did what Malachi prophesied: "Behold, I am sending My messenger to prepare the way before Me." The Canticle of Zechariah puts the role of John in its proper perspective. John is lauded and praised by Zechariah because of the One he will serve: "You my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God."

John's destiny is wrapped up in what he will do for Christ and what Christ does for him, not in what he does for himself. The Christ is the main subject of Zechariah's song, not the birth of his son. And like Zechariah, we Christians also have the Savior as the focus of our Advent season not on physical things like gifts.

In this edition of the Malankara World, we strive to provide you an idea of the Advent I and Advent II Sundays, and how it is celebrated in the west. We also continue our series on Joseph, the Old Testament figure whose life closely parallels that of Jesus. In today's episode, Joseph is in Jail on false accusation. We find that, unlike others who will be in similar situation, Joseph does not harbor any bitter feelings towards others. He takes life as it is given to him with a complete faith and trust in God. He is willing to stay the rest of his life in the prison. We will soon see the fruits of his faith.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (December 8)

Sermons for This Sunday (December 8)
This Week's Features

Nine Months Later - a Sermon on Luke 1:57-80
What a Difference a Year Makes

by Josiah, through a glass darkly

Christmas is a time when we tend to catch up with people we see only once a year, when we meet those relatives who aren't quite so distant that we only see them at weddings and funerals, but aren't quite so close that we visit them regularly. And of course the thing about seeing someone only once every twelve months, is that even before exchanging news you can see the changes that the past year has brought. Little Johnny is now six inches taller than last Christmas; uncle Bert has turned grey, and as for Great-Aunt Matilda, well, it's clear she has a new set of dentures. A year really does make all the difference, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, and it's no more evident than when we go visiting at Christmas.

Now in our reading this morning from Luke's gospel it's nine months since we last came across Zechariah and what a difference those nine months have made! Nine months previously he came across as an old man, concerned with his duties in the temple, burdened by the terrible worry there was no child to succeed him. And look at him now! No mention at all of his age, no sign that he is in any way an old man. The years have literally rolled back and here he is praising and worshipping freely in a way quite unheard of for a priest. And what is the cause of this change? Well, if I was being mischievous I would suggest that after being silent in a household of women for such a long time, it might be due to the fact he is able at last to get a word in edgeways. More seriously, of course, it's the gift of a fine, healthy baby boy after so many years of longing and waiting.

But even the gift of the child doesn't in itself explain why Zechariah is just so exuberant and full of praise. No, something deep and profound has being going on in Zechariah's heart during those long months of silence, something best explained by the name Zechariah gives the baby boy - John, which means "God is gracious". Zechariah, you see, has learnt an important lesson since the angel turned up in the temple and struck him dumb. He has learnt that despite his doubts and his unbelief the Lord has been good to him, and he wants to express his thanks with every fiber and every bone of his being.

A lesson in praise

And Zechariah's song has been written down and preserved for us so that we too can learn to fully praise God for His goodness. I think one of the dangers in celebrating Christmas in the way we do is that we tend to focus on the small details of the story - the stable, the manger, the ox and the cattle - things barely even mentioned in Scripture - and we fail to see how Jesus' birth fits into the big picture of God's salvation. Zechariah's song however takes us right back to the point and the purpose of the season, and reminds just why the nativity is such good news.

The promises of God

Because, first of all, Christmas is all about God keeping His promises.

Now it may be an obvious thing to say, but you won't find the Christmas story at the beginning of your Bible. In fact, if you have a church Bible you find the New Testament actually starts on page 965, on the opposite side to a blank page, and after a title sheet saying "The New Testament". So the question is, what's in the previous 962 pages and why does it matter anyway?

Well, maybe the way to answer that is to think of your favorite film or story. Whatever the exact plot, I can almost guarantee that somewhere in the middle is a turning point on which the whole story revolves. Up until now it seems the bad guys have been winning, and the hero is in mortal danger, but now something happens, and you can at last start to see how the good guy might come out on top. It doesn't mean the film ends there and then. There are still plenty of twists and turns on the way, but at the key moment you realize there will despite the odds be some sort of a happy ending.

And very roughly that's how the Bible is written. The first 962 pages are taken up with various promises which God makes to His people, that one way or another never quite seem to reach their fulfillment. So, for example, the oath he swore to our father Abraham, which Zechariah refers to, is the promise God made way back in the book of Genesis to make through Abraham a people who would possess the land of Canaan and bless all nations on the earth. Which is all very well, but by the time we reach the end of Genesis God's people only number 70, are living in exile in Egypt and only legally own one small piece of Canaan.

Or again if you leap forward to the book of 2 Samuel you will find God promising to David that he would always have a king who would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and whose reign would last forever. But again, by the time we get to the end of 2 Kings, the Babylonians have destroyed the city, sent the king and the people into exile, and put their own governor over the land. It's little wonder that by the time we reach the book of Isaiah there is such a longing for God to intervene on behalf of His people. All these promises have been made, but all of them remain unfulfilled. The city is in ruins, the temple a burnt-out shell. How long, O Lord, before you do something? How long before your word finally comes to pass? Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!

And the good news of Christmas is that God finally has come down to this earth - although not with the trembling of mountains and the rending of the heavens. But He has come down, and become one of us. And the first reason why we should praise God is that at last all His promises have come to pass. In Jesus we have a king whose reign will last forever, and who is seated not on an earthly throne, but ascended and risen in heaven as everlasting Lord and Saviour. Through Jesus we now have a family of people drawn from many nations who act as a blessing to others, called the church. And although on one level it may not be strictly necessary to know what has happened in the previous 962 pages, at another it enables us to see that this moment when Jesus is born in Bethlehem is actually the turning point not of a story or film, but the whole of human history where, if I might put this way, we start to see how the good guy will win through. And the fact that God has kept His promises, and keeps them still today, should, as I said last week, be one of the major reasons why we turn to the Lord in praise and worship. So what does all this mean for us personally?

The purposes of God

Well, the second reason Zechariah praises God is for His purposes. If you want to know how the Christmas story makes a real difference to your life, then verse 68 gives the answer: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. Now I know that people find the word "redeemed" a long and complicated word, but the idea behind it is really quite simple. The word "redeem" means to buy back. So for example, if I went out tomorrow and bought a house with a mortgage, I would spend the next 25 years paying off the mortgage, and only after every last penny had been paid would I actually own the house. Up until that point, it legally belongs to the bank who lent me the money in the first place, and I have to redeem the mortgage before I can own it. And the same idea of buying back lies behind the common Biblical theme of redemption.

You see, the reason why God appeared to wait so long before fulfilling His promises was not because He was slow to act, or didn't really care for His people. No, the real problem was at the end of the day the sin of His people. Instead of loving God with all their heart and soul and strength they loved other things and other gods a whole lot more. Instead of loving their neighbors as themselves they put themselves first and ignored the needs of others. Just as, in fact, all of us still do today.

And again, unless you understand the purposes of God you will never really understand the Christmas story. You see, the reason why Jesus was born was not to provide us with a pretty story that we can tell once a year, in order to make us feel better when the nights are long. No, Jesus was born in order to be a Saviour, someone who would pay on our behalf that huge debt we all owe God on account of the fact we neither loved Him as we ought or our neighbour as ourselves. And although we don't like to think about this fact, Christmas is really just part of the preparation for Easter, where this same man born 33 years or so previously is nailed to a cross for you and for me. Not because God wanted His Son to suffer and die, nor because He was some cruel, angry dictator but because this was the only way you and I could be redeemed, saved, ransomed - bought out of the slavery of sin into the fullness of life with Him. And it is only because of the manger, the cross and the empty tomb that we are, borrowing from this song of Zechariah, rescued from the hands of our enemies and enabled to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

God's means of preparation

So how then are we able to access this salvation? Well, if we move on in Zechariah's song to verses 76-77, we will see that the third reason he praises God is for His preparation of His people. Now in the first instance Zechariah is of course referring to His new-born son, John, who will give the people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins and you may well remember how John the Baptist did just this as in his adult life he led people to confess their sins and be baptised in the Jordan River. But as a prophecy Zechariah's words, it seems to me, have a far wider application which is also relevant for us today. Because, if we are to ask how we can know Jesus as our Lord and our Saviour - here is the answer. Confess your sins, believe in Jesus and accept His gift of eternal life. It really is as simple as that. For if we turn to God honestly, openly, seeking a fresh start with Him we will indeed find that tender mercy Zechariah talks about in verse 78. We will indeed be counted as those who have passed from darkness to light and from death to new life - verse 79. And we will have the living Lord Jesus who will be with us day by day to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Two Christmas challenges

And this is why we too are called to praise God. For the fact He keeps His promises. For the fact that in Jesus He has achieved His purposes of salvation. And for the fact that we can access that salvation through preparing to confess our sins and shortcomings.

So let us finish by giving you two challenges: Firstly, how full of praise are you this Christmas? Are you focusing on the small details or on Jesus as your Saviour and your Lord? What time are you making this Christmas amidst all the pressures and the rush and general commotion to sit down and reflect on the stupendously good news that a Saviour has been to you, and you have this amazing privilege of receiving eternal life in His name? Let's not leave Jesus as a tiny baby in a crib high up on a shelf, or as a pretty picture on a Christmas card, but let's really welcome into our hearts, even if and especially if it happens to be your first time.

And when you have welcomed Jesus into your heart, what difference will He actually make to your everyday life? Wouldn't be great if when you do your Christmas visiting, or maybe when you return to work afterwards, people could, without us even saying anything, see something different about us? May Christmas not be a time when we are as stressed and worried and busy as the next person, but a time when the light of Christ shines in us and through us so that others too learn to praise His name. 

God's Mirrors - John The Baptist

by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth

Gospel: John 1:6-9, 19-28

In a little village on the Greek island of Crete, the Nazis massacred pretty much the whole town when they raised up their pitchforks and kitchen knives against them. There are two graveyards there flanking each side of a valley, and now in the middle of that valley sits an Institute for Peace Studies.

Its founder, Alexander Papaderos grew up as a young boy not far from that village. His parents were poor and unlike seemingly every child today, he didn't have many toys to play with. He describes how one day he came upon a wrecked German motorcycle near the village. And Papaderos tells how he found the broken pieces of a mirror that was attached to the motorcycles handlebar, and how he tried to put the pieces back together. But the mirror was so shattered that any hope of mending it was gone. But he kept the largest piece of that broken mirror, and slowly by scratching it against a stone, he was able to bring some shape to the mirror, now about the size of a quarter. Papaderos carried this mirror around with him everywhere he went. It fascinated him, because with this little mirror, he had a new toy, a new game. He found that he could use that little mirror to reflect the sunlight into dark places that the sunlight would normally never shine - into places like deep holes, crevices, and dark closets.

The boy grew up and as the years passed he became an honored and respected politician for his efforts at bringing peace and helping the afflicted. In his own way, he was bringing light into the dark places of life. And many years later at a conference someone asked the elderly Papaderos, "What is the meaning of life?" Taking his wallet out of his pocket, he brought out that small mirror he found and shaped when he was a child. He then told them how he had used the mirror to reflect light into dark places. And then he said:

"As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game, but actually what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light, nor the source of the light. But light, that is truth, understanding, and knowledge - is here, but it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I am only a fragment of a mirror, a mirror whose design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world. Into the black places of the human heart - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. But this is what I am about. This is the meaning of life to me." (retold from a story by Robert Fulgham in his book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down on It, p.171-2).

This was the meaning of life to John the Baptist as well. Our gospel lesson this third Sunday of Advent, as we await anew the advent of the author of salvation, tells us again about John the Baptist. Instead of shepherds and seraphs, mangers and myrrh, John tells us about this wild-haired wilderness wonder, shining the light into the darkness. He tells us that John the Baptizer "came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:6-9).

John did his part to witness to the light of God in this often dark world. Mr. Papaderos is doing his part with that little mirror he carries in his wallet and in his heart. But the crucial question for us, for me, for you is not "What is the meaning of life?" Rather, the question I have for you is this, "How are you reflecting God's light?" What are you doing to bring the light of God's love to the darkness in Salisbury?

So often we think our life is just a bunch of broken pieces of glass; a wreckage that can never be made whole again. But God can take our brokenness, and patiently form us and re-form us, into reflections of his Son. So I say to you today, stop being a piece of a wrecked motorcycle, and start being God's mirror. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Featured: Story of Joseph 4: Are You Willing to Wait for God?

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: Genesis 40

Our hero is in prison.
Not because he did wrong but because he did right.

Here is the single most important fact about Genesis 40.

At the beginning Joseph is in prison.
At the end he is in prison.

That's not fair, but there it is.

In this series on the life of Joseph, we're looking at nine crucial questions. So far we have considered two questions:

Do you know why you were born?
Do you know who you are?

Here is today's question:

Are you willing to wait for God?

In this chapter Joseph is waiting because there is nothing else he can do. He can't get out of prison, he can't appeal his sentence, and he certainly can't escape. He's stuck in an Egyptian prison, far from home where they think he's dead anyway. He has been falsely accused of rape by Potiphar's wife.

You don't have too many friends in that situation.
So he waits.

At this point, readers of this story face a problem. Because we know how Joseph's life ends up, it's very easy for us to read Joseph's story in light of how it ends. We know that eventually he emerges triumphant, and that he will one day say to the brothers who betrayed him, "You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20).

Our problem is, we read this whole story as if Joseph himself knew how it was going to end.

That's not true.

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers, he had no idea what was going to happen next. He knew as much about his future as you do about yours. It's not as if God whispered, "Hang tough, kid. Don't let ‘em get you down. Pretty soon you'll be the Prime Minister of Egypt." It didn't happen that way. This isn't a fairy tale.

When Joseph is stuck in prison, he has no "inside knowledge" regarding how or when or if he will ever get out. He certainly knows nothing of the baker and the cupbearer.

So let's read Genesis 40 as Joseph would have lived it, with no hint of what the future might hold. Here's a short summary of this chapter:

In jail.
Two men.
Two dreams.
Two interpretations.
One lives, one dies.
One man forgets.
In jail.

That's the whole chapter right there.
Meanwhile Joseph waits to see what will happen next.

Waiting is perhaps the hardest discipline of the Christian life. Most of us hate to wait. I know I do. Probably all of us are waiting for something at this very moment.

Waiting for your grades.
Waiting to graduate.
Waiting to be accepted to college.
Waiting for your first job offer.
Waiting to see if the bank will give you a loan.
Waiting for the right time to start a family.

Waiting for a church to call you.
Waiting for your loved ones to come to Christ.
Waiting to meet the right guy or the right girl.
Waiting to be married.

Waiting to find out what God wants you to do.
Waiting for someone to buy your house.
Waiting for your prayers to be answered.
Waiting for your husband to come home from a business trip.
Waiting for your oldest daughter to come back to the Lord.

We all have to wait whether we like it or not. Truth be told, most of life is waiting. For instance, when you watch a football game on TV, most of the time nothing happens. By rule the actual game takes 60 minutes to play, but the average NFL telecast lasts three hours. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, in the average NFL telecast the actual playing of football takes up eleven minutes. If that's true, then what happens the rest of the time? In that three-hour block of time, you have . . .

60 minutes for commercials.
75 minutes when the players are standing around.
17 minutes for replays.

After a few other miscellaneous things are thrown in (such as crowd shots and talking heads in the booth and shots of the cheerleaders), what you are left with is . . .

11 minutes of actual football.

I take it as a parable of life itself:

The action of life is small.
The waiting is large.

We will all spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen. The question then becomes, what do you do while you wait? I find three answers from Joseph's prison time in Genesis 40.

1. Be Faithful

"Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody" (vv. 1-4).

We don't know how long Joseph had been in prison when the cupbearer and baker arrived. It must have been more than a day or two. Perhaps he had been in prison for a few months when suddenly these two new inmates showed up.

In thinking about this story, it's vital that we view it from Joseph's perspective. As far as he is concerned, this is just another day in prison. Even though he may be the leader of the prisoners, he is still imprisoned, with no hope of getting out. He could not see into the future. The cupbearer would eventually be his ticket out, but he had no way to know that at the time, and it wouldn't come to pass for two more years.

What do you do when you are unjustly accused?
What do you when people you trusted turn against you?
What do you do when your dreams turn to ashes?

Even though all those things were true for Joseph, he remained faithful to God and to his duties. Somewhere I read this quote:

"The secret of your future is found in your daily routine."

The things you do every day, especially the little things that make up the routine of life, those are the seeds of your future that you sow every day. It reminds me of what the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."

Eugene Peterson (The Message) offers a punchier version of this phrase: "Whatever turns up, grab it and do it." I like that because it emphasizes the unpredictable nature of life. No matter how well planned your day may be, something unexpected is always bound to "turn up." When it does, grab it and do it. This verse challenges us to take hold of the ordinary responsibilities of life and make sure they get done. It's easy for us to live in the never-never land of what we plan to do tomorrow. We dream about starting a diet or getting a new job or buying a new computer or meeting someone who will sweep us off our feet or somehow finishing that term paper or painting the living room or learning French or calling on a new client or applying for a grant or going back to college, or any of a thousand other worthwhile ideas. Meanwhile there is work to be done, much of it tedious, that somehow gets left undone while we are dreaming about what we are going to do "someday." Unfortunately, someday never comes for most people.

In one of her books Elisabeth Elliot talks about what to do when you hit a wall and feel stuck. When that happens, she advises people to just get up and do the next thing because "there is always a next thing that needs to be done."

That's good advice.

It may be small or trivial, but there is always something that needs to be done–washing or cleaning or writing a note or making a phone call or paying bills or cleaning the shelves or filling an order or putting gas in the car or picking up the kids or taking your pills or saying your prayers or weeding the flowers or feeding your dog.

Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:

Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well."

Think of it this way. Because God's hand was upon him, Joseph was promoted by the captain of the prison to be in charge of all the other prisoners. Because he was faithful, he did not shirk his duty when these two new men entered the prison. Little did he know that by taking care of them, he was advancing the cause of his own freedom.

Let me sharpen that point a bit.
I said, "Little did he know."
But really, I should have said, "It was impossible for him to know."
Faithfulness is its own reward.

So here is a question for all of us. Will we be faithful where we are even when life seems to make no sense?

2. Be Ready

"And one night they both dreamed - the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison - each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh's officers who were with him in custody in his master's house, "Why are your faces downcast today?" They said to him, "We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." And Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me" (vv. 5-8).

There are dreams all through Joseph's story. First he has them (Genesis 37), then these two men have them (Genesis 40), then Pharaoh will have a two-part dream (Genesis 41). In each case the dreams prove crucial in Joseph's life.

In Genesis 37 Joseph has dreams that he shares with his brothers, provoking their hatred even more. But in Genesis 40 the baker and cupbearer turn to Joseph to help them interpret their dreams.

Joseph's willingness to interpret their dreams means that he has not yet given up on his own dreams. Even though many years have passed, and he has endured the pain of rejection, enslavement, false accusation and imprisonment, down deep inside he still believes that one day God will someday cause those early dreams to come true. Otherwise he would have said to the men, "My advice is, forget about those dreams. They don't mean anything. I had dreams of my own once, and look where I am now."

But he didn't say that.

And he doesn't say, "Don't worry, fellows. I'm an expert in dreams. I can figure this out for you." Rather than giving in to despair or relying on false optimism, he points the men to God: "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (v. 8) His answer means something like this: "There is a God in heaven who gives dreams to men. He and he alone can explain the dreams you had. I don't have the answer in me, but I know the Lord and he can help you out."

Joseph stood out among his own generation because he saw God's hand everywhere!
He had a big God, and therefore he knew that being in prison was no hindrance to the Almighty.

Did you know that God does some of his best work in prison?
John Bunyan goes to prison and out comes "Pilgrim's Progress."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer go to prison and out comes "The Cost of Discipleship."
Chuck Colson goes to prison and out comes the worldwide ministry of Prison Fellowship.

After I said this at a conference, a man wrote me a few weeks later:

"Pastor Pritchard, I agree with you, God does his best work in jails. You see, my 21 year old son has been running from God for many years, but he also got in trouble with pot and running from the law. While in jail for 3 weeks he heard the gospel from preachers there and put his faith and trust in Christ. God has his people in the right place at the right time. A place I thought he should never go, but God reached him there. My son has come home again."

We serve a God who is not stopped by barbed wire and high walls.
Prison doors can never keep him out.

Joseph's example leads me to ask this question: Are you ready to serve God right where you are, even when you'd rather be somewhere else?

3. Be Bold

When you read Genesis 40, you discover that Joseph tells the cupbearer that he will be released in three days and restored to his former position (vv. 12-13). No doubt he was delighted to hear the news. Then Joseph adds a personal request in verse 14:

"Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house."

While preparing this message, I ran across a Bible teacher who calls this a lack of faith on Joseph's part. I don't agree with that at all. If Joseph has been unfairly treated and if he's not guilty, then why shouldn't he seek his release? When I preached on this at Dallas Seminary, I told the audience that if I were in prison and if a buddy of mine were about to get out, I would look to heaven and say, "Your will be done," and then turn to my buddy and say, "Help me get out of here!"

They laughed because we all understand that if you're in prison, you want to get out as soon as you can. In Joseph's case, he truly hadn't done anything wrong.

On one hand, he is faithful and ready to serve God where he is.
On the other hand, he doesn't want to stay in prison forever.

It's as if he's saying, "I'm here but this is not my whole life."
"I accept where I am for the moment, but I hope to be set free eventually."

Two years later his request will lead to his release.
I don't think he ever regretted what he said.

The whole episode reminds me of a scene from the movie Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne (who was falsely accused of murdering his wife and her lover) was talking with his friend Red in the prison yard. They were discussing Andy's hope of getting out someday when Red says, in essence, "You gotta give that up. Look at us. We'll never get out of here." Andy pauses for a moment and then says,

"It comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying."

So many people lose hope.
When hope is gone, life is over. ....

The fact of our coming death can make us timid.
Or it can make us bold.

"Go and do it now."
"Get busy living or get busy dying."

Joseph said to the cupbearer, "Remember me."
It makes perfect sense.
Joseph didn't settle.

He was faithful in prison.
He was ready in prison.
He was bold in prison.

What do you while you wait?

Be faithful.
Be ready.
Be bold.

The "What ifs" of Life

Verse 23 gives us the end of the story:

"Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him."

That's a bummer.
After all that, the cupbearer forgets Joseph.

But that happens all the time in life.
We make promises we don't keep.
We intend to stay in touch but we don't.
We plan to call an old friend but we don't.

When the cupbearer got out, he promptly left the prison far behind.
Joseph must have had many questions:

What if the cupbearer never remembers?
What if I die in prison?
What if I never get to clear my name?

The "What ifs" of life will kill you.

What if I lose the job?
What if he never asks me out for a second date?
What if I never get married?
What if we can't have children?
What if things don't work out?
What if we run out of money?
What if my husband makes a bad decision?
What if I lose my job?
What if our children get sick?
What if we can't find a place to live?
What if the contract falls through?
What if I don't get accepted?
What if the chemo doesn't work?
What if she files for divorce?
What if the church splits?

Put yourself in Joseph's place. The only people who can help him think he's dead, or they think he committed a vile crime, or they have forgotten him completely. What do you do then?

It all depends on how big your God is.

How big is your God when you've been . . .

Betrayed?
Enslaved?
Falsely Accused?
Imprisoned?
Forgotten?

God Never Hurries

Joseph's experience in prison reminds us that God doesn't keep time the same way we do.

He is "from everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 90:2).
And "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8).

Time is no complication to God. A. W. Tozer said it this way:

God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work."

God is bigger than the clock.

He's never in a hurry.
He's never late.
He's never behind schedule.

Even though the cupbearer forgot Joseph, God didn't.

What do you do while you wait?
Wait on the Lord because . . .

"They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

Your Redeemer is on the way.
He's just not working on your schedule.

He Will Make It Plain

William Cowper struggled mightily with depression and lived under a cloud most of his life. Out of his suffering came one of our greatest hymns, written in 1774.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Let God be God and all will be well.

Let me ask the key question one more time:
Are you willing to wait for God?

This sermon ends where it began - with Joseph in prison.

Falsely accused.
Unjustly imprisoned.
Alone and forgotten.

Apparently he's hit a dead end.
This story is over, or so it seems.

Stay tuned.
He's about to meet the most powerful man in the world.

Copyright © 2013 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

Advent ... A Time to Prepare

by Ann Lukens, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Leader
Moody AFB Catholic Faith Community

A popular holiday song declares that, "… it's beginning to look like Christmas, everywhere you go." This year, it seems that Christmas was on the minds of Big Business even before the Jack-o-Lanterns had burned out. It has been a volatile year for the economy so it was even more imperative for them to ensure that "Black Friday" (e.g., the Friday after Thanksgiving) would be a commercial and financial success, so the ad campaigns began by Halloween this year. Some of us may have already heard at least one person complain they were tired of Christmas already!

Advent as we know it was not celebrated by Christians until the 4th century as their one holyday was Easter. By 354 A.D., with Christmas being celebrated in Rome, the weeks before Christmas was a time when some early Bishops encouraged their members to fast three days a week in anticipation of the commemoration of Christ's birth (Our Sunday Visitor, Vol 96, No 31, 2 Dec 07, Our Sunday Visitor Press, page 15). The earliest reference to Advent as a four week period of preparation was in the writings of Pope Gregory I (590-604). For the modern Catholic, Advent is the season between the two official civil holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many parishes offer communal Penance Services with an opportunity for individual celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In some ways Advent serves as a "spiritual tonic for the secular emphasis of the season" (The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook, page 19-20, Liguori Publications, 2000). Catholics and Christians of other denominations like to remind the world that "Jesus is the reason for the season" and "to keep Christ in Christmas".

Advent is best understood as a period of celebration and preparation for the commemoration of Christ's entry into our world as an event in salvation history. It is a reminder that we were made for God; that He loved us enough to enter into our existence. It is a time to ponder which world we wish to be permanent citizens in… this flawed but beautiful and passing one or the eternal world to come. That is the invitation; the decision to live as a Catholic Christian is up to each one of us to make. As Catholics we are encouraged to be in this world, but not part of it.

So… while we are finishing our shopping, baking, cooking or making our gifts, let's also pause to consider what Advent was intended to be... a time to contemplate the love of our God Who entered into our history to save us. Hallelujah!

Advent: More Is Yet to Come

by Melissa Kruger, Author, Women's Ministry Director

Peeking out from behind the orange pumpkins and overflowing cornucopias, you may have already begun to spot cinnamon red candles, thick green garlands and an array of ornaments. TV commercials present snow-filled scenes, roaring fires and busy elves making toys in Santa’s workshop. The sights and sounds of the season are upon us. They quietly whisper: Christmas is coming.

In just a few days, my husband will climb into the attic and one by one boxes will be brought down and opened. Each bin contains memories of our lifetime together as a family. As the tree is trimmed, my children eagerly recall family vacations, preschool creations, and favorite childhood photos. Christmas music fills the air, hot chocolate is served and new memories are added to the old.

As my children look back, they are also looking forward. In the midst of remembering, they also wonder, "What special gifts are coming? Will I get that hoped for something under the tree?" Old memories of past delights can be recalled, while future joys are cloaked, wrapped and waiting for that special day. Looking back and looking forward - this is exactly what the season of Advent is all about.

The word Advent literally means "the coming or arrival". As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed. Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby. His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold. The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.

As believers, we look back, but we also look forward. Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree. More is yet to come. As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world. We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new. More is yet to come.

In the midst of a busy season, how do we keep the true meaning of Advent alive and flourishing within our homes? In the flurry of activities (from baking, to shopping, to celebrating with friends), how do we savor the Savior, reflect upon His coming, and wait with abiding hopefulness for His return?

For our family, each night in December, as we gather around the dinner table, we pull out ornaments from a special box. Years ago, a friend of mine organized a Jesse Tree party. The Advent Jesse Tree recounts the story of redemption using twenty-five ornaments as symbols to represent different Bible stories, all pointing to the coming Messiah.

My friend sent out a list of all of the different Jesse Tree ornaments. Every woman chose one and made twenty-five of the same ornament (it required 25 women, each making one ornament). During the party, each participant placed one of her ornaments in everyone else’s box. At the end of the night, we all went home with a complete, homemade Advent Jesse Tree set. For me, each of these ornaments is a special reminder - both of the story it represents, and the friend who fashioned it for me.

Starting on December 1st, my children excitedly pull out a miniature tree and the box that contains our Jesse Tree ornaments. To guide our readings, we use an advent devotional entitled, "The Advent Jesse Tree" by Dean Lambert Smith. It provides a devotional and Bible passages that correspond with the ornament for the day. A new Jesse Tree devotional option this year is Ann Voskamp’s "The Greatest Gift." She also provides printable ornaments on her website for an easy way to bring this tradition home (especially for non-crafty moms like myself!)

After reading the devotion for the day, my children eagerly take turns placing new ornaments on the tree. Day after day, we remember the story of waiting, watching and hoping for the Messiah to come. As we reflect upon the stories, our family learns the beauty of the Biblical narrative - how in the midst of many small stories, there is one larger story that all the others point to. By December 25th, the tree that was once barren is bursting with fullness.

We began using the Jesse Tree when our oldest daughter was three years old. She is now thirteen, her brother is ten and our youngest is seven. For ten years we have pondered these stories, enjoyed time together as a family and been blessed to reflect upon the coming of Jesus. These Advent meditations allow our family to look back and rejoice, "Christ has come!" They also encourage us to look forward in joyful expectation, "Christ will come again!"

About The Author:

Melissa Kruger serves as Women's Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World (Christian Focus, 2012). Her husband Mike is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary.

Copyright © 2013, Christianity.com. All rights reserved.

Advent I: Waiting for Christ's Return

by Justin Holcomb

Setting the Tone for Advent

The first Sunday of Advent sets the tone for the season by looking forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Through the Scripture passages read and the spiritual practices observed, Christians are called to re-orient themselves to a mindset of watching and waiting for Christ's return, while at the same time evaluating their lives on the basis of Christ's first coming.

The Scripture and Theology of the First Week of Advent

While there are many traditions and festivities tied to the Advent season, the theological center is found in the Scripture readings read during each of the four Advent Sundays. The theology of Advent is rich with significance.

Old Testament Readings

Readings from the Old Testament during Advent I ground the entire season in the story of Israel's expectation of the coming Messiah. Isaiah 2:1, in one of the most beautiful and profound images in the Old Testament, looks forward to the one who will come in peace-bringing judgment:

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
(Isaiah 2:4)

This prophecy looks forward both to the Incarnation and the second coming of Jesus.

Isaiah 64:1 asks God to "rend the heavens and come down" (64:1), bringing his holy presence to earth. This coming, according to Jeremiah 33:14, is a fulfillment of God's covenant with Israel. The one who is coming - one who is a Branch of David, an Israelite - will bring justice and righteousness: "In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land" (33:15). This "Branch" imagery is adopted into a significant spiritual practice associated with Advent.

Readings from the Psalms

During Advent I, readings from the Psalms cry out to God for him to act on his people's behalf as he has in the past, bringing final peace and restoration to the earth. Psalms 122:1 asks for peace to come upon the city of God in a new reign of righteousness on the earth, Psalms 80:1 requests God's restoration of his people (80:3, 19), and Psalms 25:1 recalls God's covenantal steadfast love and mercy, which were present from days past, and beckons God once again to remember his covenant and act faithfully on behalf of his people.

New Testament Readings

Scripture readings from the New Testament letters during Advent I bring to mind the church's life between the ascension of Christ and his return for his people. In 1 Corinthians 1:3, Paul speaks of the church as waiting for the second coming of Christ, continually sustained by God's faithful provision. Romans 13:11 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9, on the other hand, urge the church to pursue holiness eagerly. Because, as Romans 13:12–14 says, "The night is far gone; the day is at hand," Christians are to "cast off the works of darkness" and "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 suggests that the motive for increasing and abounding in love for one another is so that Christians can walk in blamelessness and holiness before God in preparation for Christ's return.

Gospel Readings

Gospel readings for Advent I call the people of God to watchful vigilance for Christ's second Advent and set the tone for the entire season. Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:24 look forward to Christ's coming in glory at a time that no one knows. Christians are to "stay awake" (Matthew 24:42) and "be on guard" (Mark 13:33). Matthew says that just as the flood in the days of Noah came unexpectedly and wiped away those who were unprepared, the return of Christ will be sudden, and those who are not ready for it will be left. Luke 21:25 repeats the theme of watchfulness, calling Christians to "raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." However, Jesus goes on to add that part of this watchfulness includes introspection: "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap" (Luke 21:34). A theme of repentance is reiterated throughout the Advent season.

The Symbolic Spirituality of the First Week of Advent

While Scripture is central to the season, there are a variety of symbolic spiritual practices that reinforce the theology of Advent. The trees and wreaths that are symbols of Advent are great visual storytellers to help teach the Christian story.

The Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree, which is introduced on Advent I, is an artistic depiction of the genealogical tree of Jesus. It is basically an extended genealogy that tells the entire biblical story of redemption. The symbol of the tree comes from Isaiah 11:1: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit."

During the week following the first Sunday of Advent (and each week thereafter), different ornaments are added to the tree, each symbolizing an Old Testament figure in the family line of Jesus. In the first week, ornaments representing God (Gen 1:1-2:3), Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4), Noah (Genesis 6:11, Genesis 7:17, Genesis 8:20), Abraham (Genesis 12:1, Genesis 15:1), Isaac (Genesis 22:1), and Jacob (Genesis 27:41) are put on the tree, starting from the bottom and progressively moving upwards. Each week until Christmas, new figures are added as the story of the Old Testament progressively unfolds.

The Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath is an ordinary wreath with special candles added to it. Three purple candles and one pink candle stand around the outside of the wreath, and a white candle fills the center. Each Sunday during the Advent season, one candle—each representing something different—is lit. Like the Jesse Tree progressively being filled in, the Advent wreath gets brighter and brighter as Christmas approaches.

The first purple candle, lit on Advent I, is called the prophecy candle. In conjunction with the Scripture readings for the week, it represents hope and expectation for the coming Messiah. As the candle burns throughout the week and becomes smaller and smaller, it helps us remember that time continually passes and the return of Christ becomes nearer and nearer with each passing day.

Waiting for Christ's Return

Advent is rich with theological significance, and the Scripture readings and spiritually symbolic practices of the season help focus our attention on the first and second coming of Christ. The Advent season is a somber time of personal reflection, hope and longing, and joyful expectation for the coming of Jesus.

About The Author:

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote 'On the Grace of God' and co-authored with his wife Lindsey 'Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence'. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture.

Copyright © 2013, Christianity.com. All rights reserved.

Advent II: The Messiah Is Coming

by Justin Holcomb

Introduction

The second Sunday in Advent (Advent II) continues on the path started in the first week by looking forward to Christ's first and second coming. Advent II focuses on John the Baptist, the Gentiles being included in God's family, Christ's coming in judgment and peace, and the church's hopeful expectation of the completion of his promises.

The Scripture and Theology of the Second Week of Advent

Whereas the Scripture readings for Advent I speak broadly about God's promise to bring Israel out of exile, the readings for Advent II focus more specifically on the Messiah and what his coming will look like.

Old Testament Readings

Old Testament readings for Advent II reflect on the type of kingdom the coming Messiah will bring: one of judgment and peace.

Isaiah 11:1 says, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him" (1–2). This is a beautiful image. From the dead, rotting, and decaying stump of Jesse (King David's father)—a broken dynasty which was apparently going nowhere—God will unexpectedly cause new life to shoot forth. God did not abandon his people who had fallen into Babylonian captivity. Instead, in continuing his promise to Abraham, God works to bring new life out of death through a descendant of David. Where there is brokenness, God creates hope. Where there is darkness, God's light shines forth.

The one coming in righteousness, with the Spirit of the Lord upon him, will bring a mix of peace and judgment. He will judge the poor with righteousness (Isaiah 11:4) and kill the wicked with the breath of his lips (11:4). This peace-bringing judgment will finally end the cycle of death begun by sin.

Isaiah 40:1 shifts to the prophecy concerning John the Baptist, who will come ahead of the Davidic King as a messenger preparing the way. He will "make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3). Then, in that day, when the glory of God will be revealed (40:5), the Anointed One will come with might (40:10), but as one who tenderly cares for his flock like a shepherd (40:11).

These passages portray both Christ's first and second coming. While the reign of peace Jesus brings begins during the Incarnation, God's kingdom will not be completed until Jesus returns again.

Readings from the Psalms

During Advent II, Psalms reveal the character of the coming Savior. Psalms 72:1 describes him as a just king and a righteous judge who defends the cause of the poor, crushes oppressors, delivers the children of the needy, and brings peace. Psalms 85:1 focuses on the peace that will accompany the coming of the Lord. Verses 1–2 recall how God restored Jacob's fortune and forgave the people in the past by covering their sin. The Psalm shifts to the future in verse 8, saying, "he will speak peace to his people, to his saints." God spoke peace in Jesus' first coming, and that peace will once again be spoken when he returns for his people. His salvation is near to those who trust him, and in him "steadfast love and faithfulness meet" (85:10).

New Testament Readings

New Testament readings during Advent II remind God's people to live in hope while they wait for the second advent of Jesus Christ. Romans 15:4 calls the church to endurance and hope, welcoming others into the family just like Jesus did. God, in his hospitality, included those outside the ethnic borders of Israel into his one covenant family. As a result of this hospitality, Paul exhorts, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (15:13). God's grace makes Advent a season of hope.

2 Peter 3:8 reminds us that God is not slow to fulfill his promises. And because God promised to return like a thief in the night (3:10), God's people should live in holiness, godliness, and peace as we await the coming new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. Philippians 1:3–11 points to God's faithfulness. The one who began a work in his people will bring it to completion when Christ returns.

Gospel Readings

Gospel readings for Advent II meditate on John the Baptist, the one sent to pave the way for Christ. Matthew 3:1 says that John the Baptist came calling for repentance because God's kingdom was close at hand. John confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees, who thought they stood on solid ground because they were descendants of Abraham. However, John said, "God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (3:9–10). The family of God is being extended beyond the bounds of the nation of Israel. John tells the religious leaders that their ethnicity is of no benefit to them if they do not, like everyone else, repent and bear fruit. Mark 1:1 similarly speaks of John the Baptist's coming, while tracing Jesus' lineage back to God himself, and Luke 3:1 adds that the coming of the Messiah will cause all people to see God's salvation.

The Symbolic Spirituality of the Second Week of Advent

During the second week of Advent, the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath, introduced during the first week, both help teach the theological significance of the journey through the Advent season.

The Jesse Tree

Continuing the story of Christ's family tree, the Jesse Tree recounts God's work through Joseph (Gen. 37, 39:1–50:21), Moses (Exod. 2:1–4:20), the Israelites (Exod. 12:1–14:31), God's Law at Sinai (Exod. 19:1–20:20), Joshua (Josh. 1:1–11, 6:1–20), Gideon (Judg. 2:6–23, 6:1–6, 11–8:28), and Samuel (1 Sam. 3:1–21, 7:1–8, 9:15–10:9). In each of these stories the lineage of Jesus is further filled in, and God's provision for his people becomes progressively clearer.

The Advent Wreath

On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle, sometimes called the "Bethlehem Candle," is lit. This candle represents love - both God's for us and ours for him and others—and symbolizes the manger where Jesus was born. The manger is a vivid reminder of the great lengths to which the King of Creation went, humbling himself for his people. He deserved a kingly procession into the city with much fanfare. Instead we see him born in a manger, living in poverty with no place to lay his head, and entering the city on a donkey as he makes his way to the cross. Lighting the second Advent candle reminds us of Jesus' life of love for us.

Grace to Wait

As we continue down the Advent path on Advent II, we are constantly reminded of Christ's first coming while we watch and wait for his second coming. The prayer for the second week of Advent puts it this way:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:

give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that, when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him
with joyful love and firm faith;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

About The Author:

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture.

Copyright © 2013, Christianity.com. All rights reserved.

Family Special: How to Deal with Holiday Family Tensions

by Russell Moore

We tend to idealize holidays, but human depravity doesn't go into hibernation between Thanksgiving and New Year's. One thing that will hit most Christians, sooner or later, are tensions within extended families at holiday time. Some of you will be visiting family members who are contemptuous of the Christian faith and downright hostile to the whole thing.

Others are empty nest couples who now have sons- or daughters-in-law to get adjusted to, maybe even grandchildren who are being reared, well, not exactly the way the grandparents would do it. Still others are young couples who are figuring out how to keep from offending family members who are watching the calendar, to see which side of the family gets more time on the ledger. And others are new parents, trying to figure out how to parent their child when it's Mammonpalooza at Aunt Judie's house this year.

And, of course, there's just always the kind of thing that happens when sinful people come into contact with one another. Somebody asks "When is the baby due?" to an unpregnant woman or somebody blasts your favorite political figure or…well, you know.

Here are a few quick thoughts on what followers of Jesus ought to remember, especially if you've got a difficult extended family situation.

1.) Peace.

Yes, Jesus tells us that his gospel brings a sword of division, and that sometimes this splits up families (Matt. 10:34-37). But there's a difference between gospel division and carnal division (see 1 Cor. 1, e.g.). The Spirit brings peace (Gal. 5:22), and the sons of God are peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). Since that's so, we ought to "strive for peace with everyone" (Heb. 12:14).

Often, the divisiveness that happens at extended family dinner tables is not because an unbelieving family member decides to persecute a Christian. It's instead because a Christian decides to go ahead and sort the wheat from the weeds right now, rather than waiting for Judgment Day (Matt. 13:29-30). Yes, the gospel exposes sin, but the gospel does so strategically, in order to point to Christ. Antagonizing unbelievers at a family dinner table because they think or feel like unbelievers isn't the way of Christ.

Some Christians think their belligerence is actually a sign of holiness. They leave the Christmas table saying, "See, if you're not being opposed, then you're not with Christ!" Sometimes, of course, divisions must come. But think of the qualifications Jesus gives for his church's pastors. They must not be "quarrelsome" and they must be "well thought of by outsiders" (1 Tim. 3:3,7). That's in the same list as not being a heretic or a drunk.

Your presence should be one of peace and tranquility. The gospel you believe ought to be what disrupts. There's a big difference.

2.) Honor.

The Scripture tells us to fear God, to obey the king, and to honor (notice this) everyone (1 Pet. 2:17). If your parents are high-priests in the Church of Satan, they are still your parents. If cousin Betty V. does Jello shots in her car, just to take the edge off the cocaine, well, she still bears the imprint of the God you adore.

You cannot do the will of God by opposing the will of God. That is, you can't evangelize by dishonoring father and mother, or by disrespecting the image-bearers of God. Pray for God to show you the ways those in your life are worthy of honor, and teach your children to follow you in showing respect and gratitude.

3.) Humility.

Part of the reason some Christians have such difficulty with unbelieving or nominally believing extended family members is right at this point. They see differences over Jesus as being of the same kind (just of a different degree) as our differences over, say, the war in Afghanistan or the future of Sarah Palin or the Saints' winning streak this year.

Often the frustration comes not because of how much Christians love their family members as much as how much these Christians want to be right. The professional Left and Right cable-TV and talk-radio pontificators may value the last word, but we can't.

Jesus never, not once, seeks to prove he is right, and he was accused of being everything from a wino to a demoniac. He rejects Satan's temptation to force a visible vindication, waiting instead for God to vindicate him at the empty tomb.

Often Christians veer toward Satanism at holiday time because we, deep down, pride ourselves on knowing the truth of the gospel. The rage you feel when Uncle Happy says why "many roads lead to God" might be more about the fact that you want to be right than that you want him to be resurrected.

Plus, we often forget just how it is that we came to be in Christ in the first place. This wasn't some act of brilliance, like being accepted into Harvard or some exertion of the will, like learning to put a Rubik's cube together in 20 seconds. "What do you have that you did not receive," the Apostle Paul asks us, "And if you received it, then why do you boast as though you didn't receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:6-7)

Satan wants to destroy you through his primal flaw, pride (1 Pet. 5:7-9; 1 Tim. 3:6). He doesn't care if that pride comes through looking around the family table and figuring out how much more money you make than your second cousin-in-law or whether it comes by your looking around the table and saying, "Thank you Lord that I am not like these publicans." The end result is the same (Prov. 29:23).

Unless you're in an exceptionally sanctified family, you're going to see failing marriages, parenting crises, and a thousand other shards of the curse. If your response is to puff up as you look at your own situation, there's a Satanist at your family gathering, and you're it.

4.) Maturity.

The Scripture tells us that if we follow Jesus we'll follow the path he took: that's through temptation, to suffering, and ultimately to glory. Often we think these testings are big, monumental things, but they rarely are.

God will allow you to be tested. He'll refine you, bring you to the fullness of maturity in Christ. He probably won't do it by your fighting lions before the emperor or standing with a John 3:16 sign before a tank in the streets of Beijing. More likely, it will be through those seemingly little places of temptation—like whether you'll love the belching brother-in-law at the other end of the table who wants to talk about how the Cubans killed JFK and how to make $100,000 a year selling herbal laxatives on the Internet.

Some of the tensions Christians face at holiday time have nothing to do with outside oppression as much as internal immaturity on the part of the Christians themselves.

I've had young men who tell me they feel treated like children when they go home to see their extended families. Their parents or parents-in-law are dictating to them where to go, when, and for how much time. Their parents or parent-in-law are hijacking the rearing of their children ("Oh, come on! He can watch Die Harder! Don't be so strict!"). Some of these men just give in, and then seethe in frustration.

Sometimes that's because the extended family is particularly obstinate. But sometimes the extended family treats the young man like a child because that's how he acts the rest of the year. Don't live financially and emotionally dependent on your parents or in-laws, passively dithering in your decisions about your family's future, and then expect them to see you as the head of your house.

Be a man (if you are one). Make decisions (including decisions about where, and for how long, you'll spend the holidays). Teach and discipline your children. Your extended family might not like it at first, but they'll come to respect the fact that you're leaving and cleaving, taking responsibility for that which has been entrusted to you.

5.) Perspective.

Remember that you'll give an account at the resurrection for every idle (that means seemingly tiny, insignificant, unmemorable) thought, word, and deed. At the Judgment Seat of the Lord Christ, you'll be responsible for living out the gospel in every arena to which the Spirit has led you… including Aunt Flossie's dining room table.

About The Author:

Dr. Russell D. Moore is the author of 'The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective' (Crossway, 2004) and 'Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches' (Crossway, May 2009).

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Recipe: Curried Cauliflower and Apple Soup

by Jennifer Segal

Ingredients

For Soup

• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
• 2 teaspoons curry powder (I use McCormick Gourmet Collection)
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 head cauliflower (2-1/2 to 3 pounds), cut into small florets
• 1 tart yet sweet apple, such as Fuji or Honey Crisp, peeled and roughly chopped
• 6 cups (48 ounces) low sodium chicken broth
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons honey, plus more to taste
• 1/3 cup heavy cream

For Curried Apples Garnish

• 1 tart yet sweet apple, such as Fuji or Honey Crisp, peeled and finely diced
• Heaping 1/4 teaspoon curry powder

Instructions

1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the curry powder and cinnamon and cook a few minutes more.

2. Add the cauliflower, apple, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender.

3. Purée the soup with an immersion blender until completely smooth. (Alternatively, use a standard blender to purée the soup in batches.) Stir in the honey and heavy cream. Bring the soup to a simmer, and then taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more honey. (For a sweeter soup, you'll need 2-3 tablespoons more honey). Keep the soup warm while you prepare the garnish.

4. For the Curried Apples garnish, toss the diced apples with the curry powder. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and top with a spoonful of curried apples.

Notes

If using a standard blender to purée the soup: be sure not to fill the jar more than halfway; leave the hole in the lid open and cover loosely with a dishtowel to allow the heat to escape; and pour blended soup into a clean pot.

Yield: Serves 6

Copyright © Once Upon A Chef - Jennifer Segal 

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