O Little Town of Bethlehem: The Light in Our Dark Streets

Tomorrow, Sunday, December 2, is the first Sunday of Advent; A time when we usher in the Christmas season with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  Each year our church does an advent devotional booklet written by members of our congregation. Our theme this year is Christmas Carols.   For this first week of advent, I thought I’d share with you one that I wrote (a few weeks ago to meet the deadline).  It may seem dark, but I hope you see the hope and light shining through the words. 

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 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 ESV

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee to-night.

As I sit here in what appears to be one of my brain fog days, trying to conjure up Christmas thoughts on the day after Halloween, not to mention I need to gear up for giving thanks, I find myself wishing I could just hibernate for the next several weeks. It might have something to do with the cold trying to gain momentum as I type, or it could be all the muddy swirl going on in the world around us, close to home even. The news is full of shootings, unhinged politicians, drugs, and mystery illnesses just to name a few.  It’s enough to make even the most stoic among us cringe and say wake me up when it’s over.

If only it were that easy to just hibernate through the bad times. But that’s not how it works. We are told in scripture that in this world we will have trouble.  I guess the world has decided to live up to its reputation.  However, trouble does not have to define us.  God always has the antidote to trouble.  He made specific provision for trouble over two thousand years ago with the arrival of Baby Jesus.  He sent him, not to save us from the world or to shield us from trouble, but to save us in spite of the world, to save us from our sin and help us in our trouble.  He wants to help the whole world in its trouble.

If ever there was a time that the whole world needs help I’d say it’s about now.  As I read the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem I am encouraged because I see the light of Christ shining in the dark streets of the world.  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met…”  All the years tells me that we are not the only generation that needs help in our troubles.  If you research history you will find that each generation since the dawning of man has had its share of trouble. There have been dark streets full of secrecy and evil; full of plans orchestrated by the enemy; full of fear.  But if you look closely, even in the darkest night there has been a light shining.  There has been hope residing next to fear.

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That shining light began long before the baby was sent to a lowly manger.  All throughout the Old Testament scriptures the thread of God’s provision, our hope, was told. Early in the book of Genesis we are confronted with the reality of sin and the need for salvation; In Genesis 49:10 (ESV) we hear of a ruler who will come, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”. And in Isaiah 1:11(ESV) it was prophesied, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

In the New Testament, we see Jesus himself, the great light shining for all to see. Even in his darkest hour, he rose forth victorious and every generation since then has had Godly men and women rise up to be the light in a dark world and show them the love of Jesus.  So yes, there will be fear and trouble and plenty of it some days, but the gift of hope and light has been given.  Freely given:

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

                                 O Lord, hear our prayer:

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray! Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us to-day. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Open our hearts to receive you still. Enter in I pray. Amen.

Grace in the hope of everlasting light,

Teresa L Hardymon

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Joy!

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Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Ecclesiastes 9:7

Yesterday I was holding on to hope and trying my best to be joyful about my colonoscopy.  I determined to practice thanksgiving with every drop of that gutter swill I had to drink.

I was doing my best to put it all in God’s hands and trust that all would be well.  So, I chose to trust in the face of my fear.  Praying about it, clinging to a scripture and writing about it helped.  It enabled me to focus on the big picture instead of worrying about a minor glitch in the road.

If you have ever had any kind of invasive procedure, then I’m sure you well know, that a certain amount of anxiety goes with.  I’m learning that it is not always about getting rid of the anxiety, but harnessing it and allowing God to be in control.  Even if you want to freak out and run the other way choosing to let God handle the situation builds your faith in him.  And, he is faithful.

I’m happy to report that I managed to drink all the nastiness in that jug (minus a few drops here and there).  I managed to keep my spirits up by practicing thanksgiving for the little things such as the pink ladies blooming in my yard, or how wonderful White grape juice tastes.  I reminded myself with every drop that I could do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

I’m further happy to report with joy that even though they found a polyp, it was non-cancerous.  It is being biopsied to find out exactly what kind of polyp it is as that will determine if I go back in three years, or five. Apparently, some polyps are pre-cancerous and some are not.  Not, would get me five years, so that is my hope.

Even with that looming large in five (or three), I still am joyful because basically I received a clean bill of health and the meds didn’t seem to make me goofy and I know that God was with me.  After some initial nervousness and high blood pressure I calmed down and all was well.

Further, it was with great joy that I came home and ate my food with gladness, and drank my wine (ginger ale) with a joyful heart.  Thankful that God found favor with me and answered my prayers.  He is always faithful.

He is always faithful in good times and bad.  Even if my outcome today had been different, I would still rejoice in the goodness of a loving God.  He is always working on our behalf in all situations and if we ask he enables us to find joy in all things.

How are you finding joy today?  Whether it be choosing joy in the midst of a trial, or finding joy in such an everyday occurrence as a cheeseburger and ginger ale just know that the giver of our joy is always with us and he will always lead us right.

I would be remiss if I did not thank all of you that were faithful to pray for me. That too is part of our joy.  Praying for and encouraging one another.  God Bless!

Joy in grace,

Teresa

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The pictures included with today’s post and yesterday’s were taken in Virginia back in June when we took a little trip.  Such beautiful countryside where we were.  I have more pictures I’ll try to post soon.  My favorite way to travel is on the back roads looking for bits of beauty. Isn’t Mrs. Cow lovely, with her babe?

Advent II – Love

I am linking up With All Manner of Inspiration for Sacro Speco (sacred space).

Today is the second Sunday of Advent.  Churches and Homes around the world will light the candle of Love.  This is the season of anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child.  Of course this is symbolic as we know he came long ago.  For believers this also represents the anticipation of his second coming.

Love takes us to Bethlehem where we find the Christ child in a manger.  Today, I share an advent devotional with you that I wrote for the Fern Creek Baptist Church Advent Devotional Booklet a few years ago.  It has been edited with some additions.

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Love Him, Love Others

There is a song that I remember singing in high school choir.

 Love Came Down at Christmas, Love all love divine,  Love came down at Christmas and I know, I know that love is mine.

It is a beautiful song, but it is more than just words.  It is truth.  Truth about unconditional love.  The love God gave us in the gift of his son.  He came to us via a manger.  He was new life that offered new life to us via the cross.  

He was fully God and fully man.  He knew no sin.  Yet, he lived among us, walked among us and showed us how to love.  His life started humbly encased by pieces of wood.  His life on earth ended in humiliation nailed to two pieces of wood.

The story doesn’t end with his death.  He rose again on the third day and now he is at the right hand of the father.  Part of the celebration of Advent is anticipating his return to redeem his children. It will be victorious and he will be crowned the King of Kings! We will reign with him forever and ever.

How can we respond to the gift of the Christ child?  The answer is found in the gospel of John Chapter 13.  Jesus says, as I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Sounds simple and easy. On a good day.  The reality is not always that simple.  Think about it.  He died on a cross for us; He gave the ultimate sacrifice – His life.  If we’re honest, that’s not really how we want to love others; not with our life.

We want love to be flowers and candy and nicely written sentiments; we want to give hugs and have good times, but we don’t want to be bothered to stretch beyond the niceties.   Deep abiding love is so much more.  It is unconditional, self-sacrificing, forgiving.  It puts others first.  It means loving with our life.  Maybe not literally with our life, like Jesus did, but sacrificially, with our time and resources.

How do we live a life that honors God by loving others?  We can’t on our own. The first step in loving others as he has commanded is to love Him. We love Him because He first loved us.  He pursued us and lavished his love on us in the gift of the blood of Christ shed for our salvation.  When we accept His love and cherish it we are so full that love spills over into the lives of others.  We are not capable of unconditional, sacrificial love on our own.  But with Christ all things are possible.  

As you are Celebrating the Christ of the manger, during this Christmas Season, remember the love on the cross. Ask Jesus to help you show his love to others.  The best gift you can give someone, is to love them unconditionally, to love them with your life. As Christ has loved you.

Loving because of grace,

Teresa