Happy new year! That is what we joyfully declared on Sunday, November 27, 2022. While the Church Year begins anew in Advent, the broader culture recognizes the new year beginning on January 1st each year. Sadly, the excitement and determination over endless possibilities, new beginnings, and hope-filled resolutions fade quickly for most of mankind. Reality inconveniently reminds us of the same weakness that brought us low in forgetting or failing last year’s resolutions will do the same this year; as the prophet Isaiah writes in chapter 40, verse 30, “even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.”
I hope this is a helpful way to adjust our perspective for the new calendar year. Instead of asking ourselves what we will commit to doing differently this year, perhaps we can ask God what he will do and where he will lead us this coming year.
As you reflect on 2022 and look forward to all that 2023 may have in store for you and for our All Saints family, I challenge you to ask God what he desires your hopes and dreams to be focused on?
My hopes and dreams for the new year of 2023 are as follows: 1) listen more.
First, I hope and dream of listening to God’s Word more. I am eager to be sharpened by a deeper understanding of God’s Word in places that are not my “comfort food” passages. As I sought to improve my approach and preparation to preaching last year, I noticed how often I go to Genesis 3:15, Job 19:23-27, Isaiah 25:6-9, and Ezekiel 18:21-32 when I get excited about a specific topic in my sermons.
I am excited about the challenge to take on a two-year challenge of reading all of Holy Scripture. It will not be a sprint as my weak flesh would prefer, but rather a committed, daily reading Holy Scripture. I dream about expanding my “comfort food” passages so I can expand my abilities in outreach opportunities.
Proverbs 8:33, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.”
I also hope and dream of listening to unbelievers more. I want to expand my experiences in outreach; specifically, I want learn how I can gently pursue conversations with unbelievers to go one step deeper…find a reason to set up one more conversation. I am confident that as I mature in expanding my go to Bible passages, the Holy Spirit will carry me along and drop me in the middle of new conversations with those who do not yet believe with the same promises of God’s Holy Word, wrapped up in the One in whom every hope and dream hinges on, Jesus Christ.
An excellent and succinct starting place when an unbeliever, a seeker, or a doubter genuinely invites us to give our “elevator pitch” we can begin by expressing our authentic self. Tell them we honestly want to listen more and understand what weighs as important or worrisome on their heart and soul. Once we have waited, listened, and expressed our desire to listen…then our hopes and dreams to sincerely share the Gospel may receive an equal welcome and audience in that shared conversation.
There is something incredibly powerful when we honestly assess the condition of the world and ourselves and state to an unbeliever that everything is undeniably broken. Then share a Scripture passage like Psalm 118:13 with them to emphasize that truth in light of God’s presence and action for our sake, “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.” Who knows where the Holy Spirit will take the conversation and friendship from there?! But any continued conversation with an unbeliever, when they see the authenticity of our hopes and dreams, is an exciting place to be living.
Happy new year! What are your hopes and dreams for the new year of 2023? I pray that we properly prepare to achieve them by asking God what he will do and where he will lead us this coming year. May the Lord bless your spiritual growth in your prayer life and your daily devotion life. In Jesus’ Name. Alleluia and Amen!
“And he (Christ) came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 2:17-19.
This is one of those special years where Advent begins in November. How has this beautiful season of preparation started off for you?
Do you already feel exhausted? Is it a monumental struggle to find time to be intentionally meditative and appreciate the moment? Or could this be a season you are dreading because of anxieties, burdens, or sorrows that silently weigh you down?
Wherever you find yourself at this very moment, I pray you will receive this article as a simple resource. I pray it is a helpful companion as you light the appropriate number of candles each week of Advent and be still with the Lord, the Coming Messiah.
First Week: Hope, The Prophecy Candle
For the first week of Advent, I invite you to light one candle and remember what this first Advent candle symbolizes: the eternal gift of Hope, God’s promised hope passed down to us through the power of the Holy Spirit and entrusted to our forefathers in the faith. Consider how this passage about a star, a symbol of royalty given authority from heaven to reign. This hope was given to Moses beforehand and realized in its full brightness in the Messiah King searched for and found by the Wise Men under the star of Bethlehem!
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. – Numbers 24:17
This also blesses us with hope in knowing the One whose First Advent happened just as God promised, is coming again for the Second Advent, just as God has promised. There is hope for you and me, even as we wait patiently…expectantly for the Messiah King, alongside Moses and all our forefathers in the faith.
Second Week: Faith, the Bethlehem Candle
For the second week of Advent, light two candles and remember what the second Advent candle symbolizes: the eternal gift of Faith, that is dependent wholly and completely on the giver of the gift. It is incredible to be reassured that this is dependent on the strength of Jesus Christ alone! When Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, he did it with the clear purpose of comforting our terrified minds. As our Lutheran Confessions reflect, “Christ’s flesh was given as food for the life of the world.” – Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXII 10.
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. – John 6:51
Third Week: Joy, The Shepherd Candle
For the third week of Advent, light three candles (the third one being pink if you have one on your advent wreath!) and remember what the third Advent candle symbolizes: joy. In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Jesus commands us to raise our heads in confident expectation of a blessed event. Even more certain than singing Joy to the World on Christmas Day in the Divine Service, is the truth of our deliverance from all forces of sin and evil. Consider how great it is to sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found!” – Joy to the World stanza 3.
Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Luke 21:28
Fourth Week: Peace, The Angel Candle
For the fourth week of Advent, light four candles and remember what the four Advent candle symbolizes: peace. Remember how we started out with the prophet candle, the hope that has been promised of old? We return to the voice of our forefathers, echoing down the ages what God first spoke to them through his Holy Spirit. We are invited to remember a present and everlasting gift that is ours from the One True God who loves us.
This passage from the prophet Malachi is God speaking directly to believers. Ponder this: the Ruler of the Universe is speaking to you personally. He is calling you to hear the pronouncement of his counsel. God does not desire to keep the promise a secret from you! God wants you to hear, understand, receive, and then go tell it on a mountain…that he offers the eternal gift of peace to all who believe.
God gives us peace now, a peace that surpasses all understanding because of the healing in the forgiveness of sins we enjoy through Christ Jesus alone. God promises us the healing peace of the resurrection when this same Jesus comes again in his Second Advent.
For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. – Malachi 4:2
I pray this will be a simple resource that blesses your Advent journey alongside your Savior, alongside your forefathers in the faith, and alongside your church family as we all prepare for the Coming Messiah together.
The truth about life is the juxtaposition between so much being broken and so much to be thankful for. We are hopelessly broken creatures living in a terribly broken world. In stark contrast to this bitter truth is the truth that there is so much to be thankful for.
I invite you to ponder your favorite Thanksgiving memory; was it from a recent year or from many years ago? Was it a memory of the fellowship in preparing the house and the food for family and beloved friends? Or do you remember the delicious dessert brought by a grandmother or friend? Or, if you are anything like me, the memory of the morning football game outside with the laughter of kids and grown-ups, the crunching of autumn leaves underfoot…while we try to live out our football dreams without a hospital visit before the Thanksgiving feast with gathered loved ones.
The gift to gather around a meal and share the gift of fellowship with family and friends at Thanksgiving mirrors the incredible wealth we experience as Christians every week. Think about it…God gathers us around his table to receive his eternal gifts of forgiveness, joy, and hope in his Word and Sacraments even as we still live as pilgrims, sojourners in a broken, sorrow-filled world. There is so much to be thankful for even as we acknowledge how difficult it is to look at the world around us and even the broken state of our own heart, mind, and soul. God provides us sustenance for our earthly journey in himself and his gifts to us!
As I remember Thanksgiving memories from the near and long-ago past, I see so many beloved faces and hear so many voices from those no longer with us among the living on earth. I miss them terribly. Even as I deal with that bitter sorrow, I am comforted in knowing that reality is much more than the present longing for the past while simultaneously being thankful in the present. As we begin the month of November, I am thankful that because of the accomplished work of God through his Son, Jesus, Christ, the faces I no longer see and the voices I no longer hear are not something doomed to remain in the past, dead, and gone. I am thankful for Jesus giving us hope that the past and present indeed have a future in him.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy *catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life + everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean? … In this Christian church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
I give thanks for the truth of God’s eternal gifts meaning so much for us in the present. God brings us comfort as we deal with the truth of our present reality – the juxtaposition of the world being broken and yet, we have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for the daily bread of God’s Word that applies to all of us among the living. It is good to have time to give thanks for our one and only hope, the Savior, Jesus Christ, Victor over Sin, Devil, and Death. May we hear him and share him as we still have days afforded to us on earth!
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2
Jesus said, “All who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5:28-29
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. – 1 Corinthians 15:42-43
Christ will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. – Philippians 3:21
May we be blessed to receive, remember, recite, and re-share the Good News God gives to us in this month of thankfulness and every future month he affords us on earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen!
So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. – Galatians 3:24-26
When the month “October” is mentioned, what comes to mind? For the general population it is likely the magnificent explosion of color in nature, especially the leaves. Summer is giving way to Fall or Autumn. Crops and fruits are gathered, leaves are falling, at least for all of us who reside in the northern hemisphere!
For Christians of our confession, Lutherans, October recalls the monumental events of history leading up to and following October 31, 1517. The Reformation! What you see in the Galatians passage above is not only our Confirmation families’ October memory work, but also the glorious freedom of the Gospel being understood better in a language everyone can understand. The Gospel is better understood because of the results that came about from Martin Luther challenging the church leaders of the Church with his 95 Theses. The ultimate result of this historical confrontation and epic debates of the proper understanding of God’s Holy Word, the Bible, is this: We are no longer doomed to try to try the impossible and defeat Sin, Satan, or Death by money we give or by works we try to achieve. Jesus Christ has defeated Sin, Satan, and Death for us by his death and resurrection. Jesus Christ has given us the gift of faith, forgiveness, and the hope of the Resurrection.
Here is what October means to me. I can still vividly remember walking around Huntington, Indiana with my Grandpa Thomas when I was in 4th and 5th grade in October. He went on several walks with me so I could gather up leaves from a variety of trees all over that small town for a science class project. I distinctly remember having conversations with my grandfather and with my mother about the season of Autumn being a time where the world is preparing to go to sleep…truly a soft and artistic way to talk to a child about death. The cycle of seasons is truly like the seasons of our earthly life. Autumn will give way to Winter. Life will give way to Death. When my Grandpa Thomas died a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to drive home to be at my mother’s side for his funeral. I was able to catch my mom in quiet moments of longing and grief as she found pictures of him as a younger dad helping build the church his funeral service was now being conducted at. I wanted to take my mother’s sorrow away so desperately. I am so thankful Jesus’ eternal Victory for our sake is so easy to grasp in this pilgrimage of grief across our lives on earth.
The ultimate gift of the Reformation is this certainty and clarity of the Gospel’s application: my grandfather’s life did not end with the Winter of Death. Jesus Christ won the victory for my grandpa and for all who have died in faith and all of us who still live and will indeed die in faith, assuming that is before Jesus’ Second Advent! My Grandpa Thomas now marvels in his Savior’s embrace in the season that comes after Winter. The Spring of the Resurrection that will have no end. New life, forever, because of Jesus Christ alone. Alleluia! The new life cycle of eternity, where Winter’s sorrow and biting chill of death is finally no more, forever.
When the month of October comes around, I recall a walk with my grandpa to collect fallen leaves in Huntington, Indiana in the early 1990’s. I remember the grief of my mother at her father’s passing. I remember that one day my mother and I will also be parted by death. I am so thankful that this parting is temporary because of all Jesus Christ has won for us when he died upon that cross and rose from the dead three days later. I am so thankful that the inevitable Winter of Death, Sorrow, and Grave will certainly be swallowed by the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Jesus Christ, just as he has promised in his own blood. I am thankful to see how the Reformation helps us see, hear, understand, and share with the world how amazing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for us in all our earthly and eternal needs. I pray that you find comfort in the Good News of Jesus Christ just like my mother and I do…as we await the inevitable Spring to come in Eternity. In Jesus’ Name. Amen!
As we utter the traditional words of August, “How is summer flying by so fast?!” I invite you to reflect on opportunities for us in the quickly approaching fall. Our August memory work from the prophet Isaiah is an excellent place to begin.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. – Isaiah 60:1
The first word, an imperative verb, is an awesome command of joy and comfort from our Creator. The context here is God calling his people to rise from the dust they’ve been sitting in, like a captive who is grieving. The applicability across the centuries, including our present day, is clear: We have so much hope from our God who makes us victors over our enemies, even the enemies of sorrow and death!
The second word, also an imperative, is a command from God to be enlightened to impart upon, to share with others. It is also a word of assurance, of what God will certainly accomplish in the Messiah! What an incredible gift we’ve received to also share with the world around us.
Please pray about this: How will you reflect this glory of God, so your neighbors are positively impacted by the hope of Jesus Christ you’re marveling at and living in, even as you face very real earthly struggles?
When we read the words “for your light has come” I challenge you to reflect upon this: How will you spend time taking advantage of opportunities to bask in and gather in the presence of God’s light by being in his holy Word, with fellow believers, this fall?
Here is an example to inspire you. This summer our family has been reading through the book of Proverbs. I was surprised to have our son Camden tell me, “Dad, I really like this because we are spending time with God, together.” I am excited to see what we will explore in God’s Word at home this fall. I am equally excited for our Small Group Bible Study opportunities we’ll have this fall! I challenge you to take this month of August to pray and plan for the ways you’ll actively celebrate the Light of Christ drawing near to you in his holy Word. What are some Bible stories or topics of faith and reality that sound exciting to you? Ask me about considering the topic and perhaps you could facilitate the discussion with me!
The final portion of Isaiah 60 verse 1 is where I want to conclude this August reflection on your walk with your Creator this fall. The prophet is inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, “and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” In the days of old, namely in the time of the Exodus, God’s glory was in the cloud and rested above the ark of the covenant. But now, as Jeremiah 3:16 also declares, the glory of the Lord is in the person of Christ. God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us is fulfilled in Christ Jesus and this happens on a daily, literally moment by moment basis, when we are blessed to bask in his holy Word, filled with the presence of his Holy Spirit!
The summer of 2022 is quickly flying by. It’s never fun to say farewell to summer, but I am excited about the opportunities before us this fall to arise in real, authentic hope and bask in God’s glorious presence. God bless your summer reflections as we prepare to reflect God’s glory to our neighbors, together, as the Lord’s people this fall.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. – Isaiah 60:1