Longtime Love

Imagine being there in the beginning. Watching God ordain night and day. Hearing Him speak forth mountains and animals. Witnessing mankind being made. Imagine hovering there and breathing it in.

Imagine watching mankind fall. Feeling your heart fall with them. Their innocence, gone. Their troubles merely starting. The hope and peace and joy you felt fade as your dazzling creation trekked away through sin and self-inflicting pain.

Imagine them trying their best and waiting expectantly. So many of them. Hearing them pray. Watching them obey. Knowing that they believed (and rightfully so) that the ways of sacrifice would one day change. Knowing (sadly) that their expectations didn’t match what would become reality.

Imagine the bustle in heaven. Angels flying off to bring messages. Looking at Mary and Joseph lovingly. Seeing how different they were compared to how they would soon be.

Imagine being born. Laid in a manger and being surrounded by animals that you heard being spoken into existence. Living in Creation instead of watching it. Knowing it intimately before but now being a part of it. Being in the form of something you witnessed being formed. Looking up at the stars and moon you saw being separated from the sun and daytime.

Imagine loving something so much that you’d look past all its failures and faults – past, present, and future – in order to become that creation to save them.

That baby in a manger was love a long time coming.

God’s love is a love that doesn’t give up. No matter how far gone mankind was or what we’d done or how much we tried to run from God, He still loved us to the extent that He was willing to send His own Son for us. A human manifestation of part of the Godhead. Selfless, noble, pure, devoted love.

The scene that we picture when we read of the birth of Jesus is a pleasant and peaceful one. I in no way want to detract from that itself, but that scene should also be looked at for what is was on a timeline. Humanity was a sinful mess. When they fell, it was hard and the first of countless falls. They couldn’t redeem themselves. And that’s why Jesus came. He was more than the hope of the Israelites. He was the hope of all humanity. The joy we greet the Christmas season with as believers comes from realizing that.

How obvious is the love of Christ to you this Christmas season? Do you see it around you? Are you looking for it? If you have it, are you handing it out to others as generously as you have received it? What role is the love of Christ playing in your life right now?

I pray that you find yourself surrounded by the love of Christ soon if you don’t already. Because if it weren’t for the love of Christ, we wouldn’t have the hope, peace, and joy that He offers. These things aren’t just pretty words to throw around every December; they are gifts from God that make life easier. Gifts that come to us as a result of the greatest gift that we could’ve ever asked for and never deserved: Jesus.

By Carrie Prevette

Jumping for Joy

Back in the day, when Abstract separated Bible studies by ages and had them on different nights, Maggie taught the young adult Bible study. I specifically remember one night when we read a scripture with the word “rejoice” in it a lot, and I remember how Maggie’s face lit up at the mention of the word.

This didn’t surprise me for two reasons. First, you can’t say “rejoice” without also saying “joy” because the sound of the latter is right in the center of the former. Second, to rejoice is a direct consequence of joy. And if you’ve met Maggie even once, you know she has an abundance of joy.

How do we know it’s joy and not just happiness? Happiness is far more circumstantial than joy, and I have seen Maggie stressed out and frustrated while still being optimistic and cheerful.

Maggie has a deep well of joy, and it is evident from just being in the same room as her. I’m envious of that.

I’m probably in the very middle between melancholy and joyous. On an average day, I’ll listen to a sad song just as soon as I’ll listen to a happy song. I’m just as cynical as I am optimistic; it just depends on the subject, how my day’s going, or the position of Jupiter as to which one you get. (But seriously, there’s no real rhyme or reason for which mindset I approach things with, and for that, I’m sorry. Must make interacting with me a real pain sometimes.)

Some people just aren’t as predisposed to joy as others, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with not being a naturally positive person.

Of all the themes of Advent, joy is the least prevalent one in the Christmas story as I see it.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand how the existence of Jesus is joyful for people at the time and for us now. I understand the joy of Jesus well. It’s difficult for me to see the joy in the Christmas story itself. It’s easy for me to see hope, peace, and love at work through or because of Mary and Joseph’s uncertainty, faith, fear, and courage, but it is a bit more difficult for me to see joy.

There is, however, one point in the story where joy is evident and clear, more so than the other three Advent themes. It’s before Mary and Joseph knock on the innkeeper’s door. Before Caesar Augustus even called for the census. Oddly enough, it’s after the angels talk of joy and rejoicing.

Gabriel told Mary of her impending pregnancy and her cousin Elizabeth’s existing pregnancy. “A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said'” (Luke 1:39-45, NLT).

A fetus (John the Baptist as a fetus, specifically) was so overcome with joy at simply hearing Mary talk that he rejoiced by jumping.

That’s the effect Jesus has on people. That’s the amount of joy He offers.

John’s jump is a little taste of what the angels talked about when they said Jesus would bring the world joy and that they would rejoice.

I mentioned earlier that happiness is more circumstantial than joy is, but that’s not to say that circumstances can’t whittle away at our joy. As the old adage goes, “When it rains, it pours.” So perhaps you find yourself in the middle of a rain storm. Maybe you see all these Christmas decorations or hear all these Christmas songs that proclaim joy, but you just aren’t there.

This is going to sound silly, but look at what you’re focusing on. Really look at it and be honest about it. I know it’s a problem. Is it really that big or terrifying? Some problems are and some aren’t. How solvable is it? How draining is it? How much are you contributing to the problem just by holding on to it?

Now look at baby Jesus, and I mean really look at Him. Who He was before this — a part of the Trinity who’s always existed. Who He is — an innocent newborn, made of blood and flesh like you and me. Who He becomes — a heart healer, a chain breaker, a best friend, a King, a perfect sacrifice, a loving Savior.

Isn’t that a hopeful picture? That this baby is but the middle part of a powerful, loving existence. And that gives a weird sense of peace, right? Like everything is by some miracle going to be even better than okay.

There. There’s the joy. A result of hope and peace. Not always easy to have, but more difficult to lose because when you have it, it seeps into you. It runs deep. It can wane and even be depleted entirely, but it’s not easily done because while it’s easy to lose hope or peace, it’s hard and devastating to lose both at once.

I hope you find the joy you’re looking for. I know there’s no better place to search than Jesus. His joy is always there for you, even if your joy is gone. It is constant and powerful, just like Him.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- If you’re interested in listening to Maggie talk about joy, which is far better than reading what I have to say about it here, you can follow this link to listen to her sermon: http://www.abstractchurch.org/sermons/.

Peace Problems

Peace is arguably the most difficult thing to obtain and keep. There are so many inside and outside forces trying to steal it from us. War, both literal and figurative. Physical, mental, spiritual afflictions. If I had a dollar for every time I talked to someone who was worried or stressed out who said, “It’s always something,” I could’ve stayed in bed this morning instead of going to work.

Some would probably argue that this is a result of our fast-paced world, and one could even go farther and say that Christmastime is the worst for it. Expedited shipping, the bustle in stores, planning parties and dinners, driving all over the place, working overtime to be able to afford it all, and maybe the added pressure of making it all seem effortless (if that kind of thing is important to you).

But if we operate under the knowledge that God’s word is timelessly true, then we have to know that God’s promises of peace were just as true and necessary for people back when the words were being written as they are now.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that everyone’s struggle for peace is the same. I don’t live in a country where land, resources, and families are currently torn by war. I don’t have to face every day with heartache and confusion about needing to make amends with someone I love who I’ve hurt. And I assure you that while I don’t have a lot of money, I’m not scrounging for food, scouting for a place to sleep, or standing in line at a homeless shelter. No, my struggle to find peace and my entire relationship with peace is vastly different than many, many other people’s on this planet. And yours probably is too. Because while all of our peace problems may differ, all of our peace problems certainly exist.

As I mentioned last week, the Israelites were looking for a savior. They were looking for a king who would ride in and rescue them from the Romans and all their other problems.

They never got what they were looking for in a physical, earthly manifestation. Jesus wasn’t a government gladiator or born in a palace or a battle-tested warrior or even a soldier.

But He was the Savior everyone needed and none deserved.

In this realm, Jesus certainly promoted and provided peace, although not to the extent the Jewish people had hoped. (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…” (John 14:27, NIV), etc.) But in the spiritual realm, Jesus is constantly fighting and leading in more ways than we can imagine. Saving us from our past, future missteps, and often ourselves.

Most often, peace rests in our minds rather than a tangible or outer form. So it makes sense that this would be where Jesus would work the most since it’s usually where we need it most.

Prince of Peace is one of the most fitting titles bestowed upon Jesus (Isaiah 9:6). I mean, just look at His life and words. Just try reading the story of His birth without feeling a great sense of tranquility.

The Israelites may not have gotten the peace they were searching for, but they would’ve gotten more than they could’ve even asked for had they only taken God up on His promises.

Let’s not make that same mistake. I may not know your problems, but I’m certain you could use more peace in your life. Why not look to the Prince of Peace and the God who’s never broken a promise? Take Him up on it. He will give you a peace that transcends any and all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

By Carrie Prevette

Looking Forward

Hope is a light in the dark. It guides us. It motivates us. Without it, we wouldn’t care to go on because what would be the point? How would we see to go if we even wanted to?

We put a lot of emphasis on love, I more than anyone. Paul would agree with me, I think, since he wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (NRSV). So if the doctrine had a Big Three like some sports teams do, it’d be faith, hope, and love. All extremely important. It’s just that love is the one that stands front and center on all the magazine covers.

Hope deserves far more recognition than I think it gets. It’s what keeps us moving forward instead of stopping in our tracks.

Israel had a large, elaborate history of going to war, and the Jewish people have a long, sorrowful history of being oppressed. These were the circumstances and eyes that looked for the initial coming of Jesus. They were looking for liberation. They sought a new King who would usher in a new way of life.

Jesus wasn’t what people expected. They were watching for a mighty ruler to send the Romans running. They got a baby born in a manger.

So there is hope in the history leading up to the birth of Jesus. Prophecies and promises on the path to fulfillment. The earth tingling silently from contact with its Creator. People patiently waiting for change.

There is also hope for us in the birth of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15:22 (NRSV) reads, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” This is echoed in verse 45 of that same chapter when Paul writes, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Humanity failed. We distanced ourselves from God, and we’ve been getting lost within that distance ever since. We were dark stains before the purest Lord, and He couldn’t stand it to the point that He gave His son so that we could be cleansed.

And it came in the most ordinary package. A baby. Born to a family who was by no means wealthy or well-known far and wide. They couldn’t even get a room. Born to a family who was just figuring it out as they went along, if we’re being honest, and trusting in what God had told them. Isn’t that just like God, to give us hope in the most average of places, in the most normal ways?

I don’t know what you’re hoping for as this Christmas season arrives, but my hope is that your hope is in the right place. That it aligns with God and His will and that it’s for only what will glorify Him. And as we look forward that we would find ways to find hope again and again in the Christmas story, in our current and living relationships with God, and in each other.

By Carrie Prevette

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