Hold Fast

Do you have a personal mantra? Is there a phrase or saying that embodies your philosophy, attitude, or belief in a succinct way? The champion boxer Muhammad Ali was famous for “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” You can’t walk past a Penn Stater without someone yelling, “WE ARE!” Yoda teaches us “Do or do not….there is no try.” When my daughter was battling cancer, her mantra was “Go big or go home.” She went big.

The Apostle Paul was a mantra-maker. Almost everything he wrote could be captured on a bumper sticker or emblazoned on a t-shirt. A mantra is something that provides you with words you can live by, so if you’re looking for a new one, choose something from Paul.

Rejoice always!

Pray without ceasing.

Give thanks in all circumstances!

Hold fast to what is good.

Take a look at his letter to the Thessalonians and see what I mean:

1 Thessalonians 5 (English Standard Version)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies,21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

As we say on my side of the pew, that will preach! Of these few examples (and his letters are full of them), which would you choose for a personal mantra?

I have always loved Romans 8:28, which says that God can use ALL things for the good of those who love him and are called to his purpose. But for now, I am choosing verse 21b: Hold fast to what is good.

In this period of isolation, in this unsettled Christmas season that finds us grappling with the fear and grief that the virus has brought to all of us, I am choosing to hold fast to what is good.

Because in the end, it’s all good.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

I pray you will hold fast, too.

Hold Fast by Wende Pritchard

Promised New Heaven

Don’t you just hate interruptions? They slow down your progress, derail your train of thought, and often feel just rude. I used to get aggravated when I was interrupted at work until I finally realized that interruptions ARE the job. Every time someone pokes their head in the doorway and says, “Can I bother you for a second?” it is a call to ministry. I have even learned that when the sound of a siren interrupts worship, that is a time to stop everything and pray. Something more important is happening…God is redirecting our attention to what he wants us to focus on.

The interruption of 2 Peter into our mellow Christmas preparations is a little startling today. We are so ready to hear about angels, shepherds, mooing cows, the baby who sleeps through the night on a pile of hay without crying….bring it on!

But this lectionary passage looks well past the manger and reinforces the reason that the Holy Child came at all. What exactly was the point of the incarnation? To prove God’s power through a miraculous conception? To deliver God-Made-Flesh as an infant for us to worship and adore? To give the Three Kings somewhere to go?

Jesus came for one reason: to save humanity. All the lullaby songs, all the gentle sheep, all the startled shepherds standing under the epiphany star were just the beginning. Jesus came to herald in the Day of God.

2 Peter 3 (The Message)

11-13 Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.

Where are you looking this Advent season? Are you so focused on the life-giving birth that you have forgotten the life-saving death? Remind me, why are we doing this again?

We do it again to be ready for the real ending. The ending that Christ began in the manger. The ending he delivered on the cross. The ending that he guaranteed three days later at his resurrection.

So for today, live your life for the ending. Live at your best. Live in purity and peace. Live as one who is looking the other way, toward the promised new heaven and the promised new earth.

Live a holy life.

14-16 So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace. Interpret our Master’s patient restraint for what it is: salvation.

This is what you have to look forward to! And it promises to be the best Christmas present you’ll receive…so don’t miss it.

Look Toward the New Heaven by Peggy Bryson

Singing Hallelujah

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)

“The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

It is so tempting to hit the “Publish” button right now. What could possibly be added to the glory and beauty of that Isaiah passage? It gives me chills to read it. I can hear the echos of Handel’s Messiah as I read it: those gloriously phrased notes of “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God! The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!”

I had the unexpected blessing of standing next to my sister-in-law and singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Disney World this week. Yes, Virginia, they do read scripture at Disney World. It is accompanied by a full orchestra, a 200-plus choir, six herald trumpets, and a deaf interpreter signing each note and word from the stage. All hope is not lost in this world. My sister-in-law is an excellent alto, and our voices combined in harmony with hundreds of others as we sang the truth about why Christmas happened.

It is important for us to sing the truth this season.

In the midst of the world’s cacophony, we need to sing, and sing loudly. We need to be that light in the darkness of commercialism and secularism. It is good for us to remind each the world that Christmas is still Christ’s Mass, a celebration of his birth. We need to complain to school boards that remove every sacred song from school Christmas productions and feed our children a sugar-diet of “Jingle Bells,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and “All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” OK, I get that the last one is relevant to the Elementary School set, but still….

Where is the truth? What is the truth?

Handel knew. He wrote Messiah in just 24 days. He wrote from morning to night. Given the sheer volume of the 259-page score, it is estimated that he wrote 15 notes per minute. In total, he wrote roughly a quarter of a million notes in a little more than three weeks. That is insane. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Messiah is in three parts. Part I begins with this prophecy by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. Part III tells of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. The story is complete, a reminder to us that when you sing of the truth of Christmas, it is good to tell the whole story, from the Old Testament promise of his first coming at the manger, to the New Testament promise of his second coming.

So go and tell. Go and sing. Go and speak the truth, using both words and actions.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplished it. Hallelujah!

Candlelight Processional by Kenn Haas