Merry Christmas

May you and your family experience anew the hope, love, joy, and peace that first came over 2,000 years ago when God did the unthinkable — when He stepped down and was born in a manger.

Merry Christmas to all of our students, partners, and readers of our blog!

The Names of God

I was reading through the Old Testament this past week and I found a Scripture that caught my eye. I was gearing up for Christmas, so I had sought out some old favorite Scriptures in the Old Testament that, I believe, point forward to the coming of Christ. Isaiah has a lot to say about Christ, and so naturally that book was the first one that I turned to. In Isaiah 9:6, it reads:

“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.”

This verse is usually used to connect the Old Testament to the New through Christ. I made a mental note of this and almost turned away when the names of God at the end of the verse caught my attention. These four names are given to Christ, and yet I had only ever acknowledged them – I had never consciously thought about what they meant.

As Wonderful Counselor, Christ offers guidance and direction to our lives. He is ready and willing to show us His plan and how to prosper, if we will only seek Him. His advice is extraordinary, it is astounding, and it is full of Him. When we need it, He simply listens to our cries. He is our Wonderful Counselor.

As Mighty God, Christ saves us from disaster and fends off our enemies. He is all-powerful and guards us on all sides. He will protect you from the things that seek to destroy you and He will lift you up when times are hard. He hears your crying during times of trouble and sweeps in like a mighty wave to save you. He is our Mighty god.

As Everlasting Father, Christ is always with us. Even when we cannot feel Him, He is still by our side. He never leaves, He never falters, He never fails. He is faithful, and is always ready for us. He existed before us and promises to take us into forever with Him. He is our Everlasting Father.

Finally, as Prince of Peace, Christ calms our hearts and minds. When our minds are tossed by the busy-ness of the world, He brings us rest. When our hearts are torn and mangled by the ones we love, He grants us healing. In the stormiest of days, He whispers peace into our souls. He is our Prince of Peace.

As Christmas approaches, remember who Christ is. Remember who He is to you now, and all that He can, and wants, to be. He came into this world to save you. And you can call Him Marvelous Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

Advent Deeper: Loving the Misfit

“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
Matthew 1:16

Love. It’s the core of the Christmas story.

Mary’s love for God, enduring the sneers and comments of being an unwed, teenage mother.
Joseph’s love for Mary, choosing to stay with her when he had every right to publicly shame her.
God’s love for His creation in sending His own son to earth.

You can’t read the Christmas story without coming face to face with the truth of love.

But there’s another aspect of love in the Christmas story we tend to overlook.
The genealogy of Christ.

In this long list of people we don’t know and names we can’t pronounce, we get a glimpse into just how deep God’s love is for us.

When Christ striped himself of his divinity and chose to be born as a man, He could have picked any family line he wanted.

He could have come through the bloodline of impeccable royalty.
He could have stepped into the genealogy of the wealthy.
He could have chosen a family line that didn’t have huge secrets, embarrassing failures, and countless screw-ups.

Christ could have come through the best of the Israelites.
It’s what they had expected.

They wanted their Messiah to come through royalty.
They were expecting fanfare fit for a King.
They were convinced their Savior would be born into influence.

Instead, His bloodline was riddled with failures.

Abraham prostituted out his wife.
Isaac did the same.
Jacob lied, deceived, and stole from his brother.
Judah slept with a prostitute who ended up being his daughter-in-law Tamar.
Rahab was the prostitute who helped the Israelites in Jericho.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed.

The list goes on and on.

The lowly of the low.

This is the genealogy God chose to be born into.
Not wealth.
Not prestige.
Not the holy of the holy.

God chose the outcasts, the failures, the embarrassments of the Israelite clan as his human bloodline to show his love isn’t reserved for those who have it all together.

He loves the misfits, the murderers, the prostitutes, the liars, the failures, those who turned their back on him for one fleeting moment of satisfaction.

And He loves you.

No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or how badly you’ve messed up.
That is the crux of the Christmas story.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we journey towards the manger this year, may you be reminded of how much God truly loves you. May you fully understand your past doesn’t diminish His love for you. And may you, as you grasp the fullness of His love for you, respond in kind, and pour our your love for Him.

How has God poured out His love on you in your weaknesses?

Should I Practice Advent?

There seems to be a belief among many Christians that the season of Advent is strictly reserved for High Liturgical churches. Most protestant, evangelical churches shy away from Advent, believing it too traditional to have any redemptive value.

History of Advent

The origins of Advent aren’t completely clear, but do trace back to the Latin Translation of the Sacred Scriptures to the Vulgate (fourth century) which attribute the term adventus, meaning the coming of the Son of God, in two meanings: his coming in flesh and his second coming. The tension between the two meanings was later was resolved and adventus referred to “a moment of preparation for the coming.”

The very first recorded instance of an Advent-like observation came in 380 AD when congregants were encouraged to attend church every day to prepare themselves for the celebration of Christmas.

By 490 AD, Saint Gregory of Tours offered a testimony of a certain sense of preparation for Christmas among the monks: “they should observe fasting everyday during the month of December, up to Christmas day” (Canon 17, Council of Tours).

The specifics surrounding the celebration of Advent underwent a number of changes over the next few centuries, with the length of Advent and prescribed observation changing until landing on the four Sundays before Christmas, which is the current practice of Advent.

Character of Advent

Advent serves as time for Christians of all denominations to reflect and prepare themselves to celebrate the first coming of Christ in human form over 2,000 years ago, and the second coming of Christ that we still await. The present Roman Calendar acknowledges that “Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation.” (Roman Calendar, Universal norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 39)

Advent Traditions

There are many different traditions associated with Advent. The two most popular include:

  • The Advent Wreath: This garland wreath comes with five candles: four on it and one in the center. During each week of Advent, a candle is lit to give focus and direction to ones reflection of Christ. The four candles on it represent the themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The candle in middle represents the presence of Christ.
  • The Advent Calendar: There are numerous versions of the Advent Calendar, ranging from receiving a small gift each day during the season of Advent to being given a task or reflection to focus oneself on Christ.

A quick Google search for Advent Traditions will give you a better idea of other traditions people practice during Advent.

Redeeming Advent

While Advent is steeped in tradition and can come across as lifeless to some, an understanding of the origins and meaning behind Advent can result in practice that brings one closer to Christ.

This year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 2. Ignite has put together two resources to help you draw closer to Christ and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas this year: our Away in a Manger Advent Devotion Book and our Advent Calendar. Both resources are free and will help you encounter Christ this Advent season.

View our Advent Resources page.

How do you practice Advent?

Merry Christmas!

Thank you to all our partners, students, blog readers and everyone else who volunteered their time and energy to the ministry of Ignite. We thank God for each of you!

Merry Christmas!