We end where we began, but not exactly. The season of Advent walks us through the anticipation and celebration of the first Advent of Christ, and leaves us longing in expectation for the second Advent of Christ. Christ has come and hope for the nations has been found, and Christ will come again to make all things new.
See, Israel longed for the coming of Christ, and they waited many years. There are about 400 years between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. The amount of time that Israel waited for Jesus reaches much further back than Malachi though. It reaches even further back than the prophecies of Christ in Isaiah and other texts of the Old Testament. In fact, the coming of Christ has been anticipated by man since the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:15 to be precise. But more than that, the coming of Christ has always been the Godhead’s plan for redemption. Never was there a time where the coming of Christ wasn’t God’s ‘plan A’.
The incarnation was not an afterthought for God to deal with the sinfulness of man. No, God was not reacting to man’s wickedness. This has been the beautiful plan of God from the beginning, that he would send his Son, the second person in the Triune Godhead, to take on flesh and walk with man. The great hymn writer Charles Wesley penned these words demonstrating the glory of Christ’s incarnation in his hymn ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing’,
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel”
These words fittingly describe Christ’s estate that he took in the incarnation. He veiled himself in the flesh of man and became our Emmanuel, our ‘God with us’. Christ, in the flesh, the Deity incarnate, fulfilling prophecy and laying to rest Israel’s initial longing for a savior.
But unlike the anticipation that Israel felt in hoping for Christ’s first advent, we, the Church, hope for his return. We live in the middle between the incarnation and the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ. We celebrate Jesus stepping down from glory into flesh, and we anticipate his kingly return.
The lives we live take place in this foreign middle between Christ’s ascension and his return.
A middle where we already have Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Sins have been paid for. Death has been slain. There is mediation before the Father. The Spirit has descended. The church has been established and is being added to daily. There are joys upon joys to celebrate in what has been graciously lavished upon us in Christ.
But, this is a middle where we continue to wait. Christ has not come again just yet, but he will. So, we long for our sorrow to be ended, and sin to be no more; to see king Jesus face to face. We look toward the dead being raised and our joy being fulfilled in the presence of the Lord forever.
Let the reality of Christ’s soon return ease your aching flesh. Scripture tells us that Christ is coming again to save those who eagerly await him, and to gather his elect from all four corners of the earth. He is coming for his people, and their sufferings in this middle will not be wasted. Christ will return with a heavenly host and will be seen as marvelous and glorious amongst his saints. Though unrelenting sorrow might bring us present woe, know this: God keeps his promises. And he is coming.
On this final day of Advent, on the precipice of Christmastide, there is much to rejoice in, and much to anticipate. Jesus has come, and he is returning soon. Rejoice!
When thinking and preparing for this piece I kept going back to a recent sermon at Emmaus about the community in Christ. I thought it was a great depiction of how, being a part of the community in Christ, we are connected and have the ability to encourage each other through Him in anticipation. We are connected to Christ and he keeps us going for His glory and purpose. So to put this in a picture I thought of us believers in Christ as flowers, and Christ as a bee. We have a purpose through him to produce fruit which he shares with others through us. We cannot live a fruitful life without Him. We rise up out of the weeds to be connected through our shared anticipation of Christ coming back and collecting his flowers as a lovely bouquet.
Already, Not Yet
Christ the king has come! With him, the kingdom.
But not himself alone did he supply:
Kingdom promised, kingdom ready on high.
Eyes of angels strained to see his glory come
Flipped as a thorny crown: this word from
Heaven’s court–blessed are the meek–but why?
Body brought near by weakness, called to die.
God with us, helper sent, breathed out in sum.
Death, though damned: roams, ravaging remains.
Still more there is to see, more He will bring.
He sets ablaze the Fire that will burn fain.
Behold day ushered in by Lowborn King,
Kingdom complete, kingdom fulfilled, earth new:
Joy! See His face, Emmanuel the True!
This glorious God of one essence in three Persons, self-existent, self-sufficient, and (source of) love itself, resided in completeness and excellency. God the Father, Creator of all; God the Son, Redeemer of man; God the Holy Spirit, Teacher of all things.
Existing for eternity past, God the Son dwelt together with the Godhead being adored and worshipped by all the hosts of heaven. Yet, despite the grandeurs and wonders of glory with the Godhead, the Son lowered himself to take on the likeness of human flesh.
God became man; The Word became flesh.
There are few phrases that carry as much glorious mystery as this one. This did not result in the Son losing his divinity, rather He chose not to exploit this divinity and took on human flesh. More so, God the Son took on the form of a servant. He could have very well chosen to be born in earthly royalty and proceed in his plan this way. Yet, He stooped to our level, the lowest of low. The omnipotent God who spoke creation into existence is now mute infant lying in a manger.
For what purpose? Why would this self-existent and self-sufficient God choose to come in human flesh? Out of sheer love for his people. Had not the Son of God become flesh to stand in our place and bear the wrath the was due us, we would have utterly perished. Yet, the mystery is heightened, God would have remained completely just and holy if He remained in the grandeurs of heaven. But because of his love so magnificent, He took on human flesh to make His people alive through his bodily death and resurrection. Because of our inability to satisfy the righteousness of God, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest pin the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
In Him was life, and life was the light of men.
This word becoming flesh, and thereby not ceasing to be the Word, is for worship and adoration. This Word lived a humiliating and self-denying life in order to bring us to God, where pleasures and treasures are forever. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. This God becoming man, not ceasing to be God, is for comfort and assurance. When the valleys of doubt and suffering begin to cave in, look to the One who is the life and light of men. “You have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Christian, your seat at the King’s table is purchased, recline and feast.
Aesthetically I drew a lot of inspiration from folk art. I’ve mentioned Native American art, but I also drew from Pennsylvania Dutch art, Scandinavian folk tales, psychedelic rock, and a whole lot of outsider art. There are a few reasons why I chose to incorporate so much folk art.
The first is quite honestly to challenge some people’s assumption of what art should be. Folk art, by definition, is done by untrained artists, yet it communicates so much emotion and resonates strongly with the viewer. Which leads to my second reason to use folk art: Folk art is the most human form of art. For that reason, it’s the perfect style to depict the incarnation of Christ. There is not training, no pretense, they have an urge to create something and they do. For your typical artist, there is also a nagging to please the critics, whether they are at a prestigious school, a gallery in New York, or on Instagram. Outsider artist are honest in a way I couldn’t be.
The piece explores the two natures of Christ, both fully God and at the same time fully man. The figure of Christ also forms the features of a mans face, and an illusory border remind us that both realities exist at once. The arcs that form the head and chin of the man represent the baptism of Christ, where the ministry (and divinity) of the Son was affirmed by the audible voice of God the Father and the manifestation of the Spirit in the form of a dove, and the other represents the wrath of God, which was poured out on Christ on our behalf. Another idea that captured my attention when thinking through these issues is our union with Christ. Christ became united with humanity, and because of His work we are able to become united with Him. There is an image in Isaiah 61 of the Messiah wearing “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness,” and in Revelation 19 the bride of Christ is also clothed in righteousness. I depicted Christ quite literally in a robe, and I thought of Native American robes. Native Americans would paint many things on robes, but men would always paint the heroic deeds they had done, the battles they had won, and the trophies they had secured. I included symbols for a few of the members of Emmaus as trophies on the robe of Christ.
God Holy became man. Cradle warmed by
The Sun of his own hands, if skin by knife
Prick’d, look — his blood would taste of us. No strife,
No speech: silent sat the babe who spoke the sky,
His cries, omniscient tears, eternal eye.
Heaven clasp Earth with soft, firm hands; a life
Of want, no room, no bed, though fortune rife
Deserved. God Holy became man. But why?
He would take up a heart to beat for us,
Eyes to weep for us, tongue to pray and preach
For us, hands and side be pierced for us: thus
His flowing blood would vilest sinner reach —
Lifted high to die, humble lustrous Glory!
But Bethlehem? Meekness sparks the Story.
*The glory of incarnation is hard to capture in 14 lines. I wanted at first to contrast the tenderness of new life with the glory of Heaven. Babies are silent, they cannot speak, except when they want to cry. God himself subjected himself to such humility. Although he spoke the world into existence, and upholds the universe by the word of his power, in the manger he could not utter human language. He could only cry. But in his crying he is wiser than any earthly king. Have you ever felt a baby’s hands? They are soft, vulnerable — yet these little hands firmly held the world. How incredible that Christ would leave the palaces of Heaven for the slop bucket of earth.
In writing this piece, I was inspired by a few quotes by one of the most silver-tongued puritans, Samuel Rutherford. He writes so beautifully in The Trial and Triumph of Faith of a God who would take on all the nuances of human form, so as to leverage that human form to save sinners like us. I attempted to convey that image in the last stanza. Finally, I compare Calvary and Bethlehem. We often look to the cross as a symbol of Jesus’ humility, and rightfully so. The King was unjustly accused and “opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). But the birth of Jesus, and more specifically the incarnation, shows us that he began his life in the same sacrificial humility that he ended it with. This humility, as Philippians 2 tells us, is the primary reason for his supremacy over all things, in heaven and on earth.
Finally, you may notice some overlap of words and themes from last weeks sonnet on glory. This is intentional: glory and humility walk hand in hand. God uses both simultaneously to accomplish his purposes in Christ. Oh the mesmerizing contrast of Christmas!
This is part two of a four-part blog series focusing on the season of Advent. For the next few weeks, Emmaus poets, writers and artists will share their work with us as we anticipate Christmas together.
Take a minute, church, and ponder the boundless beauty of Jesus.
He authored all origins. He clocked-in the entire cosmos. He permitted time to begin ticking. He has no ancestors, no roots, no source, no predecessors. He simply is, and has always been. He introduced time and space to one another. He inaugurated the entire universe. He is the founder of all foundations and beginnings – the first cause, the primary mover. No number can begin to quantify his eternality. It is impossible to wrap your mind around how long he has existed. But try to! Then sit in awe of the God-ness of your King.
This is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and God Himself.
He is the sustainer. He has always, for all time, held everything together – by His Word. He prepared and baked all laws of physics and thermodynamics and relativity, which continue to baffle the most brilliant brains in all of humanity. And He holds together the fibers of their brains while baffling them. Actually, He upholds every fiber of every object that ever existed. Just try to comprehend that last sentence. Every fiber. Every object. That ever existed. Adam and Eve’s bodies, your body, and everyone in between. Mountains, oceans, subatomic particles, and the manger he was born into. He sustains them all. Try to comprehend this, church! No wonder the heavenly beings have been singing to him for ages.
“Holy, holy, holy.” This is their song. This is the everlasting cadence of the beings of highest order. They surround Him, and cover their faces and prostrate themselves – which is the only proper response to His immeasurable glory and majesty. He is absolutely perfect. No accusation of sin can stick to Him. No ounce of imperfection has ever come from Him. He is totally pure. No sin has ever breached the barrier of His home in Heaven. He is unscathed, unstained and untouched by the ugliness of ungodliness. He has always been this way – from as long as time can remember and before.
Their song contains the correct lyrics – He is holy. Wholly holy.
This glorious, heavenly, eternal Jesus became infant Jesus. He had the opposite of a humble background. His resume, as a helpless baby, reads, “Creator of all things,” and “Sustainer of all life.” He is who made the Holy Night holy. He is the true Light. In him there is no darkness. At all. All darkness evacuates at the whisper of His name. It always has, for all time. Nothing can eclipse the radiance of His glory. Nothing. Try to wrap your brain around that thought! Darkness has never done anything but flee from Jesus. It is accustomed to it. Our Jesus – Jesus Christ, the true Light.
And this true Light, came into the world.
Whatever is beautiful, majestic, powerful, and worthy of commendation can be summed up in Jesus Christ. See this Jesus, praise this Jesus, prostrate yourself before this Jesus.
Take a minute, church, and ponder the boundless beauty and glory of Jesus.
In this painting I was trying to capture what reminds me of Jesus’ glory. I think of it with every sunrise and how we are surrounded by his eternal glory with each new morning. I chose nature because it is something that always makes me feel close to the Lord and makes me feel overwhelmed with his glory.
There is a Man whose flesh came second, I’ve heard.
Some say He holds the stars, as if His will
Grants Orion’s bow to sing and kill.
By second, they hint mortality deferred,
The lines of now and then and soon all blurred.
That is, great Time to Him tips his tall bill,
For ages move when He undrys his quill.
Strange still, I ask His name? They say “The Word”.
Mystery, and yet, informed by all this glory!
With God, was God, is God — ‘Ere moon ‘ere sun,
His life spilt and spelt Light for man’s story;
This is the Christ, begot from Heav’n, the Son.
As He makes bright Himself, clearly I see
He comes, first born, to offer birth to me.
*Christmas is about glory. Without an understanding of the eternal glory of Jesus Christ the Son, the manger is robbed of its poignance and power. There is no wonder in the lowly stable without the contrast of the magnificence of heaven. The magi and shepherds come to worship not just a baby, but also a glorious Son. But without God’s help, how can we comprehend the beauty of Jesus? All we see is a baby, meek and mild. We need revelation — as the shepherds heard the heavenly choir and the magi saw the heavenly star — in order to understand the weight of incarnation. God must make his glory know to us. I wanted my poem about glory to make the reader feel this need for divine revelation.
I’ve attempted to do this by telling a simple narrative with an unknown actor. The sonnet form chosen is written in iambic pentameter to bring form and structure to the poem (a symbol of the perfect nature of glory), and its two stanzas help move the narrative along by providing a distinct turn in tone. In the first stanza (called the octave, because of its eight lines), we are introduced to a anonymous inquisitor, taken aback by something he has heard. By comparing his perception of Christ to other god-like figures of Orion, and Father Time/Chronos, I illustrate how the speaker is confused at how this God-man could be both above time and above the universe itself, author of ages and God of gods. It all seems too much to be true, too much glory to synthesize down into one being.
The sestet (last six lines) changes tone from skeptical to enraptured. Suddenly the speaker’s eyes perceive that this man he has heard of is in fact the Christ, glorious beyond all compare. What happens to make this so? Well, it starts with the introduction of his name, “The Word”, in line 8. Keen readers will notice that lines 10-11 are a paraphrase of John 1:1-4. Only with the introduction of direct Scriptural language can the poem switch from rumor to revelation. The glory of the son is not just explained to our speaker, it is shown to him in the Bible. We see, then, in lines 13-14, that God is a God who reveals himself. His purpose is known only when he allows us to see. Part of the beauty of Christmas is that the glory that we have only heard of and long for becomes a glory we can glimpse. As God reveals himself in his sent Son, we are offered in Christ new life with new eyes. No longer is his glory strange and confusing, it is to be comprehended with awe and worship.
Every Sunday we share a few announcements for both Emmaus members and non-members. We feature those announcements here and at times, a few more. Read below to keep up-to-date on all things Emmaus!
CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE
We can’t wait to celebrate Christmas with you! On Christmas Eve, we’ll be having a shortened service beginning at our normal time, 10 a.m. There will be no childcare provided that morning.
NEEDED: SCRIPTURE READERS ON SUNDAY MORNING
As part of our regular liturgy, here at Emmaus, we have a public reading of Scripture before our pastoral prayer/sermon. If you are interested in participating in our liturgy by being our public Scripture reader from time to time, please email Pastor Sam (email@example.com
CHRISTMAS BASKETS FOR REFUGEES
Wednesday, December 15 // 6-8 p.m.
Emmaus has a new opportunity to serve our refugee community this Christmas. In partnership with Refuge KC, we will be making Christmas baskets for refugee families and delivering them. Baskets will include food items, sweets and small toys. We’ll be delivering the baskets on Wednesday, December 13 from 6-8 p.m. as well as singing Christmas carols to the families! If you’re interested in helping deliver baskets, sign up HERE and meet in the parking lot behind Eleos Coffee (3401 Independence Ave., KCMO 64124) by 6 p.m. Jon Woods will lead us in singing, and lyric sheets will be provided.
For more information, contact Risa Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is part one of a four-part blog series focusing on the season of Advent. For the next few weeks, Emmaus poets, writers and artists will share their work with us as we anticipate Christmas together.
Nobody likes to wait because nobody likes to feel powerless, and nothing washes away the sand-castle reign over our own lives quite like waiting. Look around a hospital waiting room. It’s filled with the family and friends of patients whose very lives often hang in the balance. The tension is palpable. The feeling of helplessness and anxiety is almost manifest. How long must they wait for the doctor to come – and when he comes, will he be a messenger of death or a messenger of life?
Believe it or not, many of the classic Christmas hymns we sing are meant to convey this sense of hopeless anticipation. Think of the words of “O Come O Come Emmanuel:”
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
This is not by accident. The Advent season should come with this feeling – anticipation, longing, waiting – because this was precisely the burden Israel bore throughout her history.
From the moment Adam flung creation into rebellion against God, humanity has been held under the thumb of sin and death. Israel in particular felt the breath-stopping constriction of sin’s bondage. As God’s chosen people, they were called to be faithful and obedient to God, and yet at every turn found themselves repeating Adam’s folly by choosing anything and everything above God. They proved themselves as an unfaithful bride lusting after idols and false religions. Their sin lead to their nation breaking in half, and foreign powers subjugating them, mirroring the condition of their own hearts.
But Israel was not without hope.
Before casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden, God gave them a promise. Someday, a descendant of Eve would do battle with that ancient serpent and would emerge victorious. God’s promise was the promise of a Messiah that would rescue humanity from the powers of sin and the devil. A serpent-crusher.
So Israel waited for their coming Messiah. As their land was torn into two separate nations, and as their sons were killed in war, and as they were shackled and taken to out of their promised land, their eyes were ever forward to a child who would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel and Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Helplessly, they longed for the ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem whose origin was from ancient times. They waited powerlessly for the righteous and gentle king to ride in on a donkey bringing salvation.
Though they didn’t know the words, from their helpless station of life-crushing anticipation, Israel sang the point of “O Come O Come Emmanuel:” “God, please come save us!”
So Israel waited for their salvation. Years passed to decades, decades passed to centuries. Four hundred years passed between the prophet Malachi and the next time God would speak to Israel, and all that time, in hushed, fearful tones, their hearts hummed, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Until one day the joy of dawn finally broke. No longer would humanity long for salvation. God’s silence was broken by the cry of an infant king who would right all wrongs and would dive deep into creation to save his people. With hearts leaping from their chests and with eyes wet with joy, they were able to finally sing,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come for thee, O Israel!
We begin Advent with anticipation because that is the first act of God’s redemptive story. With anticipation comes the realization that we are utterly powerless to save ourselves. We are wholly dependent on God’s promise to unshackle our chains, to lift our heads, and to bring us into fellowship with him. So with our eyes and hearts pointing ever forward to the dawning joy, let us sit feel the weight of Israel’s wait. Let us reflect on and feel the burden Israel’s anxiousness as they awaited their coming savior, because to truly appreciate the blinding glory of the incarnation, we must first sit in the hopeful bleakness of anticipation.
My immediate thought when hearing the theme of this first week of advent was “distant.” People far from God, longing to be brought near. I wanted to convey visual distance in the piece, and choose to set the piece in an old building, looking down long corridors. Typically, the artist tries to create pleasant movement within a piece. I wanted the opposite for my piece. I wanted to interrupt the audience. The image of the serpent (this one drawn from an old book of scientific illustrations) has long been used in Christian artwork to represent Satan, and is a clear reference to the proto-evangelium, that the coming savior will crush the head of the serpent. And lastly the eye at the top of the stair, representing God’s omniscience and sovereignty.
Sonnet 1 – anticipation, desperation
How long must we still shout “Savior!”
Will any come near to gather up the lost?
Who will intercede for us? Is the cost
Too high? Is man too low for kings to fore-
Go the throne? How long will you ignore
The cries of your people? Have you exhaust-
Ed all of your compassion? We wait, unwashed,
Unkempt, scattered, scathed and unsure.
Yet, woe to us if we cry out for less,
Boasting hope as just a treasure to touch.
Hope is lost when she’s a prize to posses:
So find her where she cannot be clutched.
Then, what little is wasted, waiting as clay
For the Christ that will not fade away.