A different approach to Advent

This year, my advent calendar involves no chocolate or treats or little doors to open. And there’s no daily blog like last year either.

Jesse’s branch

My mum was keen to do some Christmas craft on a recent family weekend away and my sister Heidi found this idea in this blog post. From this, we learned that some people mark Advent with a ‘Jesse’ tree, based on the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-3

P1070301So we decided to create our own Jesse’s Branch Advent calendar, each one with a different name that is used in the Bible for Jesus, ‘the shoot that will come up from the stump of Jesse’. We followed most of the names in the blog post above, writing the name on the front and the verse on the back, but also added a couple of our own – like ‘Man of Sorrows’ from Isaiah 53:3 and ‘Son of David’ from Matthew 1:1.

Advent tree

P1070307As I couldn’t find any twigs/branches that seemed appropriate, (no local bushland near my inner city home and no nice sticks in the shops), I decided that our new little Christmas tree, ‘Christoph’ would have to do for my Jesse’s branch. I quite like the novelty of adding a decoration to the tree every day! He started off a bit sparse but is now looking well-decorated. Perfect!

Precious names

And I love discovering what name I’m going to pull out of my little bowl each day to hang on the tree. Each one is a promise filled with hope and truth about the one we celebrate at Christmas. Today it was ‘King of Kings’ based on (among other verses) 1 Timothy 6:14-15. I wish I could say I looked up each passage each day and reflected on it…but that would be untrue. I did it for the first time today. Only a few more precious names to be revealed until it’s Christmas!

P1070306

A very good book

I have been reading this book since I was a little girl. And as long as I live I will never finish reading it. It never gets old. There are sections I haven’t yet read at all, and others I know by heart. There is always something new to learn or a truth I need to remember or a challenge to change something in my life.

It isn’t just a good book. I think it is the best book.

I received this copy of The Message Bible as a gift at a recent conference. I usually read from the NIV or ESV translation when doing Bible studies or my quiet times. But I’ve started reading from this translation, before I go to sleep. It’s a blessing to read this beloved book in fresh, every day language.

The Bible is the best book because it’s all about the best thing in the world – God’s mission to bring people back to relationship with himself through sending Jesus, his son, to die on the cross and rise again.

One foot in the door

After reflecting yesterday on the challenge of connecting with our neighbours, some relatively new members of our church brought along another of their neighbours to church this morning – the second young woman in less than a month. Just awesome.

When we found ourselves giving them a lift to a spontaneous lunch with other people from church, I couldn’t resist asking: what’s the secret?

He said “I just talk to people!”

I was like, but how? Where?

His answer: “The lift is the best place to talk to people. When people get in I check what button they press then estimate how many seconds I have to make conversation with them. I think quickly about what to ask them about. If they have kids I ask them about their children, or if they are holding shopping then I ask what they have bought and what they are cooking.”

So then I asked: “How did Sarah* come along to church?”

“Oh I met her in the lift last Sunday and we were talking about where we had been. I had just been to church, and wanted to know which one. I told her about One1seven and she was very interested. So I stuck my foot in the lift door and got her email address.”

He also reflected on the ease of striking up conversations with people in the park – you ask them about the dog – name, breed, age etc, and a few questions about themselves – find out about them first, then ask do they go to church? Apart from momentarily wishing I had a dog, this confirmed something I had observed recently – loving people always means listening to their stories and perhaps beliefs first, then sharing what we want to say – whether that’s telling them about Jesus or anything else.

Do I have the boldness, the confidence, the courage it takes? No, not really. But then I have to remember, it’s not about me. I can’t save people. God does that.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Romans 1:16

20 seconds is not enough time for a meaningful relationship to develop, but perhaps it could be a foot in the door. Who knows? A question about a dog or a baby could be an opening for a powerful message. I just have to be faithful, prayerful and take the opportunities I get.

My strength

Every day I am tempted to do things in my own strength. I don’t think I am exactly strong, but I still try to be a godly wife, employee, friend, church member, daughter and sister, on my own. Without God, I am weak and I constantly fail. Last night at Colour Conference I was struck by these words:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Psalm 84:5

I realised afresh that not only do I have the strength of my Heavenly Father because of what Jesus has done on the cross, but I am also blessed as I set my heart on pilgrimage towards eternity with him. Why rely on my human strength when the Almighty God of the whole universe wants to bless me when my strength is in him?

The purpose of Colour Conference is to gather Christian women each year, to encourage and strengthen them, and then scatter to the places where they are planted – empowered and strengthened to be the change.

This is my third Colour – one of the reasons I love going is because I know I will leave uplifted, strengthened and empowered to continue serving God faithfully in the church where God has planted me. And as I scatter (only a couple of suburbs away to Redfern), I must remember that God alone is my strength, and blessing is possible when he is in control. I can do nothing without him.

Snapshots from Colour Conference 2013

Snapshots from Colour Conference 2013

‘My’ (not-so) secret garden

Nestled in the middle of three office towers and the freeway that leads to the Harbour Bridge, there lies a garden. Grass, ponds, shady trees, a fountain, interesting plants and garden seats. Each day, as long as it’s not raining, I escape from our dark windowless office, lunch in hand and wander through the lobbies of those office buildings (with my best accountant/banker face on of course) to the little sanctuary beyond.

This little garden is my favourite place to spend my lunch breaks. Though on an especially sunny day it can be hard to find a seat, it’s rarely crowded – with people or birds or cigarette smoke, rather unlike the other parks and open spaces in the city.* Here I sit, eat, read and ponder over my Bible, soak up the sun and people watch. This escape sustains me, refocuses me on the bigger picture and helps me keep going through the afternoon.

It’s not really so secret either – you would just have to know it was there. I’m thankful for my slightly secret garden.

my secret garden

*Once, an ibis tried to steal my lunch out of my hand here, but I haven’t seen any for weeks!

(And after what turned into a month long break from blogging after my Advent Blog, it feels good to be writing on here again). 

New Year’s Eve Reflections

It’s almost time to venture out into our busy city to celebrate the end of 2012. But first, a moment to stop and write. As my friend over at Eternity wrote today, the end of one year and the start of a new one, is a good time for self-reflection.

This morning I read some wise words from John Piper. He says,

For me the end of a year is like the end of my life. And 11:59pm on December 31 is like the moment of my death. The 365 days of the year are like a miniature lifetime. And these final hours are like the last days in the hospital after the doctor has told me that the end is very near. And in these last hours, the lifetime of this year passes before my eyes, and I face the inevitable question: Did I live it well? Will Jesus Christ, the righteous judge, say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~ John Piper, ‘Solid Joys’ App, 31 December 2012

I was confronted and humbled as I reflected on this notion that each year is a miniature lifetime. What if my life was to end tonight? Did I live 2012 well? Was I faithful?

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—

they are like the new grass of the morning:

In the morning it springs up new,

but by evening it is dry and withered.

Psalm 90:5-6

I used to hate thinking or talking about death. It’s still not my favourite topic, but I have learned in recent years that it’s helpful to think about from time to time. Remembering I will die one day forces me to stop and think about whether the life I’m living today is of value in an eternal sense. It also challenges me (and I know this is cliché) to see each day as a gift – not something I have owing to me, but something precious bestowed upon me to use for God’s glory. As I look towards 2013, I’m not sure yet what my ‘resolutions’ will be, or if I will make any at all. But I will be seeking to see each day as a gift!

And so, in no particular order, here are ten things I’m thankful for as I come to the end of 2012.

  1.  The opportunity to experience living with friends and the ways this blessed, challenged and refined me.
  2. Our fantastic holiday in Spain.
  3. Completing my Advent Blog in December.
  4. The provision of our cozy new apartment in Alexandria – with a studio for Adam and a great balcony to share with friends and family.
  5. Going deeper into God’s word and seeing the fulfilment of his promises through studying my first theology subject.
  6. A challenging, busy, great first year working at CMS. I am thankful that I like going to work most days!
  7. Growing in my understanding of what the Bible says about being made in God’s image as a woman.
  8. A whole year of no migraines for my husband – the first year this has happened since he first started getting them as a teenager.
  9. Challenges, adventures, joys and trials in our marriage – all of which God has used to make us more dependent on him and closer to each other.
  10. Deepening relationships with our church family at one1seven, Redfern.

photo (26)

 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Advent Blog Day 23 – Why remember Advent anyway?

Today in church, our student minister asked us to reflect on what we’re hoping for this Christmas. A certain present? Quality time with friends and family?

Advent calendar

I have always loved counting down to Christmas Day on advent calendars. Last year I enjoyed having one of the cheap chocolate advent calendars from Aldi. Keeping a blog has been far healthier…except perhaps when it comes to sleep. I remember fondly some of the advent calendars we had when we were kids, and in particular, a felt one that I made myself. For each day there was a Christmas stocking with a unique decoration on it, and each one had a lolly inside and a little slip of paper with a Bible verse on it. I do remember wondering though why there were only 24 days on my calendar. Why wasn’t the most important day included? Perhaps because the wait is over come Christmas Day.

I learned today that the traditional season of advent doesn’t necessarily start on 1 December. It actually starts on the fourth Sunday before 25 December (anywhere between 27 Nov and 3 Dec).

Even if we have simplified the start-dates, there remains significant purpose in advent. According to trusty Wikipedia, for Christians:

The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Advent is all about Jesus. It’s about sharing in and remembering his coming to earth as a man, the first Christmas – God with us, as well as looking forward with true hope, to his return.

Bible Society #25days Advent Calendar

Bible Society #25days Advent Calendar

I’ve enjoyed receiving the #25words thoughts and videos as part of remembering Advent this year. Today’s email said:

Christmas is one of the world’s great stories. But it’s only the beginning. There’s the life Jesus lived, the teaching he brought, and the benefits of his death and resurrection. Still, there’s better yet to come. Especially to those who are broken, who suffer, as you’ll see:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4

As we eat our final chocolate(s) or write our final Advent Blogs, we can remember that Christmas is worth hoping for, but the best is still to come. What are you hoping for this Christmas?

 

 

Advent Blog Day 20 – Christmas buskers

The buskers were out in force today in the city. A family brass ensemble greeted me with Christmas carols as I went through the ticket turnstiles at Town Hall station this morning. And as I did my Christmas shopping at lunch time, a busker could be found on every other street corner or odd little pathway.

I realised something today – buskers make me smile – nearly all the time – for mostly the right reasons. Today’s exception was certainly the giggly pair of girls singing an off-key cover, into a single mic, to a backing track – that was more of a cringe.

But on the whole, there’s something encouraging about people sharing their creative ideas, their music, even their various renditions of Christmas carols with anyone and everyone. From the pair of primary aged boys on a trumpet and saxophone, to a classical guitarist, a beatboxer and the mini pop band playing as I walked back to the station tonight, they were all giving it a go. I’m thankful that people are allowed (within reason) to have this outlet for creative expression, even if they are asking for money. Music doesn’t pay well, so I think that’s probably fair enough.  buskers

And if I’m completely honest, as I try to be on here, I have a soft spot for buskers, because I have been one myself. Back in Year 8, I played Christmas carols with some friends in Chatswood Mall for a couple of days. It paid better than I expected, even in a group. A couple of people actually put in $50 dollar notes, so I remember being rather stoked to come away with $70 for playing my violin with my friends for the day.

I’m glad that Christmas seems to inspire generosity in many directions from all kinds of people, and space for people to share their creative gifts with each other. But I also really hope that people think anew about Jesus this Christmas, the reason we celebrate now, and the most generous gift that has ever been given.

Advent Blog Day 14 – Here in my weakness…

It’s Friday night, the end of a rich yet busy December week.

When I came home this afternoon, I felt deeply tired, almost spaced out, weak. I’m guessing that at this point in the month and year, I probably wasn’t the only one. But as I reflected on my weakness, God brought this song to my mind…

Grace.mp3

I love the image of God chasing us down, meeting us in our weaknesses and lighting up the sky with his glorious grace. (Maybe I’m a tiny bit bias since my friend and my husband co-wrote this song). But  I’m also thankful that God uses different things at different times to remind me that I need him. When I am weak, he is strong.