But when the right time came, God sent his Son

Galatians 4:3-4 Before Christ came, we were like children . . . But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman . . .

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about these verses, and about how confusing time is. I know, I used this text on November 28, but here I am again. I like the expression used in some older translations, “the fullness of time.” The phrase carries for me the idea of ripening; of waiting until a fruit is at exactly the perfect texture and sweetness before cutting into it. Perhaps we can’t get that moment precisely right, though with experience, we may come close. In his wisdom, though, God knew the right moment for Jesus to be born—even though people had been waiting for that moment for thousands of years.

In Advent, we consciously anticipate the right moment for Jesus to come again. We’ve been waiting for such a long time. Has God forgotten his promise? Will he come, and set the world right? When will the “fullness of time” be completed before the creation of the new heaven and the new earth?

As I tried in vain to get back to sleep, I felt like Caleb, who when his mom leaves him to go to work has no way yet to measure how long it will be before she comes back to him, or before his dad comes to pick him up and take him home. Caleb’s joy when either of those events happen is commensurate with his distress when they leave—although he knows me, and his Aunt Rachel, well enough to let us help him fill the time happily until they return.

Karis and I used to talk about how uncomfortable time can be. She experienced “hospital time” as completely different from “home time.” In the hospital, despite our best efforts, time seemed interminable. At home, there weren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all that she wanted to do. And then, without warning, everything would fall apart, and there would be a rush back to the hospital, minutes and hours filled with intensity as she was stabilized from the current crisis was. And then once more the s l o w n e s s of hospital time as she waited for her body to heal enough that she could go home again . . . for an unpredictable amount of time before the next crash.

At the beginning of Advent, it seemed we had so much time spread out before us, time to meditate on Jesus’ first coming and to anticipate his second coming. Now, suddenly, it’s almost over. My Advent wreath doesn’t look like it’s almost over—only three of the five candles are lit.

Advent wreath 2018

But tomorrow we’ll light the fourth, and just two days later, the fifth. It feels like the fourth week of Advent has been shortchanged. Like a life that is cut short sooner than we think it should have been. But hurrah—Tuesday is only the first day of Christmas!

“Time is the very lens through which ye see–small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope–something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all.(C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

But God made the heavens

Psalm 96:5, 11-13 The gods are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens! Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with his truth.

And the zebras . . .

I’ll get back to that.

If you’ve been following this blog, these words from Psalm 96 may sound familiar. They’re almost exactly the same as part of 1 Chronicles 16 that I quoted on November 2, an appropriate passage to revisit in Advent, for he is coming! I always think of this passage in connection with Isaiah 55:12, “You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!”

Back to the zebras. Yesterday I took Caleb to the zoo. The Pittsburgh zoo is built up the side of a fairly steep hill. Before we reached our goal, the aquarium at the top where we could enjoy his beloved fish out of the cold (Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!), I needed a potty stop. Fittingly, the restroom’s wallpaper features a variety of animals. Including zebras. It took me right back to what could have been identical wallpaper decorating a pediatrician’s waiting room where Karis and I sat one day when she was small.

Zoo-Animals-Wallpaper-1

Our wait was long that day, giving me the chance to make up some too-often-slighted devotional time. Karis and I read together Psalm 96 and Isaiah 55. When we read the verses quoted above from Psalm 96, Karis said, eyeing the wallpaper, “And the zebras will praise God too!” When we reached Isaiah 55:12, she insisted again, “And the zebras. Mom, you left them out!” I showed her, a beginning reader, both texts (no zebras, Sweetheart), but that didn’t dent her conviction that God intended the zebras to be part of both. Somehow, whoever wrote my Bible made a mistake and left them out.

Still killing time as we waited for the doctor, and trying to distract her, I started singing a song set to Isaiah 55. When I got to “and the trees of the field will clap their hands,” Karis sang loudly instead, “and the zebras in the zoos will praise God too.”

For months, any context of praise elicited from Karis, “and the zebras!”

The zebras weren’t in evidence yesterday as Caleb and I climbed the hill past their pasture. Too cold, I guess. But as Caleb and I gazed at the fascinations of the aquarium I was prompted to sing, “and all the fish in the seas will praise God too,” still hearing in my mind Karis’s insistent little voice, “and the zebras, Mama!”

Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

You have taught children and infants to give you praise. 

If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!

 

But God would feed you

Psalm 81:10, 13-16 Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things . . . Oh, that my people would listen to me! Oh, that they would follow me, walking in my paths . . . But I would feed you with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock.

Open wide

I knew a family that made a batch of cookies every day starting with December 1. By Christmas, they had 24 kinds of cookies to share with family and friends!

I’ve never gone that far, but baking tons of cookies is part of my family tradition, going back to when I was growing up in the village of Nebaj in Guatemala, and we took plates of cookies and homemade candy to virtually everyone in town (receiving dozens of yummy tamales in return).

I haven’t really learned to be moderate about Christmas cookies. So I’m trying to figure out how that works with the concept of simplifying this year, which I believe God is calling me to do. What might my family miss of what God wants to give us if my focus and energy go into extensive baking sprees?

I don’t have clear answers yet, but I do know I’m hungry for the finest food, the good things God has for us. I’m opening my mouth wide—even while I’m baking cookies!

But God says, “I will fight those who fight you”

Isaiah 49:23-26 Who can snatch the plunder of war from the hands of a warrior? Who can demand that a tyrant let his captives go? But the Lord says, “The captives of warriors will be released . . . For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children  . . . All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer. . . [verse 23] Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.”

I woke up this morning feeling discouraged about my weaknesses and failures. About gifts and abilities I don’t have. About expectations of myself I haven’t met. I even thought, “What’s the use of going on fighting? I know I will lose. I will let people down. I will disappoint God.”

And then I read these words. “I the Lord will fight. I will save. Trust me.”

My focus this morning has been all wrong. It’s not about me. It’s about him, the sovereign, omnipotent Lord of the universe, fighting for me. Without doubt, HIS purposes will be accomplished. Are being accomplished. Not just despite my weaknesses, but, amazingly, through them. As my spiritual director is fond of saying, “God knows what he has to work with.”

The idea of being in a battle, and the Advent prayer I’ve been hearing at church, took me to Ephesians 6:12-13. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world . . . Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.”

The armor, Paul says, is truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, prayer. All of that is directly opposed to the under-handed, dirty, rotten, mean strategies of the enemy, who instead of protecting us in our vulnerable places wants to take advantage of them to destroy not only me, or you, but all that is good in the world, all that we want to preserve for the benefit of our children, and their children.

Truth is the weapon Paul puts first. In this battle, we can’t afford to indulge in un-truth, half-truth, or bent truth. Our enemy, Jesus says, is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He wants me to doubt God’s ability to use me for good. He wants to discourage me to the point of giving up. He wants me to look at what I can’t do very well instead of what God is doing.

Truth: the battle is too much for me. Truth: it’s not about me. God, sovereign and omnipotent, who has said in these last days, “I will save you; I will not forget you,” now says “I will fight for you.”

And he says (again—crazy how it always comes back to this!) “Trust me.” He is the source of all of the pieces of my armor. Including peace.

What battle are you fighting today?

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.

But God does not forget us

Isaiah 49:15-16 Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

After I read these words, I decided to try an experiment. I wrote one of God’s names on the palms of my hands, to see how often through the course of one day I would see and be reminded of Immanuel, “God with us”:

img_20181204_091039115

I didn’t think about the fact that the writing on my hands would catch other people’s attention as well! And I lost track of how many times I noticed, and remembered, and thanked God that he is not only sovereign over the universe but with me as well, caring about me, one of billions on this tiny planet in our small galaxy.

Saturday night Dave and I thrilled to the words and music of Handel’s “Messiah,” sung by the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. “For unto us a Child is born . . . .” Immanuel.

The experience was made more fun for us by an elderly gentleman sitting beside us, who had never heard the “Messiah” before. Dave and I had bought three tickets, hoping our daughter Valerie could go with us. But Val had to work, and her husband Cesar was sick. We reached Heinz Hall not knowing what we should do with our third ticket. We noticed an elderly man standing alone in a corner by the entrance. Dave asked him whether he wanted to attend the performance, and that’s how he came to be sitting by us, thrilling with us to the beauty and power of the words, rhythms, melodies, the pure gorgeousness of trumpets surprising us from off-stage . . .

All of it celebrating the Incarnation, Immanuel, God with us. The God who so loved the world that he gave his own Son. The God who has my name—and yours—engraved on the palm of his hand. The God who never forgets us.

But God will save

Isaiah 45:15-19 Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, you work in mysterious ways. All craftsmen who make idols will be humiliated . . . But the Lord will save the people of Israel with eternal salvation . . . “I am the Lord,” he says, “and there is no other. . . I would not have told the people to seek me if I could not be found. I, the Lord, speak only what is true and declare only what is right.”

My just-turned-one-year-old grandson Caleb loves playing his version of hide and seek. He loves to be found. He gets so excited he can hardly contain his delight. His joy in turn delights me.

Caleb reaching out

That’s what popped into my mind when I read these verses. Like Caleb, God wants me to find him! He is thrilled when I do! And his joy in turn not only delights but heals me; it makes me whole and well. That’s what the word “save” means.

How will you seek–and find–the Lord this Advent?

One way is to dive into the wealth offered by this website:

Elaine.srElliott.net

I invite you to join me in seeking, and finding, the Lord during these precious days of Advent. So much joy awaits us!