Faith & Thinkology

a journal of living-like-we-mean-it, by Derek Maul


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What Counts is the Heart we Bring to the Stable

img_6668“[They Magi] went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” – Matthew 2

So far this December I’ve written about Christmas bling, about Rockettes dancing at the Nativity, about keeping things subdued, about low-key representations of the Holy gift, about epic productions such as “Walk Through Bethlehem,” about razzmatazz, about unfettered celebration, about “going over the top for Jesus,” and about the more simple gifts of quiet devotion.

Evidently, reading me can seem contradictory at times; I get that. But I think it’s more accurate to say that my sense of “what’s right” (when it comes to the way we respond to God’s amazing gift) is all over the place because there are so many ways it’s appropriate to receive Jesus. They’re all right, if they’re authentic. What counts is the heart we bring to the stable.

What counts is the heart we bring to the stable…

img_6667If there’s one consistent Advent theme for me, though, I believe it has to be light. I’m fascinated by the way light quite literally changes things. Color, for example, simply does not exist absent light. Then – and this may be one of the reasons Rebekah and I enjoy mercury glass so much – there’s the way that light is reflected, redirected, and even multiplied in and through the way that we respond.
In today’s photographs, for example, the lights on the tree are not the source for the majority of the illumination. Most of the light is coming in from the window; then it is absorbed, reflected, redirected, multiplied, and refracted by the stuff we’ve hung on the tree.

I’d like to think of us, as followers of Jesus, being the kind of people who open ourselves up to God’s light, and then work overtime to see that we do everything we can to amplify the luminosity – so that in all that we do, we not only honor the light source, but we become participants in bringing light to the people and the situations God is counting on us to reach.

Many churches seem to exist as fortresses, where people huddle together for protection from the darkness. But we’re not called to be Fort God, we’re called to be lighthouses – not just shining for Jesus, but going out into the darkness and introducing light where the shadows have taken hold.

img_6473This is why I’m so glad that our church has an outward focus. We’re not a club, we’re a mission outpost. Salvation isn’t from something, it’s for something. We’re invited to participate in the work that God is up to – that’s what salvation means.

So Jesus – the light of the world – has come for our salvation, yes; but what we need to be doing is thinking a lot more about exactly what salvation means – for us, and for the places the light has yet to reach.

In love, and because of love – DEREK


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Christmas is God’s invitation to not be afraid…

 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12

img_6666I ran across one of those “video-memes” on social media the other day; so far this one had been viewed over ten million times. For the most part, the intention was positive, encouraging people to listen to their heart, to eschew naysayers, and simply do what makes them happy…

But there was also a message I found disturbing – particularly in a contemporary social landscape already fraught with dishonesty, posing, sound-bite presentations of self, “echo-chamber” conversations, and knee-jerk defensiveness; a world where genuine community seems to be at risk. Here’s what the meme advised: “Be careful who you open up to; very few people genuinely care about you, the rest are just curious or have hidden motives… not everyone deserves to know the real you.”

I’m sorry, but I disagree; cynicism and mistrust are only going to make things worse. What this world needs is more vulnerability, not less. This brings me to the message of Christmas, and the invitation Christ offers that we risk everything for one-another, that we bring nothing but our authentic selves into the Kingdom, that we trust, and that we love each other with the Jesus quality of love – a love that believes everyone really does deserve to know the real you.

God came to us in the most vulnerable way possible. As a newborn infant, Jesus had to rely on the divine light and goodness in Mary and Joseph, to care for him, and he grew up offering himself – unfettered by suspicion or cynicism – to absolutely everyone he encountered.

Jesus grew up offering himself – unfettered by suspicion or cynicism – to absolutely everyone he encountered.

img_6666-002This is the invitation of Christmas!  Christmas is the invitation to not be afraid; it’s the invitation to trust; it’s the invitation to live! It’s the complete vulnerability of God; it’s the promise that opening up changes everything; it’s the conviction that we not only deserve to know one-another, but that we must.

Christmas is about living out of our hearts; exposed, vulnerable, trusting, hopeful. Like Jesus; because of Jesus; for Jesus; for the world.

– DEREK

 


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Light, life, love, & healing

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Rebekah with the wreath

I’m always reluctant to employ hyperbolic language (no, seriously, I really am…), but I have no alternative than to use words such as “unprecedented,” “overwhelming,” and “epic” to describe the number of views garnered by this blog over the past few days! This is the first time ever I’ve seen three consecutive posts register more than 1,000 hits.

  • “What if all those people bought your books?” my daughter, Naomi, said earlier today.
  • “Then I’d move from being a freelance writer to a lance writer,” I said.

So, assuming lots of people look at today’s post, here are three photographs of Christmas love that I believe will touch your heart. And, yes, I’ll put a link to my Amazon author site at the end!

HEALING: This is what I told the congregation at WFPC this weekend: “Rebekah sends her love and greetings, and she wants me to tell you she’s consistently more encouraged this week than at any other time during her recovery. Her goal is to be here for the 11:00 candlelight and communion service Christmas Eve. She loves you, and she misses everyone so much.”

And it’s true. We’re making progress, we’re encouraged, and there are signs her voice is beginning to heal. Every day a little better, every day a little stronger, every day a little closer to returning to all the promise and excitement of growing God’s Kingdom with God’s beautiful children at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

img_6639LIGHT SHINING FROM THE SOUL: I believe small children are direct conduits for the light and life that comes from the heart of God.

When I say that children shine, I mean that they are luminous; not only do they reflect God’s light, they are sources of light. When I say that children are full of life, I mean they not only own uncontainable life – the kind that spills over, they also generate life in a way that gives a charge of vitality to those around them.

My grandchildren’s official names are David and Rebekah, but they could just as well be known as Light, and Life. I’m fairly sure that, given a power failure in their neighborhood, their Christmas tree would light up regardless, the moment they stood anywhere in proximity.

I’ve never agreed with the idea that, “Christmas is for the children…” as if grownups are simply spectators; but I do believe that children often tend to “get it” more completely than many adults. Just look at them shine!

img_6638SCOUT LABRADOODLE: It’s been a while since I posted a photo of Scout Labradoodle. That’s mostly because nowadays she does essentially the same thing all day long. Sleep on the couch. Sleep by the front door. Sleep on the couch. Sleep in the kitchen. Sleep on the couch. Sleep at the top of the stairs while I work. Sleep on the couch.

It really doesn’t matter where we put the Christmas pillows, she fetches them, rearranges them the way she likes them, then wiggles around until she’s in the exact position for maximum comfort.

We must be getting soft in our old age, because it looks like we’re going along for the ride. Mercy and grace again, always getting the upper hand around Maul-Hall.

I’m okay with that. Merry almost Christmas! – DEREK

(Find Derek Maul’s books here)


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Three short takes for Monday (re-post)

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The Praise team in the sanctuary – 9:00

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
    tell of all his wonderful works.
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. (1 Chronicles 16)

ONE:

Sunday evening North Carolina got a long overdue and much needed soaking via a cold, soggy weather system that rolled into Wake Forest around 4:00 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, day three of Walk Through Bethlehem had to be cancelled. However, this weekend 2,300 visitors heard both the good news about Christ’s birth and a clear invitation to follow Jesus today (click here for story and pictures).

This morning, after a good night of rain, I am reminded that accepting the reign of God is the only way we will ever live in the Kingdom – Bob Beichner said as much in his recent excellent message at WFPC. We can’t say we’re motivated to live in the Kingdom unless we’re also willing to accept The King

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Traditional worship at 11:15

TWO: The story may have been rained out in the evening, but – being Sunday – our campus was alive with the story all morning, and resounding with praise. Both worship services were held in the sanctuary this week, and it was fun to experience contemporary worship in the more traditional setting (click here for a short video).

To me, the change served as a powerful illustration of how God is always in the business of messing with our status quo, pushing our boundaries, and disturbing our expectations. I love both services of worship, because what makes worship worship is authenticity, not style; but I have to admit it is always refreshing to bring the (generally) younger, noisier, foot-tapping crowd up into the sanctuary. I believe it did the space good.

THREE:

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The holy family with the Rockettes

My third item today is fun and whimsical. A few days ago I wrote that it’s okay to have the Rockettes dance at your nativity (worth another read). Well I managed to arrange a photo-shoot to support the idea and it’s too good not to share.

I believe it’s important to allow whimsy, laughter, and fun a place at the manger scene. In my understanding of faith, and life, and especially the way Jesus interacts with us as real people in the reality of day to day, the Jesus I know would have welcomed the presence of anyone, bringing any gift they have.

And that’s the take away for today. We bring the Christ child our very best, our creativity, our joy, our sense of humor, our dance moves – our very selves.

I pray that your journey through Advent is always that interesting, that much fun, and that engaging – DEREK 


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three short takes for Monday

img_6633

The Praise team in the sanctuary – 9:00

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
    tell of all his wonderful works.
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. (1 Chronicles 16)

ONE:

Sunday evening North Carolina got a long overdue and much needed soaking via a cold, soggy weather system that rolled into Wake Forest around 4:00 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, day three of Walk Through Bethlehem had to be cancelled. However, this weekend 2,300 visitors heard both the good news about Christ’s birth and a clear invitation to follow Jesus today (click here for story and pictures).

This morning, after a good night of rain, I am reminded that accepting the reign of God is the only way we will ever live in the Kingdom. Bob Beichner said as much in his recent excellent message at WFPC. We can’t say we’re motivated to live in the Kingdom unless we’re also willing to accept The King

img_6636

Traditional worship at 11:15

TWO: The story may have been rained out in the evening, but – being Sunday – our campus was alive with the story all morning, and resounding with praise. Both worship services were held in the sanctuary this week, and it was fun to experience contemporary worship in the more traditional setting.

To me, the change served as a powerful illustration of how God is always in the business of messing with our status quo, pushing our boundaries, and disturbing our expectations. I love both services of worship, because what makes worship worship is authenticity, not style; but I have to admit it was refreshing to bring in the younger, noisier, foot-tapping crowd. I believe it did the space good.

THREE:

img_6657

Jesus with the Rockettes

My third item today is fun and whimsical. A few days ago I wrote that it’s okay to have the Rockettes dance at your nativity (worth another read). Well I managed to arrange a photo-shoot to support the idea and it’s too good not to share.

I believe it’s important to allow whimsy, laughter, and fun a place at the manger scene. In my understanding of faith, and life, and especially the way Jesus interacts with us as real people in the reality of day to day, the Jesus I know would have welcomed the presence of anyone, bringing any gift they have.

And that’s the take away for today. We bring the Christ child our very best, our creativity, our joy, our sense of humor – our very selves.

I pray that your journey through Advent is always that interesting, and that engaging – DEREK 


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Over three years ago WFPC called Rebekah as their pastor – now they’re being ours…

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left – right: Amy, Ginny, Larry, Julie, Kevin, Rebekah, Michael, Jay, Marty, Marv, Tom

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

There are many ways our faith community at WFPC nurtures us. Worship together is always inspirational and encouraging; meeting with small discipleship groups feeds my soul; the amazing Walk Through Bethlehem experience is a great example of reaching out into the community; then there are the more personal ways we are constantly touched by the generous and loving hearts of so many people.

Rebekah’s long and difficult recovery has prompted a huge variety of responses – everything from hospital visits, to delivering a life-saving electric recliner, to flowers, to writing encouragement cards, to cooking meals, to all kinds of soup, to prayer, and much more.

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Michael and Miller working hard

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the driveway project the Stumbling Disciples class made possible (I Get By With a Little Help from my Friends). Well Saturday – and resourced by the ever generous spirit of the inestimable Larry – ten members of the Daily Walk Sunday morning class spent several hours working hard on a number of projects, both our garden and at my parents’ next door.

It was an epic demonstration of love and care. I can’t even begin to itemized the long list of difficult tasks our friends performed. But I can say this: before yesterday’s epic workday I was completely “underwater” with respect to the two gardens; I had no idea where to begin; I was overwhelmed… .. but – because of my friends – today I feel we’re well positioned to stay on top of things.

This is what it means to be part of a real, nurturing, sustaining community. To say that we are blessed would be just scratching the surface. Three years ago these wonderful people called Rebekah to be their pastor – and now they’re being ours. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Three years ago these wonderful people called Rebekah to be their pastor – and now they’re being ours.

img_6582Worshiping together is – of course – central to our identity as a Christian church, but it’s the way we live faith out loud, our practice of following Jesus from day to day, our creative exploration of what it means to follow Jesus from Monday through Saturday, that marks us as disciples rather than simply members of an organization called a Presbyterian church.

I can’t wait to see how God continues to work healing, and grace, and restoration – in our lives as individuals and as a faith community – through this beautiful Christmas season, and into the New Year.

– In love, and because of love – DEREK


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Take a Walk Through Bethlehem (and meet Jesus)

WELCOME TO BETHLEHEM!

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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.Luke 2:15-16

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the angels mark the spot

Each December our church home – Wake Forest Presbyterian – offers a “set the season in its proper perspective” outreach to the community that’s done as well as anything I’ve ever seen in over thirty-four years of ministry.

It’s called “Walk Through Bethlehem,” and it’s our Christmas Card to the Community. It’s an interactive historical experience that places each visitor in the heart of First Century Judea as part of a tribe, and right in the middle of the Greatest Story Ever Told, the life of Jesus.

Last year 3,300 visitors experienced the story, and Friday evening I took a tour of our church campus to see it once again overflowing with people, buzzing with excitement, and resounding with the good news of the amazing invitation to meet the newborn child, and to let the Gospel of Love transform our lives.

THE STORY CONTINUES:

img_6574I love the way our cast orchestrate the conclusion. After finally finding Mary, Joseph, and the child, my tribe – Benjamin – was taken to our final station, three floodlit crosses. “The story doesn’t end at the manger,” our guide told us, “it continues here to the cross, where Christ died for each one of us. We can’t really understand the nativity without engaging the meaning of the cross….”

My tribe moved on from the cross, and then the story of Easter morning too, with a clear picture of why Jesus is still the Greatest Story Ever Told, and with a clear invitation to enter into the story as active participants in an ongoing life of faith.

If you live anywhere near this part of North Carolina, it’s certainly worth taking the time to visit WFPC this weekend, and to take a walk through Bethlehem. Regardless, it’s a narrative we can’t afford to just watch, it’s a story to immerse ourselves in, it’s a story we need to live.

In love, and because of love – DEREK


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over the years, I’m leaning more toward grace…

img_4525-001Being December, I can safely predict this blog will be more photo driven than usual. As a general rule it’s fair to say that I’m a writer who uses a few photographs to help tell the story. But, the closer we get to Christmas, the more I’ll be a photographer who uses a few words to help people see the images.

Bottom line, I’m a writer. My books have sold – all told – approaching 50,000 copies, and without a single picture anywhere other than on the covers. But I have to admit that in this soundbite culture, soundbite images often grab people’s attention well before the words.

But today is all about the words. First, here’s the scripture that grabbed my attention this morning, and set the ball rolling (thanks to my friends at Upper Room Ministries for directing my attention to this passage).

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
    will find life and honor. – Proverbs 21:21

WE HAVE TO BE RIGHT!!!!

We hear a lot of noise in this culture about being right. People – especially religious fundamentalists – not only want to demonstrate how right they are, but they seem equally committed to pointing out how wrong everyone else is!

But righteousness is not so much about being right as it is about right living. Righteousness and justice come from the same root Hebrew idea, and right living is therefore more interested in securing justice for those who are oppressed than it is in seeking justification for one’s own narrow viewpoints and – in consequence – further oppressing those who are already marginalized.

That’s why the scriptures so often couple kindness with righteousness. It’s as if God is looking into the future, and noting how unkind religion can be when being right consistently takes precedence over just about everything else, including justice, and – sadly – kindness.

There’s an idea I used recently that I think is original (but writers can never be sure because our work is always in some sense derivative). I wrote – I’m paraphrasing myself -that Jesus stands, always, as an open invitation, that Jesus described himself as The Gate, and that not a single Christian in history has ever been called to be a gatekeeper, standing between any of God’s children and the Kingdom.

[Jesus said] “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will be able to come in and go out. They will find everything they need. A thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came to give life—life that is full and good.” – John 1:9-10

Kindness our watchword!

This is where kindness must be our watchword as God’s redeemed people. Kindness, and grace. I have taken note of my stance on various issues over the years, how I am a constant work in progress. I wrote once in the Tampa Tribune that, “I disagree with myself on a regular basis,” and that, “I am likely wrong as frequently as I am right…”

So I will add today that, the more years I spend on this planet, the more likely I am to err on the side of grace rather than judgment. We all walk a tightrope of indecision sometimes, and if I am going to make a mistake – which is likely – then I would rather err on the side of grace. If I am going to stand in front of God and have to do some explaining, I would rather God said:

  • “Derek, you were too much of a softie, you were too gracious, too kind, too much of the time…” than,
  • “Derek, your harshness and judgmental spirit kept people out of my Kingdom! Why did you so often work to bar a gate that Jesus left open, inviting everyone to come inside?”

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

In love, and because of love – DEREK


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why it’s okay to have The Rockettes dance in your Nativity…

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1-2

img_6501Welcome to December, friends! Here in Wake Forest we’re enjoying seasonably cool temperatures, clear skies, and around twelve inches of freshly fallen colorful leaves coating every conceivable surface.

It’s fall, Christmas is on the horizon, we live in a peaceful and beautiful town, Thanksgiving is fresh in the rearview mirror, and we have much to be grateful for.

This morning I’m thinking about the sometimes unsettling contrast between the beautiful simplicity of the birth of Jesus, and the razzmatazz that so often defines the way we approach things here in the land of hype and entertainment. My conclusion, however, may not be what you expect going in…

I took a few of photographs from our current decorations to illustrate what I’m talking about. If you look around our living room, everything is fairly low key. There’s not a lot of bling, and most of what we’ve put out so far points to the simple narrative of a young, displaced, Jewish couple bringing their first child into the world in difficult, oppressive, can’t-catch-a-break circumstances.

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this year’s best ornament…

The manger scene is unadorned with glitter, the only light comes from a star, and even our tree looks somewhat restrained. It’s a story that doesn’t really need showbiz, glitz, a line of Rockettes dancing behind the tableau, neon lights, pyrotechnics, or a bearded jolly man in a red suit flying through the sky pulled by eight magical reindeer.

BUT…

The story doesn’t need the glam. Yes, that’s true. But – and I believe this is a very important point – sometimes WE need the glitter and that’s more than okay. And – another truth – sometimes when we peer more closely, look more intently, and open our eyes more completely, then the story shines so brightly we find ourselves looking around for shades!

That’s the other photograph. Same tree, same decorations, just more of a closeup. And what do we see when we connect with the story of Jesus that intimately? Well we see more light; we can’t help but throw up some bling; we might even call in a line of Rockettes because Christ has got our feet tapping and our dance moving and we’re over the top excited about this story.

img_6508I guess what I’m saying today is that glitz for the sake of sparkle is no Christmas. But that razzmatazz, served up in response to the way the awesome gift of the Christ-child rocks our souls? Well, that’s a different – and more spiritually honest – story.

So in our house – over here at Maul-Hall – sometimes the light is so bright because Jesus blows the lid off. And sometimes the story is so low key and essential that we just want to set out the tiny olive wood Nativity and say “thank you” to God with our quiet voices.

It’s all good, if it’s all Jesus. To quote my (temporarily silenced) favorite and most eloquent preacher – “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Can I get an “Amen”? – DEREK


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Top-5 list for December anticipation!

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight. (Philips Brooks)
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Sunset over Elmwood Ct.

Writing about “anticipation” this week, I’ve been working on a Top-5 list leading up to Christmas. Of course, like anything else, what I’m hoping for is somewhat of a moving target. But there have been some consistent themes.

So here goes – my Anticipation Top-5. This is not wishful thinking, this is a combination of my faith, what I see as possible, and my understanding of God’s will.

This is not wishful thinking, this is a combination of my faith, what I see as possible, and my understanding of God’s will.

  1. Healing: I’m anticipating – hoping, praying for, believing – to see Rebekah healed and back in the pulpit. I really don’t want anything else for Christmas, because for Rebekah, the work of ministry is joy, and I’d give anything to see her back, fully engaged with what God has so clearly called her to do.
  2. Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy: The traditional four pillars of Advent are not arbitrary, nor are they randomly assigned – they speak to the very reason God sent Jesus. I’m open when it comes to expressions of faith, but if hope, peace, love, and joy are what you’re looking for, then I know without a doubt that Christ is the answer.
  3. New Life: I may be beginning a new decade in my life, one often associated with the slowing down of age, but all I can see around here is new life! As a church, we’re hovering on the brink of something remarkable; as a family, Rebekah and I are excited to see what God has in store; as Grandparents, we’re watching vibrant life spring up in David and Beks; as a writer, I’m looking forward to releasing a new book in the New Year.
  4. Reconciliation: This is a fancy, theological, word that brings the idea of healing to our relationship with God, our relationships with one another, and the way we communicate God’s love to the world. The Church has been charged with the responsibility for reconciling the world to God, through Christ (2 Corinthians 5). Again, this is more than wishful thinking, and I actually anticipate progress in this area – especially as Wake Forest Presbyterian Church shares the Walk through Bethlehem experience with our community.
  5. The Promise of the Ages: My favorite Advent anticipation word is “promise.” There’s a phrase that describes Jesus as, “The Promise of the Ages.” It’s a moniker that resonates with me because, while each new December that we prepare for Christmas has its own element of newness and restoration, there’s also The Big Picture. The Big Picture is that the coming of Jesus addresses the essential, fundamental, systemic brokenness of our world. I anticipate the promise of restoration. Or, as “O Little Town of Bethlehem” affirms so beautifully, The hope and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

There is so much to look forward to over the next few weeks. I’m praying that each one of us approach Advent with intention, with anticipation, and with the promise of the ages – DEREK