Welcome to this edition of Ezer Equipped. It’s hard to believe that Christmas is right around the corner. This month we want to help you prepare your hearts to celebrate the gritty, substantive hope of Christmas—Immanuel, God with us.
One of my favorite traditions is going to a Christmas concert with my husband, Ken. Every year we look forward to this show with great anticipation. But this isn’t your typical Christmas concert with carols and Christmas music. Instead, it is a beautiful telling of the birth of Jesus. Each song encapsulates the groaning of Israel throughout the Old Testament as she suffered oppression and slavery and awaited the promised Messiah. It’s a concert of both lament and rejoicing; of groaning and glory; of promise and fulfillment. It’s the story of how hope pierced the darkness the night of Jesus’ birth!
If ever a concert could personify me and Ken, this one does! Ken is full of joy, anticipation, and expectancy; he sees all that is beautiful and wonderful in the world—all of God’s good gifts and he enjoys them to the fullest. I, on the other hand, am full of longing, groaning, and lament. I am keenly aware of the suffering, evil, chaos, confusion, injustice, hatred, and brokenness in the world. He always laughs because my favorite song from the concert is one of the most somber, portraying the darkness that loomed over Israel as she cried out to God for deliverance. I relate to that. It resonates. Our personalities mirror the already and the not yet in the Kingdom of God—Ken rejoices in God’s glorious work in the here and now, and I deeply long for God’s promised final restoration.
We live in the in-between—between Christ’s first coming when he conquered sin and death, restoring our fellowship with God, and his second coming when all things that are broken are fully and finally restored. We celebrate Christ’s work, purchasing our freedom from slavery to sin and securing our adoption as God’s beloved children. And, yet, we eagerly hope and long for the day when justice is no longer delayed, when sin and suffering and death are no longer, and when peace finally reigns over all of creation. We have one eye set on the past and one eagerly scanning the horizon. Just like ancient Israel, we are once again awaiting our savior.
In the time of waiting, it’s easy to lose sight of where our true hope is found. We place our functional hope in all kinds of things which are mere shadows of our greater hope. We long for security, so we pursue money and professional success. We long for healthy bodies, so we pursue the latest trends in diet and fitness. We long for love and belonging, so we chase after it in our relationships. But our deepest longings for peace, wholeness, healing, justice, grace, love, belonging, and rest are all ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. In this present time, we lay hold of that by faith, while we also long for the day when he fully and finally restores all things—when everything sad comes untrue.
But God did not leave us without hope in our waiting. In the in-between is Immanuel, God with us. God sent his Spirit to dwell in and among us as a deposit, as a guarantee of our adoption as his children and of our future inheritance. His Spirit brings peace, joy, patience, and hope even as we groan. Hope has come in Christ. He has pierced the darkness and the weary world rejoices!
We have provided a few resources to read or listen to, some questions to reflect on and discuss with those in your community, and an advent prayer guide you can do alone or with family and friends. We pray that it provides you with a substantive worship experience this Christmas season!
Grace Church Women’s Discipleship Advisor
Article: How Advent Teaches Us To Wait
by: Betsy Childs
This article explores how the Christmas season brings our longings into the foreground—as we reflect on the year behind us and look forward to the year ahead. But our longings are mere shadows of what is to come when Christ returns for his bride.
“The timing for this emphasis on Christ’s return couldn’t be better, in my opinion. Just when we would like to be happiest, and are therefore, ironically, the saddest, we remember that not only has Christ come, he has promised to come again. This life is not our only shot at happiness. It is a brief prelude to the life to come where we will find pleasures evermore. In the presence of Jesus, we will not regret anything we lacked in this life.”
Sermon: The Arrival: Anna
by: Ryan Donnell
In this sermon from our 2011 Christmas series, Ryan Donell talks to us about the prophetess Anna, who worshipped day and night in the temple through prayer and fasting, as she waited with eager expectation for God’s promised Messiah.
“Your life has been hidden in the Messiah; it is kept secure by God. And when Jesus, the Messiah is revealed again, your life—the significance, the meaning, the truth, the happiness, the reality of it—is going to be revealed then, with Jesus, to the whole world! And that’s when you will share in his glory. So our hope is supposed to go into the future . . . Our lives are not going to make sense apart from what God has done in Jesus and what he’s promised to do in the second arrival of Jesus.”
Album: Behold the Lamb of God
by: Andrew Peterson
This album is a retelling of the Christmas story. It is not your average Christmas music either. This is the Old Testament set to song. You should not listen on shuffle as each song marches through Israel’s history toward Jesus’ birth.
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community.
1. Immanuel, God with us, is our only hope as we live in the in-between—the time between Christ’s first coming and his final return. As you look back on this year, what are some ways you have experienced his nearness? How did his presence give you the ability to hold on to hope?
2. Where does the brokenness of this world hit you the hardest?
3. As we sit in this period of waiting, where we long for all that is broken to be restored:
- What are you tempted to run to for hope, comfort, and meaning?
- Is there a particular promise of God that stirs hope in you? Write down that promise or Scripture and pt it where it can be a timely reminder for you when you need it.
- How can you make room for him to be near this Christmas season? Are there specific steps you can take to set aside time or create traditions that allow you to enjoy his presence and celebrate his coming?
4. Print out one of these digital prints and place it on your refrigerator, in your Bible, or somewhere visible. Don't have a printer? Pick one up at your campus Connect Desk or where resources are found!
This month, our goal is to help you worship well this Christmas season. We are providing two resources for you. The first is our new Ezer Piercing the Dark Advent Prayer Calendar. The second is an Advent guide by Justin Whitmel Early. Pair these two resources together for the month of December.
Resource #1: Advent Guide, by Justin Whitmel Early
You may remember in our October newsletter that we focused on the power of habit and featured a book called The Common Rule. The author of that book has created an Advent guide. The guide features a short daily reading, two Spotify playlists "Waiting in the Dark" and "Longing for the Light" and a family liturgy for Christmas morning. You can find all the links and PDF downloads here.
Resource #2: Piercing the Dark Advent Calendar
We’ve created a new resource for you that we are very excited about. Watch this video for details on our new Piercing the Dark Advent Prayer Calendar (pictured below).
For each day of December, we are asking you to pray for a person who is hurting, a system that is broken, or a person who is on the front lines caring for those in need. Each one of these categories is represented by a specific icon.
- A broken heart icon represents a person who is suffering in a specific area. On those days, consider who you know that is carrying that burden. Spend some time praying for them and consider reaching out to them to encourage them and let them know that they are not alone. If you don’t know anyone struggling in that area at the moment, pray generally for all those who are.
- An icon of a broken world represents systems that are broken and need a solution. There may be little we can do to fix these systems, but we can pray for those who work within them. Pray for wise leaders, for additional funding, for justice, for more workers, and even for discernment about what role God may want you to play in being a small part of the solution.
- A first aid icon represents the servant leaders who are on the front lines, caring for those who are being profoundly impacted by the brokenness of this world. This would include our first responders, those in the medical profession, teachers, counselors, pastors, DSS workers, and parents of foster, adopted, or children with special needs. On these days consider who you may know who is carrying that specific weight. How can you pray for them? What could you do to encourage them and thank them for the work they do?
Print this calendar and put it somewhere where it will remind you how to focus your prayers for that day. Get creative, and include family and friends. Join us in praying for hope of Jesus to pierce the darkness, to break into a weary world, and to fill the hearts of those in need this Christmas!
This resource is adapted from our Ezer Equipped monthly newsletter dedicated to equipping our women with content, from both within and outside of our church, to help us continue to grow as disciple and disciple-makers. To subscribe to the Ezer Applied newsletter, click here.