Holy Family Well, here we are. The end of Advent, with week four consisting of two whole days this year! This time out, I’ve got the full text for all the readings for the week all laid out for us. Because of the brevity of Advent IV this year, I’m going to cover it all at once… the first set of readings would have been done yesterday if you’re following the book, and the second set would be done today. It’s a bit unfortunate that we get to spend so little time this year with some of this, but perhaps we’ll return next year… and we can continue reflecting on this week’s theme throughout the Christmastide season. The theme for the week is Love. We’re going to dig deep and find rich treasures… I’m going to dust it off and leave it to every individual to polish it up in their own reflections and meditations. One of the blessings from our prayers this week is from Colossians 2:2-3

May you be encouraged in heart,
and knitted into a tapestry love
So that you will know the richness of assurance of understanding,
And the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ
In whom are hidden all the treasures
Of wisdom and knowledge.

I pray that for each of us as we transition from Advent into Christmas, but as we dig into the readings now, let’s begin with this thought: there’s a little bit of child buried inside all of us, and it inevitably peeks out a bit at Christmas. Ever wonder why?

John 1:12
     But to all who received Him,
          he has given the right to become children of God,
     to those who believed in his name.

1 John 3:1-3, NIV
     How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
          that we should be called children of God!
     And that is what we are!
     The reason the world does not know us
          is that it did not know him.
     Dear friends, now we are children of God,
          and what we will be has not yet been made known.
     But we know that when he appears,
          we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
     Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself,
          just as he is pure.

John 1:12 stands at the very center of the prologue to John’s gospel. The verse is itself a chiasm — a central thought bounded by two related throught — though most translations tend to obscure the sentence structure in seeking a smooth rendering in English. Having reached the end of the week with one open space for a New Testament reading, I’ve inserted a few verses from 1 John 3 that echoes this same idea as well as other themes from John’s prologue, such as recognizing the incarnate Word, knowing him. Apart from these, John 1:12 also reflects the gathering of a people by God into his family. Flowing from Jesus’ reference to God as his Father, we have a lot of imagery of the “Family of God” from the New Testament, but as we consider the adoption into this family of which John speaks, we can find additional background in the Old Testament… beginning with the problem of the barrier keeping us from his family.

Genesis 2:23-24, NIV
     So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden
          to work the ground from which he had been taken.
     After he drove the man out,
          he placed in front of the Garden of Eden
          cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth
          to guard the way to the tree of life.

2 Samuel 14:14, NIV
     Like water spilled on the ground,
          which cannot be recovered,
          so we must die.
     But God does not take away life;
          instead, he devises ways so that a banished person
          may not remain estranged from him.

These texts lay out for us the problem of estrangement leading to death and the fact that God does not allow that status quo to remain intact. He speaks to a tiny little town of the fulfillment of a promise from her midst. The end of an exile; peace at last. Take heart, he says: Israel is not forgotten.

Micah 5:2-5a, NLT
     But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
          are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
     Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
          one whose origins are from the distant past.
     The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
          until the woman in labor gives birth.
     Then at last his fellow countrymen
          will return from exile to their own land.
     And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
          in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
     Then his people will live there undisturbed,
          for he will be highly honored around the world.
     And he will be the source of peace.

Isaiah 49:13-18, NLT
     Sing for joy, O heavens!
          Rejoice, O earth!
          Burst into song, O mountains!
     For the Lord has comforted his people
          and will have compassion on them in their suffering.
     Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
          the Lord has forgotten us.”
     “Never! 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.
          Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.
     Soon your descendants will come back,
          and all who are trying to destroy you will go away.
     Look around you and see,
          for all your children will come back to you.
     As surely as I live,” says the Lord,
          “they will be like jewels or bridal ornaments for you to display.”

God’s heart is revealed, writing Israel’s name on the palms of his hands, calling back her children. God longs to see families complete.

Psalm 68:3-6, NIV
     But may the righteous be glad
          and rejoice before God;
          may they be happy and joyful.
     Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
          extol him who rides on the clouds—
          his name is the LORD—
          and rejoice before him.
     A father to the fatherless,
          a defender of widows,
          is God in his holy dwelling.
     God sets the lonely in families,
          he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
          but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

God’s heart is to set all of us in families, to see exile and estrangement end. To set us in his family. This is the height of John’s prologue. There is so much to be said about the incarnation, but here we have a glimpse of one of the most profound implications: we all get to be kids. And just in time for Christmas, too! ;^)

This evening sees the end of the fourth “week” of Advent, “Love.” Next we will light the Christ Candle, this evening for some and tomorrow morning for others. As we move from Advent into the Christmas season, I recall a portrait of Joseph that I wrote two years ago as I considered what he must have been thinking as he saw events unfolding before him. Unbelievable events. The post on Joseph ends rather abruptly; it was written to be followed by my post on the shepherds. The long wait of Advent draws to a close… exile is ending, replaced with belonging to a new family. It may take a while to sink in…

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