This morning when we read the Christmas story we began with the prophet Micah. In Micah’s account, Christ’s coming was promised to a people facing great distress:
4:9 Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? 10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies...
5:1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace. (Micah 4:9-10; 5:1-5)
In the fullness of time, when the Christ finally came—in Bethlehem, just as Micah foretold—the people he came to were also in distress. Though back in the land of Israel, they still felt themselves to be in exile, withering under Rome’s heavy hand:
2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed who was with child. (Luke 2:1-5)
And those in distress today still await Christ’s coming. We still await the full fulfillment of Micah’s words: “He shall be greatto the ends of the earth.And he shall be their peace.”
Long centuries passed before the Lord’s words to Micah first began to be fulfilled. Even more centuries have passed since Christ first came, while we await the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.
To all who, like me, live in an imperfect world, to all who battle fear and rest in faith, to all who live between Christ’s first and second comings, between his resurrection and his final appearing, I dedicate this little poem. Our King will come.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10, 12)
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:11-13)
“Fear not,” to us the angel said,
“Fear not, for you will find.
“Fear not, this is the sign:
A baby in a manger laid.”
But now the child, our Lord, is dead.
But now we cannot find.
But now we see no sign
To show us where he has been laid.
Disease and death, the wars of words—
They’ve taken him away.
We cannot find the way;
Our world is ruled by other lords.
At such a time our Lord first came,
At such a time as this;
At such a time the mist
Of fear was rent by heaven’s flame.
Why are we weeping here today?
Why are we seeking blind?
Why have we fearful minds?
He’ll come, sure as he’s gone away.
It’s time for more of Mom’s poems. This month I’m sharing two of her Christmas poems. Enjoy!
(Tips: Read these poems aloud to hear them best. And see here for an introduction to this series.)
At Christmastime the bells of joy
Ring out in every town–
But it was for our sorrowing
That Jesus Christ came down.
At Christmastime the carollers sing
To celebrate good cheer.
But still Christ comes to comfort those
Who shed a private tear.
At Christmastime the Christ was born
To heal our grief and pain.
And soon to banish death and tears
The Christ will come again.
– Elaine Gingrich (shared on her 2014 Christmas cards)
CHRISTMAS COMES AGAIN THIS YEAR: TO LOVE IS TO WAIT FOR (I Cor. 2:9; Isaiah 64:4)
Once again, Lord, Christmas finds us waiting,
Needy, with great want for You and Your coming,
Like Mary awaiting her birth pangs,
And old Simeon waiting to die.
We are weary of groaning and wanting.
But without want, we would have no need of hope,
And Paul states we are saved by hope,
Like the wise men with eyes on the sky.
What shall we do with this severe blessing of waiting,
Of hopefully living without?
Waiting is the time for preparing…
An open door, a welcoming heart,
A costly gift and a packed bag for the journey to worship.
Waiting is the time for remembering…
Ancient prophecies finally fulfilled,
A virgin, a baby, the angels, a star.
Christmas is waiting for a promise to come true,
Doing without until the gift is ready.
Maybe there is not even a scrap of tissue in sight—
But if we know that the one who promised loves us,
Then we know that it is worth our while to keep waiting.
To love is to wait for.
Do we truly know the One who promised Christmas?
Do we love the One who said that he who waits will not be disappointed,
Will not be embarrassed in front of the watching world?
Because He will come again and keep His Word!
He said that the crown is laid up, that the gift may tarry,
But in the fulness of time, behold He will come quickly!
But sometimes when the race is hard and the wait is long
Our nights are spent impatiently watching for a star bright enough to guide us,
Trying, with our prayers, to punch holes in heaven’s brass canopy,
Filling empty space with despairing baby-faith cries.
Meanwhile the Star pinpricks through the cloudy curtain.
We feel an unexpected warmth behind us
Warming our bent backs, stooped under heavy burdens.
We turn and raise our damp eyes to the kindest light
Piercing the gloom with an undeserved grace,
Spotlighting the Desire of the ages—
The Healer of our hearts with smiling face
Lying in a simple stable,
Revealed in an old Book.
The pages turn and the glory burns ever brighter,
Delighting with miracle and majesty,
Truth and transformation,
Wisdom and comfort;
Giving and demanding all that we are and have.
Emmanuel! God is with us while we wait.
Till He comes, the long-awaited One!
Lord, this Christmas may I again face the darkness with hope, And humbly accept this gift of waiting. To love is to wait for.
– Elaine Gingrich, December 13, 2012/December 14, 2014
Two Poems, One Hope
At first glance these two poems are very different. One trips with apparent innocence through three short, parallel stanzas. The other explores unguided paths of free-verse thought.
Thematically, however, the poems are similar. Both confess our human groaning and pain; both look to the past, the present and the future, discovering hope; both long for Christ to come again; and both wonder that “God is with us while we wait.”
One poem exudes radiant hope; the other waits long to unwrap the gift of hope with “not even a scrap of tissue in sight,” until finally hope glimmers in the dark. Whatever your experience this season, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
As Mom says, “Christmas is a bit like signs of spring in the heart of winter, but the actual change of weather is still to come, and so we ache for the full radiance of the Son in that day when we shall be with Him and when our world will be made new. Meanwhile He is with us, warming our hearts and lighting our imperfect world with a hint of heaven.”
If you enjoyed these poems, leave a comment here or send an email to Mom at . She’ll enjoy hearing from you!
Two days ago I was privileged to speak at the memorial service of my father-in-law, Albert Mast. This was a great honor, and a wonderful opportunity to ponder the life that is ours in Christ Jesus–resurrection already and resurrection not yet!
This post will be a bit of a tossed salad, so here’s an ingredient list to help you proceed:
Audio of Sermon and “So What?” Thoughts about Resurrection
Thanks to each of you who prayed for me regarding this sermon! I felt God’s strength and zeal as I spoke, and I sensed people were listening. Our primary texts were Romans 6:11 and 1 Peter 1:13, and my primary goal was to help people rejoice in the blessings of Christ’s resurrection and long for his return.
After the sermon, a friend who had read my recent post about resurrection to come (What is the Christian’s True Hope in Death?) and who heard me share similar thoughts in the sermon asked me a question: Why does it matter? Why is it important for us to fix our hopes on Christ’s return and our resurrection then, rather than merely anticipating dying and going to heaven? My friend agreed with what I had shared, but wasn’t sure what difference it made.
Good question! I shared with my friend an illustration that I didn’t have time to share during the sermon. I’d like to share it here, too.
Imagine, if you can, that you agree with me that the “good guys” in the American Rebellion–er, the American Revolutionary War, that is–were the British, and not the American colonists. (I’m speaking here as my adolescent Canadian self, not my adult kingdom-of-God self.) Now imagine that you and I are both British soldiers, returned from the war. Imagine I come up to you after the war is over and say something like this:
“Isn’t it great how we won the war! We had wonderful campaigns in the king’s colonies. We really knocked those rebellious colonists around in some good fights. Sure, we lost some battles, but look at how those Loyalists escaped to Canada! And just when things looked the worst, wasn’t it wonderful to get on our ships and sail safely home to England? Now those colonists can never touch us. Yes, isn’t it great how we won the war?”
How would you respond? I suspect you’d knock me about the head a time or two to bring me to my senses and shout, “But what about the kingdom? What about the king’s colonies? How can you say we won the war when the king lost his kingdom?”
(If that illustration is too difficult for your imagination, then use the American invasion of Iraq instead.)
Now imagine a similar conversation, this time between you and me as we discuss our Christian war against sin and Satan. Imagine if I say something like this:
“Isn’t it great how we’ll win this war! Saints in the past have engaged in quite the battles with Satan, and there have been wonderful victories. Think of Noah, and Abraham, Moses, and David–a long list of heroes of the faith that have stood firm against the forces of darkness. Sure, the nation of Israel eventually fell away from God and was sent into exile, but then God started a whole new campaign with his Church! Peter, John, Paul, then Augustine, Saint Francis, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Felix Manz, Menno Simons, William Carey, Billy Graham, and countless more [edit the list as you wish]–what a list of victors! Each one of them, at his death, escaped safely to heaven. And now, just as the war is raging at its fiercest, and the Church is being reduced to a tiny remnant band, we have this wonderful confidence: God is going to call us home and we’ll all go sailing off safely into heaven! Isn’t it wonderful how we’re going to win the war!”
Now, what would be a proper response to such an outburst? I suggest the following: Hopefully you’d knock me about the head a bit (metaphorically, of course) and sober me up with these words: “But what about the kingdom? What about God’s original purposes for the wonderful world that he created? How can you say we will win the war if the King will loose his kingdom?”
When God created the world (Gen. 1-2), he created it perfect but incomplete. It possessed the perfection of an immature child. God put humans into his world to steward it and to bring about his creative purposes for his world. But Satan and sin hijacked God’s original intent. More accurately, God foreknew sin’s entrance, and planned all along to work through it. However we word it, this fact remains: God’s purposes for his world remained incomplete at the time when sin entered. If this is true, then salvation alone–the removal of sin from human hearts or even from the cosmos–is not the sum total of God’s purposes for his creation. No, after sin is removed God will want to get on with his other plans for his creation.
Ask a cook, “What do you want to do with these dishes?” and he might answer, “I want them washed.” Ask a 16-year-old what he plans to do with his car and he might say, “I plan to give it a wash and a wax.” But no cook would be satisfied washing dishes without ever getting to cook with them, and it is a rare teen who would be content working at a car wash all day and never driving a car! To reduce God’s purposes for his world to his “plan of salvation” is like reducing a cook’s purposes for dishes to his plan for washing them.
So what difference does it make if we focus on dying and going to heaven rather than on Christ’s return and our final resurrection? I think it is the difference between being satisfied with human salvation or rejoicing in God’s victory. Is it enough for me that I win? Or do I care about God winning? Do I imagine a grand conclusion where Satan succeeds, kamikaze-style, in demolishing God’s good creation? Where Satan, like Samson, dies while bringing down God’s house? Where God wins the war but looses half his kingdom? Or do I grasp God’s vision for creating “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13)? Do I remember that my own eternal glory is bound up in his, and that the Bible hints at things like us reigning with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12) and judging angels (1 Cor. 6:3)–things seemingly timed to happen only long after my death, when Christ returns?
More could be said, but hopefully that begins to answer the “so what” question that my friend raised. There is much I don’t understand yet about God’s purposes for his creation. God still has some big secrets up his sleeve. But this much I do understand: God’s purposes matter, and they will be fulfilled! Through Christ God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1:20).
If you want to read more, the book that has shaped my thinking as much as any other (besides Scripture) is on sale on Kindle right now: Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright.
“On the Resurrection Morning” — A Gospel Song that “Gets” Life After Death
In my sermon I quoted an old gospel song by Sabine Baring-Gould that I a friend shared with me just a few days ago. Here are two of its eight stanzas. Notice especially the lines I’ve emboldened. How often do you hear such ideas in a gospel song? I think this author understood our Christian hope well.
For a while the wearied body
Lies with feet toward the morn;
Till the last and brightest Easter
Day be born.
But the soul in contemplation, Utters earnest prayer and strong,
Bursting at the resurrection
If our sights are to be fixed on our final resurrection and not merely on going to heaven, then how should we bury our loved ones? During the sermon I answered this question by quoting from an article written by my mother (Elaine Gingrich). Mom wrote this article over 20 years ago, after death touched my life significantly for the first time by claiming the lives of five young friends in a car accident.
Here is the article: Burial Ground(By the way, I discovered just now that in my sermon I misquoted a Tozer quote that Mom uses in this article: It should be “It is hard to imagine anything less hopeful than the sight of a burial”–not “more hopeful.” But sorry, Tozer; I think I like my version at least as well.)
“How Firm A Foundation” — How a Hymn Helped Strengthen Albert’s Faith
At Albert’s memorial service his “little” brother Glen Mast told a story that few of us knew. Five or six years ago, when Albert’s pain was at its worst, he experienced a severe trial of his faith. One time when Glen was visiting, Albert confessed that he felt “worthless.” Worse still, Albert was troubled by this question: What if someday he would stand before God and hear these terrible words: “I never knew you, depart from me.”
Glen reassured Albert, reminding him that, while each of us is unworthy, none of us are worthless. God paid a dear price for us! Glen also explained that when Jesus foretold those terrible words, “I never knew you,” he was warning religious leaders who felt no need for Jesus. Albert, on the other hand, had relied from his youth on the grace of God given through Christ (Eph. 2:8-10). God knew his name! (I might add that Jesus was describing false prophets who seemed more interested in wielding the power of God than in doing the will of God.)
Then Glen showed Albert and Katie (my mother-in-law) a video of a presentation by David Powlison, called “Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings.” (Click the link for audio and video options. Or go to page 145 of this free PDF book for a transcript.) Powlison shapes his talk around the grand old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation“–a hymn which, unlike most hymns, has God speaking directly to us for most of its verses. (When re-enacting this story at Albert’s memorial, Glen had us turn and face each other while singing verse one, then turn our hands palms-up toward God while singing the rest of the song.)
Glen’s words, Powlison’s presentation, and the words of this hymn were used by God to renew Albert’s faith. Perhaps they will renew the faith of someone reading this blog, too.
Albert Mast’s Obituary
Finally, here is Albert Mast’s obituary:
Albert Mast was born on May 2, 1943 in Thomas, Oklahoma, the son of Joas and Katie Mast. He was married to Katie Stoltzfus on November 10, 1973. Later that year, they moved to Leon, Iowa, where they farmed and eventually established the family baking business, Mast Family Farm.
From a young age, Albert faced many challenges related to what was eventually diagnosed as dystonia. Though some of those challenges shook him at times, he held fast to his faith in Christ, and lived a vibrant testimony of joy in the midst of pain.He was known for his determination, his smile in spite of his pain, his care for others who were hurting, and for planting straight rows. Some of Albert’s favorite quotes: “I may be crippled, but I am NOT handicapped.” “If you can do it, so can I.” One of his life verses was Philippians 4:13.
Albert was released from his body on December 15, 2014.Albert is survived by his dedicated wife, Katie, and their children Zonya (Dwight) Gingrich, Albert L. Mast, and Joy (Craig) Miller; Grandchildren Priya, Shani, and Ayla Gingrich, and Dexter Miller; Siblings Susie Joy Mast, Moses (Sadie) Mast, William (Betty) Mast, Lydia Mae (the late Virgil) Wagler, John (Esther) Mast, Harry (Flo) Mast, Glen (Ellen) Mast, and many nieces and nephews. Albert was preceded in death by his parents, and his daughter Angela.