An Advent Poem: Christmas Candle

I love poetry because it seems to awaken the mind and the heart. Below is a Christmas poem by John Piper. Although it is longer than the usual 843 Acres devotion*, it highlights Jesus as the fulfillment of every promise God has made, which has been our focus. Happy Christmas, all!

Christmas Candle by John Piper (1982)

The sun had just begun to set
And Joseph’s face, filled with regret
Appeared again. “We’ll find a place,”
Said Mary, full of hope and grace.
”
I know we will,” she touched his chin
And bravely smiled, “Who needs an inn?
The sky is clear, the blankets thick
And warm; there’s still good light to pick
A place among the rocks we passed.
God’s first and best is often last.”
More times than he preferred to think
Poor Joseph’s faith would start to sink
And darkness gather like a foe
‘Til Mary’s hopeful heart would glow.
It wasn’t that he feared the night,
Nor prowling beasts nor thieves to fight.
In fact, it wasn’t fear at all
That made the tears begin to fall.
“It’s all right, Joseph, I don’t mind.
I’m sure it won’t be hard to find.”
“My God, you’re pregnant, woman, look!
What kind of husband ever took
His wife to sleep among the rocks?
I’m not a shepherd with some flocks;
I am a man and you’re my wife
With child.” She hugged him to the Life
Within her womb and said no more.
Wise woman, she had learned before:
Sometimes you leave a man alone
To bear his load of love, and groan.

She’d kept it to herself all day
And every time they came she’d pray
“Not yet, O God, not on the road;
Your handmaid bears as big a load
As she can take. O Lord, please wait;
Please let the child, your child, come late.
“
She never burdened Joseph down,
Not even when they got to town,
Not even at the setting sun,
But only when the search was done.
He helped her down among the cocks
And hens. She smiled, “It sure beats rocks,
Especially for a night-time birth.”
“I’m in no mood for silly mirth.”
“Nor I.” “How long have you known this?”
“No anger now, my love, let’s kiss
The hour and kiss the ways of God.
Remember that his staff and rod
Are comfort, father David said.”
She winced and quickly shaped her bed.
“I helped to make your day’s load light;
Please, Joseph, carry me tonight.”
“I’ll get a midwife from the place…”
“Don’t leave me here without your face.
My mother showed me what to do
And what I need right now is you.”

Between the pains she tried to lie
In peace and stare into the sky,
And think of how she’d been prepared.
And then she said, “Joseph, I’m scared.
“
And he with steady eye and calm
Recalled for her the angel’s psalm.
“He is the shoot of Jesse’s rod;
He shall be called the Son of God;
His Kingdom shall not ever end.
Will not God then his birth attend?”
But Mary’s face remained so grim:
“The promises are sure for him.
You know I never doubt God’s word,
But, Joseph, I have never heard
A promise for myself but this:
‘Some sword my own soul will not miss.'”
Again his eyes were steady, bright
Reflecting heaven’s grace and light.
“Our book is full of promises;
Remember that one where it says,
No good thing does the Lord withhold
From those whose cares on him are rolled.
And: when your worries multiply
God’s consolation hovers nigh.
And: steadfast love surrounds the girl
For whom Jehovah is her pearl.
And: God’s a stronghold for the weak,
How happy those who his help seek.”
Each time the birthing pangs withdrew
He gave her joyful words and true.
He carried Mary with the Word
And she delivered what she heard:
God’s Yes to every ancient oath.
And now with lifted hands they both
Were filled with distant prophecy:
“To God alone all praises be,
And let the world a candle light
To celebrate this awesome night.”

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What are the non-advent readings for today? Hosea 12-14

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*843 Acres is limited to 400 words or less. Today is the first day that we have gone over 400 words. It is 630 words (which is still, by the way, less than a New York Times op-ed – 750 words or less).

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Advent – God Has Spoken and Still Speaks

Advent Reading: Hebrews 1:1-2

God Has Spoken | Complaining that God is silent with us is like standing at the bottom of the 59th Street Subway Station and saying that New York has no Christmas decorations. Just because the lights and trees can’t be seen from there doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Likewise, God is not silent. He has spoken: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” [1].

Through the Prophets | In the past, God usually communicated with His people as a whole by inspiring prophets to speak His Word. Rather than writing His Word in the sky or using a megaphone to shout it from the hills, He inspired human spokesmen to communicate His Word to our fathers. Thus, when the Israelites heard the prophets, they heard God Himself – not man.

Many Times and Many Ways | And He was lavish in how He communicated. He didn’t speak at one time or in one way. Instead, He spoke at many times and in many ways because He wanted to give His people many opportunities to hear Him. He didn’t want to leave them discouraged if they had trouble understanding Him at any one time or in any one way. Thus, as we have seen this advent season, God told Israel about the Messiah through the family, the priesthood, the throne and the prophets [2].

By His Son | Then, by sending His Son, God decisively showed how eager He was to speak with His people. This latest communication was greater than all prior times and ways because Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” [3]. As heir of all things and co-creator of the universe [4], Jesus will make good on all his promises – even the promise to have final victory over sin and death and everything that threatens to rob us of our joy in God.

Prayer | Lord, When we think that you are silent, remind us that the birth of Jesus is incontrovertible evidence that you have spoken. Today, as we prepare for Christmas, open our hearts to know that you still speak by him, as we meditate on his person and teaching and work. Cause us to put our hope in him, the one who will make good on his promise to come again. Amen.

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What are the non-advent readings for today? Hosea 9-11.

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Footnotes

[1] Heb. 1:1-2 ESV  |  [2] During the first week of advent, we saw that the Messiah would come from a family (see He Would Be a Descendant of AbrahamHe Would Be a Descendant of JacobHe Would Be Born of a VirginHis Own People Would Reject Him). As the New Testament authors would later explain, these familial aspects pointed to the fact that God was making a people for Himself that would be a family – where Jesus himself would be the elder brother (see, e.g., Hebrews 2:5-18). During the second week of advent, we saw that the Messiah would come from a priesthood (see He Would Be Greater than the Temple, He Would Be CrucifiedHe Would Be an Atoning SacrificeHe Would Give Us New HeartsHe Would Have a Price). As the New Testament authors would later explain, these priestly aspects pointed to the fact that Jesus would offer himself as the ultimate Passover lamb and that he himself would be the final High Priest that would make atonement for the sins of his people. During the third week of advent, we saw that the Messiah would come from a throne (see A King in the Line of DavidA King Greater than SolomonA King Born in BethlehemA King Riding on a DonkeyA King Who Chose Poverty). As the New Testament authors would later explain, these kingly aspects pointed to the fact that the Messiah would be the ultimate and final king on the throne over all time and the entire universe.  |  [3] Heb. 1:3 ESV  |  [4] See Hebrews 1 (noting that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, God Himself because divinity begets divinity and noting that his being heir of all things means that all things will be at his disposal at the end of the age).

Advent: A Prophet Greater than Jonah

Advent Reading: Jonah 4:2 (underlined below)

Promise Made | When God called Amos to prophesy that Assyria would come against Israel, He also called Jonah to preach revival in Assyria’s chief city, Nineveh [1]. Jonah – an Israelite – did not go easily. In fact, he jumped on a boat to flee. When his plans shipwrecked, however, he ended up in stormy waters and desperately cried to God for salvation – for although he knew that he was guilty, he also knew that God was a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love[2]. God answered by sending a fish to swallow him and, after three days in its belly, delivering him to preach in Nineveh – where the people repented and returned to God.

Promise Kept | About 700 years later, some leaders asked Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” [3]. Jesus answered, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” [4]. In fulfillment, Jesus died on the cross, stayed in the grave for three days, and rose again to reign in heaven.

Promise Meant | A person can no more survive in the belly of a great fish than that they can live again after three days in the grave. Yet, this was the point – God would do the extraordinary on behalf of His people. God delivered Jonah when he prayed (although his own disobedience had put him in harm’s way) and He saved the Ninevites when they repented (although their own evil deeds had set them against Him). Today, when we cry to Him, we receive even greater mercy because we have the blood and resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate sign of God’s grace.

Prayer | Lord, No matter what we’ve done, you hear our cries we turn to you in repentance. Therefore, help us to live in your mercy and grace, as we throw off our guilty consciences that have been sprinkled by Christ’s blood [5]. Amen.

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What are the non-advent readings for today? Hosea 6-8.

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Footnotes

[1] See Amos 6:14; Jonah 1:1-2.  |  [2] Jonah 4:2 ESV  |  [3] Matt. 12:38 ESV  |
[4] Matt. 12:39-40 ESV  |  [5] See Heb. 10:19-39.

Advent – Preparing a People for the Lord

Advent Reading: John 3:30

Promise Made | As the Old Testament prophetic period was closing, God called Israel to anticipate His coming victory (“the day of the Lord”): “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” [1]. Thus, His judgment would be preceded by His mercy – preached by Elijah.

Promise Kept | Before the birth of John the Baptist, an angel said concerning him: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit … and he will go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children … to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” [2]. Then, throughout his preaching and baptizing ministry, John recognized that some people would be tempted to think that he was the promised Messiah. Thus, he repeatedly said things like – “I am not the light”, “I am not the Christ”, “I am not the Prophet”, “I am not worthy to untie the shoes of the Messiah” [3]. Instead, as he explained, he was only the forerunner [4]. Therefore, when he met Jesus, he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [5].

Promise Meant | There remains a final fulfillment of the promise, however, because the final day of the Lord is yet to come [6]. Therefore, like John the Baptist, we are called to testify about the return of Christ. In the ways that we speak about him and represent ourselves to others, we must be faithful to the truth and say things like John said – “We are not the light; Christ alone is the light”, “We cannot save anyone; Christ alone can save.” In everything we do and say, we must point to him, not ourselves.

Prayer | Lord, Today, in your great mercy, you are calling all people to repent and turn their hearts to you. Yet, we confess that oftentimes we get too caught up in our daily affairs and, as a result, we forget that we are called to be a part of extending your present call of mercy to all people. Forgive us, therefore, and cause us to repeat the words of John: He must increase, but I must decrease[7]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Mal. 4:4-6 ESV  |  [2] Luke 1:15-17 ESV  |  [3] See Jn. 1:8, 20, 21, 27 ESV (not exact quotations). Note: Although John also said that he was not Elijah, he meant in a real, physical sense – which is correct. Rather, as Luke mentioned, he came in the spirit and power of Elijah.  | [4] Jn. 3:28-30 ESV  |  [5] Jn. 1:29 ESV  |  [6] In Revelation, there are two witnesses that make one last call to repent and prepare for the coming, final judgment. One of these is almost certainly the final Elijah because he has “the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall,” just as the first Elijah did (Rev. 11:3-12).  |  [7] Jn. 3:30 ESV

Advent: A Prophet Greater than Moses

Advent Reading: Acts 3:17-22

Promise Made | While God was with Moses on Mount Sinai and inscribing the law on stone tablets for the benefit of His people, they were busy making idols. It had been less than two months since they had praised God for delivering them from Egypt: “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” [1]. Yet, while Moses was with God, they grew impatient and followed Aaron’s call to worship: “These [idols] are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” [2]. When Moses came down, he witnessed their absurdity: “You have sinned a great sin” [3]. Knowing God’s mercy, he continued, “I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement” [4]. Then he begged God: “Forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out” [5]. But God refused his offer. Instead, He spoke through Moses: “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” [6].  

Promise Kept | Jesus is that prophet. He is the ultimate mediator whose offer to be blotted out was accepted by God. As Peter preached, What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent, therefore, and turn again that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers’[7].

Promise Meant | Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses was a shadow; Jesus is the reality. Through Moses, God gave the law on tablets of stone; through Jesus, God gave the law on hearts of flesh in the Spirit. Moses met with God; Jesus is God. Moses offered his life; Jesus gave his life. Thus, “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses” [8]. He – not Moses – is the promised prophet.

Prayer | Lord, We are like the Israelites – we praise you and then, shortly thereafter, forget about you. Yet, today, as we prepare Christmas, we give you thanks for Jesus, whose life was blotted out so that we would not be. We repent, therefore, and embrace these times of refreshing in your presence. Amen.

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Footnotes[1] Ex. 15:11 ESV  |  [2] Ex. 32:4 ESV  |  [3] Ex. 32:30 ESV  |  [4] Ex. 32:30 ESV  |  [5] Ex. 32:31 ESV  |  [6] Deut. 18:15 ESV  |  [7] Acts 3:17-21 ESV  |  [8] Heb. 3:3 ESV