Pillar of Fire

Walking in the light of Yahweh, sharing my experience.

Advent

How did I miss the meaning of Advent as a child?

I grew up surrounded by Catholic teaching and influence in school and Sunday mornings. We had wreaths in each of my classrooms and I remember lighting the candles during Home Room. I remember the 3 purple candles and the pink one which delighted me announcing the arrival of Christmas day only 1 week away. How did I miss the deeper symbolism of this simple wreath?

I’ve been pondering the Advent wreath the past few days and its significance as a symbol in the Christmas season. I am thinking a lot about Christmas this year, mostly because my wee little ones will be showered with gifts, commercials on television, other children talking about jolly old Santa Claus, mall maddness and family members asking “So, what did Santa give you for Christmas?”. As a Jesus-loving father, I want to teach my children about Jesus and instill a deeper appreciation for this mega event in the Christian calendar.

Not having Wikipedia’d the meanings or the symbols, I connected some dots yesterday. Between the Old Testament book of Malachi and the New Testament book of Matthew, there are 400 years of silence. There are 4 candles on an Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath, giving increasing amounts of light as the candles are lit with each progressive week in the season, symbolize the growing close of the silent period and the arrival of Jesus Messiah, the Light of the World. Just as the world waited in silence and anticipation after the prophets of old announced the coming of Messiah, we engage in an intentional waiting during Advent, remembering each 100 years of silence with one candle. Each 100 years, the darkness grows less and at the end of the wait, the wreath, blazing in full glory announces the gift of Messiah to the family.

I find it very fitting that Christmas is celebrated in winter. In the cold of winter, the earth slumbers, dead, dark and cold, nights growing longer and longer. Christmas reverses that in the seasonal calendar. The Winter Solstice marks the time when the days grow longer, light overcoming darkness. After Christmas is celebrated, light and warmth overcome darkness and cold. I’m sure the Church fathers put much thought into how to mark this incredible moment on the calendar so that everything about it would point to Jesus.

This year, I hope to put an Advent Wreath on the table at dinner and reflect on the prophecies concerning Messiah with my family each day, as we await the symbolic advent of Christ the Messiah this year on Christmas day.

Luke 2:8-14. Jesus Christ, Messiah, the Light of the World.

Book of Numbers 11: 18 - 23

Reading through Deuteronomy has today taken me back to Numbers. [Side note: I absolutely LOVE Biblia.com, a free version of Logos bible software that makes studying the Old Testament more convenient]. The Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 9 warns Israel not to think that it is by their might, power or influence that they take the land that YHWH is giving them. Moses says that explicitly in vv.1-6 and then the rest of the chapter and all of chapter 10 is spent reminding this new generation of Israel of the folly of their fathers in not trusting the Lord. In short, Moses says: “Guys, don’t get full of yourselves. God is generous to you even though you have really pissed him off in the past… remember this? remember that? Yeah, I thought so. Don’t Forget!

In the process, Moses reminds Israel of Taberah, Massah, and Kadesh-Bernea and the rebellion that occurred there. Logos helps me to understand exactly what went on in these places. In Massah, the people disbelieved God for want of water and Kadesh-Bernea is the place where the people disbelieved God because of the formidable foes of the land of Caanan, which they were to overthrow.

In Taberah, Israel complained about the journey to the promised land and God set fire to the outskirts of their camp; Lesson: don’t complain, God is being good to you, you don’t deserve this, fear YHWH. They also complain about eating the same thing day after day, which is where the verse above comes into play. They had been eating this Mannah, little seeds that were found on the ground and could be gathered up, ground into flour and used to make cakes and bread. They are sick of it and want meat. YHWH gives them meat… enough to make them vomit.

Moses’ head is spinning… “uh, LORD? Sorry… I don’t mean to be doubting… but… uh… there’s over 600 people here? How the heck are you going to get meat for all these people for a month… in the frickin’ desert?” God’s answer is striking: "Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word comes true for you or not." WOW. In other words, “SHUTUP. SITDOWN. WATCH.”

Here’s what I get from this:

  1. God is able to do abundantly more than I can ever imagine is possible. I must persist in faith. God is trustworthy and steadfast.
  2. It’s not that Israel has want for things like water and meat, it’s the heart posture they have before YHWH. That is, they fail to believe that YHWH cares for them and wants to bless them and dwell with them. They doubt his intentions with them, they doubt his faithfulness. So when these things are missing, they naturally believe that God isn’t with them, they believe he isn’t capable to supply these things and they believe that He has led them out there to die. They don’t humbly approach YHWH, thanking him for what he has done, for what he has given them and then ask in humility for what they need, trusting him to provide for them. They throw up their arms and say, “well, so much for this ‘God’ person… he really screwed us. Time to go bug Moses, that fiend!” How often have I responded in the same way… “Well, God doesn’t rescue me from this place, this situation, he must not love me. I’m doomed!” It’s the same response. Time to repent and change my heart posture before the Lord.
  3. God has a plan and knows what he is doing.
  4. God is patient and long-suffering.
  5. We have earned nothing by our own hands except destruction. All praise to the glorious Lord who has graciously bestowed all mercy and favor on us through Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Hang in there!

Historical parallel of the Great Commission

An essay on the similarity of the taking of the Promised Land by the Old Testament Hebrews and the Great Commission of Jesus. Deuteronomy 1:19-46, Matthew 28:18

I was struck last night with a particular thought. The divine command to the Israelite tribes was to take the land that was before them and God would go before them and fight for them. Similarly, Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the nations, making disciples, and he will be with them even unto the end of the age. I find it striking that these are very similar. In the OT, Israel is to physically conquer a people, utterly destroying them. In the NT, the new Israel—believers under Jesus—is to spiritually conquer the world, pulling down strongholds of falsehood and training people in truth, that is, making disciples.

In both situations, God goes before them. Physically, the LORD will go before Israel into the land and put fear into the hearts of men for the sake of his people and slay them even before his people can. In a very real sense, there is nothing to fear given the showing up of the LORD on the battlefield, but Israel is very much afraid. They fear that the LORD is leading them to their deaths, they doubt that they matter at all to him or that he is truthful.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit goes before the church into the spiritual wilderness, conquering the hearts of men and rendering them unto Jesus. His people are merely to, metaphorically speaking, go in and take the land, or as Jesus puts it, bring in the harvest. We have no arguing to do, no persuading to do, no convincing, no fighting. The gospel is merely sweet to those who are being saved and bitter wormwood to the perishing. And yet the people of Jesus are also afraid. Afraid of rejection, afraid of mocking, afraid of destitution or torment. Those who live under this fear are proud. Too proud to be rejected, so they hide, too proud to be mocked, too proud to share in the sufferings of Jesus.

There were consequences for Israel; they didn’t get to see the promised land, they died outside it’s boundaries, never tasting the goodness of that place and the protection of God under the covenant. Will there be consequences for the new Israel? Will the fear of the people of Jesus lead to similar wilderness? Will keeping silent, refusing to bring in the harvest, yield a wilderness for us? Will we die outside of the walls of the promised land, embarrassed of the LORD? How does Israel’s experience teach us in the new covenant of grace?

I still haven’t answered these questions, but it’s food for thought.