More Than Just a Decoration (Advent 1: HOPE)

 

Those who HOPE in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. —Isaiah 40:31 NIV

Even though DH brought down the Christmas decorations from the attic two weeks earlier than usual, putting them up is taking longer this year.

It might be because DH and I are slowing down. It might be because our family will no longer gather at our house on Christmas Eve to enjoy a meal together and exchange presents. That tradition, sad to say, has disappeared into the land of Christmas Past.

Life changes. It’s dynamic, not static. Which really is a good thing because the only things that don’t change are dead. So I accept the life changes. Even if I don’t like them. Even though I miss the wonderful chaos that was Christmas Eve at our house.

So, why decorate when there’s just the two of us?

Because there are two of us. And we will celebrate the birth of our Savior because He came to give us something we all need: hope.

Which brings me to the pine cone.

This year, it’s more than a decoration to me.

Why?

Because it symbolizes hope.

I learned something about the pine cone this past summer on our road trip to the Pacific Northwest.

We were blessed with an amazing guide when we took the bus tour of the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park. Most tour guides spout off what they have in their minds because they’ve memorized the script.

Not Jeremiah. He spoke from what was in his heart. His love for the area and for sharing tidbits of information was obvious. There wasn’t a question he couldn’t answer.

After driving through an area that had been devastated by forest fires, he held up a pine cone.

“The intense heat from a forest fire causes the pine cone to open up. Inside are the seeds of new trees,” he explained. “The forest you see around you grew from those seeds that were once inside the pine cones.”

If you’ve ever seen the devastation left by a fire, you’d think all was lost.

But God planned for life to continue. Our Creator placed the seeds of new life within the pine cone and made it so that an all-consuming fire wouldn’t destroy that new life, but initiate it.

Wow.

The forest would never be the same as it was before the fire, but new life emerged from the ashes of the old.

Only God.

There are times in our lives when we are left in the ruins of our hopes and dreams. We stumble through the valley of desolation, darkness without, discouragement and disillusionment within. Our hope is gone.

So we think.

But take a lesson from the pine cone: Hope is never gone. Not when you’ve made the sovereign God your God (see Romans 8:28).

A new life will grow from the ashes of your hopes and dreams. A new dream. New hope that will carry you through when your faith is weak.


As we light the first Advent candle, the candle of Hope, let us remember the pine cone.

It’s more than a decoration. It’s a reminder of hope.

How I need hope, O Lord! Rekindle the fire of hope in my heart, mind, and spirit. Amen.

Read and meditate on Isaiah 40:21–31

More tea:

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my HOPE is in him.” – Psalm 62:5 (NLT)

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your HOPE in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:11 (NIV)

© 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Images in public domain.

Following the Star

 

 

Star of Bethlehem, Magi - wise men or wise kings travel on camels with entourage across the deserts to find the savior, moon, desert, Holy Bible, Etching, 1885 (Courtesy of Wonderlane, Flickr Commons http://tinyurl.com/heofx9o(
Star of Bethlehem, Magi – wise men or wise kings travel on camels with entourage across the deserts to find the savior, moon, desert, Holy Bible, Etching, 1885 (Courtesy of Wonderlane, Flickr Commons )

Read and meditate on Matthew 2:1–12

Once again the star appeared to them, guiding them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. – Matthew 2:9 (NLT)

When I was a child, Christmas Eve was a magical time. Perhaps it was the air of excitement and anticipation. Perhaps it was the lights on the Christmas tree, casting a soft glow on the darkened living room throughout the long evenings. Perhaps it was the carols we sang. Perhaps it was the Christmas story itself, with all its mystery and awe.

Maybe that’s what made Christmas Eve so magical: I accepted without reservation the Christmas story in its entirety – from a virgin giving birth to the Son of God in a stable, to angels announcing the birth to lowly shepherds, to a bright star leading the Magi to Jesus. I understood that whatever science or nature could not explain, God could. After all, He is the Creator and set the laws of nature in motion. No doubt poisoned Christmas for me.

These days, however, there are those who would remove the reason for the season, who scoff at the miracles and spoil the magic, who reject that which cannot be explained except by the touch of God.

The Magi, learned men from the East, could have scoffed, too. But they didn’t reject what their own eyes saw – a colossal star with a radiance that shone even during the day. These astronomer-mathematicians recognized the importance of this brilliant star that appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth.

But how did these heathen Gentiles, these nonbelievers, know that a Jewish king was born?

Familiar with the prophecies of Daniel, who was an exile in their land hundreds of years earlier, these wise men who studied the heavens knew the Jews were waiting for a Messiah promised by God Himself, someone who would save them and rule them forever.

They knew the Hebrews considered the constellation Pisces as representing their own nation. The planet Saturn, viewed as a wandering star, represented Jerusalem, their capital city. Jupiter, another “wandering star,” denoted royalty.

When Jupiter and Saturn converged in Pisces three times in two months, the wise men knew something big was about to happen. This astronomic event normally occurred only once every 804 years. Then a few months later, Mars joined Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation.

As they puzzled over the meaning of this, they noted the first time this happened was on the Jewish Day of Atonement. Putting all this together, they reasoned that a Hebrew king was about to be born in Judea.

Then, another amazing event occurred: A brilliant new star appeared in the constellation Aquila (the eagle), brighter than anything they’d ever seen, so intense it could be seen in the daytime. To the wise men, this brilliant new star, actually an exploding star called a nova, was the announcement they were waiting for: The King of the Jews had been born.

A king whose birth even the heavens proclaimed was a king they had to see. So they prepared for the long trip to Bethlehem, where they found the infant king. They didn’t doubt when they found the child not in a palace, but in a humble house. They didn’t doubt when they saw how poor his parents were.

They believed what most Jews in that day weren’t even aware of – that this child was both a King and a God. When they presented their costly gifts – gifts denoting royalty – they worshipped Him.

For these astronomical events to come together at the very time Jesus was born, for Gentile magi to recognize the significance of it all, for this star to lead them to the exact location of the child they were seeking – can only be explained by the touch of the Divine – God reaching out and making the impossible happen.

The wise men – nonbelievers – believed the miracle in the sky and followed that star until it led them to the Savior.

What about you? Are you following that star?

Jesus, when the wise men saw the star that led to You, they rejoiced with “exceedingly great joy.” Fill me with this joy every day as I follow the star that leads to You. Amen.

christ-candle-2

(c) 2016 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.