Christ our Hope

Dr. David Draper

The only grandson in the family, I was the apple of my grandmother’s eye. I knew I had a special place in her heart. Nanny’s refrigerator always seemed to have food I liked: stewed apples and raisins in winter, pumpkin pie in fall, tapioca pudding in spring and fresh fruit pies in summer (to name just a few!). None of us was rich but I knew when I needed extra money for clothes or school, I could depend on Nanny.

But the best part was that she lived next door on the farm, making her readily available to me. She was a big lady with a small lap, but I was never too old for her to pull me to herself and hold me close. During summer thunderstorms she would take me to the front porch, hold me on her lap and say, “Can you smell the rain?”

Nanny was also a great encourager. No one in my family had ever graduated from high school. But she left no doubt in my mind that I could and would be the first.  

Then there was Christmas. The family would gather in her big kitchen for more food than could be imagined. The special treat was always fresh shrimp steamed in Old Bay seasoning (still my favorite food!). When I was with her everything was okay and I didn’t have to be afraid. Obviously, she impacted my world beyond my understanding.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases John 1:14, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” With His birth at Christmas, Jesus left the glory of heaven to live life as we know it, to experience what we experience, to feel what we feel, to live next door. He did it with the ultimate goal of adopting us into His family where each of us is the apple of His eye.

The plan for Jesus to come to earth was formulated with you and me at the forefront. Jesus came to introduce us to His Father and demonstrate His divine love. The Father’s plan was for Jesus to invite us to life with Him for our years on earth and then to live throughout eternity with Him in Heaven. Jesus’ coming was to provide an invitation and means for us to go to Him.

Christmas is a time to celebrate Jesus’ coming to the neighborhood, demonstrating a servant’s heart and great tenderness for humanity. He gave up so much that we could have so much in Him. Not only did He come as a helpless infant, He also grew with an attitude of putting others first.

At the same time, the Father invites us to demonstrate sacrificial love to our world. It’s our turn as God’s adopted and beloved children to move into the neighborhoods of friends, neighbors and strangers to make a difference in their lives. It’s time for us who are followers of Jesus to look around and be sensitive to others’ needs. It’s a season to renew our commitment to help others recognize that God and we value them.

Picture it this way: God the Father comes to us through Jesus and in a way pulls us onto His lap. His goal is to show us how special we are to Him. He then sends us to make a difference in others’ lives and help them experience their value. 

As I observe people, I see faces filled with wonder and joy. I also observe others showing grief and deep anxiety. If Jesus had chosen to enter our neighborhood in our time, He would have been right in the midst of the hustle and bustle as a focal point of peace, grace and joy. He would be rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. When we are aware of His constant presence, we come to recognize that although we don’t necessarily experience everything as we want it to be, we nevertheless don’t have to be afraid. He is present and here to help us (Isaiah 41:13).

My grandmother was a Christ-like figure in my life. Many people in our neighborhoods need such figures in their lives. What an opportunity to demonstrate the message of Jesus moving into their neighborhoods, never to leave. It’s time to celebrate this incredibly wonderful news. It’s also our time to serve others as neighbors so that they, too, will be ready to allow Jesus to move into their neighborhoods.

Dr. David Draper (Ph.D., Bowling Green State University) serves as President of Winebrenner Theological Seminary.
The Fourth Week of Advent

Hope for Peace

Micah 5:2-5a

Dr. Dale Brougher

What makes you smile? Not when someone is looking, but when you find yourself alone. What makes you take a step with confidence? Hope is fuel that makes the smile and places the energy in our steps.

Micah, a Prophet of God provided hope in a time of great stress for the average person in Israel. If we want to hear Micah speaking to us today, we need to ask ourselves where are we looking for hope. Negativity and depression can creep into our lives when we look to the traditional signs of hope. When we look to prosperity, we find recession; when we look for health, we find soreness and an aging body; when we look for peace in strength, and we find conflict and war. And all of these just do not last.

What is your source of hope? The Prophet Micah declares that hope is found in the smallest of places, among the lowly residences of Bethlehem. In a time when the majority of the people of Israel had little to count on and even less to hope for, our Sovereign God tells his covenant people; their hope is found in an unborn child. Maybe it is time that we start smiling and finding our energy, our hope, in this same Messiah. May your hope be the firm and confident promises of Jesus. Come Lord Jesus, come.

Dr. Dale Brougher earned his M.Div. from WTS and a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University.  He is Professor of Religion at The University of Findlay.

The Third Week of Advent

Hope for Salvation

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Prof. Jeannine Grimm

My home congregation decorates for Christmas at the beginning of the Advent season. There are angels and greenery and lights in every nook and cranny--- and a life-sized nativity scene in the entryway. Each year someone (who? me?) steals the holy babe from his hay-filled cradle and secrets him away until Christmas Eve. It doesn’t take long for the questions to begin: “Where’s Jesus? Who messed with our preparations? How can we have Christmas without the baby?” “Well, it isn’t Christmas yet!” is the easy answer. But there is a deeper, richer meaning to that empty manger. For while these pre-Christmas days may be filled with the hustle and bustle of shopping and cooking and decorating and being ready to celebrate, an empty manger reminds us that it was and is God’s salvation given to an unprepared people that is the real reason for rejoicing. The blessing of Advent is found in taking the time to focus on God’s promises and to fully experience the hope that grows in the emptiness of waiting.

Scripture tells about the beginning of that hope in the stories of the prophets. Seven centuries or so before Jesus, the prophet, Zephaniah, spoke God’s word to a people conquered by the world, who had turned away from faithfulness. God had good reason to sweep them and their world away. Yet, Zephaniah conveys a plan of mercy and renewal, of purification and promise. We hear that God will rejoice in song over those who will be saved through humility and obedience. The “Daughters of Jerusalem” were enjoined to sing along in praise, not for what had been done, but for what God was going to accomplish. The people began to wait and the hope for salvation brought joy.

Now, waiting can be tiring and expectation can dim in the light of the world. God’s Word arrived silently, unexpectedly. And though the heavens were filled with rejoicing, the world around did not seem to notice that, for a short while, a manger held an infant named Jesus, literally “God will save.” A lifetime later, the world did not seem to notice an empty cross. But then, there was an empty tomb! And God’s promise for our salvation was accomplished.

Of course we continue to celebrate! But we must also recognize that our joy is accompanied by more waiting as we look for the return of that baby turned king. How shall we prepare for that great day? Can we be ready for it? Perhaps what we need most to do is to walk by an empty manger and remember that it is and always has been God at work in us, purifying hearts and minds with the opportunity to trust and obey that is the only preparation needed. Then we can join in celebratory song with the people of Zion, with the heavenly host, and with God himself, rejoicing that hope has found us.

Jeannine Grimm earned a Master of Arts (Theological Studies) from WTS.  She currently serves as Student Services Coordinator.

The Second Week of Advent

Hope for Justice

Malachi 3:1-4

Pastor Dan Horwedel

I grew up cheering for the Dallas Cowboys in the Tom Landry era (my, were things different then). His definition of coaching was: “making men do what they don’t want to do, so they can become what they want to be.” Things like practice, and discipline, and teamwork led to not only good football teams, but also the development of good people.

I thought of this as I read through Malachi for this second week of Advent. Malachi was dealing with some priests who had grown a bit weary in their roles of instructing people in the ways of justice. So the prophet informs them that God will send a messenger to ‘clean things up’ so-to-speak. He likened this messenger to a “refiner’s fire” or a “launderer’s soap” (NIV).

So…. how is your life as we approach Christmas? Is everything in order? Or are you maybe struggling a bit or stuck in a rut of some kind? Are you, perhaps, in need of a little “cleaning up”?

Jesus came into the world to set things right, and to produce disciples to carry this on. As we journey through this season of Advent, we would be wise to remember the restorative aspects of justice. How Jesus can set things right in our lives, and how we can share in his work on behalf of others. I believe this is how most of us want to be.

So let me encourage you to participate in some missional practices during this season. Maybe shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk, or invite them over for supper, or take someone shopping who otherwise isn’t able to go. As far as spiritual disciplines: What better time to focus your prayer life, or your Bible reading, or perhaps even the idea of simplicity. Also, many people feel alone during the holidays – maybe even you. Resist the urge to isolate yourself and commit to your church or some other kind of fellowship group. We should all be aware of our ‘teammates’ who may be walking this path as well.

Practice, discipline, and teamwork don’t always come easy. Sometimes we need to force ourselves to step out in faith – in order to be the kind of people we want to be. It never hurts to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” either (Heb. 10). So let’s go, team!!

Pastor Dan Horwedel graduated from WTS in 1999.  He serves as pastor of the Fairview Church of God in Yoder, IN.
The First Week of Advent

A Promise of Hope

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Dr. Brandon Withrow

Have you read Jeremiah 33:14-16? For Christians, the 33rd chapter of Jeremiah can serve as a source of many things, including debate. How should interpreters understand the claim that the "days are surely coming" when the Lord will fulfill his promises to the "house of Israel and the house of Judah" (33:14)? What is meant by the "righteous Branch to spring up for David" (33:15)?

Some Christians might see this passage as implying a future millennial reign, during which Christ fulfills the promises to Israel. Others see it as belonging entirely to the church now, perhaps with its final fulfillment in that which theologians call the new heavens and new earth. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the discussion.

While a religious history of this passage may note the many differences of opinion and nuances, I think the reason this text is often part of the Advent season is simpler. When I read Christian theologians over the centuries, noticing that the emphasis may fall on what has occurred in the past at the cross or what will occur in the future, what I discover is this: despite their diverse traditions, all Christians share at least one take away from Jeremiah's promises, that God will, as N.T. Wright is fond of saying, "put the world to rights." He "shall execute justice and righteousness" and there will be "safety" (33:16).

As theologian Jonathan Edwards once wrote, this passage was intended for the "comfort" of the people of God, and for Christians it is a promise that "God would give them a righteous, sinless Savior" (WJE 1:283). As Christians look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ this month, what they are ultimately longing for is that day the world will be finally healed.

Dr. Brandon Withrow (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) serves at WTS as Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity & Religious Studies and Director of the Master of Arts (Theological Studies) program.
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