Darkness Overcome

The following is an excerpt from the free Advent devotional Darkness & Light. 

December 3

Darkness Overcome

by Meridith Matson

Both darkness and light are themes throughout Scripture. Beginning with the opening of the Bible in Genesis 1 and 2, we watch expectantly as God calls order in an environment of chaos and speaks: “Let there be light” into complete and utter darkness.

Darkness can be chilling, isolating, depressing, and hopeless. Light brings warmth, hope, and causes the unseen to become seen. John says: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God himself is light, so where God is, there is light, and where God is not, there is darkness.

The prophet Isaiah says this: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” This, of course, foretold the birth of Christ, and that this event would bring light to people walking in deep darkness. Did the people know they were walking in darkness at the time of the prophecy? Did the first-century Jews know they were walking in darkness and realize when the light of Christ’s presence on earth finally dawned?

John also writes:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5. HCSB)

The darkness did not overcome the light, yet darkness had to exist to be overcome. Darkness was not created: in Genesis 1, the earth simply was dark and God spoke into the darkness to create light. John, bringing to mind the language of Genesis 1, also begins with creation, darkness, and light but also puts Christ, the Word, with God in the beginning. Once again, God continues to bring light into darkness, proving the light is more powerful than the darkness.

 

Reflection​​: How have you struggled with darkness during different seasons of your life and how did you work through those seasons? Consider how seasons of darkness make seasons of light brighter.

Darkness & Light

With Advent just around the corner beginning on Sunday, December 2, a few friends and I have a gift for you this season: a free, reflective devotional. Collaboration across oceans, made possible by technology, this is our labor of love to friends and family.

During this busy time of the year, make space for reflection as we ponder once again the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Darkness & Light Advent Devotional 2018

Silence and Sound, Day 4

The following is an excerpt from a free advent devotional guide put together by myself and several close friends.  To download this guide, see here.

Week 1
Day 4: The Intertestamental Period
by meridith matson

Within one blank page in our Bibles, much happens in the story of the nation of Israel and within the scope of world history as well. This page between the Old and New Testaments represents a 400 year period of time known as the the Intertestamental Period. This era is known as a time of silence, where God does not speak through a prophet. This time of silence, however, was not an uneventful period in history, or an idle time in which God was not actively present in the world. There were many changes in the region of Israel that also directly impacted the people of Israel during this time.  

The rise of Alexander the Great, and his conquests within this region of the world, significantly impacted culture.  His ideals, as taught to him by the philosopher and his teacher, Aristotle, gave him a vision for unity.  During this drive for unity the Greek language, culture, and ideals were violently forced upon the world in a process known as Hellenization. After the death of Alexander the Great, the areas he conquered were divided into four sections ruled by four generals.  

Another significant period was the Maccabean Era (165-63 BC).  During this time, an elderly priest named Mattathias rebelled against Syrian officials who were trying to force the Jewish people to participate in heathen activities. As a result, a large group of faithful Jews followed him and later led the “Maccabean Revolt.”  These Jews were responsible for eventually cleansing the Temple and restoring devout Jewish worship.  In their persistence, they created the culture and norms present when Jesus shows upon the pages of the New Testament.

Upon further study, we see that though it was a time of silence God was anything but removed from His people.  In the fullness of time, when everything was culturally, politically, and religiously the way God intended them to be, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of a young Jewish girl.  And through this baby, change arrived: not just for those of Jewish descent, but for the entire world.

Contemplation:
Can you think of some “blank pages” in your life, times when you felt God was silent or that you had removed yourself from God’s presence? What unexpected revelations came out of that time?

 

For more on the Intertestamental Period see: http://www.thetransformedsoul.com/additional-studies/spiritual-life-studies/the-intertestamental-period-and-its-significance-upon-christianity

instead, pray

“Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray.” Philippians 4:6 (The Voice)

I love trees.  Green, vibrant leaves.  Tall, dark brown trunks.  Nestled in a quiet forest.  This is calm: staring and examining them in stillness.

Growing up in Oregon only fostered my love for trees, and I am still fascinated by the redwoods – the tall, strong redwood trees.  Standing still and ageless, lining the long, winding roads between central Oregon and the coast.  (I confess my obsession with these trees could also be because Return of the Jedi was filmed in Oregon in the redwoods.. I digress.)

When I turned ten we moved into a new house with a backyard full of cherry trees and apple trees.  I dreamed of waking up early and picking fruit each morning – of course this dream quickly dissolved when we discovered birds ate all the cherries, which were only really ripe about two weeks out of the year, and the apples were filled with worms and all sorts of other creatures that shouldn’t be consumed.  The fruit produced by these trees remained uneatable.

Anxiousness often overcomes us and we discover the fruit born of our anxious thoughts are fruits of worry and fear. Thoughts planted in our minds blossom into something – thoughts of lust, fear, greed, pride, and a whole host of other fruits that are more flesh than spirit.

Instead of anxiousness and worry, Paul tells the Philippian believers to instead pray. No formula, no article entitled: “10 Steps to Worry Less.” Just a simple solution: pray. And the fruit of this action?  Peace.  A peace that “(is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” Philippians 4:7 (The Voice)

Paul goes on to list what the seeds of our thoughts should be: the seeds to plant that will produce the fruit of peace: “Fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praise worthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me – do it- and the peace of God will walk with you.” Philippians 4:8-9.

Seeds of beauty, truth, that which is lovely, good, virtuous and praiseworthy produce those fruits, which ultimately guards us with the peace of God.

Picturing those tall redwoods, or imagining the cherry and apple trees of my childhood, I see wormy apples and cherry pits left behind by the birds.  Uneatable fruit.  But today in my own anxiousness and worry, I pray.  Seeking to plant seeds of truth and goodness, producing not fear or multipied anxiousness, but instead peace.

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146,000 silent nights

Malachi 3:1  “’I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

These were last words God spoke.  For 400 years.

The people waited.
And they kept waiting.
400 years passed;
God was silent.
146,000 silent nights.
But all the people were watching and waiting,
and watching some more.

They were not fighting each other.
They were not worshipping other gods…
for the first time in a LONG time.

They knew God was with them as they watched and waited,
but, the promise…
from the prophet Isaiah:
For unto us a son is born
Unto us a son is given
The peace, justice, righteousness…
they knew these were coming.
They knew HE was coming.

But, do you think the people wanted to give up?
Did they get tired of waiting?
Did they think God’s promises weren’t going to come to be?

Maybe.

But the next time God spoke, it wasn’t through a judge, king or prophet.
It was in the cry of a Baby.
God would break the silent nights, with a not so silent night,
through the screaming cry of a baby.
The Son of God,
Emmanuel,
GOD WITH US.

Two people waited expectantly day and night in the temple worshipping God, waiting for the Messiah, or the Christ.

Luke 2:25-32  “There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:
‘Now, Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, as You promised.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples— a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.'”

Luke 2:36-38  “There was also a prophetess, Anna […] . She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Simeon and Anna both were waiting,
and after waiting so long, they finally gazed into the eyes of God-
a baby.

Someone asked me last week – why do we celebrate Jesus coming at Christmas time so much? What’s so special about it?

Jesus was and still is the hope of all mankind.
Jesus was and is God – who came to earth to live as one of us,
to share in our sufferings, our struggles,
to live as we live,
and years later – this baby, now a man
would die on a cross and rise again
because of one reason:

LOVE.

God’s love for us – you and I and this entire world
is so big that he didn’t leave us alone,
He didn’t leave us to walk this life alone
He came to be with us,
He came to rescue us.

And that indeed is good news,
the good news of love
that was worth waiting for all those years.

Love.

 

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from death to life

Let-Go

Letting go.
Letting things die
so i can live..
so I can really live, again.

There is life, even in death
because some things need to die, so other things can live
like dreams

But why do we keep praying for clarity?
We are never promised clarity
But … but
we can walk by faith, and not by sight
we can choose trust instead of the questions

And somehow in the mess
there is beauty
in the ashes
and in the end
we may experience a joy that only comes from Him in the midst of the
madness, chaos, confusion and doubt..

and a seed of joy is planted
growing bit by bit
sprouting into a tree.  A tree of life.  Again.

FAITHFUL

I must pause.  My heart is overflowing because in the midst of struggle, I have to stop and I’m drawn to my knees because of this one thing:  GOD IS FAITHFUL!!!

Things change.  People lie.  People leave.  Unfaithfulness is all around me.  I am surrounded in brokenness.  I walk along a very broken path that is rained upon by tears and blood.  BUT HE IS FAITHFUL.  UNCHANGING.

“When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: ‘Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.’  This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remainSince we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe, for our God is a devouring fire.'” Hebrews 12:26-29

Scars and struggles on the way 
But with joy our hearts can say:
Never once did we ever walk alone 
Never once did You leave us on our own 
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
Definition: Faithful: Loyal, constant, and steadfast.
This doesn’t even begin to describe the God we serve.
He never leaves us.  Think about this.  No matter what has happened, or what will happen, he’s not going anywhere.  He is faithful.  It’s so comforting thinking through the events of my life, just in the past 3 years, let alone my whole life, seeing that he has been there.
I’ve faced some dark days.  I’m not about to sit here and tell you everything’s great.  It’s not.  In fact I’ve walked a road the past few months I never EVER wanted to walk.  But I’ve decided that following him is so much better than walking away from him or disregarding what he tells me to do an where he leads me.
I have to apologize too, to my friends.  I’ve been consumed.  And many of you, most of you in fact, I have not let you in about this.  I’ve just been working through it all and been…. self consumed.  Please, forgive me.
Not only is God faithful and with us, but we all have each other. Surrounded by grace to spread the good news to this broken earth.
He is good.  Never once.  Never once have we ever walked alone.

worship

I tend to forget how “new” the concept of congregational singing in worship really is.  There’s lots to be said about the history, but part of Martin Luther’s stand against the Catholic church was the initiation of singing in a language that the people understood (the Mass is in Latin, and at that time, most people didn’t speak or understand Latin), but also to include the singing of the people in worship services.  Then again, Martin Luther at the time also thought that organs were basically an instrument of the devil (some would probably still say this is true today!).  🙂

Anyway, John Wesley was actually an important person with the protestant development of congregational singing, and he urged worshipers to stand while they sang hymns.  This was in the 18th century, not really that long ago, in the scope of time.

John Wesley also gave some pointers and guidelines for singing, “Sing lustily and with good courage.  Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.  Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan” -1761.

I’m not sure what he means by the songs of Satan, but maybe we could apply that to secular music today?  Gosh there are LOTS of great songs on the radio that are songs you just sing out without any fear (unless the window in your car is down)… so why should our worship be quiet on Sunday mornings?  And why are we always “half dead or half asleep”?  This is a call to let our praise be loud, exciting, and full of DRUMS I say!  (Interesting but here’s a fact about faster music, “Some churches use drums in worship; a beat slightly faster than of the human heart enlivens a group of people, gets them on their feet, and unites them into one vibrant body” -Gail Ramshaw).

Anyway, just a few thoughts to share with you all.

Hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

leavin’ on a jet plane

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A week from today, I will be finishing my packing, saying last good-byes, and getting ready to go to the airport.  It’s so weird, honestly, and in many ways it still seems really far away, just because there is so much to do between now and then.

I’m filled with so many emotions, and my heart is pulled and torn so many ways.  I knew this day would come, but it doesn’t make it any easier, and it doe

sn’t make the future seem any clearer, it just gets scarier and makes me more afraid, to be honest.  

I’m also confronted with questions about God, his character, and who he is.  I know that he is so good, and scripturally we know he never will leave us, but I question his involvement in our lives, free will, and how much control he really has in our lives.  I think these are healthy questions to ask, and frankly I don’t have answers for them.  I believe that there are a number of paths to choose for my life at this point, but I do want his best, and I suppose in faith I need to trust in the leading of His spirit inside my heart, and trust his voice.  I knew that peace and his voice when it was time for me to come to Thailand, so I need to trust for that same peace when looking at the future.

Easier said than done.

 

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