Today is the first Sunday in Advent. We had a Chrismon service at our church this morning. For those who may not know, Chrismons are symbols that speak of our Lord and God. The word Chrismon is a combination of the words “Christ” and “monogram.” Chrismons are used to decorate Christmas trees. Their purpose is to help congregations and individuals keep their focus on Christ. The beautiful Chrismons we use were made by members of our church. We had approximately fifty different Chrismons. The majority of these were crosses and symbols of the Trinity. Other symbols included angels, crowns, Chi Rhos, and Iota Chis. The last two use Greek letters to speak of Christ and Jesus Christ. There were also symbols from the world of nature—stars, fish, and butterflies. I really like our Chrismon tree and the way it keeps us focused on the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Christmas is extremely commercialized these days so anything that helps keep our focus on Christ is good.
I think that there are plenty of things in the natural world that can serve as Chrismons for us now and throughout the year. Rocks can serve as a reminder that Jesus is the “rock of our salvation.” Rivers, ponds and streams can call to mind Jesus’ baptism and the “living water” he came to give. The sun and stars can remind us of the truth that Jesus is the “light of the world.” Trees can remind us of the cross on which Jesus died for the sins of the world. Butterflies can remind us of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life he makes available to all who turn to him. I could go on and on.
There truly is much in nature that can lead us to remember our Creator. The earth proclaims his glory and bears witness to his love and might. The apostle Paul would even go so far as to say, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
The Chrismons we placed on the tree at church today will only be there through the Advent and Christmas seasons. Nature’s Chrismons, however, are there year round beckoning us to remember and to worship the King of kings and Lord of Lords. To him be the glory now and forevermore!
(I took the top image at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The bottom picture was taken near Tuoloumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.)
In Psalm 95:1-7 we find a wonderful invitation to thanksgiving that has nothing to do with turkeys. The Psalmist begins this psalm by saying “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” One of the primary reasons the Psalmist gives for offering God our thanksgiving and praise is that He is “our Maker.” We’re told in verses 3-5, “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
I preached on this passage this past Sunday and told my congregation that when I read these words that I cannot help but think of a song I loved to sing as a child. That song is “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” An important element of my faith is the belief that God created the world and that the “whole wide world” is, indeed, in His hands. For that reason I give thanks this Thanksgiving for the gift of Creation. What an incredible and beautiful world God made! I also give thanks that God’s hand still holds and sustains that which He has made-including us.
Although I’m confident the Psalmist was thinking of literal valleys, mountains, seas and deserts when he wrote what he did in Psalm 95, I also think we can see these figuratively. When we go through life’s valleys—times of trouble or sickness–we are still in God’s hands. When we are “on the mountaintop” and everything is going well for us, God is there. For the ancient Israelites the sea was feared. In the scary times and places of our life God is always present. And when we go through the dry, arid, periods in life that inevitably come our way God is there too. He has the whole world in His hands and He’s got us in those hands as well. That truth gives me a great deal of comfort and hope day to day and makes me want to “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” This Thanksgiving I will have no shortage of things for which to give thanks!
p.s. I want to wish each of you a very happy Thanksgiving and say thanks for taking the time to read the words Rob and I share with you through SeeingCreation.com.
A few weeks ago my wife and I rented and watched the movie “The Freedom Writers.” It is based on the true story of a school teacher whose innovative teaching methods transformed the lives of several troubled teenagers. A large portion of the movie relates to the students’ reaction to reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Somehow I had managed to live fifty-four years without reading this classic work and the movie inspired me to rectify this.
Reading this book has certainly instilled within me a greater appreciation for the freedom we have here in the United States. Reading about Anne and her family hiding from the Nazis for such a long period you realize that it is a mistake to take our freedom for granted. I cannot imagine having to endure what the Frank family did. Reading this book has brought home to me the tragedy of the Holocaust in ways I could not have imagined.
Within the pages of The Diary of a Young Girl I also came across a beautiful passage that deserves to be shared with you today. In her entry for February 23, 1944, Anne writes: “The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity. As long as this exists, and that should be forever, I know that there will be solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances. I firmly believe that nature can bring comfort to all who suffer.” A few paragraphs later she concludes this entry by saying, “Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky. As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that you’re pure within and will find happiness once more.”
For the last few years of her short life Anne’s experience with nature was limited to brief peeks out the window and observing the sky from the loft of the Secret Annex. It brought her great joy just to see the moon.
It amazes me that a fourteen year old girl wrote the words cited above. Surely she possessed a wisdom well beyond her years. I’m so thankful that her journal survived and got published. I am thankful that despite her horrible circumstances nature afforded Anne Frank moments of joy. I am thankful that God’s Creation continues to be “the best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy.”
(I took the picture above of the trees and sky from my porch yesterday.)
This looks like a normal photograph of a small arch in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles. In the distance, you can see the Pacific Ocean.
But this is not a normal photo. It is a special type of image that uses a technology called HDR (high dynamic range). The problem with cameras is that they cannot see the range of detail that our eyes can see in bright light. HDR helps the photographer compensate for that lack of vision. You take several photos that capture the full range of tones and colors that are really in the world, then combine them in the computer to create a photo closer to what we actually see. Here are two photos showing what the camera originally saw in its limited way.
I got to thinking about this technology and what we see. Sometimes we are like the camera and don’t alway see what is really in front of us. I believe that God has created a wonderful, stunning world all around us. We can’t be constantly on high alert seeing all of His creation, but often we miss seeing the world completely and so take that creation for granted.
Or we see the world in very limited ways, such as only seeing profit in nature or feeling that we actually own God’s world. When I was younger, I often wondered about the Bible verse, Matthew 19:24 – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” That worried me because if Jesus’ message is one of grace and forgiveness, how could it be that rich people cannot enter the kingdom of God? I think this might be a bit about how being rich can affect the way we see the world. If we only see the world as a means for us to profit, then it will be very difficult to connect with God.
It is also interesting that seeing is a big part of the creation story in Genesis. Genesis 1:12 – “And God saw that it was good.” That certainly implies that if we are not seeing the good of the world that God has created, then we have limitations to our seeing. We are then like the camera that cannot fully see what is around us. God sees that all is good, and through God’s vision, perhaps we are helped to see more just as HDR helps cameras see better. Proverbs 3:7 even provides an appropriate admonishment – “Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord.” Which in Old Testament terms, usually meant pay attention to God rather than only our own vision.
While reading the book of First Peter yesterday I came across the passage where the biblical author says “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’” (1:23-25a) This time of the year seems appropriate for reading these words. Now that we’ve had some hard frosts the grass in my yard has withered and the flowers fallen back to the earth. Every time this happens we are reminded that our lives, like the grasses and flowers, are only here for a certain length of time.
Death is not a subject most people like to talk about. It is, however, something that comes to each of us eventually. The mortality rate for humans remains 100%. In nature we have all kinds of reminders that we’re not meant to live here on earth forever. These reminders also serve the useful purpose of pointing us to our kinship with all living things. Like them, we too will one day die.
I know that there are many people who believe that this life here on earth is all that we have but the Bible tells us that this is not so. The eternal God offers to us the gift of eternal life. That life is found in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was so convinced that there was life beyond death that he said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor. 15:19) And just as Peter pointed to the natural world for reminders of our mortality, Paul did the same to talk about what kind of bodies we’ll have in eternity. He writes, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals another and fish another.” (1 Corinthians 15:36-39) Paul goes on to say, “So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable…it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42, 44)
I certainly don’t claim to understand what all this means but I do know that in the verses by both Peter and Paul there is to be found good news. Death may be inevitable on this earth but the life God gives to us through Jesus Christ is everlasting. For that I am extremely grateful!
(I took the image of the fallen leaves and pine cone in my back yard earlier today.)
I have a good friend who lives in Page, Arizona, named Stan Burman. Before retiring Stan worked at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. He loves the West and its rich history. Through our friendship he has created in me an interest in the ancient Cliff Dwellers. I’ve read a number of books he has given me on the subject and recently went so far as to purchase an Anasazi bowl from a dealer. I was quite excited about my purchase. You can only imagine the horror and disappointment I experienced this past week when I opened the package containing my bowl only to discover it had broken into five pieces during shipment. I immediately contacted Stan to let him know what had happened. His response surprised me. He said, “It’s amazing what a little Elmer’s glue will do.” I purchased some Elmer’s glue and by following Stan’s directions was able to put the bowl back together. It really doesn’t look bad at all.
About the same time all this was taking place I read the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In the first chapter of this book Paul speaks of Jesus being “the firstborn over all creation” and then adds, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him.” (v. 16) It was what Paul said next that caught my attention. Verse 17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Paul makes an astonishing claim here. He believed that it was Jesus who held this world together, that he is the glue that makes things stick. Now obviously this is not a claim that can be backed by science but that does not mean it is not true. By faith Paul held that it is the Creator’s hand that holds the world together. By faith, I accept this to be true as well.
As the season of Thanksgiving approaches we should give thanks not just for the existence of this beautiful world God has created but also for its divine preservation. When I look at my restored Anasazi bowl I think I’ll always think of Colossians 1:17. I’ll also give thanks for Elmer’s glue and for the glue that holds Creation together—the hand of my Savior and Lord.
(I took these two images while visiting Stan at Glen Canyon N.R.A. The top image was captured at Horseshoe Bend and the bottom at Romana Mesa.)