The First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 9.6Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the Christmas holiday. During the weeks of Advent many Christians participate in readings, songs, worship, devotionals, and traditions that prepare them for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. Advent is not something that is normally associated with LDS Christmas worship, but in many countries around the world, LDS families, along with members of other Christian faiths, celebrate the four weeks before Christmas in preparation for the holiday.

After many years, I have finally decided to start this tradition in our family as a way to turn us toward the Savior instead of the holiday rush and the more secular aspects of Christmas. Starting today and over the next weeks, I am going to share our Advent devotionals here, and hope that you will join us in preparing for Christmas.

Traditionally, on the first Sunday of Advent the readings and devotionals focus on the Old Testament prophesies of Christ. This video from the Church focuses on the prophesies of Isaiah. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

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Stilling the storms of life: The time I was put on church probation

Isaiah 1.18 bigIt’s been a long, and noisy week here in the Bloggernacle, hasn’t it?

I have to admit I am tired of all of the back and forth, the sides, the contention, the news stories, the blog posts … so very tried. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I stepped into Church on Sunday. I sat down on the chair with my kids and our stuff and waited for Sacrament Meeting to start. The organist started playing some of my favorite hymns and I just sat and listened and quietly sang along,

“Jesus lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high. Hide me O my Savior hide, till the storm of life is past. Safe into thy haven guide, oh receive my soul at last.”

“Precious Savior dear Redeemer, Thy sweet message now impart. May thy spirit pure and fervid, enter every timid heart. Carry there the swift conviction, turning back the sinful tide. Precious Savior dear Redeemer, may each soul in thee abide.”

“Jesus Savior pilot me, over life’s tempestuous sea. Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treach’rous shoal. Chart and compass came from thee: Jesus Savior, pilot me.”

“Master the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high! The sky is o’er shadowed with blackness, no shelter or help is nigh. The wind and the waves shall obey thy will, peace be still. Whether the wrath of the storm tossed sea, or demons or men or whatever may be. No waters can swallow the ship where lies the master of ocean and earth and skies. They all shall sweetly obey thy will, peace be still, peace be still. They all shall sweetly obey thy will, peace, peace, be still.”

I needed to hear those particular hymns and have those words going thru my mind as I began my Sunday worship. Those songs and those words melted a lot of my fatigue away. The words of the Sacrament prayers were especially powerful to me as well, and I felt very refreshed as these prayers were spoken. I also thought a little deeper about what it meant to take upon me the name of Christ, and the promise to always have His spirit to be with me. It was a comfort and a blessing to think of the atoning blood of Christ washing away my scarlet sins – making them white as snow.

My thoughts turned very briefly to many years before, as I sat in my bishop’s office confessing my sins and asking for help. That was a hard day, one of the hardest in my life. The decision to go to him for help was one that I knew I needed to make, but was afraid to make; I was embarrassed – for all of the reasons you might expect. But I made the choice to go and to ask for help.

In that meeting I was put on probation.

Bishop was not angry, or judgmental. In fact, he was quite the opposite, and full of love and concern for me and my spiritual well being. As part of my probation he asked that I refrain from taking the sacrament, and that I not comment in meetings or say prayers in the course of the church service. He encouraged me to come to Church and to stay for the full 3 hours and to sit in the chapel during Sacrament Meeting. He gave me some homework to do as well – passages of scripture to read and think about. He asked me to keep a journal of my experiences, but that he would not ask me to share that with him. He asked me to pray for specific things: forgiveness, and to be able to feel the Atonement and the love of Christ as I worked thru my problems. We met together a few more times during my probation and each meeting was a blessing. I could feel the grace of the Lord and the Atonement working in me and on me, to change me into something better. As Bishop prayed for me and as I prayed for myself in those meetings, I could feel the tremendous love that my Heavenly Father had for me, just for me, pouring down on me, healing me, cleaning me, and making me whole again.

If life had a rewind button, I wouldn’t make the choices again that landed me in that bishop’s office and on probation. However, that probation taught me so much about what is important. Not being able to fully participate at church was a humbling experience. It taught me to appreciate the full fellowship of my membership in the Church. It taught me, as the words of the hymns suggest, to fly to the bosom of my Savior for help. It taught me to abide in the Lord. It provided me a course correction back to Jesus Christ, and it showed me that truly He is the one who stills the storms of life. The beauty of The Plan of Salvation is that we do have a Savior provided for us. He has already done the hard work, and asks that we come to Him with our weaknesses, our trials and our sins to be healed, to be forgiven and to have the storms of our lives stilled. He can do these things. He wants to do these things for us, but we have to be willing to humble ourselves and to take Him up on His offer.

Isaiah’s Heavenly Ascent to See the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Insights from the Ascension of Isaiah[1]

The Ascension of Isaiah is an early Christian document that is thought to have been written some time in the second century A.D., and is considered a Christian re-working of an older Jewish tradition. It resembles, in some ways, Isaiah 6, but details a much more elaborate vision, in which Isaiah is taken, in spirit, through the various levels of Heaven until he reaches the highest heaven, where he is privileged to behold a vision of the Father, Beloved Son, and Holy Spirit.

For further background info on Ascension of Isaiah, and to read the text (translated from the Greek version), please see http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ascension.html.

Starting in Chapter 6 of the text, Isaiah recounts the vision that he saw in which a glorious angel comes to him, takes him by the hand, and leads him upwards into the heavens. The angel declares the purpose of this celestial journey:

When I have raised thee on high through the various degrees…You will see one who is greater than I…and his Father also who is greater you will see (vv. 7:4, 7-8).

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