Disperse the Gloomy Clouds of Night

And all of a sudden, Advent is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.

The mild weather this weekend allowed for a few hikes crunching through fallen leaves, as waning light led the way through bare trees, and across cold creeks.

The nice temperatures were also a good opportunity, apparently, for many to put up Christmas lights. As I drove home from the woods on Sunday evening at dusk, my neighborhood was adorned with house upon house of Christmas lights. It was lovely!

As Advent begins at the end of this difficult year, there was something about these lights appearing tonight that moved me and brought tears to my eyes—tears filled with sadness but also great hope. Tears of gratitude for the simple beauty and tradition of twinkling lights upon trees, sparkling reindeer, and light-lit nativity scenes.

I’m feeling the tension this year. Isn’t that what waiting is about? The tension between the here and now and what is to come, for whatever we are waiting.

As I joined with my fellow, spaced-apart congregants in a masked but no-less meaningful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this morning, I was feeling the tension. The tension of those minor chords, noting the lonely exile, and the longing of Israel for its promised Savior, Emmanuel.

I was feeling the tension of the joy of the knowledge of the incarnation, with the weight of the sorrows of this present world, as believers everywhere await the return of the Lord of Might, once and for all, setting all things right.

The tension of waiting is weighty, filled with grief and groans. It pushes and it pulls, punctuated with joy and goodness along the way. All along, it’s underlaid with longing.

But we have the light.

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

While I have been feeling the tension, I am praying for peace this season. For myself, of course, for my community, this country, the world. But true peace only comes from Jesus, the one we await in Advent. Christ came, “through the tender mercy of God,” to show the way of salvation. He came as the day-spring, like a rising sun,

to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Luke 1:78

The light illuminates the pathway of life, as we live as exiles, again, in a world filled with gloomy clouds, and dark shadows of death.

The day-spring lightens our loads, and lifts our tension.

The light leads the way.

Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.

He is the light of life and love, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peace and blessings as we wait together this Advent, in the year of our Lord, 2020.

Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.

Some helpful reads on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

Desiring God
Ligonier Ministries
Mere Orthodoxy
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Theology of the Carols


A Sunset I’ll Never Forget

I still think about this sunset.

Exactly a year ago, on a quiet, forgettable November night, I went to the woods for a quick escape before the weekend set in.


Gray clouds hang in the air, low to the shore. The ordinariness of the evening matches the mood of my week.

I don’t mind the cloud cover, or the dampness, or the solitude. The cool air is cleansing, chipping away at the constriction of my chest.

As I allow worries, and work, and deeply buried wants to simmer, the stillness of the waters strikes me. There is depth to this blue bay. It is a place of peace, to release those burdens.

And so I open my hands, and my heart. I surrender my struggle and let go of my longings. I send them out into the sea, because I know the captain of my soul is watching. He is with me. In charge of the wind, the tide, the creatures chirping, and the sun that is setting, He is restoring my soul along these still waters. He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.

He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.

I realize my eyes have closed, in reaction to the restfulness that is flowing from my smiling face to my feet. I slowly open them to see colors emerging in a choreographed dance that begins to take my breath away.

Immersed in waves of the most glorious sunset, everything within me is lifted heavenward. The sun has long left the horizon, lighting up those heavy clouds with every shade of yellow, orange, blue, pink, purple, and red.

Those deep, still waters provide a perfect mirror for the masterpiece overhead, doubling all of its breadth and beauty.

It is absolutely stunning.

I soak it all in. This was not just a sunset but a spiritual experience.

I finally leave the shoreline, reluctantly, knowing that I am seen and loved, and worthy of great beauty.

An attempted photographic capture of each phase:

That sunset sticks with me, a year—a long, hard, painful year—later. Perhaps it even got me through the next terrible twelve months to come? How often my imagination drew on the goodness of the memory!

It was not something for which a screen could suffice, and I see now how it’s timing was perfect. I didn’t orchestrate that evening, I just showed up. I am glad I know the director.

I went back again this weekend, thinking I might see an encore. I find more loveliness and delight, but nothing like last year. But even simple beauty can fill one with wonder.

Another long, cold, and I’m afraid, lonely winter looms ahead.

What are the memories you will draw on?

Where will your imagination take you?

Trust that the quiet hand of providence will take care of you. He is an artist, choreographer, and conductor that we cannot even comprehend.

He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption. I will keep choosing to let him be the author of my life—I hope you will too.

He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption.


The Gift of Freedom

A few weekends ago, while exploring the countryside in Pennsylvania, my parents and I stumbled upon an old log church. As I wandered around the cemetery (not something I typically do!) I was amazed by what I found, including gravestones that commemorated several men that had served in the Revolutionary War!

In fact, this modest cemetery in Bedford County, PA, had gravestones for men who had served in every military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present day.

I was humbled by the hundreds of years of service, and at least one life that was lost in action, from this small community.

We’ve seen a lot of strife this year. But on this Veteran’s Day, I hope every American can pause in gratitude for all those who have gone before us and served to protect and defend our country and our freedom.

It may be an overused saying but that’s because it’s true—freedom isn’t free, and so many have served to allow the rest of us to live the life we choose, to worship the way we want, and to pursue happiness as we see fit. We can make all the typical disclaimers about how America isn’t perfect (of course it’s not!), and we have so many problems (we do and we should seek cultural and policy solutions), but we as Americans are privileged and blessed with a measure of freedom (and prosperity) that the vast majority of the human race has never experienced.

I offer my thanks and gratitude to the servicemen of Bedford County—and all who have served, including my family members—thank you! You inspire me to cherish my freedom and work towards an America that ensures rights and opportunities for all people.

Post Script

Freedom is incredibly important, but it isn’t everything. For the Christian, it is an incredible blessing to live in a land of religious liberty, but our citizenship ultimately resides in heaven.

A few other gravestones at the old log church inspired me on this note. Seeing the witness of believers who were born nearly 200 years before me, and lived in a vastly different world than I know and yet clung to the same promises from God’s word that I do, was very moving.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”

“Preserve me O God, for in thee do I put my trust.”

And a final one to share: this young man, who seemingly lost his life while serving in the Army during the Civil War, was buried by his parents with this epitaph:

“Here lies, with the hope of a joyful resurrection, the mortal remains of …”

Eternity with Christ, the resurrection of the body, and life in the new Kingdom is the blessed hope for every believer. That is a truth that will truly set one free.