I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.
I didn’t celebrate my first Advent till I was 23. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in rural north central Florida. Like all good Southern Baptist boys, my faith was centered on doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things. Christa was raised in the Charismatic tradition. For her, faith was about believing and claiming the right things. Early in our relationship, we’d fight about who was right. We were a spiritual odd couple.
In 2005, God led us to Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Ocala, FL. It was there that we were first introduced to the Reformed faith, and it was there that through the great hymns of the Reformed faith and faithful preaching of God’s word that the Baptist boy concerned with behaving rightly and the Charismatic girl concerned with believing rightly began to see that in Jesus perfect righteousness, obedience, and faithfulness to God had already been met. It was in this church that we were married and had our first child, August “Gus” Charles in 2011. Later that year, God led us to a church in north metro Atlanta. Ruby Claire was born just 20 months after Gus.
Christa and I had talked about adoption for years. It was always on our hearts, but everything changed when we saw a picture of a boy that God had predestined to be our son. We first saw Garrick’s picture in early 2013. We waited a year to hear anything. In April of 2014, we finally received his file. What followed was months of paperwork and waiting. Finally, in November of 2014, we were able to bring our boy, Garrick David Xiaoguang, home.
Advent has a whole new meaning for us now. We waited for the son that God had said was ours. He was ours, but far away; already, but not yet. We recently celebrated one year with Garrick. He is home, but in some ways, he is not. What I mean to say is that there are still ways and places in his heart that feel orphaned and unwanted. He still wakes up at night not knowing where he is and cannot be comforted. I see in my son my own brokenness, because I confess that in many ways I feel orphaned and unwanted. At the same time we began pursuing adoption, we entered what would be one of the most difficult seasons of our life. Maybe Liturgy for you is dry and distant, but I found myself praying this prayer over and over and over again.
Ephesians 1:1-14 - By Mark Roeda
Blessed be you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for blessing us with every spiritual blessing, for adopting us and making us heirs of heaven’s abundance. You know those parts of us that still believe we are left orphaned and unwanted. You know those parts of us that remain restless and anxious. You know the thoughts that give us sleepless nights. You know the desires that make our days frantic. Forgive us these things. Show us again your mercy. Show us again your Son. May the mercy displayed in his death and resurrection make its way into every resistant part of us so that, in our lives, you might be praised. In Jesus’ name, amen.
As 2015 was coming to a close, and still no end seemed to be coming, my wife wrote:
The last few days I have thought a lot about events this past year. There have been plenty of times where I've felt like I was standing on the edge of the Red Sea, staring at an impasse, no way out and no way to go forward. No idea what to do except put my trust in God and look fear in the face with assurance that he has led me to this exact spot for his purpose and glory no matter how dire the situation looks. And I've watched him show up and part the sea, perform the unbelievable, and I've been in awe of him and his ways.
And yet, I find myself right back on that beach to stare at the insurmountable course in front of me. And I tremble with fear because maybe this time he won't part it, maybe he will make me stand on this beach forever, or maybe I'll finally succumb to those who wish to harm me. And that sea is terrifying.
But it's not terrifying to God. God commands that sea. So my prayer for 2016 is that each time I stand on that beach and the water rises, whether it parts or it consumes me, I will rest in him, and I can say "it is well with my soul".
As one season has now given way to another, I know the waiting was not in vain. I know the seeds sown in sorrow will one day give rise to songs of joy. In many ways, God has already brought a harvest of joy. We are thankful for Hillside and the way it has surrounded us in love - Ron’s pastoral heart, the warmth and welcome of Arek and Jamie O’Connell, the worship team, the members who have welcomed us with meals and cards - all of these things have been the hands of Jesus.
There is a bitter-sweetness to Advent. Christmas is already, but not yet. That seed has sprouted, yet still lies dead and frozen in the ground. In some church traditions, they will not sing any Christmas songs until Christmas day. The emphasis is on the waiting. Although I understand and appreciate this, I feel like there is more to this season than just waiting. We do not merely wait; we hope. We are always people of the Advent. We are always waiting. We are also people of the Incarnation. We are always rejoicing. We are people of the Cross. We are always mourning. We are people of the Resurrection. We are always celebrating. The Promised Messiah has come. We wait for Him still.
If Advent is a season of waiting and Christmas is a season of arrival, what does that mean for a new season and a new year? What is next? What is the rest of our story? Your story? In a word, “More.” There will be more waiting and more celebrating. There will be more joy, more sorrow, more faith, more doubt… but, in all things, God’s grace is sufficient. It is my hope that in this next season, I can say that what was meant for evil God meant for God, because He did! We can laugh with friends, new and old. We pray that the peace of Christ be with us… and also with you.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 3:12-14 ~
-by Steve & Christa Germany