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Wednesday, Dec 13 | An invitation from the incarnate

Editor's Note
About the author: Stan is a pastor to pastors, a writer, a lover of Malawi, and a ZPC attender and choir member. He and his wife, Mary, have three grown children and seven grandchildren. 
About this post: This blog post is part of a series of daily devotionals where we are exploring traditional Advent themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. To sign up to receive text notification of these posts, text zpc advent to 39970. Advent booklets are also available at the ZPC Welcome Center. We welcome your comments and questions each day.

Mystery | 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

When I was a child – and when I relive that childhood – Christmas-time was wondrous albeit veiled with mystery. Without question, the lights, the scents, the foods, and the wrapped presents were a wonder; but equally, and somehow touching if not eluding these was the sense that something secretive, something mysterious was present, or soon to be present. Was it in the air? Was it a look? Was it a hug – or perhaps the clear, crisp, night sky? What was it – what is it?

Within the New Testament, the Greek word μυστήριον, becomes for us in English a near-transliteration: mystery; and this Greek word can mean: “(God’s) secret”, or “that which transcends normal understanding, transcendent/ultimate reality”.[1] Furthermore, this word occurs twenty-five times within the New Testament, but almost exclusively within the Pauline corpus, for instance in 1Corinthians 2:1-2 where Paul wrote:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Surely Christ crucified – the Son of God crucified (and yes, risen) – “transcends normal understanding”, and yet it is fully consistent with Paul’s thought, which precedes these two verses; for he had just written of an apparently topsy-turvy, transcendent world:

[We] proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the   wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)

For Paul, Christ crucified is foolishness to Greek, Western, logically philosophical minds – and yet it transcends such minds: there is something more, something beyond; for Paul, Christ crucified is morally repugnant to Jewish, Eastern, moral thought and action – and yet it transcends these. Paul did not shy away from mystery: the Gospel was/is not irrational, neither is it ethically bankrupt; rather it transcends any and all human constructs, those that are philosophical and those that are religious.

This transcendence Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured well when he wrote:

“No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders, that God became [human] . . . Theologia sacra arises from those on bended knees who do homage to the mystery of the divine child in the stall … Without the holy night there is no theology.”[2]

Without question, if Jesus Christ is not the Crucified and Risen One, then we would know nothing of Advent and Christmas; but because he is, then wonder of wonders, as Bonhoeffer suggested, the Incarnation invites us into the mystery of God, neither to resolve nor to define it, but with praise to thrill with wonder. This Advent, may it be so for you and me.


Bundle warmly, and then stand quietly for ten minutes beneath a December, night sky (hopefully a clear, star-studded night). As you stand, ponder afresh: perhaps on such a night, God-Incarnate entered into our world – and remains, inviting us into His world, transcending thought and experience. And as you stand, share your wonder with him (even if your teeth chatter and your fingers grow numb).


Gracious Lord,

This Advent and Christmas, may we thrill with wonder and delight – not with all the sights and sounds and scents, which abound, but instead, as your Children, may we enter your Kingdom via a stable door. In you may we find the “mystery of the Kingdom of God”; in you may we find the only real and transcendent wisdom and righteousness, which makes of any other cheap tinsel. In you may we behold the Christmas glory of your Cross.

Humbly we ask in your Name.



[1] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000) pp. 661-662.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, eds. Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1995), p. 448.

Posted by Stan Johnson with

Tuesday, Dec 12 | The unexpected

Editor's Note

About the author: 
Pamela and her husband David have been at ZPC for a number of years. They both are involved in ZPC's music ministry as well as the Great Banquet community.

About this post: This blog post is part of a series of daily devotionals where we are exploring traditional Advent themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. To sign up to receive text notification of these posts, text zpc advent to 39970. Advent booklets are also available at the ZPC Welcome Center. We welcome your comments and questions each day.

Mystery | 1 Corinthians 2:8-10

No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
  what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”

Oh, what the Jews and the rulers missed when they missed Jesus. How did it all happen? Did they not witness enough miracles? Did they not see the joy-filled faces of those who spent time with him, who were forgiven by him, who were healed by him? How did they not know or care that he was for whom they had been waiting? He fulfilled the prophecies. He was the One. And they missed him.  

In this amazing mystery of God’s love, timing, and ways, there were so many things they did not understand. They were not expecting a baby, or a manger, or for Jesus to be revealed to both shepherds and kings. They waited and looked for a Messiah to arrive in a specific way and to act in a certain manner: an earthly king who would deliver them from their Roman oppressors, who would restore Israel, a leader who fit their mold. They could not recognize this man who was not presenting himself as a ruler or a powerful conqueror. He was more interested in eternal saving than in earthly supremacy. And that just didn’t fit.

How about us? What does this time of expectancy look like in our little world? For many of us, we are white-knuckling it until Christmas Day. Holding on for dear life, flying from thing to thing, living in a chaos-filled frenzy, and wondering how it is all going to get done. The preparations, the parties, the outings, the events, there is much to fill our time and yet we can end up feeling empty.

In the midst of all that is grappling for our attention, though, there is a baby who waits. He waits to be remembered. He waits to be asked into our day. He waits for us to acknowledge him as King and Lord over our lives, over this season. The best way to face the frenzy of the season is for us to invite Jesus in, to spend time with him, to become grounded in him before facing the day. We can ask him how to simplify and how to make ourselves and our lives better reflect him during this time.

Jesus is coming. In the midst of all that is beautiful and crazy about this season, don’t miss him.


Make a list of all that you still hope to do this Advent season. Sending Christmas cards, making cookies, going to the office Christmas party, attending a Christmas concert may all top the list. Make the list as complete as possible. Then, knowing that God doesn’t want us to be overwhelmed or exhausted with all of our desires and commitments, pray over the list and ask God what he would like it to look like. When we invite him in and listen to what he says, we may find things look differently than what we first thought. Post the list on your fridge with the question, “God, what do you want?” at the top. Then see how God adjusts things to make your life more reflective of him.


Heavenly Father, we don’t always understand your ways. And it can be hard to know how to keep this season well. Please reveal to us by your Spirit all that you want to show us during this time of waiting. Help our lives to reflect you to others. Use us to bring your hope, light and salvation to the world. Guide our thoughts and our actions so that, in the midst of this Advent season, we do not miss Jesus.

In Jesus’ name we pray,


Posted by Pamela Ackerman with