Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back through the Wardrobe

. . . they departed to their own country by another way (Matthew 2:12)

They no longer recognized the lamppost that had marked their point of entry into Narnia.

In Narnian time, years had passed. The main characters – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – had been ruling as Kings and Queens in Narnia. The White Witch and the land’s deep freeze were a distant memory.

So when the four rulers came upon the lamppost it looked to them like a “pillar of iron with a lantern set on the top.” As they investigated the unfamiliar sight they entered the woods where the lamppost stood. Almost immediately they no longer felt the scratching of tree branches, but rather the fabric of coats. Within a few steps they had tumbled out of a wardrobe and back into an empty room.

Back in England, it was the same day as when the Wardrobe had first led them to Narnia. Only minutes had passed. They were no longer Kings and Queens. They were children again.

Trying to explain why some coats were missing from the wardrobe, the children told the Professor (their caretaker and the owner of the wardrobe) about their adventure. He did not scoff or rebuke them, but believed the whole story. And then he spoke these words to them:

“I don’t think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won’t get into Narnia again by that route . . . of course, you will get back to Narnia someday. But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.”
Don’t miss the treasures of this Christmas Eve by trying to re-create a Christmas from another time. Almost all of us can look back on a Christmas that was just right – or at least it seems that way to us now. Maybe we look back on years when death had not yet touched the family, the children and grandchildren were much smaller, the money was more abundant, the relatives were not too far away.

Things might be different now. By comparison, this Christmas doesn’t measure up.

Perhaps what C. S. Lewis wrote about getting back to Narnia is also true of finding the joy of Christmas. The same route that worked back then will not get you there now. Maybe we observe a true Christmas not by recapturing what was, but by embracing the presence of God with us in the life we have right now. Indeed, the treasures of Christmas may come to us unplanned and unannounced. Like finding Narnia again, it happens when you aren’t looking for it.

There are signs of God’s grace all around you on this Christmas Eve. God is with us. That’s the good news of this season. In the words of C. S. Lewis as spoken by a wise Professor, “Keep your eyes open.”

Gracious God, on this Christmas Eve help us to keep our eyes open for signs of your grace that surround us in the life we have right now. Guard us from finding the joy of Christmas only in our memory. Reveal your presence to us today, and in doing so draw us close to you in a fresh way this Christmas. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Exactly What We Needed

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son . . . to redeem those who were under the law (Galatians 4:4-5)

The good news was that the Atlanta Police car turned left from Habersham onto Valley Rd. within minutes after my call. The bad news was that the Atlanta Police car turned left from Habersham onto Valley Rd. within minutes after my call.

I would have preferred not to call at all. But after the fender-bender collision I had at Habersham and Valley it seemed like the right thing to do.

As it turned out the damage was so slight that there was really nothing for the APD to do. Still, I’m thankful for the timely response. And I’m also aware that what comes to us as good news (a timely response from police) often points to something gone wrong (the wreck).

A tumor is benign . . . but it’s there and it needs to come out. You are told you will not be laid off . . . but the company is in trouble and others still have to be let go. To us a savior is born . . . which means we need saving. We are not well. And what isn’t well is beyond our own capacity to make right.

‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’ which means ‘the Lord saves.’ At Christmas time we hear this as a “glad tiding.” The angel’s announcement is good news; it reason for great joy and thanksgiving and glory to God for his favor to us.

But these glad tidings carry with them a quiet implication – a verdict on the condition of the human race. The announcement of a savior being born is only good news to those who need saving.

If I’m sitting in my house watching TV and eating Oreos and an ambulance randomly pulls into my driveway I will not be relieved. I might be confused and alarmed, but not relieved and thankful. But after too many years of watching TV and eating Oreos a day may come when I am not well. Something goes wrong. Maybe, by God’s grace, someone can call 911 and the ambulance will come. And when it does there will be relief and gratitude.

Christmas is not truly good news unless we understand that there’s bad news. Not surprisingly, that message doesn’t get much press in December. But it’s definitely there, plain as day, in the words of the angel. “You are to give him the name ‘Jesus,’ because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Jesus came to save us from our sins. We couldn’t save ourselves, so God did it for us in sending his son. And in doing so, God gave us exactly what we needed.

Before the season ends, O God, we need to get honest and make our confession to you. Our world is not well. We are not well. We need a savior. Thank you for sending your son. Thank you for loving the world so much that you sent Jesus to save us – to do what we could not do by our own efforts. May this Christmas bring us news that is truly good, because we have faced the truth about ourselves and turned to your grace through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shepherds and a Shoeshine

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field . . . (Luke 2:8)

His commute to work took an hour and a half and involved catching more than one bus.

For more than 30 years Albert Lexie made this journey twice each week, leaving his home in Monessen, Pennsylvania, and making the journey to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Arriving early in the morning he would begin his work for the day. For 30 years Albert has served the Children’s Hospital community by shining shoes.

This week Albert Lexie is retiring at age 71. Having faithfully tended his post for 30 years, he is being celebrated by a grateful hospital staff. In this modest role he has engendered the affections of the people who work at Children’s as well as many patients and their families.

A number of factors might explain his popularity: his long tenure there, the quality of his work, his likeable demeanor that endears him to others. All of those things could be said of Albert Lexie. But what is truly admirable is his generosity. Since 1981 Lexie has given $200,000 of his personal income to the hospital’s Free Care Fund.

For three decades the task of shining shoes has been incidental to Lexie’s true work: Making children well. His job was about shoes. His vocation was about changing lives.

Shining shoes and shepherding are nothing alike, but they share this in common: neither of them are careers to which we aspire. We don’t dream of seeing our kids shine shoes, and when Jesus was born no one thought very highly of shepherding.

At Christmas we tend to romanticize and sentimentalize the shepherds. When Luke tells us that “there were shepherds abiding in the fields at night” we could easily substitute “there was a DOT worker standing in a toll booth during the night shift.” The shepherds were working – and working a very mundane job at that.

Interestingly, once the shepherds had gone to Bethlehem and seen the Christ child we are told that “they returned praising and glorifying God.” Returned to what? They went back to same job, same flock, same fields – but they went back with more than a task. They had a vocation. They had good news to tell.

Some of you, perhaps many of you, are reading this as you get ready for a day of work. You might even be at work. As we reflect on the shepherds at Christmas and a man who shines shoes, this question comes up: What are you working for today? This is different than asking what your job is, or who your boss is. A better and deeper question is what is your work about?

The significance of what you do is not defined by a title you have or a position you hold in the organization. You don’t find a vocation by earning advanced degrees. Albert Lexi shows us that the most ordinary work can make a difference in the lives of people.

As you go back to work, return like the shepherds. Work like Albert Lexi. Even the smallest and most ordinary tasks have meaning when done by people who know they are called.

Be glorified in my work today, O God. And help me to find meaning in your call – more than title or position or income. Work through me to accomplish your work in this world, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Way Through

. . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel (Micah 5:1-5).

Few things are more painful than hitting a wall – over and over again – in a relationship that we care deeply about. Were it not for our desire to ‘get through’ to someone, we would just stop and walk away.

But walking away isn’t an option. And so our collision with the wall continues.

Maybe you know about this. The wall may stand between you and one of your children; they simply won’t listen to your counsel or believe that what you say you say out of love. Quite often the wall stands between spouses, built brick by brick with years of hurt; now it stands there high and insurmountable. Walls like this are found between managers and employees, teachers and students. What all of these walls share in common is their foundation in this nagging question: What will it take to get through?

We are prone to use direct assault against those walls. We argue, insist, plead, promise. Nothing gives. The direct assault proves useless, leaving us with tears and sleepless nights.

C. S. Lewis, the man behind the Chronicles of Narnia, is known to most of us as an articulate defender of the Christian faith. If he wasn’t defending the faith, he was often explaining it intelligently to its critics. Lewis was skilled and powerful in argument. He gained a reputation at Oxford for being ruthless in debate. The book most closely associated with his name is Mere Christianity, a volume that remains widely used in presenting the faith to sceptics.

Given Lewis’s legacy as an apologist and his gifts for razor sharp reasoning and argumentation, it is somewhat surprising that he openly cautioned others against theological debate and argument. Lewis once wrote, “No doctrine of the Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in public debate . . . we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only falling back continually . . . from apologetics to Christ himself.”

Thus Lewis, toward the end of his life, set aside the task of writing arguments for the Christian faith and turned to stories. In a 1954 letter Lewis stated that “the imaginative man in me is older.” The poet in Lewis was there long before the books of apologetics. And the poet was never entirely absent from him, even in those works.

Lewis was drawn to a vision of the Christian life, not simply arguments for it.

So what does this have to do with you and your desire to ‘get through’ to someone you love? Maybe Lewis teaches us that whatever it is we want to say or tell to someone must also be lived and shown. Sometimes the way through is indirect, quietly lived rather than shouted, shown rather than explained. It is left-handed power.

What is your vision of how things would look if you could get through to the person you love? How can you begin living that vision today?

Merciful God, grant me grace to show what I’ve tried hard to say; to demonstrate what I’ve sought to explain. Grant to me a vision and help me to live it, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The 'Rat'

. . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel (Micah 5:1-5).

Pat Conroy’s book, My Losing Season, is a memoir built around the story of Conroy’s senior year on the Citadel basketball team.

A minor character who appears throughout the book is the team trainer, Joe Eubanks. Everyone on the team called him the ‘Rat.’ One of the most moving chapters of the book is the story of the Citadel’s game against in VMI in 1967. This grueling contest went into four overtimes before the Citadel secured a victory. When Conroy made it back to the locker room his body was so exhausted that he couldn’t undress himself. The Rat pulled the sweat soaked shirt over Conroy’s head and unlaced his shoes. He pulled off his rancid socks and helped him stand up from the bench to walk to the showers.

Just a few years later, the Rat was killed in Vietnam.

At the end of that chapter Conroy tells of visiting the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington. With his finger he traced the names that are etched in the wall, names of boys he knew. With each visit to the memorial the last name he touches is the name of his trainer, Joe Eubanks. At this point in the book Conroy writes:

“It is always here at this name that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial unhinges me and I weep as though I will never be able to stop. My weeping is so public and visceral that I always draw the attention of other visitors, and they put their arms around me and try to console me. Veterans ask if Joe was a member of my unit and I shake my head no. Women ask me if I lost a brother. The sons and daughters of men whose names are on the wall want to know why Joe Eubanks meant so much to me, and they all look disappointed, even dismayed, when I blurt out in a tear- strangled voice, “He gave me towels. The Rat gave me towels.” (p. 302)
The high impact moments of your day are probably not on your calendar. Your mental and emotional energy may be directed to the meeting you need to attend and the holiday tasks that still aren’t done. You may be facing a deadline or packing to catch a flight. All of those things matter – but the high impact moments of this day are moments you haven’t planned because they are small and ordinary.

Do not despise the small things: Getting your kids to school, conversation in the kitchen, interactions with co-workers, a compliment or affirmation, holding hands, a kiss on the forehead. Christmas reminds us that sacred things come in small ways.

Pay attention to small things today. What you do without a thought may last a long time in someone else’s memory.

Gracious and loving God, throughout this day grant to me the gift of your Spirit that I might embrace the small things, the unapplauded tasks, the people on the margins. Work through me to refresh the heart of someone else, in the name and strength of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Shadow over Bethlehem

And a sword will pierce your own soul too (Luke 2:35).

Simeon had been dead for decades – but what he had spoken to Mary had lived on.

Mary had heard and seen many things about her son that she treasured in her heart, silently pondering and praying over them through the years. Time and time again the words of Simeon had echoed in her mind.

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

On this day, Simeon long dead, Mary remembered him. She saw again his wrinkled hands reaching for her son. She saw again his weathered face raised to heaven in gratitude. She remembered his peculiar and ominous words. “And a sword will piece your own soul too.”

On this day, standing on a hill not far from that Jerusalem temple, watching the agony of her child, she felt the sword pierce deep.

At this season of the year we love stories of the Christ child: Mangers and livestock, shepherds with their flocks and magi with their gifts, angelic hosts announcing the birth in David’s city. This is the story we love. This is what we gather to celebrate.

Simeon, however, reminds us where all of this is going. This child is the dividing line of history. Some will rise to new life because of him. Others will stumble and fall. He will be adored and spoken against, believed or rejected. Over the manger and the child the cross looms large. We cannot separate the incarnation from the crucifixion.

But we try. We much prefer a cross-less Christmas. We had rather not have that shadow lingering over our happy holidays. Nevertheless, all who are invited to adore the Christ child will also be invited to follow Jesus of Nazareth. And to follow Jesus is to take up a cross.

The same Isaiah who said that a child was born unto us also spoke of a man acquainted with sorrow, one by whose stripes we are healed.

This week, we’ve pondered the darker side of the Christmas story. If you’ve ever been inclined to think of Simeon as a sweet old man, benign and harmless, think again. Simeon speaks to us about a sword and stumbling and our hearts being exposed. Simeon readies us for the cross.

Like Mary, we would do well to treasure these things in our hearts.

Lord Jesus, we often celebrate your birth without the soul piercing reality of the cross. Remind us today of why you came, and give us power in this season of the year to be people who love sacrificially. Teach us what it means to take up a cross and follow you at Christmas time. And as we follow, make us truly joyful people, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

For all who 'Struggle' During Christmas

Now war arose in heaven . . . (Revelation 12:7).

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a scene in which Father Christmas makes an appearance, bringing gifts to the main characters of the story: Peter, Susan, and Lucy. As we saw earlier this week, younger brother Edmund has become cozy with the white Witch – only to become her captive.

The gifts were not what we typically think of as Christmas presents: For Peter, a sword and shield; for Susan, a bow and arrows; for Lucy, a healing potion and a dagger. These gifts are designed for warfare. As Father Christmas begins to present them to the children he cautions them, “These are tools, not toys.”

When most of us think of the Christmas story we hear in our minds the words of Luke’s gospel. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, these phrases capture the drama of Christmas: Shepherds abiding in the fields, no room in the inn, a babe in swaddling clothes.

There is, however, another and very different nativity story at the end of the Bible. In Revelation 12 there is a story of a woman who gives birth to a baby. A great red dragon awaits the birth of the child, intending to devour it. When the child is born he is taken up to heaven. His birth instigates warfare between the dragon and his angels, and the Angel Michael with his angel army.

The dragon is thrown down to earth. He is defeated but not finished. Knowing that he will not overcome the child who is born to rule all nations, the dragon wages a war against humankind. The scene is bizarre to us, but it is not hard to understand. In his book, Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson adds this helpful comment.

It is St. John’s genius to take Jesus in the manger, attended by shepherds and wisemen, and put him in the cosmos attacked by a dragon. The consequence for our faith is that we are fortified against intimidation. Our response to the Nativity cannot be reduced to shutting the door against a wintry world, drinking hot chocolate, and singing carols. Rather we are ready to walk out the door with, a one Psalmist put it, high praises of Gods in our throats and two-edged swords in our hands (Ps. 149:6).
Revelation 12 is without question the most overlooked Christmas story in scripture. There is nothing cuddly in John’s nativity scene. This Christmas story tells us that in the birth of Jesus the devil is defeated. He is defeated, but not done. He thrashes about even now wreaking havoc among humankind – and we are in a fight.

We can hardly be surprised the John’s visions are ignored in December. We don’t like talk of warfare. But all of us know people who “struggle” at Christmas. You may be one of those people. The ‘dragon’ takes the form of loneliness, illness, alienation, depression. The struggle may be silent, but it is real.

In Jesus, however, you are equipped. By the Spirit we receive what we need for the fight, “tools not toys,” as Lewis wrote. God gives what you need for this time, this season.

Where do you see someone struggling at this time of year? What gift or ‘blessing’ can you give to them today?

We pray today, O God, for all who struggle in this season of the year. Grant them what they need in the fight, and fill them with confidence in your victory through the child born in the manger. We ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

God on the Offensive

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

Though their numbers are shrinking, there are still plenty of people around who remember December 7, 1941.

This past weekend marked 72 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The phrase “a day that will live in infamy” is widely known even by those who have no memory of the infamous day. The infamy does indeed remain, rooted in the stunning act of aggression aimed at our nation. Over the weekend we remembered those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor. Moreover, we remembered how that day, that act, changed our history as a people.

The opening chapters of the Bible tell us about an act of aggression. The biblical story begins with a good God and a good creation. We don’t get very far before an enemy appears to drive a wedge between humankind and the creator who provides all things for their good. Manipulative and cunning, this enemy attacks what God has done, changing the course of human history. The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s restoration project. God has long been at work to mend what the devil wrecked.

At this time of year we are often encouraged to remember the “Reason for the Season.” What we rarely hear is the very specific reason stated in 1 John 3:8. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Most of what we see and hear in this season belies that truth. The sights are idyllic: Starlight spilling from a cloudless winter sky, snow fall that never seems to cause traffic problems or power outages. All of this is enhanced with the display of lights.

The vocabulary of love and blessing shapes our language. We speak of God’s love for the world and how we share that love by loving our neighbor. Words like ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ give expression to our deepest Christmas wishes.

All of this is wonderful and I’d be the last person to dismiss any of it. But let’s not forget the combative edge that Christmas represents. The scriptures are clear that we have an enemy who actively seeks to diminish or destroy our faith. Jesus said that this enemy is a liar who will stop at nothing to ruin what is good and beautiful in this life (see John 10:10).

If you want to know the reason for the season, take a moment and look closely and what most of us try to ignore at Christmas. The devil’s work is seen in broken homes, addictions, violence in streets and schools, abuse behind the closed doors in our own neighborhoods, estrangement between races and nations. All of this is why Jesus came. He came to destroy the devil’s work.

Christmas is an act of aggression. It is God on the offensive. Jesus came to destroy the devil’s works, and this is why we must never separate the manger from the cross.

Where are you most aware of the ‘devil’s works?’ Is there anything you can do this Christmas to undo what the enemy is doing?

“Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in thee; Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” Amen (Charles Wesley, 1744)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Staying Awake at Christmas

 Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:11-17).

I still shudder at the words “some assembly required.” But there was a time when they sounded especially onerous to me at Christmas.

One year when my children were very small I nearly renounced the faith over my labors with a ‘Playskool’ kitchenette set for my daughter. While I’m not very adept with tools, it wasn’t so much the actual task of building the kitchenette that caused me to wonder whether God is a benevolent being. What really did it was being up late on Christmas Eve night, after Christmas Eve worship, after the bedtime routine, after waiting for children to fall asleep. As the night wore on the more it seemed like the instructions for assembly required an advanced degree from Georgia Tech.

That stage of life was a time when the preparations for Christmas morning kept you up late on Christmas Eve night when all you wanted to do was go to sleep. And then, almost immediately, the eagerness of young children woke you up early on Christmas morning when you would have loved sleeping in. Being fully “awake” at Christmas in those years was often a challenge.

C. S. Lewis loved the image of being “awake” as way of understanding the life of faith. To be far from God was to be asleep, walking through life unaware, senseless. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the four main characters becomes friendly with the White Witch only to soon discover she isn’t friendly at all. He soon realizes that he is in fact her prisoner, not her friend. As his misery grows he reaches a point where “the only way to comfort himself now was trying to believe that the whole thing was a dream and that he might wake up at any moment.”

Lewis biographer Alan Jacobs quotes Lewis as having written, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Our struggle to stay awake at Christmas goes far deeper than late nights with gifts that require assembly, or early mornings with children whose excitement cannot be contained one moment longer. We sleep through the season as we go through the motions of ‘the holidays’ dull to the stunning realities of a true Christmas.

As Lewis wrote, the world is crowded with God. To us – especially in malls and in traffic – the world just seems crowded. We make our way through it as best we can. As we do, we may ignore God’s presence, but we cannot evade it. Our task is to pay attention. To wake up and to stay awake. One of the effects of sin in this world is not to make people bad, but to make them groggy.

What will it mean for you to stay awake this Christmas? As you go through this day, where and how will you attend to the incognito presence of God?

We give you thanks, O God, that while we may sometimes ignore you, we can never evade you. Wherever we look or go, you are there. Wake us up today to your presence. As we learn to see it, grant us grace to point others to it as well, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Thaw

For the creation was subjected to futility . . . (Romans 8:18-25)

Almost a year ago, for my son’s 15th birthday, Marnie had planned to make a special meal featuring fried chicken - something she ventures to cook only for the most special of occasions.

Planning ahead, she gathered everything she would need to make this meal. The following day she would get home from the office and go straight to work on her culinary birthday gift. That was the plan. Until I stepped in. She had asked me to take the chicken and put it in the refrigerator we have in the basement. Without thinking things through I simply assumed that chicken belonged in the ‘freezer’ part of what she was calling the ‘refrigerator.’

The following evening Marnie came home ready to cook only to find the center-piece of the much anticipated meal frozen solid. She was forced to come up with a back-up plan (which was still very good). We’ve all heard of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But there’s just no way to go from the freezer to the frying pan.

A true thaw takes time.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis introduces us to the land of Narnia. It is a land held captive by a tyrannical ruler, the oppression visibly portrayed in a deep freeze that has Narnia in its grip – “always winter but never Christmas,” we’re told.

But we’re also told that Narnia has a true King and this true King has not abdicated his rule. “Aslan is on the move.” As the magisterial Lion Aslan makes his presence known in the drama we see Narnia slowly thawing. Rivers begin to flow full as ice becomes water; green grass penetrates the white shell of ice and snow.

None of this happens quickly. A true thaw takes time, and the land of Narnia has been waiting for a very long time for the day when its lifeless freeze would yield to the warmth of its true King.

There is a line in O Holy Night that says “long lay the world in sin and error pining.” These words capture the deep freeze of Narnia. They describe the world we see around us. They may even say something about the coldness of your own heart during this Advent season.

Aside from the rogue 70 degree day we had last week in Atlanta, December typically arrives with a chill. For many people that chill goes beyond the weather conditions. Our hearts are cold: the pain of grief is exacerbated, money pressures feel intensified, relational fissures can be pushed to the breaking point. By itself, the annual arrival of December does little to mend the broken places of life.

Next week we’ll look more at how the breath of God gives life to what is frozen solid. But for today be encouraged by this. A true thaw takes time. Be patient with what seems cold and lifeless within you. Advent tells us that there is a true King who is on the move.

Where is the deep freeze in your life these days? Pray. Wait. Watch.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; who mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” We ask this in the name of the long awaited one, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Things are going to Change

In the past he humbled the land . . . but in the future he will honor Galilee . . . (Isaiah 9:1).

At its core, Advent is a restless season.

This restlessness is characteristic of a life that is neither here nor there; it cannot be content with what is, but what will be has yet to fully take shape. This restlessness is stirred in that disconnect between our seasonal vocabulary of peace and joy and good will, and the undeniable absence of those things in our world. Advent restlessness is rooted in the conviction that something has to change, and that someday it will.

To those who had been brought low, Isaiah promised a future exaltation, a coming honor. In their past God had humbled them. Isaiah’s hope-filled message announced that God would not leave them that way. The darkness in which they walked would yield to the gift of God’s light. He spoke his message, however, to a people living between the times, between yesterday’s humiliation and tomorrow’s coming honor.

If this time of year finds you between the times, looking back on something that brought you low and waiting on something that will lift you up – then you’re in the true spirit of the season, whether it feels that way or not.

Maybe the economy has already done its worst to you. The job you loved isn’t there anymore and now you’re wondering about what will come next. Maybe the relationship that seemed to hold so much promise never came to fruition in something that would last. Maybe your suspicions about the persistent fatigue you’ve lived with have been confirmed. Test results have revealed what you’re up against.

Advent is the in-between season. It is a restlessness that refuses to draw conclusions about life too soon, too quickly. Advent people live between the humbling past and the future with honor, confident that things are going to change. That confidence is not mere positive thinking. It is grounded in God’s character. Things are going to change, and the zeal of the Lord will do it.

God is zealous for his glory and for your good. That might sound strange to you, but it’s true. Isaiah makes repeated references to God’s zeal. This is a part of God’s very nature, God’s personhood. God burns with zeal.

We survive the waiting season because God’s determination is far stronger than our own.

The zeal of the Lord will bring about all that the prophet sees: lifted burdens, ended wars, bourgeoning hope. God will do this in his zeal. It is his work to do, not yours. And that zeal is how you can know that things are going to change.

So don’t draw conclusions about your life right now. Wait. Wait on what our zealous God will do. Love between the times . . . and enter the spirit of the season.

Grant us grace, O God, to live between the times. Sustain us in that place between being brought low and being lifted up again. We yearn for things to change. We yearn for light, and we look to you to bring it to us. Rise up in your zeal and do for us what we could never do for ourselves, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.