Advent 2011: 4.5 — And the Story Continues

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

Week 4: A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

In the sixth month after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. He was sent to a virgin. The girl was engaged to a man named Joseph. He came from the family line of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel greeted her and said, “The Lord has given you special favor. He is with you.”

Mary was very upset because of his words. She wondered what kind of greeting this could be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary. God is very pleased with you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king like his father David of long ago. He will rule forever over his people, who came from Jacob’s family. His kingdom will never end.”

“How can this happen?” Mary asked the angel. “I am a virgin.”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come to you. The power of the Most High God will cover you. So the holy one that is born will be called the Son of God. Your relative Elizabeth is old. And even she is going to have a child. People thought she could not have children. But she has been pregnant for six months now. Nothing is impossible with God.”

“I serve the Lord,” Mary answered. “May it happen to me just as you said it would.” Then the angel left her.

–Luke 1:26-38 (NIRV)

 

As we conclude this final week of Advent, we find ourselves in the company of some unlikely members of the story.

David.  A humble shepherd thrust into kingship.  A man, much like many of us, with flaws but a heart turned toward God.  A king with whom God renews a covenant–I will make you a great nation and your Kingdom will be eternal.

Mary.  An unwed teenaged girl who finds herself pregant.  A young girl who doesn’t cave to the pressures of her society, rather who declares “I serve the Lord!”  A girl whose desire to serve God superseded acceptance of her family, friends, neighbors and culture.

Elizabeth.  Like Sarah an old woman.  Barren.  Wanting nothing more than a child.  Waiting for decades in hope that God would intervene on her behalf.  Trusting God even when months and years pass without an answer.

Zachariah.  A priest from the division of Abijah.  A priest who knew the Abraham/Sarah/Isaac story, yet still laughed at the Messenger of God.  Hoping for a child of his own, yet finding himself in disbelief when the promise is made.  Then acting counter-culturally to name him John.

Abijah.  A priestly order believed to have been named for one of the priests who return to Israel with Nehemiah.  A family that understands what it means to wait in exile.  Who understands what it means to worship even when God is silent.

Joseph.  A person who is often–unfortunately–overlooked.  The pivot person in the unfolding drama.  A man who holds the power to end the story.  Culturally, he would have had the ability–right–to quietly or rather noisily (with rocks) removed Mary–and child–from the story.  Yet, he doesn’t.  He is visited by an angel.  Told the story.  And then elects to act contrary to family, friends, neighbors and culture.

And, so here we are.  Only hours to go until our waiting comes to an end.  Just a brief time before Messiah comes.  Immanuel.  God with us.

In these last few hours of waiting, take a moment to ponder the characters in this story.  Think about their various plights.

Each in the midst of their own personal dramas.

Each with their own flaws.

Each with their own counter-cultural response to their circumstance.

Each with the offer from God to enter into His story.

Each responding with a resounding, “I serve the Lord.”

And, now, as we prepare to light the fifth candle–the Christ-candle, let us consider our own place in this story.  God is offering to each of us that same glorious offer.  “Join into My story,” He says.

The choice is ours.  Yet, be warned, to accept the offer is to act counter-culturally.  It is to forsake all and follow.  It is to leave the nets–and the fish–and follow a Star.  It is to risk everything to invite just one other into the Story.

It is to live forever in the grip of Grace.

It is to walk the ancient path.  It is to walk in the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Christ-Child.

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

 

Advent 2011: 4.3 — Guest Post – Rev. Nathan Kilbourne

Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne
Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one.  Largely, my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there is also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

We asked our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, if he would take this week’s optional Lectionary reading and offer a meditation for us.  We are excited and blessed that he said yes.  In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR.  He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Week 4: A reading from the Psalms

I will sing of your steadfast, O LORD, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.  I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: ‘I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations.'”
Selah

Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown of one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.  I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.  The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.  I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.  My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name shall his horn be exalted.”

— Psalm 89:1-4,  19-26 (NRSV)

Psalm 89 seems pretty cut and dry when it comes to its place in the Advent season.  Our current pericope (verses 1-4, 19-26) is pretty upbeat.  The Psalmist desires to sing of the Lord’s “steadfast love” forever and proclaim how faithful God has been.  The writer reminds the people of God of the covenant established by God with his servant David. Everlasting hope was to be found in the establishment of this earthly  kingdom and in the Davidic line.  God will use this kingdom to bring about salvation and be present in the world through this line.

On the surface it seems like it is pretty cut and dry – a proclamation of praise to the God who keeps promises.However, if we were to take a peek beyond the prescribed passage, we discover this Psalm is not one of praise but of lament.  In verse 38, there is a key shift.  After the Psalmist has proclaimed praise to God who has established David’s kingdom, the Psalmist writes, “But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.”  Even more poignantly toward the end of the Psalm, the writer questions, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”  

Here we catch a glimpse of the true nature of the Psalm.  The psalmist knows the promises of God in the past, and yet, the Davidic line has seemingly to an end.  God’s ruler no longer sits on the throne, how can God’s promises be fulfilled? It seems that all hope is lost and joy is out of reach.  It seems to be a dark, bleak moment.  Because the Davidic kingdom has ended, it is a moment of great angst.  Out of great distress, the psalmist cries out to the heavens knowing he needs God but asks, “How are you going to respond to all this?”  Will not God act as we expect?  

Advent is a time of great expectation and anticipation as we await the coming of the Christ child.  And yet, we look for him in the places we expect him to be, or better yet, in the places we have designated or assigned him to be.  But, God has acted in a surprising way.  The psalmist could only see salvation happening in a designated system.  But the promise of God was much larger than what could be perceived.

Though hope was fleeting, God’s promise was going to be fulfilled.  God’s love was steadfast.  However, it was found in an unexpected, unforeseen way.  The Davidic line would not be the author of salvation but the source of salvation, a salvation even greater than anticipated.

In the narrative of salvation, God was faithful and God’s steadfast love did endure!  

As we journey closer to the birth of Jesus, maybe we need to examine how we search for the Christ child.  Do we confine Jesus to only a certain place or among certain people? Or do we venture out and find him wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger or hear angels pronouncing good news to outcast shepherds?  May we yield ourselves to the Spirit of God and the Spirit’s movement in the world.

Let us pray, “Open our eyes, holy one.  Forgive us when we get ahead of you, thinking we know what is best.  Help us to see your love being born among us in unexpected ways and follow you. Your love does indeed endure forever and you are faithful to all generations.  Amen.”

Advent 2011: 3.5 — In a Great Chasm

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

Week 3: A reading from the Gospel of John.

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?” “I am not.” “The Prophet?” “No.”

Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something-anything!-about yourself.”

“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing at the time.

— John 1:6-8, 19-28 (MSG)

Today’s reading brings us back to our Wild Man in the Wilderness. We encounter John the Baptist again. Yet, instead of Mark’s presentation of him as a Wild Man, we get a more subdued–almost politicianesque–character.

The religious leaders of the time come to John the Baptist with the intent of determining who he is. People from all over are flocking to him. The religious leaders are nervous. Who is this guy? Or probably more likely, “How much of a threat is this guy?”

What I find interesting here is that these religious leaders are the ones who know the prophecies. A few quick questions beginning with, “Were you born in Bethlehem?” (Micah 5:2) should (at least in theory) clear it all up for them. Yet, they they take a more direct approach: “Are you the Messiah?” While these leaders would have known the prophecies, they would also have, no doubt, known what had happened some 28 years prior.

We have a mad man ruling over Isreal. Herod. His power, he thinks, is contracting. He’s hearing rumors from three wise men that a new king has been born in Israel. So, he commits one of the most atrocious acts in history.

“Are you the Messiah?” they ask.

“No,” John says, “but let me tell you a little bit about him.”

John the Baptist bringing the message of that which is to be, but is not yet.

As we close this week of Guadete, we find ourselves in not all that different a place as John the Baptist. We again find that we are in that same great chasm in which people have found themselves for centuries–firmly between the promise and the fulfillment.

We know that Messiah has been promised, yet we await His coming.

We know the tragedy has occurred, yet we await the rescue.

We know that hell has broken loose, yet we await heaven’s entrance.

We know that a new King has been born, yet await the Kingdom.

And, in this great chasm, we rejoice.

We rejoice in the hope for that which is to come. We rejoice in the peace that will be.

But, for now, we wait.

Three Lit Candles

Two candles remain to be lit. On Sunday, we will light the candle of love. And, with its lighting, we will begin the mad rush to that most blessed of days. This time next week, we will quite nearly be to Bethlehem. We will be trying to find a place for two weary travelers to rest.

It would seem that the more we add to our calendars, to do lists and lives we become more like the innkeepers and less like the travelers.

And so, I would caution us against the mad rush. Let us stop and with all of creation take that deep breath. Let us take a breath of hope. Let us take a breath of peace. Let us take a breath of joy. Let us take a breath of love.

Then, as we light our final candle, and we begin the celebration of the birth of a Servant-King, let us again rejoice because our hope has been fulfilled. Let us rejoice because our peace has come. Let us rejoice because love has found hands and feet.

Advent 2011: 3.1 — Dancing in the Ashes

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 3: A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

The Spirit of the Lord and King is on me. The Lord has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts have been broken. He has sent me to announce freedom for those who have been captured. He wants me to set prisoners free from their dark prisons. He has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free. He wants me to announce the day when he will pay his enemies back. Our God has sent me to comfort all those who are sad.

He wants me to help those in Zion who are filled with sorrow. I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like the oak trees that are strong and straight. The Lord himself will plant them in the land. That will show how glorious he is. They will rebuild the places that were destroyed long ago. They will repair the buildings that have been broken down for many years. They will make the destroyed cities like new again. They have been broken down for a very long time.

The Lord says, “I love those who do what is right. I hate it when people steal and do other sinful things. So I will be faithful to those who do what is right. And I will bless them. I will make a covenant with them that will last forever.

Their children after them will be famous among the nations. Their families will be praised by people everywhere. All those who see them will agree that I have blessed them.” The people of Jerusalem will say, “We take great delight in the Lord. We are joyful because we belong to our God. He has dressed us with salvation as if it were our clothes. He has put robes of godliness on us. We are like a groom who is dressed up for his wedding. We are like a bride who decorates herself with her jewels. The soil makes the young plant come up. A garden causes seeds to grow. In the same way, the Lord and King will make godliness grow. And all of the nations will praise him.”

— Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NIRV)

We’ve made it to week three of Advent. The week of Gaudete. The “pink” week. The week of rejoicing.

We’ve established hope. We’ve experienced peace. And, now, we rejoice.

Joy while living between the yesterday and the tomorrow. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Joy that brings healing.

Joy.

As has been the case each week throughout Advent, we begin the week with the Prophet Isaiah. I’ve often imagined Isaiah as this cantankerous old fella who had a long grey beard and said things in a really gruff sounding pirate voice. Now, I have no idea if my imagination is close to reality or not, but, I urge you, re-read the passage with that in mind.

Now, that you’re back.

In this passage, Isaiah (as he does in many other passages) brings hope to a group of downcast people. He reminds the people of God about who their God is.

He draws a beautiful picture. He turns ashes into crowns. Ashes of mourning turned into crowns of rejoicing. Ashes of death turned into crowns of life.

Life.

I think about Job. As he sits and hears servant after servant telling him the tragedy that is unfolding in his life, he responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and reflecting upon who God is.

I think of Mordecai. As he learns that Haman has suckered King Xerxes into what will amount to genocide, Mordecai responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and praying for deliverance.

I think of Jacob. As he hears the lie that Joseph is dead, he puts on sackcloth, covers his head in ashes, and cries.

Ashes.

Dad's Coffee Mug -- Used 35 years and washed only a handful of times.

I think of the day we held my Dad’s memorial. An urn filled with ashes and surrounded by flowers and flanked by a coffee mug and a plaque commemorating the Marine Corps naming him an Honorary Gunnery Sergeant. A crowd of people–all of them, in their own way, family.

Some reflecting upon who in that moment and that context is God.

Some praying for deliverance from the emptiness they felt.

All in deep sadness.

Yet, Isaiah offers hope. Isaiah offers peace. Isaiah offers joy.

Joy in that which is not yet, but is soon to be.

Messiah is coming.

He’s quite nearly here.

And when He comes, He will bring a spirit of praise that will replace the spirit of sadness.

When He comes, He will set His people free from their darkness and downcast spirit, and set them about rebuilding the City of Peace.

He will set them about dancing in the ashes.

He will set them about joy.

As we light the Gaudete candle, let us remember that His Light breaks into our darkness. It breaks into our sadness. It breaks into our sorrow.

And, like the mythical Phoenix, we are risen up out of the ashes to dance again.

Advent 2011: 1.4 — Summer’s Just Around the Corner

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 1: A reading from the Gospel of Mark

“Following those hard times, sun will fade out, moon cloud over, stars fall out of the sky, cosmic powers tremble.

“And then they will see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his arrival filling the sky–no one will miss it!  He’ll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole.

“Take a lesson from the fig tree.  From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner.  And so it is with you.  When you see all these things, you know he is at the door.  Don’t take this lightly.  I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too–these things will happen.  Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.

“But the exact day and hour?  No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son.  Only the Father.  So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable.  It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch.  So, stay at your post, watching.  You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning.  You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job.  I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post.  Keep watch.”

— Mark 13:24-37 (The Message)

Caleb in the Garden of the Gods

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a fan of cold weather.  I love summer.  Sunshine.  Warmth.  I love it.  If I had my way, it would be 90 degrees year-around.  Unfortunately, I don’t have my way.  As I write this and look out the office window, I see a cold overcast day.  It’s 40 degrees.  There’s a chance of snow in the next couple of days.  Winter is upon us.

As I read through this reading, I kept going back to the phrase “summer’s just around the corner.”  Summer is coming.  It’s almost here.

To be honest, this reading gave me some trouble from the moment I first looked at it.  It’s not what we have come to imagine as a typical Advent/Christmas story.  There are no shepherds, angels, Joseph’s or Mary’s.  Rather, we have Jesus on the brink of crucifixion.

Jesus is about to die.  Winter is about to come.

The Disciples have to be confused.  Here is their Leader — the One whom Peter had declared to be Messiah — about to die.  Yet, Kingdom hadn’t come.  At least, the Kingdom they expected.

Expectations.

What are your expectations from your time with Messiah?

What are your expectations of the Kingdom?

As we journeyed through the past 20 months of my Dad’s battle with Pancreatic Cancer, we knew that death was all but inevitable.  Yet, even with that knowledge, our expectations were that Dad would somehow beat death.  That he would somehow manage to live 20 more years.  Yet, after only 20 months, winter came.

Winter always comes.

Even in winter, Jesus promises something more than just cold and bleak.  As He is preparing His Disciples for his inevitable journey back to the Father, He tells them that He will send a Comforter.  He will send one to bring Peace in the storm.  He tells His Disciples, “I’m leaving you well and whole.  That’s my parting gift to you.  Peace.  I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left–feeling abandoned, bereft.  So don’t be upset.  Don’t be distraught.” (John 14:27 (The Message))

Winter is here, yet Summer is coming.

As I read the passage from Mark, I found hope in the fact that summer is coming.  It’s right around the corner.

Warmth.

Sun.

Summer is coming.

Jesus leaves us with more than a Comforter and the hope of Summer.  Jesus leaves us with a mandate: “Prepare for Summer”, He says.

Keep working.

No sleeping on the job.

See, Jesus has called us each to do a job.  Everyone has been called.  We all have a task to do.  Summer is coming, and work needs to be done.  In the timetable of the Kingdom, we don’t know when Summer will finally arrive.  So, we’re told, to keep working.

Keep the expectation intact.

Keep the hope alive.

Keep at it until Summer has come.

As my Dad drew close to his last breath, he kept true to his character.  He kept true to his vocation.  He kept teaching.  That final lesson was very similar to what Jesus is telling us in this passage.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Don’t give up just because it’s cold.  Don’t quit because it’s dreary and overcast.  Keep on fighting.

Be ready!  Summer is just around the corner.

Advent 2011: 1.3 — Hope-FULL

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 1: A reading from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

I always thank God for you. I thank him because of the grace he has given to you who belong to Christ Jesus. You have been blessed in every way because of him. All your teaching of the truth is better. Your understanding of it is more complete. Our witness about Christ has been proved to be true in you.

There is no gift of the Holy Spirit that you don’t have. You are full of hope as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to come again. God will keep you strong to the very end. Then you will be without blame on the day our Lord Jesus Christ returns.

God is faithful. He has chosen you to share life with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

— 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NIRV)

Hope (noun) – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.

What a beautifully loaded word.

Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, identifies them as “full of hope.”

Full of hope.

To the brim.

Expecting something big to happen. Full of trust that what they are expecting to happen will indeed happen.

On Sunday of this week, we lit the first of the Advent candles. The Candle of Hope.

Paul’s language is full of the language of a hope fulfilled. Notice:

  • God WILL keep you…
  • You WILL be without blame…
  • God IS faithful…
  • He HAS chosen you…

As we travel through the journey of life, we often find ourselves at places that seem devoid of hope. Places that seem to scream: “GOD ISN’T HERE.” Places that feel as if we have been left alone to fend for ourselves.

Yet, we in those times of darkness, we light the candle of Hope. We light the candle of expectation.

Consider Paul’s words again.

First, he prays that God, our Father, and the Messiah — Immanuel — may grant us grace and peace.

Peace.

In our darkness. In our void. In our lonliness. May God grant peace.

Second, in the gift of grace, we find blessing. We find truth. We find a solid witness to the graciousness of God.

Even in the bleakest of moments, God has granted us his grace. God has granted us his peace. Out of that grace and peace, we form a testimony. A testimony of Hope.

Finally, Paul shows us that because we are full of Hope — full of expectancy — God will keep us strong. As we wait on the Messiah to come, we wait with hearts full of Hope. Hope founded in the grace and peace of our Lord. Hope that we know will be fulfilled.

We find hope coupled with faith in another Scripture.

Hebrews 11:1 — Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. (NIRV)

Because “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9), we can hope with surety that Messiah will come.

Our hope-full waiting is punctuated by Immanuel.

  • God has chosen us.
  • God is faithful to us.
  • God will keep us.
  • God is with us.

Remain Hope-FULL in your waiting for the fulfillment of faith.

Advent 2011: 1.2 – And God Smiled

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 1: A reading from the Book of Psalms

Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned [on] the cherubim, rise up before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Rally Your power and come to save us.

Restore us, God; look [on us] with favor, and we will be saved.

Lord God of Hosts, how long will You be angry with Your people’s prayers? You fed them the bread of tears and gave them a full measure of tears to drink. You make us quarrel with our neighbors; our enemies make fun of us.

Restore us, God of Hosts; look [on us] with favor, and we will be saved.

Let Your hand be with the man at Your right hand, with the son of man You have made strong for Yourself. Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, and we will call on Your name.

Restore us, Yahweh, the God of Hosts; look [on us] with favor, and we will be saved.

— Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (HCSB)

Like our previous reading, we find Israel in trouble. In darkness. In a hopeless situation.

Yet, as we light the candle of Expectancy this week, we find even in the bleakest darkness a glimmer of hope.

I like how Peterson (The Message) paraphrases verses 3, 7 and 19: “God, come back! Smile your blessing smile: That will be our salvation.”

All was dark, and then, God smiled.

The enemy was at the door, and then, God smiled.

The Doctor told you a loved one was in their final hours, and then, God smiled.

It’s important that we realize that God’s smile doesn’t mean that things turn out the way we want them to turn out. Rather, when God smiles we know that there is hope for a brighter future. We know that there is a light shining forth in the darkness. We know that His smile ushers in His Kingdom.

We know that we can make it through the tough time.

When God smiles.

God smiled, and the diagnosis was still cancer.

God smiled, and the illness grew worse.

God smiled, and the situation became more desperate.

God smiled, and death still came.

Yet, even in death, we know that God’s smile brings comfort. God’s smile brings peace. God’s smile brings hope for tomorrow. God’s smile brings forth salvation.

God smiled, and Immanuel came.

God smiled, and resurrection happened.

God smiled, and peace reigned.

God smiled, and Kingdom came.

Advent 2011: 1.1 – Molded in Hope

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

A reading from the Book of Isaiah:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can be be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.

— Isaiah 64:1-9 (NIV)

Our journey through Advent begins with the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is reflecting upon the behavior of the Israelite people. They hadn’t always been faithful to God. They had wandered in sin. They had lived their life as if they were in control.

In this, the first week of Advent, as we light the candle of Expectancy — of Hope, we find the Prophet lamenting the behavior of his people.  He is lamenting the behavior of a people who believed they could be their own best hope.  Who believed they could chart their own course.  Forge their own destiny.

Ultimately, we find the Prophet telling us that trusting in our own ability leads to a life of no hope.

We end our reading from Isaiah with the Prophet declaring to YHWH that He is the Potter and we are merely the clay.  In essence, the Prophet is saying, “I’m no longer in charge.”

The Prophet is saying, “My hope is no longer in myself.”

Where is your hope?

Are you like the Israelites of old who believed that they could find a better way?  Or are you like the Prophet Isaiah who is willing to say, “I’m not the boss of me.”

See, clay has no way of telling the potter the type of vessel it should be.  Clay can only sit and be molded by the potter.  The potter who has in his mind a vision of what type of vessel the clay could become.

In the midst of our achievements…

In the midst of our failures…

In the midst of our joy…

In the midst of our grief…

The Potter molds us.  The Potter forms us into vessels from which He can bring Kingdom into the world.  The Potter molds out the flaws in us to create vessels of beauty.

The Potter in HIS Wisdom is creating the best possible vessel from the lump of clay.

All too often, we attempt to control the outcome of the potter’s hands. We attempt to mold ourselves.

Yet, Advent is a time for us to relinquish control and allow the Potter to instill the Hope of that which is to come into our souls.  The Hope that is Kingdom on the Horizon.  The Hope that is Immanuel.

In this, the beginning of the Advent season, may you let go of your destiny.  May you relinquish control of your molding.  May you allow the Potter to make you into a vessel that can be used to pour Kingdom Light into a dark world.

A Season of Advent

My second (only to Holy Week) favorite time of the church calendar is Advent. The idea of anticipating the coming of Emmanuel is such a wonderful time of reflection of who we are and how we fit into this grand story.

Emmanuel. God with us.

As I sit in a hospital room in Ocean Springs, Mississippi with my Dad, who is fighting an epic battle, I can’t help but think about the concept of Advent.

Waiting with hope for that which we know is to come.

Life, it would seem at this point, is a series of Advent moments. Series of moments where we wait with eager hope and expectation for that which we know will come.

As Christ-followers, we know how the story ends. We know that Kingdom will come. We know what the end of the day will bring. Yet, spaced between now and then are periods of Advent. Moments of walking between reality that is and reality that is to come.

Some of these moments are moments that bring immense joy. Others, however, bring sadness. Yet, through all of these moments, because Emmanuel has come, we have hope. We have peace. We have the knowledge that though all may be darkness now, Light has indeed come.

Emmanuel. God with us.

No matter how the circumstances may end up, Emmanuel has come. Hope is here. And in the end, God is working all things together for good.

I don’t know what you may be facing in your life. Yet, I can offer you this hope. In the bleakest of moments, Emmanuel has come. God is with us.