#Advent14 — God, Do It Again!

A reading from the Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Exiles. Those for whom home is not where they are, but a place they most desperately want to be. Somewhere between the place of their dreams and the place of their hopes.

Not quite here.

Not quite there.

As someone who has never been forcibly removed from my home, I can’t even begin to imagine the indescribable joy that must come from returning to a place that once seemed so far away. Trapped in a foreign land. Trapped under rules and regulations that make you only slightly more free than a prisoner.

When we pull in the driveway of our home in Edmond after a few months overseas, my heart skips a beat or two. My own bed. The familiarity of smells and sights and sounds. The view of pasture and neighbors–not too close–press into my eyes.

Even more sweet than that, is that first service when we are back home at Acts 2 UMC. The worship band sounds better than they ever have. The message refreshes and brings deep wells of life. And, communion–the family dinner–is the most precious moment of all.

Until last week, that was the closest that I could come to imagining the joy of the exiles returning home. And, then, I met a pregnant lady living in the basement of a church. She, and her family, are Christian refugees from the conflict in Iraq. She has a six-year old and a three-year old. She pointed to her six-year old daughter and said through the translator, “When I was pregnant with her, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she pointed at the three-year-old son and said, “When I was pregnant with him, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she smiled and said, “Now, I’m pregnant again. And, fleeing again.” As I fought back tears, I hugged the daughter and kissed the son on the forehead.

And then she said the most unexpected thing, “I’ve never known joy until I came here to this church. I am home.”

As I read today’s scripture, I kept thinking about this precious lady and her beautiful children. I thought about her statement. While I know that she’ sound a place of safety and peace in the midst of the conflict, I also know that she is stuck somewhere between the dream of home and reality of home. And, I wondered how much joy would be in this woman’s heart and in her family when she really does return home.

And, so we pray, for this family and the millions of other refugees around the globe. These modern day exiles. We pray that they will return home. That they will no longer be trapped between the now and the not yet. We pray for peace–not the absent of conflict–but the presence of Emmanuel–God with us.

Even in midst of the conflict, we pray that more and more of these exiles will be able to say like this dear lady, “I feel like I am home.”

Our prayer for them all resounds, “God, do it again!”

 

#Advent13: Celebrating in Suffering

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

And that’s not all.  We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters.  When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness.  And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, the Anointed One died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak.  Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good.  But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us.  As a result the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future.  If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life?  In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God.  That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.

— Romans 15:4-13 (The Voice)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Do you celebrate in times of suffering?

That’s a tough thing.  When things are going hard.  When the circumstances look dismal.  When there appears to be no good way out.

Do you celebrate?

Paul, who wrote this epistle, knew a thing or two about suffering.  He knew how hard this whole Jesus-Follower life could be.  He’d been beaten a couple of times by this point in his career.  He’s been in prison.  He’s found struggles at many turns.

And, here, he tells us to celebrate in seasons of sufferings.

Rejoice when it’s hard!

A couple of things that we have to establish before we can even talk about celebrating in suffering.

First, when we decide to give our lives—the WHOLE thing—to Jesus, life doesn’t immediately get all happy-go-lucky.  Trouble will come.  The Kingdom is not realized in its fullness at the immediate point of our decision to follow.  Life will be hard.  People will still die.  We will still get sick.  We still have to pay bills.  We still have to walk through dark times.

Second, when we decide to give our lives—the WHOLE thing—to Jesus, we don’t have to wait until we die for the Kingdom to be realized in fullness.  Salvation is more than just a promise to not go to hell.  Heaven is more than just something for which we wait.  It is something that begins at the point of decision.

The Kingdom of Heaven is both now and not yet.  It is both a present reality and a promise to be fulfilled.  And, life is lived in the in-between.

Because, we live somewhere between the now and the not yet, we are assured that sufferings will come.  Yet, we are also assured that we can hope—even celebrate—during those sufferings.

The Anointed One—Messiah—came.  He died for us.  He gave His life that we might live.  He brought us the Kingdom.  He ushered it in—the now—and promised that the day will come when it will be fully realized—the not yet.  The day when lion and lamb lay down in the field together.  The day when earth is reborn into the reality that God has intended for it from the moment of creation.

And, somewhere, in-between the two, we celebrate in sufferings.  We rejoice when times are good.  When things are going in a way that doesn’t hurt.  And, we rejoice in the times when they aren’t.

We rejoice not because we have some warped view of pain, but rather, because we know that the pain is temporary.

It’s in this hope—confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God—for the fullness of the Kingdom that we can celebrate in our sufferings.  Because, our sufferings build within us character.  They form us into the person who God wants us to be—someone fully dependent on Him.

So, rejoice in your sufferings.  They build character.  They make you dependent on Him and His Kingdom.

What’s all this have to do with Advent.

Advent is a time where we remember with the Israelites the promise.  The promise that says, “A King is coming!”  It is the promise of Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken—breaking into the midst of our mess.  It is the promise of “orderly order” emerging from “chaos” (John 1).  It is the promise that “what God wants done will indeed be done” (Dallas Willard).

And, so as we walk between the promise and the manger, we walk with our heads up.  We walk with celebration in our step.

Even though, times might be hard.

Even though, we might have lost  a loved one.

Even though, we might have been diagnosed with tragedy.

Even though, we might be faced with uncertainty in our income.

Even though, we might be at the end of our paycheck with bills left to pay.

We rejoice.  Because, we know that the Kingdom is here, and is still to be fulfilled.  We rejoice because we know that even in our heartaches and disappointments God is working out our characters.  We are growing more dependent on Him and His Kingdom.

So, celebrate in your sufferings!  The King is coming!  And, when the King comes, the Kingdom comes with Him!

Sunset in La Vista, Guatemala.

Sunset in La Vista, Guatemala

 

Standing At The Manger

Our waiting is nearly over. Our four week march is nearly at its end. We find ourselves only a few short hours from the manger.

Angel choirs are in final dress rehearsals.

Shepherds are waiting in the wings.

Rooms are filled in Bethlehem.

And a stable–full of animals–awaits a King.

Emmanuel is quite nearly with us.

In just a few hours, we will know once and for all that Messiah has come. Just as prophets and priests have foretold for centuries. The proclamation will ring out from that angel choir to those shepherds–the least of these–that in Bethlehem–that most unlikely of places–a Messiah has come.

And, He is named Emmanuel.

God is with us.

On this night before the dawn, we stand at the edge of a new beginning. As we stand here, we think of the many who have been waiting for this moment. Preparing all their lives for this moment.

And, our minds turn to those who most need Emmanuel in this moment.

We think of spouses and children who for the first time will not have that significant other or beloved parent to stand in this place with them.

We think of parents whose children rest on a precipice of their own–lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. Somewhere between the now and the not yet. Hovering silently in the hand of a Creator who loves as only a Father can.

We think of parents who have in this very season of Advent buried their children. Children killed in wars, or in senseless tragedies. And, we think of children who have buried their parents.

We think of families who for one reason or another must be apart from one another on this evening.

We think of those huddling in corners of homes–as such as they might be–in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Not knowing if morning will bring the dawn of a new day.

We think of those in the darkest of dark lands–North Korea–who have never known anything other than longing.

And, yet, somehow–together–we all stand at the edge of a manger and gaze in longingly.

For, it is this night of nights that will change everything.

Messiah will come.

Emmanuel will be reality.

And, as we stand here, we know that on the other end of the story stands a cross. And, further beyond, an empty tomb.

And, there in that quiet manger will lie the Embodiment of that which we’ve thought about as we waited through these four candle-lengths of Advent: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

It is only the cross–and the empty tomb beyond it–that changes the despair of separation, sickness, fear, hatred, sadness, and confusion.

Even at Advent–and its culmination that we experience tonight–we know that we are people who hope. We know that we are people at peace. We know that we are people filled with joy. We know that we are people who love.

Because, we are Easter People.

And, this is the tension in which we live. We are people who pause to wait quietly for Emmanuel all the while knowing that not only will Emmanuel come, but that He has indeed already come–and will come again. And in this tension, we struggle to understand–so many un-understandable things–while we lean back on the promise that as Easter people we live not only from Christmas to Easter, but we live all the year round with the knowledge of faith’s great mystery–Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives again.

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

So, we pause–in the midst of our struggles and lack of understanding–to breathe deep in the presence of a Baby that will change everything. We bow silently at the side of a manger–a roughly hewn stone–and here we lay at the feet of this Child all of our hopes, dreams, fears and needs. And, at this manger, we know that all things will be made new.

Because, we are Easter People.

Christ has come.

Emmanuel.

With us now. With us then. With us forevermore.

So, breathe deep, my friends.

Light all five candles.

Listen quietly as the angels begin their proclamation.

Our waiting is over.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: God’s Sunrise Breaking Through

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham–a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.”

“And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

— Luke 1:67-79 (The Message)

Leading into Zacariah’s prophecy, we get the story of the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appears to Zacariah and tells him that his wife will have a baby. But, he and his wife, Elizabeth, aren’t exactly young. In fact, we’re told they were “quite old.”

Zachariah was a priest. He knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows one story in particular – Abraham and Sarah.

Angel appears.

Says, “You’re going to be a pop. Congratulations.”

Zachariah laughs.

Outloud.

Just like Sarah did.

Here is a priest. A man who has taught hundreds of Jewish children their history. And he laughs at a story–an epic story central to his people’s history–that he’s heard before.

This story shows hope.

Once again, we see God choosing the unlikely to become the molder of history.

An old man.

An old woman.

A baby.

The foreteller of the Messiah.

God removing people from their personal dramas to make them a part of His story.

The angel tells Zachariah that his lack of belief–belief of a story he’s known all his life–would result in his mouth being shut until the baby is born.  Maybe, when we fail to believe in the promises of God, He would prefer that we just keep our mouth shut.

Contrast Elizabeth’s response. She “relishes” in the fact that she is pregnant. Fortunately for her, Zachariah couldn’t talk. He couldn’t be the wet-blanket that he would have undoubtedly been if he had been able to speak. He couldn’t derail the joy of God as we so often do when we hear a promise of God that will remove us from our own dramas.

Then the baby is born.

“Name him John”, Elizabeth says.

Counter-cultural.

No one in the family is named John.

No significance.

But, Zacariah, speaks.

“Name him John.”

God likes to work counter-culturally.

God often takes us from what’s comfortable when He uses us in His story. He doesn’t remove us from the drama, rather He walks with us through the drama.

Zachariah then prophesies. He says that this boy, John, would foretell the coming of the Messiah.

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Then he makes a profound statement: “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

Because God has chosen to have mercy on us once again, He will break through our darkness with His beautiful sunrise.

The beauty of Emmanuel is that Emmanuel is right now. God is with us in the right now.

Emmanuel doesn’t airlift us out of our situations, rather he parachutes in to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” with us. In the midst of our darkness, He breaks in with His sunrise.

When Job is in deepest despair, God speaks out of the storm.

When Elijah is hiding in a cave, God breaks in with a still, small voice.

When His people were in slavery, God burns a bush to get Moses’ attention.

When we are struggling with addictions, God’s sunrise brings us comfort and strength.

When we are experiencing death, God’s sunrise brings us hope of new life.

In the middle of our darkness – our personal drama – God’s sunrise, Emmanuel, breaks in and moves us into His story.

 

Lent 2012: 7.1 — Give Thanks! The Lord is Good!

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”

— Psalm 118:1-2 (NIV)

Give thanks!!  The Lord is good!  His mercy and faithful loving-kindness endure forever!  This is the overarching message of Psalm 118.  Something changes in our minds, wills, and emotions when we choose (because it is a choice!) to remember the goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and loving-kindness of our God and Savior.  I love John’s relationship with Jesus, which comes across so distinctly in his gospel and epistles — if you love Jesus, you will obey Him; if you love Jesus, you will love others.  Our love for Jesus is shown through our obedience to him and our love for others.  How much easier it is to trust Him enough to obey Him when we are remembering his goodness and faithful love!

Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:19-21 (NIV)

In John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  As we remain in Jesus — entering through the gate that is Himself — we receive righteousness, and upon that understanding and knowledge (not only head knowledge, but a knowledge deep in our spirits), our hearts are overflowing with thanksgiving.  He is the gate in which we enter relationship with Father God.  His sacrifice of laying down His life to receive the punishment for sin that we deserved is the only we we may enter into relationship with Father God.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.

— Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Just as John had a unique knowledge of the interweaving of loving Jesus, obeying Him, and loving others, Peter seems to have a special kind of grasp on this cornerstone concept as he speaks of it in both Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7.  (I wonder if this analogy had such significance for Peter, because of what Jesus did in John 1:42 when instead of calling him Simon, Jesus calls him Cephas–which is translated Peter and means “rock or stone.”)  Peter explains this prophetic word from the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection by saying that Jesus was rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him.  The very ones whose debt Jesus was paying for with His own life, were the ones who were rejecting Him.  Even Peter rejected Him, yet Jesus received him back with an everlasting love and forgiveness.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

LORD, save us!  LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.  From the house of the LORD we bless you.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

–Psalm 118:25-27 (NIV)

Hosanna!!  It means “Save us now, we pray!”  We see this cry for salvation in this psalm together with more prophecy of God’s rescue plan through Jesus.  This prophecy is realized as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving branches and shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Is the kingdom of God established in our whole heart, or do we have a divided heart with shaded fragments?  Let’s repent for any area of our heart in which we’ve not allowed the King to reign.  Let’s invite Him to ride into those places as we cry, “Hosanna!  Bring salvation and wholeness.  Let your light shine on us and in us!  I offer myself to you wholly and unreservedly.”

You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

–Psalm 118:28-29 (NIV)

Not only is YHWH the one, true God.  He is my God!  We say it directly to Him, “You are my God!”  I love the way the psalmist goes back and forth from speaking of God to speaking to Him — He is good!  I will give you thanks!  You have become my salvation!  The LORD has done this!  LORD, save us!  The LORD is God.  You are my God!

When we have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, it is natural for us to both tell others of His goodness and to be in communication with Him, telling Him directly and personally of our love for Him and our thanks to Him.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

LORD, my God, Your love endures forever!

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: 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: 3.4 — Rejoice! Always?

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 Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians.

Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.

 — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NET)

Rejoice always.

In every circumstance.

In every challenge.

Rejoice.

When the road seems to be a dead end, rejoice.

Sometimes, reading the Apostle Paul can be an exercise in frustration. Be joyful always?!? Is this guy for real? Does he not understand the challenges that simply being alive brings???

We began our week with a prophecy given to Isaiah about God’s chosen people. A people that appeared to have chosen sadness as their destiny. Yet, Isaiah tells them to rejoice becuase God is about to rescue them. Now, we find Paul. As Jewish as one can be. Telling a church in a heavily persecuted area to rejoice always.

Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds on: Pray constantly and give thanks for everything.

Salt, meet wound.

The trifecta of challenges. “No matter what’s going on around you,” Paul says, “Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks.”

He then opens the entire salt shaker and says: “For this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”

God’s will?!?

Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. He outlined it all very clearly for the church at Corinth:

I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. –2 Corinthians 11:24-29 (MSG)

Emily Asleep in the Word

Emily falls asleep reading the Word.

Rejoice always.

It would seem to me that these three commands–Rejoice, pray and give thanks–are linked together for a reason.

The lynchpin here is thanksgiving. As we begin to give thanks for everything: food, clothes, shelter, family, clouds, sun, moon, pets, water, coffee, maps, phones, shoes, kids, parents, next-door neighbors, church, pastors, teachers, and on, and on.

From out of the giving of thanks will come rejoicing.

From out of the giving of thanks will come prayer. Prayer that will no doubt start with, “Awesome and giving God!”

Paul understood the importance in giving thanks. Thanksgiving brings joy. Thanksgiving brings a humble awe that leads to prayer.

Consider Paul’s writing to the church at Philippi:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity [to show it]. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret [of being content]-whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:10-13 (HCSB)

Paul understood that our joy wasn’t contingent upon our circumstance. As, Rev. Thorpe showed us yesterday, joy comes from knowing God. Joy come from knowing that Immanuel has indeed come, and will come again.

Are you walking in joy this Advent season? Are you living in the revelation of who God is? Are you living a life that illustrates to the world that Immanuel has come and is coming again?

Give thanks.

Pray continually.

Rejoice always!

Advent 2011: 3.3 — Guest Post – Rev. John A. Thorpe

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.

Rev. John A. Thorpe

Rev. John A Thorpe

Since this week’s Lectionary Readings contained an optional reading. We asked our friend, The Reverend John A. Thorpe, if he would step-in and offer a meditation on this reading. He graciously accepted, and we are all blessed because of it. Rev. Thorpe is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (where we became friends), Yale Divinity School, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He currently serves as the the Rector (Senior Pastor) of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newton, Iowa.

Week 3: A reading from the Gospel of Luke

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

— Luke 1:46-55b (KJV)

Mary’s spontaneous joy comes at a difficult time in her life: she will soon be an unwed mother, in a culture that would ostracize and even kill her for that. She has no money, no ability to support herself, and has risked her relationships with mother and father and fiancée, anyone who could support her – all to say, “Let it be to me as the Lord desires.” That one moment of real spirituality, of vision, of fearlessness, of submission to her God might cost her everything. Mary had nothing to gain but everything to lose.

Mary sings this song to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, is with child by a miracle; but rather than risking everything, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a crowning achievement. Since she had been considered barren, she had been ostracized by society; but God’s action took away her shame. Her husband was at the top of his field, and both were well advanced in age and respect in a culture that respected age. The coming of a baby was no shame to them, but lauded at every turn as a blessing. They had nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Though these two women were vastly different in age and circumstance, they were linked by the divine miracles in their wombs; but even further, they were linked by their willing submission to God’s plan for them and their families. And this submission, more than anything else, leads both women to exult in God’s victory through their pregnancies. Mary’s song is full of praise to God for what He has done – not a word about human action or agency. God is always the actor in this song. Mary finds joy in seeing God’s hand at work, even though it leads her down a difficult path, and even though Elizabeth’s path is happy! There is no jealousy among these cousins, but both find joy in their insight into the character of God.

The lesson for us today is that true joy is to be found not in circumstances, but in God. The more we look around at ourselves, others, the worldliness around us, the more joy we lose. But the more we shut that cacophony out and focus upward on the Lord Himself, the more we find joy. The retail hubbub of the Christmas season has it wrong: joy is not to be found in money and stuff and status and self-indulgence and consumption. Nor is joy to be found in getting our problems solved. Elizabeth praises God for solving her problems; Mary’s problems are just beginning. Joy is to be found only one place: the face of our Lord, Mary’s Lord, Elizabeth’s Lord – Jesus Christ. And no one can have the Joy of the Lord without that crucial step which both Mary and Elizabeth model: willing submission to our loving and Living God. From Mary’s joyful submission, by an act of the Holy Spirit, came Christ into the world. From our joyful submission to the same God, by the act of the same Spirit, Christ can come into our worlds and bring joy, no matter what might be our circumstances.