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Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — It is Christ

A reading from the Psalms.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:5-10 (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

God made everything. Therefore, everything belongs to God. And, God takes care of His creation.

The great philosopher/theologian Dallas Willard once said:

“God, who created the universe, has no problem invading it.”

God invades His creation to bring restoration to His creation.

God isn’t interested in destroying that which He lovingly created. God is interested in caring for it and restoring it back to it’s original design.

God cares for the oppressed. He feed the hungry. He frees the prisoner. He makes the blind to see. He lifts up those who are pressed down. He loves the righteous. He watches over the immigrant. He is the Father to the fatherless. He is the spouse to the widow. He frustrates those who are wicked.

And, He invaded His creation. In the form of a baby. In a manger. In a stable. In a backwater town.

Immanuel.

God. In the middle. Of everything.

A God who is so loving that He’s not willing for any to perish. Yet, yearns for all to come to know Him.

Personally and intimately.

Yet, with fear and trembling.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote:

“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”

All exists so that God through Christ and through His creation might be glorified.

And, so, into the mess of the world the Christ child was born. And, lived. And, taught. And, died. And, rose again.

And it is He who heals the brokenness of the world around us.

“It is Christ who remakes all things more marvelously than creation, this is the reason for hope.” — Pope Francis

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Waiting Here For You

Book Review: Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Waiting Here For You

Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Well, it’s a bit past Advent, but moving halfway around the world will tend to make one a bit behind. Nevertheless, Louie Gigilio’s devotional Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope is a great little volume to walk you through the season of Advent. The book is a collection of Scriptures, devotional thoughts, poetry, and prayers that guide the reader through the season of waiting. Woven throughout the book are beautiful black and white photographs that spark prayer and contemplation.

I added this volume to my normal daily reading and contemplation throughout the season of Advent. Unfortunately, preparations for and relocation to Turkey caused a much longer than anticipated delay in the publication of this review. Yet, it seems a bit appropriate. The season of Advent is one in which we wait for the coming Messiah. We wait for the fulfillment of promises. We wait with Hope—confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. And, in this previous Advent season, we found ourselves in that place of waiting.

This devotional helped me walk through the wait. It guided prayers and meditation on the coming fulfillment of the promise. The promise of a Messiah. The promise of the peace that can only be found from responding to the call of Jesus to “Follow.”

Throughout the book, Giglio weaves a story. A story of transitions. A story of gains and losses. And, for us that was what Advent was this year. A time to say goodbye to life as we had known it, and a hello to a new normal. Transitions.

—————

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Erbil International Airport

#Advent15: Somewhere Between Here and There

We’re on the plane now. According to my watch, we’re probably about halfway.

It’s strange knowing that when the wheels of this plane touch the runway, I will have to redefine–again–the concept of safety. Yet, I also know that this is the right place at the right time with the right people.

Safety. This is a word that I have come to define and redefine a number of times in the course of the last four years. A word that I have spent many occasions discussing–arguing–with God about. That day on that plane was one of those occasions.

Vicar Andrew White says that the Kingdom life is a risky one. That it’s a life where we shouldn’t urge one another to take care, but rather to take risks.

Risk. Risks are a bit like faith. You step out into the unknown. Trusting that God knows what He’s doing in calling you out there. But, to take a risk means that your definition of safety can’t be one grounded in fear.

Fear. It’s real. It’s also not the opposite of faith. Faith and fear carry the same definition: a belief in something unknown. The difference is what you do with it. Faith is pressing forward in spite of that which is unknown. Fear is isolating yourself against that thing that is unknown.

Isolation. Hiding from that which is unknown. A citizen of the Kingdom who lives in isolation will NEVER bring about the purposes of the Kingdom. They will only ever seek out their own survival. They will only ever take care. They will never take risks.

The Kingdom life is a risky life.

I somehow think it’s appropriate that I’m on this trip during Advent. So many people longing for rescue and redemption and renewal. So many people yearning for something in which they can hope. And, the truth of it all is that there is hope. Yet, proclaiming hope means that the one proclaiming it must take risks.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. We proclaim hope not to the hopeful, but to the hopeless. And, they are hopeless because they are in the middle of the situations against which our definitions of safety often keep us isolated.

For us to proclaim hope means that we must step outside of our isolation. We cannot proclaim hope unless we abandon fear and step out in faith.

The United Nations tells us that 1 in 123 people on the earth today are living a refugees. They have fled home and gone to somewhere else–somewhere deemed to be “more safe.” In order to proclaim hope to these millions of people, we must step out of our “safety”–our isolation–and step into this risky Kingdom Life.

Advent means coming. God coming. Coming into the midst of war and famine and pain and hurt and struggle. God coming to be with us. To dwell. To tabernacle.

And, in His coming, He invites us to come along. To see what He sees. To hear what He hears.

Immanuel. God is with us. In the middle. He has come. He is coming. He will come again. Into our pain. Into our suffering. Into our hopelessness.

And, He calls to us to board the plane. To be somewhere between here and there. Leaving behind our isolation. Leaving behind our fear. Moving forward in faith.

The opposite of fear is Love–not faith. “Perfect love,” the beloved Apostle writes, “drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Perfect love moves us out of isolation and into the middle of the hopelessness to proclaim hope.

Perfect love moves us out of fear and into faith.

Perfect love moves us out of our definitions of safety and into God’s definitions of safety.

“The name of the LORD,” the Proverbs tells us, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Safety. It can either be based in fear or in faith. If it drives you into isolation, then it’s based in fear and isn’t God’s definition of safety. If it drives you to take Kingdom risks, then it’s based in faith and is God’s definition of safety.

So, we take risks.

Not long after that line was written the wheels of the Airbus 321 touched the runway. I had arrived in a place that I never dreamt I would be. I didn’t know what the next week would bring. I didn’t know what I would encounter. I only knew that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

“Don’t take care,” the dear Vicar says, “Take risks.”

Erbil International Airport

Erbil International Airport

[All block quotes are taken directly from my journal entry from 3 December 2014.]

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

#Advent15: A Hill, A Hope, and a Little Boy

In August of 2014, thousands of Yazidi people climbed a hill outside of Sinjar, Iraq. ISIS had come to their city, and had begun to systematically execute the men and boys and capture the women and girls.

They fled to the only place that would be safe. Up Mount Sinjar, a holy place thought to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. And, there they waited.

For rescue.

Or, to die.

No where to go. ISIS had blocked the only ways down the mountain.

And, the Yazidi waited.

Among those on Mount Sinjar in the hot August sun were thirteen families that I met in Erbil some three months later.

They told us of how the US and other nations dropped food to help sustain them. They told us how the Peshmerga finally broke through the blockade and they were able to flee. These thirteen families came south to Erbil.

They finally found a chicken coop that wasn’t being used. They moved in. UNHCR found them and brought doors. A neighbor provides water–it’s not clean, but it’s usable.

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

Eighty-five people live here. Thirty are children.

Among the thirty children, I saw Ali. A boy of about 3 or 4 years-old.

Ali

Ali

I couldn’t image the things that this young boy had already experienced in life. I couldn’t imagine being 4 years-old and hearing gun shots, people screaming, deafening silences in between the two. I couldn’t imagine seeing blood, and bullets, and guns, and destruction. I couldn’t imagine fleeing to a mountain, and wondering if I would live or die.

All this at four.

And, it was into a similar world that the Christ Child was born.

Romans were occupying the land. Not the friendliest of militaries. Herod was king. One of the most violent rulers in history. Known for his at will killing of innocents–just to prove he was in charge.

A young mother–14 or 15 or 16 years old–on a donkey being lead by a man–Joseph–as they traveled a forced 9-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This young mother pregnant to the point of delivery.

Pregnant with the Messiah. Immanuel. God with us.

Forced to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt–Mary and Joseph’s own Mount Sinjar–with a young baby of only 12 or 14 or 18 months. Hundreds of miles. Across the desert. To wait for Herod to die.

If you want to know the face of Jesus as a four-year-old boy, look at the picture of Ali. So much pain. So much fear. So much hope.

Hope.

Confident and joyful expectation that God is good.

God is good…

…even in the midst of our hiding on Mount Sinjar…

…even in the moments of being forced to flee our homes…

…our lives…

…even in the middle of our wondering if we would ever make it back home–the dream of all refugees.

God is good.

For little Ali, the knowledge of a Messiah who knows–firsthand–what he is going through is non-existent. And, yet, on that day outside of a chicken coop near Erbil, I hope that Ali saw in me the Jesus that I saw in him.

Advent is our Mount Sinjar moment. We’re trapped between a promised Messiah and the reality of an Empire of Man that longs for destruction. We stand in the middle of time. Hoping for the Messiah. Longing for Immanuel. Yet, not knowing if Messiah will come.

We follow a young woman, and her almost husband, and a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

And, at the manger we stand. Awestruck.

As we come to realize that Messiah has arrived.

And, yet, Rome–the Empires of Men–still rules. Liberation isn’t quite what we expected.

Ali and his family and the others in that camp don’t know if they will ever make it back to Sinjar. They don’t know if they will have to remain–forever–in that chicken coop. But, they hope.

And, so do we.

For Messiah.

For Immanuel.

For God to be in the middle of it all.

 

Advent14 — Come, Lord Jesus!

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

John the Baptist is one of my favorite men in the Bible. I've written about him in other places on this blog. He's one of these people who loom much larger than life. He towers above other characters.

Camel hair.

Locusts.

Leather belt.

Wild honey.

And, proclaiming a message unlike any ever heard: “Prepare the way!”

Last year, when we were in Central Asia, we were privileged to witness the baptism of a new indigenous believer. It was amazing to know and see one more person entering into the Kingdom. Beginning that walk that leads from the cross to eternity. Beginning his new life in heaven now, yet also anticipating a life that goes on for eternity.

Occasionally, when I take communion, especially in creative access nations, I think of this man and his baptism. I think of how communion is that family dinner that spans time and space. Together with all the saints. Those who have come before and those who are yet to come.

And, John comes to prepare the way. He comes to proclaim that the time is now ripe for Messiah. Like a herald in a medieval castle. He comes to proclaim that all things are ready. The King is coming.

We look at the world today, and hear it screaming out in pain. The UN tells us that millions of Syrians are refugees or internally displaced peoples. Another couple of million have fled from Iraq to Kurdistan. Children are without education or even the possibility of education. An entire generation stands in the balance.

Men and women and boys and girls in so many places on the planet cry out for rescue.

For redemption.

For a new kingdom.

For a home.

And, Jesus stands at the ready. Yet, he wants you and I to partner with him in bringing Advent–hope, peace, joy, and love–to these people.

We bring Advent with every prayer we pray for them.

We bring Advent with every dollar we give.

We bring Advent with every worker we send.

We bring Advent with every water well we drill.

We bring Advent with every preschooler and mother we teach.

Somedays, it seems that the road to the manger will never end. It seems that we will always be stuck between a promise of redemption and actual redemption. We stop at places along the path and stand in sacred silence with nothing to say except “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The hope of Advent is that the Messiah is on the way. He brings with him peace, and joy, and love. He comes to bring justice–the setting right of all things

And, so, we cry out, “Come! Lord Jesus!”

 

Advent14 — The Eschatology of Advent

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Mark 13:28-31 (ESV)

The Word of the Lord.

I've often struggled to understand why during the first week of Advent we read scriptures that have been interpreted in modern times to relate to the end times. It has always seemed odd to me that we enter into this season of waiting for the birth of a baby–The Baby–and this week of hope with Scriptures about the end of it all.

I read a tweet from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove the other day that gave me a new perspective on the selection of eschatological scriptures for this first week of Advent.

And, there it began to make more sense for me. Our eschatology matters not just for the now and later, but for the past as well.

On this blog on Tuesday, I mentioned how Advent is like this epic novel that we're reading for the second or third or fourth or twelfth time. We know the ending. We know the beginning. But, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle. Somewhere between the beginning and the ending. Straining to remember how the story will resolve, yet waiting patiently to find out.

Advent is a lot like that. We know that Messiah will come. Yet, we force ourselves to stand between the knowledge of that coming and the actuality of that coming.

And into that mix, we add a further and deeper knowledge. The knowledge that Messiah doesn't just show up once in the story. Yet, He returns.

And, we remember that our eschatology really does matter. It matters not just for the future, but also for today.

And, so in this season of hoping for the Messiah, we hope for the Messiah to return again. To bring to its fullness the Kingdom that was introduced in a manager in Bethlehem. A Kingdom that seeks not to destroy planets and people, but rather it is a Kingdom that seeks to renew people to their original God-given intentions. It is a Kingdom that restores relationships.

As citizens of that Kingdom, we work now to bring that restoration and renewal to the people and places around us. We seek to restore broken relationships. We seek to feed those who are hungry. We seek to bring health and healing to the sick. We seek to bring peace to the war-torn and war-weary. We seek to bring life.

Our eschatology matters. Someday, King Jesus will return. And when He does the Kingdom will no longer be a place where we sit in tension between the now and the not yet. When He returns, it will all be made right. It will be renewed. It will be restored. It will be resurrected.

So, here in this first week of Advent, we long for the Messiah to come. And, we long for the Messiah to come again.

We wait.

And, in our waiting, we bring the Kingdom to every place go and to every person we meet. Every interaction brings a little more light. The darkness gets a tiny bit less dark.

Until…

 

 

Advent14 – Hoping for the Finale

A reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

Every time I think of you—and I think of you often!—I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There’s no end to what has happened in you—it’s beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives.

Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.

— 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

What encouraging words that Paul writes to the believers at Corinth! He reminds them of who they are now that they are citizens of the Kingdom. All things that they need, they have access to through Jesus. And, they wait expectantly.

Hope–confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God.

Knowing that God is good and because He is good, He will act good. He will do good things. He will meet the needs of His children. And, we expect Him to do this. We expect it with confidence and joy.

That doesn't mean that life will be nothing but roses and sunshine. There will be hard times. There will be pain. There will be suffering.

But!

We wait expectantly with confidence and joy for the Finale. For that moment that the Kingdom comes in fullness and all that was once wrong is made right.

And, until then, God walks alongside us. Not airlifting us out of problems and struggles, but parachuting in to walk alongside. He understands suffering. He understands pain. And, He knows the process. So, pain, suffering, hurt, death will happen. And, in the midst of it, the Kingdom comes, and will come, and is coming, and has come.

As we walk the path that leads us from here to a manger in Bethlehem, we yearn for that moment when all pain and suffering stops. When death is no more. When lions and lamb play together. When all swords (or drones and tanks and bombers and nuclear devices) are beat into plowshares. We yearn for that Baby King to immediately make things right. Instead, He enters the world quiet and unassuming. He grows up and then commands us to be Light and Salt and to bring the Kingdom with us as we go.

Until that day.

That day for which we hope.

 

Advent14 — Identity

A reading from the Psalms.

Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.

Strengthen the man you love, the son of your choice. Then we will never abandon you again. Revive us so we can call on your name once more.

Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.

Psalm 80:7, 17-19 (NLT)

This is the Word of the Lord.

I love the imagery in the Scripture of God's face shining down on someone. The idea is that God gazes at a person as if that person is the only one on the planet. God gazing deeply at you. His eyes locked onto yours.

It is a way in which God marks us as His child. It's a mark of identity. Like a good father would do for his son or daughter. Look them eye-to-eye and say, “You are my child.”

There's something about the affirmation of a father to his children. It's an means whereby the son or daughter learn clearly and eternally who they are. Without a doubt, I am the son of…

It's also something missing in the world today. Throughout the world, we are faced with an epidemic of fatherlessness. We are finding that father are either entirely absent from the lives of their children or they are mentally absent–wrapping themselves up in technology or television or career or sports or pornography.

It's a situation that we as the church must address. We must begin to speak life into these circumstances. We need both natural fathers to step into the role they have been given by God, and spiritual fathers to help fill the gaps where the natural fathers won't take their role seriously.

Into a fatherless society, we, as Kingdom citizens, are called to speak hope. We are called to proclaim to the orphan that there is a Father who loves them. And, our proclamation is to be backed with action. Action that speaks value and identity to the orphan.

When John baptized Jesus, we find identity being spoken in that moment. There comes a voice from heaven that proclaims Jesus as a Son who is well-loved. In that moment, Jesus is affirmed in His sonship. A sonship that He clearly recognizes even as a young boy in the Temple. Yet, even though He knew He was a Son, the Father still felt it important to affirm Him again at His baptism. You are My Son.

As we travel from country to country, we find that there is great need for the affirmation of a father to their son or daughter. We see young people who have been wounded by the absence of their father–some of the fathers have been absent doing the work of the ministry even. These young people need us–all of us in the Kingdom–to step into a role of affirming and blessing and calling them out as sons and daughters who are well loved.

As we find ourselves reflecting on this Advent season, we will be faced with Joseph. A man who stepped into his calling as a father to one who wasn't his child. He nurtured. He trained. He discipled. We know little about Joseph after the birth of Christ. Yet, we know that he chose to accept this Son of God as his own son. The ultimate example of one fathering a child that wasn't his own.

Who will we father this Advent. What young person will we speak life and blessing and make our face shine upon?

My son

My son

 

 

Advent14 — The Epic Novel

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

If only You would rip open the heavens and come down to earth–its heights and depths would quake the moment You appear, like kindling when it just begins to catch fire, or like water that's about to boil.

If only You would come like that so that all who deny or hate You would know who You are and be terrified of your grandeur.

We remember that long ago You did amazing things for us that we had never dreamed You'd do. You came down, and the mountains shook at Your presence. Nothing like that had ever happened before–no eye had ever seen and no ear had ever heard such wonders, but You did them then for the sake of Your people, for those who trusted in You. You meet whoever tries with sincerity of purpose to do what You want–to do justice and follow in Your ways.

But You became so angry when we rebelled and committed all sorts of wrongs; we have continued in our sins for a long time. So how can we be saved? We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity; even all our right efforts are like soiled rags. We're drying up like a leaf in autumn and are blown away by wrongdoing.

And it's so sad because no one calls out to You or even bothers to approach You anymore. You've been absent from us too long; You left us to dissolve away in the acrid power of our sins.

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father. We are just clay, and You are the potter. We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth. Don't be so angry anymore, O Eternal; don't always remember our wrongs.

Please, look around and see that we are all Your people.

Isaiah 64:1-9 (The Voice)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Advent.

The waiting game begins.

It begins in a yearning for help. A yearning for rescue. A yearning for something new and better. A yearning for something other than.

Yet, it also begins with a memory. The memory of Advent past. The memory of a King and a Kingdom and a promise to set all things right.

Between the two we now stand. Remembering the times past where the mountains trembled. Yet, longing for them to tremble again.

It's all a bit like an epic novel that you've read before. You know how it will end. You know the story. You know in the end all the loose threads of the story will merge into one beautiful tapestry. Yet, you begin the novel again.

“Once upon a time…”

And, as you near the middle of the book, you are caught between knowing the promise of hope will be fulfilled and the actual fulfillment of the promise.

A good novel will draw you in. It will make you feel and think and believe that you are the main character. You are Shasta riding into battle at Anvard. You are Bilbo discovering the secret of the ring. You are Harry running toward a wall in Kings Cross Station.

Here we find ourselves. Along with Isaiah, we are in the middle of an epic story. Somewhere between. Not quite at the end, yet knowing the end. Not quite at the beginning, but remembering the beginning.

Longing.

Hoping.

Waiting.

Remembering.

And, the story is not yet finished. The Author continues to add pages. And, we continue to live the plot and the twists and the turns. Like clay in the hands of the Potter, we yield to the Author. And, we walk out the story longing for the fulfillment of the promise.

So, now, we begin our walk to Christmas. In our walk, we yearn for a fulfilled Kingdom. Yet, we know that the King has come. And, somewhere in between we find ourselves. Confused by the hurts and pains and death and illnesses of this place. And, from somewhere off the page, we hear the Author whispering, “Trust me.”

This isn't to say that the Author writes into the story all the pain and suffering and hurt and confusion and murder and suicide and hurricanes and floods–becuase He doesn't. But, it is to say that while these things happen, they don't catch the Author by surprise.

The Author wields the pen, and from within the midst of all the mess of the world, He writes a story of life–life to the fullest. He writes a story of missing things found and broken things fixed. He writes a story of Kingdom come.

And Kingdom that has come.

And Kingdom that is yet to come.

So, here we stand on the precipice of Christmas. Not yet there, but not so far away. From that precipice, we can see the Kingdom. We can see the joy and the peace and the life and the fulfilled promise.

And, that is what gives us the ability to hope.

 

Advent14 — The Waiting Begins

Yesterday, in churches and homes all over the globe, a candle was lit. The first of four. The beginning of a new year in the church calendar. The beginning of Advent.

Advent. A word that simply means coming. A word that is packed full of meaning and is wrapped up in hope, joy, peace, and love. A word that brings us to that place between knowing that the Messiah has come and waiting for the Messiah to come.

It is that brief period of the church calendar where we position ourselves with an oppressed people longing for rescue. We–purposely–find ourselves between Malachi and Matthew. Wondering if things will ever be better. Knowing that for centuries “better” has been prophectically pronounced.

The King is coming!

Prophets of old have told us. Our parents have passed it on to us. The King. He is indeed coming.

At any moment now.

And, yet.

We’re a captive people. Captive in our own land. Captive in our own homes. Captive in a world that couldn’t care less that we stand in anticipation of rescue. In fact, we are captive in a world that mocks our anticipation.

And, we wait.

The Prophets once told us that this King would be called Immanuel.

Immanuel. God with us.

And, yet, we wonder if God could ever be with us. How, into this mess of a world, could God come?

Death. Some of it to disease or accident. Some at the hands of another.

Illness. Some curable. Some not.

War. Some in the name of money or resource. Some in the name of the very God we hope will come near. Some of it even considered just and right.

Hunger. Some due to famine. Some due to stinginess of those who have more than enough. Some due to neglect.

And, into this world, we wonder how God could come. And, yet, He does.

We learned over the weekend that a group of gunmen stormed a residence in Central Asian nation and opened fire on three South Africans who were there to help provide education to the children of the nation. A father and two teenaged children gunned down, and then the house burned. The mother, a doctor, was at the hospital bringing healing to the hurting–some of whom may even have been in support of the gunmen. For Warner, Jean-Pierre, and Rode, they rest tonight in the arms of loving–and near–God. For Hannelle, questions and fear and no rest. Yet, still in the arms of a loving–and near–God.

Three lives given–given so that others–strangers–might have an opportunity to a life of fullness.

One life remaining–longing for God to come near.

It is there in the tension that we long for the Messiah. We yearn for the Kingdom where lion and lamb will lie side-by-side. We hope for the place where weapons of death–guns, and knives, and drones, and tanks, and missles, and planes–are beaten into things that bring life–plows, and shovels, and hoes, and rakes.

And, we wait for God to come near.

We’re hearing confirmation of the rumors that the World Food Progamme lacks the $60+million dollars necessary to continue to provide aid for refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq and Syria. And, so, more than one-and-a-half million people are forced to wonder from where they will receive bread and milk. Hundreds of thousands of children sit on the brink of starvation. Rumor has it that it’s not just this United Nations program that is lacking funding, but it is also many Non-Governmental Agencies–some even faith-based–that lack funding.

We are also aware that some of the food, coal, blankets, tents, clothes that should have found it’s way to these displaced peoples didn’t. Whether stolen, sold, or otherwise, the situation is dire.

And, we wait for God to come near.

And, God does indeed come near.

He comes near in the birth of a baby. In the unlikliest of places. To the unlikliest of parents. Immanuel. God with us.

And, God does indeed come near.

At the hands of everyone who has answered the call to give more than they keep. The call to go where no one else will. The call to love the unloved–and the unloveable. The call to feed the hungry. The call to clothe the naked. In every answered call, God comes near.

And, God calls us to come near, and to be near. To be near the wife and mother who mourn. And, also, to be near the gunmen and their families. To be near the millions who are without a home or a country or a meal. And, also, to be near to those who have driven them from their homes and countries and meals.

Advent.

So, yesterday, we lit a candle. A flicker of light in the darkness. A candle that will be joined by another and another and another. And, then, by the candle of the Christ-child. And, then, by your candle–and mine.

Until, the room grows bright, and we are pushed out into the world to proclaim that the King has come. And, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.