The Christ Next Door
The joy and Christmas spirit now gone until next year. It seems like once the Thanksgiving meal ends, the rush is on. All the shopping and festivities lead to a near fever pitch. For many of us, the entire focus of Christmas is on gift-giving, holiday parties, and family gatherings. These things often become the centerpiece of the season. And so, it’s no surprise we feel a bit empty when suddenly, it is all over.
I find it a bit ironic that Christmas day has become the end point of the Christmas season when in the ancient Christian tradition, Christmas day was only the beginning.
The celebration would move from Advent – a time of waiting for God to act – into the joyous welcome of the Incarnation – which is Christmas Day – to its grand finale on the “twelfth night”—the Feast of Epiphany. Thus, we sing the famous carol, The 12 Days of Christmas. More than a song sung, it is also a way of life lived out once the tree comes down and the stockings are put away. It is an invitation to continue the joy...and to celebrate the “Word made flesh” dwelling among us ordinary people.
Our reading today comes from the first chapter of John’s gospel 1:1-14.
Coming off the rich narratives of the previous weeks, John’s prologue seems a bit far out. And it is. There’s no mention of shepherds, angels, magi or a small baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. In fact, John’s entire Christmas story, and pretty much our own Christian story, is summed up in our reading, and one sentence in particular:
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This makes gold, frankincense and myrrh look like something one might get at a White Elephant party. Or off the discount table at a check out line.
In The Message version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson brings John down to earth when he translated this verse as, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood.”
Now that’s a Christmas story. A tangible, domesticated God we can comprehend. And a run of the mill, everyday Jesus pulling up in a U-Haul truck and taking up residence in the house next door. Try to picture that.
Think about it for a moment what it would be like to have Jesus as a neighbor? On one hand I could trust him around my kids, but on the other hand people love to flock to him. And I can’t imagine trying to keep thousands of people from blocking my driveway or standing on my lawn.
Yes, it would be cool to be invited over for a 4th of July BBQ. While you wouldn’t have to bring the wine, it’s safe to bet it would not be a patriotic celebration...and hot links would definitely be out of the question. And that guy down the street with the super loud Harley who rattles everyone’s nerves…Jesus would not only hang out with him but also welcome all his questionable friends.
And then there’s the typical annoying neighbor stuff...like wanting to borrow your things all the time because he literally has nothing of his own or hearing your conversations from the other side of the fence...and seeing into your windows. To make matters worse, Jesus literally knows everyone’s deep, dark secrets.
As cool as it might sound to have a rock star like Jesus living next door, most of us would probably rather choose to keep our private life private. We don’t want anyone, including Jesus, to get all up in our business. And we certainly don’t want our dirty laundry seen much less exposed.
Sure, we have the option to close our curtains, hide in the back room, and refuse to answer the door. But here’s the thing. We also have what it takes to be like him...we can look into his house, hear what he has to say, and welcome all who come knocking...just like he does.
John tells us that we are born of God. If God is our parent, then we bear God’s DNA - the same that formed Jesus. If we are formed like Jesus - then that tells me, we are also designed to function like Jesus. Hiding away or avoiding people is not what we were made for. Our family, our friends and neighbors, the people who work in the businesses we frequent, the faceless strangers we pass on the street or ignore at intersections...we all bear God’s image just like Jesus. But do we all do what Jesus did? Do our actions reflect the love of God in whose image we are all made?
First John tells us that the Word of God has moved in... and next he says, “we have seen his glory—and it is full of grace and truth.” In Christ we see God’s glory, God’s truth, and all that come with it.
Just as God sees us through a lens of mercy and unconditional love so too are we called to see others through this lens. Jesus made it very clear when he said, “Love your enemies. Give without expecting anything in return. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. God is kind; so also should you be kind.”
The challenge for us this week is to put into practice what Jesus preached. Just as we share the same Incarnate Spirit, so too do we bear the same calling. We are able to do this first by seeing the divine image of God in everyone, just as he did. And second by living out the divine image of God in all that we do.
The great Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh teaches “The best way to know and to love God is to know and love your neighbor.” This begins by seeing the Incarnate Word, made in flesh and blood, living among us in our every day life. It’s “in Christ Jesus that we find who we are and what we’re living for,” writes Paul to the Ephesians.
Long before the first Christmas – way before the shepherds, the magi, or the baby nestled in a manger – God had already designed us for glorious living and claim us as his beloved children. In Jesus, God’s purpose worked out in everyone and everything. This tells me that God is then in everyone and everything. God is here. Always and forever.
But are we able to see God in our midst?
Are we able to feel God’s presence and be the peace that God gives us through Jesus...the Incarnate Word that became flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood...bringing with him the light of God so we might see in our darkness and find hope and mercy and grace.
Far more than giving gifts or holiday feasts, the joy of Christmas is that God moved into our messy house, our struggles and brokenness, to redeem it all in the everlasting love of Christ Jesus – making us all worthy of being Jesus’ brother, or sister, of being adopted children of God.
The invitation for us this Christmas is to accept the gift of Jesus, and to experience Christ’s peace and presence all around you long after the tree is tossed out and the decorations boxed up.
This is the good news given to you to share with the world today. Amen.
“The best way to know and to love God is to know and love your neighbor.” - Thich Naht Hanh, famed Buddhist Monk
Hanh, Teich Naht. Living Buddha. Living Christ. (Riverhead:1995).
Shull, Margaret Manning. Christmas Past. A Slice of Infinity devotional. December 26, 2018.
Tait, Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff, “The Real Twelve Days of Christmas,” Christianity Today, August 8, 2008.
Schaefer, Joslyn Ogden, A Tent Among Us, (episcopalnetwork: 2018).
I bet you know what this is. This is a Christmas present. It’s the universal sign that the holiday season is upon us. In most houses the present is wrapped and put under the Christmas tree.
Some families open their presents on Christmas Eve. In our house, we wait until Christmas morning to tear through all that pretty wrapping paper to see if we got that new PlayStation or a fresh supply of socks.
In all the excitement of tearing and ripping open the gifts, I tend to forget the reason why these gifts are given in the first place.
It’s because of this...This is the family nativity set that we keep out all year long. Whenever I see it on our piano, it’s hard to for me to ignore the fact that this angelic child will one day be a man, who will die on a Roman cross. Christmas is about life, death and resurrection. They are one in the same gift that we receive from God.
I can’t imagine what mixed emotions God must have had at that Nativity. As a father, I wonder what God was feeling seeing this newborn just lying there all helpless, weak, and vulnerable? Did God cry, like I did when I first held my daughter Fiona?
I remember standing in the hospital room, balling my eyes out. It was the first time in my life I really felt and truly understood unconditional love. Life all of a sudden felt very real. And yet, in my greatest joy, the fear that something bad could happen to this precious innocent life loomed all around us. I held onto her and never wanted to let her go. I imagine that is what God’s love for us is like. He never wants to let us go.
When sin and death pulled us away from God, a little baby was sent to us, bringing peace and justice to a world filled with war and violence. In the darkness of death burst the bright light of hope and peace and joy. The Christ child came to reconcile us back to God, who like a loving parent weeps with great joy when he welcomes us in his arms! There is no safer place to be. God is the perfect definition of unconditional love. His gift of the Christ child is proof.
Amazing as this present is, it is still only half the gift. If God cried, then those tears weren’t shed because of what happened that night in the stable. God cried because God knew what that birth would eventually bring.
Christmas is just half of the gift. The other half would come at Easter. Christmas makes Easter possible. Just like the first Christmas gift was placed in an empty manger, our Easter present was placed in a grave. But when we open this gift, we don’t find a PlayStation or a fresh supply of socks. Instead we only find an empty tomb. This is the fulfillment of the real gift.
Christmas and Easter, might be two separate holidays, but they are one gift. We can’t receive one and not the other. It’s Christmas that makes Easter inevitable. And Easter is what makes Christmas meaningful. A reason to celebrate!
I hope that you will ponder these words and take them to heart. Christ is coming into our world. In us. With us. And through us, God is breaking through the heavens and the angels are singing. O come, let us adore him. Amen.
From our home to yours, we hope that you have a very, Merry Christmas.
Peace. The Fourth Candle
I remember the day Kathleen told me the good news that I was going to be a father. To be honest, that’s all I really remember. It was in the day. You'll have to ask Kathleen to fill in the rest of the details. However I do remember the pregnancy. Ten long, painful months of nausea, aches and pains, emotional instability that slowly became irrational irritability! Of course there was all the extra weight gain! And that was just me! Again, Kathleen can tell you her side of the story.
While I clearly developed all the symptoms of a sympathetic pregnancy, I still have no clue of what women go through to bring life into fruition.
A perfect segue to Mary’s Song located in the Gospel of Luke 1:39-55.
It’s kind of funny how Mary’s song comes during the week we celebrate Peace. Having witnessed it three times, there not a lot of what I might call “peace” during the birth process. Just as Eugene Peterson spoke of pregnancy, Advent is a time of joyful preparation. It is a time for us to get ready for a radically new way of life that happens once the baby comes.
Earlier in Luke we get the first part of Mary’s story. Again, it’s hard for me to imagine what that young girl was feeling when she discovered she was pregnant, or later when she’d be giving birth in a filthy barn far far away from her family and the comforts of home. Peace isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Mary’s response to this good news suggests there is a sense of God’s shalom in her the wholeness and completeness of God’s being that grows and swells within her.
While our Christmas pageants like to give her story a Disney makeover, Mary is not some carefree teenager from a royal family. She is not a princess but a poor underage girl, who is unintentionally pregnant just to make matters worse. Living in a poverty stricken, military occupied country, Mary is, by all accounts, a girl without hope of a better life.
Given the customs of her day, the fact that she was still unmarried suggests she was most likely very young, probably around 10-12 years old and just entering puberty. Thus making the mystery of her calling that much more powerful, even if it makes her that much more vulnerable. Yet God chose her, this hopeless and unimportant girl, to be Theotokos, the “God bearer.”
Of course, Joseph was no knight in shining armor. We don’t know much about him other than what we see in paintings. He is alway portrayed as this grown man...kind of like a father figure. Some suggest the early church required artist to depict Joseph like this so there would be no hint of “sex” in Mary’s story. In light of the #MeToo movement, we might be better off showing Joseph as he most likely was a kid, maybe a young teenager at best. We don’t know if there was love between the two...or if their marriage was pre-arranged. But Luke tells us that Joseph heard the news, and did what he was asked to do.
Our focus today is not on the young couple but the two cousins, whose pregnancies have defied nature and science. One is too young to have babies, and the other too old. And in both...no man was necessary for this to happen.
Here in Luke’s story is “a preteen and a matriarch at the greatest meeting of all time – two women counted worthless in most cultures have their wombs honored and blessed by God’s presence.” Their sons will usher in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that the prophets all predicted would be one of peace not war. Through Mary, God triumphantly breaks through the birth canal, takes his first breath and like every good baby, begins to turn our world upside down.
Jesus is that king, the royal savior who comes to rule over all the nations – the One who hears our cries, bears our infirmities and brings everlasting life, the wholeness and completeness of God’s shalom.
Jesus is the hope we hold on to. He is the love we desire. The joy that makes us breaks out in song. He is our peace when the chaos of the world overwhelms us. And so, we wait through this season of Advent for the coming of this heavenly king to enter life in the most basic, most vulnerable, and most unexpected way. A baby born to girl who said “yes” to God. The gift of peace that fills her womb is the gift she will share with the world.
While peace comes from God, it is made manifest in us. Just as God did the impossible in the wombs of these two unlikely women, so too is God able to work through us – bringing hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, joy to the joyless, and the light of peace to a world that is sick and tired of living in the darkness of sin.
God’s peace does not favor one person or country over another. It is for all who want it in their life. The only catch is this, if you take this gift, then you too must be like Mary and be willing to give it all away.
Like Mary, when we carry Jesus to full term, the world breaks into song. And a heavenly choir sings “Blessed are you and the fruit of your womb.” Mary’s song is our song too. It is a song of victory. A song of praise. A song of peace on earth and goodwill to all. It’s a song we are all summoned to sing.
And so my challenge to you today is this: are you ready to join in the chorus? Are you ready to be God’s mother, to carry the peace of Christ within you? Are you willing to birth God’s perfect Shalom for the world?
Meister Eckhardt famously said, “We are all called to be God's mother, because God needs to be born every day.” This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. It reminds me that wherever I go, whatever I do, I am called to give birth to Christ in the way I love, and forgive, and care for others.
With Christmas morning only two days away, and as we anxiously wait to see what we will get, let us remember what we have been given already. Behind those pretty wrapped Christmas presents is the real gift of Christ’s presence. It is a present that needs to be gifted and regifted, day after day to help us keep the peace of today burning brightly for tomorrow.
With the glowing light of peace illuminating our way, may we never forget that we are not only carrying Jesus in us, but we are also bearing his hope, his love, his joy and the fullness of God’s shalom that he offers us.
I invite you now to close your eyes and listen to the words St. Francis of Assisi, who lifted up this prayer to God over 1200 years ago.
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
Joy. The Third Candle of Advent.
This week, Christian churches around the world are celebrating the third week of advent with messages of joy. The first two candles are lit to remind us that God’s hope and love is with us and within us. A great reason to rejoice if you ask me.
We’ve also learned that advent is a time of waiting. And our waiting is not passive but active. Therefore as we light the candle of joy we are reminded that God’s spirit of joy is with us. And that we are to live it loud...singing and shouting and rejoicing...even on those days when it feels like joy is missing from our lives.
I confess the closer we get to Christmas, JOY seems to take a back seat to anxiety and the pressure to be happy. This year seems to be no different. Oddly enough, the week started out amazingly well. On Monday I met with a group of people who filled my heart with so much hope and love that I had trouble sleeping that night.
I woke up Tuesday still feeling great but some time in the afternoon something or someone just snuck in and robbed me of that good feeling. Has that ever happened to you? You’re on top of your game, and then something happens that knocks you down? It’s not something you rejoice over.Needless to say it was hard to find the inspiration to write about joy...knowing I struggled to find it in myself.
But God’s Spirit has a way of rekindling that light from within – bringing hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless...and yes… joy to the joyless. This leads us to today’s reading from the Apostle Paul who writes in Philippians 4:4-7 these timeless words:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything
“Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Do not worry about anything.” It’s painfully obvious Paul that never had to scramble to find last minute gifts for his wife. Or prayed for God to reorder the postal service so they might arrive on time!
What is it that gives Paul the confidence to say something so bold? For the most part, we think anyone who take this advice seriously is a hopelessly naïve optimists. Any good skeptic might say that a person who can rejoice all the time...has never watched a friend overdose in a parking lot. Or a family evicted from a home.
It’s true, there are some situations where it’s hard to find joy or the strength to rejoice. So it’s good to remember that Paul wrote these words from a jail cell. He had no idea if he was going to live or die. Despite his circumstances, Paul still found a way to ‘rejoice.’ How is that?
The Holy Spirit lit up in Paul like a roaring fire – allowing the Apostle to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ without fear or worry. Paul is a living witness to the power of God who is reordering human hearts from the inside out. So it doesn’t matter where Paul is, or what he is facing. With God’s joy inside him, he can’t help but rejoice.
That is what I want you to take away today: With God inside you, you too have God’s joy! So “rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say Rejoice!”
Our challenge, of course, is finding it in our daily lives. In a materialistic world, joy and rejoicing are often synonymous with happiness and celebration. This might explain why we get more anxious this time of year. As my friend pointed out, joy and happiness are not the same thing. “Joy” she said, “is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. As long as we have God’s Spirit in us, we always have joy...But it doesn’t mean we’ll always be happy.”
We have all heard a parent say it doesn’t matter what their kids chose to do in life as long as they are happy. It seems like a good thing, right? Who doesn’t want their child to be happy? But this notion teaches us to believe that a pursuit of happiness will lead to joy.
Happiness is conditional. It’s something we pursue and find through other means. And that’s not always a good thing; especially when your pursuit of happiness is a vice... that harms you and your relationship with God and others. Drugs, work, exercise, material wealth, and even religion…can offer temporary happiness of some degree…but only God can give you eternal joy.
God’s joy is not conditional. It’s a gift given to us out of great love for us. Paul sat in prison, content and rejoicing, because he knew what God’s love meant to him. Like Paul, our joy comes from the gift of love that was made manifest in Jesus Christ. It’s a gift that when opened makes us shout and sing and rejoice.
I know my joy is not based on ‘if’ God loves me...but ‘because’ God loves me. And Jesus is the proof of how much I mean to God. Jesus is God’s greatest gift for us– given without condition. If you want it, all you have to do is to make the choice to receive it. The gift of Jesus that God has given to you and me, is the hope we seek,...the love we desire,... and a joy that can never be stolen or taken from us.
Corrie Ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place illustrates this point. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to Ravensbruck,...the worst German prison camp they had seen yet. They were put into a barrack that was dangerously overcrowded and infested with fleas. Believing in the promise of God, they clung to Paul’s words: rejoice always, do not fear, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.
Betsy and Corrie tried to thank the Lord for every detail of this prison... but Corrie had trouble thanking God for the fleas. As her sister persisted, Corrie eventually gave in and thanked God for the flea. In a Nazi prison camp, Corrie and Betsy openly share their faith. They held bible studies and prayer meetings without interference from the guards. Many months later Corrie learned how God made this possible. You see, the guards would not enter that particular barrack...because of the fleas!
“Rejoice in the Lord always...and do not worry about anything.” Sound advice to ponder and practice during our time of Advent wait. Taking these words to heart, I was able to find my joy again.
My long, dark week ended on a high note. On Friday we had a church outing to see the remake of...the Christmas classic, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It’s a tale of a curmudgeon whose tiny heart...is not only transformed but triples in size...by the kindness and love of another.
In that movie theater, the Grinch and I discovered that the joy of Christmas is not all the material things we have around us. Instead it comes from a deep connection with our spiritual source.
True joy comes from God in whose image we are made. It is an unconditional gift that God gives out of deep love for us. And Jesus is proof of the length God is willing go to redeem us and reclaim us back to that Divine love.
With Jesus in our life, lighting the way home to God, we will find true joy in us no matter the situation we might find ourselves in. Best of all, when we choose to share that light of joy, we have reason to be happy and to rejoice. And so too does God.
Come let us embrace this light of joy...and to let it burn so wildly and fiercely in the world that all who look at us will see the light and love of Jesus...and be drawn to his joy and rejoice in his name, now and forever, Amen.
Love. The Second Sunday In Advent
Advent seems to be a time for prophets. Like John, they come to prepare the way of God’s salvation. They bring messages of hope, like we learned last week from Jeremiah.
But unless they’re on a sitcom, I can’t say prophets are always fun to be around. Biblical prophets, especially, like to point out our flaws...and demand we do more for the poor and downtrodden. It seems like all they say is repent and be righteous, help the widows and orphans, seek justice and don’t do bad things. It’s no surprise people go out of their way to avoid them.
John the Baptist was different. People came to him. We might think of him today as both a prophet and a pioneer.
The son of a temple priest, John left his rightful place in the church for the wilderness. He abandoned the ceremonial purification pools of the Temple for the wild, flowing waters of the Jordan River. Part rebel, part unpredictable wild man John broke the barriers of religion and ritual to pave the way for the coming Messiah. You see, John the pioneer knew the walls and rituals of the Temple could no longer contain God’s movement.
So John the prophet cried out in the wilderness, “Repent. God’s on the move. Everything’s about to change.” No longer was God sitting around waiting for us to visit. God was coming to us. So, we better be prepared.
Like any good prophet, John called us to “Repent, turn away from sin and return to God’s loving arms.” And in doing so, John the pioneer, ushered in a new relationship between God and humanity. He knew that “God’s relentless love would not allow a mountain or hill, an ideology or ritual to get in the way of God’s salvation.” If you listen carefully you can still hear his voice echo in the wilds of life.
Repent. Come clean. And come home.
We need prophets and pioneers like John whose message “breaks into our world with deafening silence and shatters the dark of despair with the light of love.” We need prophets like John, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to tell God’s salvation “to a world longing for hope and love in their lives.” They are the pioneers who will lead us into a future where no one will lack or have a need for more.
We need to tune our ears better and listen to what they have to say, because their words matter. Their words matter to those who have no voice, no rights, no hope. Their words matter to the people who sit in darkness and despair. Their words matter to all who suffer from having made poor life choices or squandered any opportunity to make it right. To anyone who doesn’t feel worthy enough, or good enough, or simply enough to be redeemed in God’s love John is calling out you, “Repent. Come clean and come home.”
I know that these words can be hard to hear, or understand. For many, the word repent can seem judgmental... making you feel ashamed and filled with guilt. But repentance isn’t a punishment. It’s the opposite. It’s the good news of God’s redeeming love and grace that frees us of our sin and shame. Repentance empties us of our world, and fills us with God’s unconditional love.
John is inviting you to turn around, and walk away from you’re doing and return to what God is doing, and has always been doing since the beginning of time. The world needs prophets like John to remind us that God’s got this. God is our strength and our hope that gets us through the wilderness of life.
I think it’s safe to say our communities, and nation, and world need more prophetic and pioneering voices. And that’s where we come in. As Christ followers, it’s up to us to share the good news – to go into the wilderness and be the voice of the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless, the love of the loveless.
Advent is not just a time to wait for Christ to come again, it’s a time to actively participate in the reason he came in the first place.
So, my challenge to you is simply this: Are you willing to be a prophet? Are you willing to walk out in faith and love people where they are, without judgment or making them feel ashamed or less than? Are you willing to show the world what it means to hold on to real hope, to experience real love, and to forgive even the unforgivable?
Advent is a time to live out your faith in new and groundbreaking ways, so people might see Christ in their midst, right here and right now. And so Advent is a time to profess and practice the good news that has come and will come again.
We are given this time of wait to tune our ears to the crying voices in the wilderness. And to go be among them and help them to prepare their way home. The world needs more prophets and pioneers because the world needs more hope...and more love. The kind of love God has given to us through Christ Jesus.
We light the second Advent candle to remind us that as we prepare ourselves to meet the Christ, who has come and will come again, God’s love is and has always been with us. As we watch the flame flicker, we are reminded that God’s love is always in our midst, moving through the wind of the wilderness and flowing in the water of the wild, raging rivers. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit, calling us to Repent. Come clean. And come home.
Anderson, T. Denise. "Living by the Word." Christian Century 132, no. 24 (Nov 2015).
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Johnson, Deon. "Who Needs A Prophet Anyway?" episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. (accessed 12 5, 2018).
Roberie, Joshua. Relevent Magazine. Nov 17, 2015. (accessed Nov 25, 2015).
Hope. The First Sunday in Advent.
Sometimes what we hope for is quickly resolved, the person immediately smiles back at you. Other times it’s painfully long – leaving us with a sense of longing or hopelessness. Can anything good come out of hopelessness?
The stories of Advent are not of sugarplums and toys that spring to life. They are, as my friend Dawn Carlson suggests, “stories dug from the soil of human struggle and vistas of broken dreams.” Yet in the bleakest of circumstances, Jeremiah offers hope when it seems all hope is lost.
Held captive in Babylon, God’s people are tired, angry and afraid. They’ve watched their homes be reduced to ash. And their beloved Temple completely destroyed. And then they are dragged off and forced to live in a foreign land, and ruled by corruption and injustice. They cry out in anguish and pain, hoping God hears them, but feeling completely hopeless to say the least. They abandoned God and perhaps believed God abandoned them too.
With all the mess that’s going on in our country and around the world, you too might feel like one of these ancient captives, trapped in a world devoid of God and wondering if there’s any hope left. But the words of Jeremiah reminds us that whatever is going on in life, whatever is bringing you down or causing you grief and pain, whatever people might be inflicting on you, the days are surely coming, when the promise to God’s people will be fulfilled.
If God’s promise is real, then so too is our hope. Salvation is coming. But we have to wait – with either a feeling of hopelessness or hopefulness to keep us company.
I remember the day I sat around waiting for the surgeon to come into the examination room to look at the cancer that had bloomed in my throat. His schedule was full that day, but the office staff was able to fit me in. They were kind enough to give us a private room to wait in. And wait we did. For over four hours I sat there with Kathleen and my dad – hoping and waiting.
I tried to use that time to prepare myself for the reality that was to come. A reality I didn’t want to face. My head was swimming with all sorts of emotions and thoughts of despair. But, believe it or not, my heart was reasonably calm. I knew the promise God made to me. I knew it was real. I knew in my heart that no matter the outcome, I would be okay.
Being present with God in that room helped me realize that I am God’s beloved child. I am an heir to the promised salvation of Jesus Christ. And so are you. We have real hope we can count on, because God’s presence is already in us and all around us. God has never abandoned us, even if we have abandoned God. “Sometimes what God does in the waiting room of our lives is more important than our future...our part is not to figure out God’s path for us, but to trust God while we’re on it.” This is active waiting – being present with God in the now as we “wait for the second coming of Christ before we celebrate the first.”
Which leads us to why Advent is an important time for the church.
Advent is a time to hope. If we believe in our hearts what God says is true, then we must also believe in God’s greatest revelation – the greatest gift given to the world on that first Christmas morning. Through Jesus Christ, hope comes alive and walks with us, and heals us; teaches us how to love and care for each other without fear or hesitation. It frees us to give of ourselves faithfully, knowing we’ve already attained our reward.
Advent is also a time to wait. If we believe God’s promises are real, then we can wait with joyful expectation...trusting in God and being with God, knowing our future is already secure. The hope that Advent brings is essential to growing the faith that frees us to travel the road upon which we are walking.
Advent is a time to fully participate in God’s eternal vision of peace by “executing justice and righteousness in the land.” Even as his world came crashing down, Jeremiah pushed his people to see God’s future, and to continue to lean on the promises that God made to them and their ancestors. As we actively wait through Advent, we too must not lose sight of what Jesus has called us to do, to stand up for justice and seek peace, while clinging to God’s righteousness and promise. No matter how dark the world might seem, there is still work to be done.
Lastly, let us not forget Advent is a gift for each of us. If we believe God means what God says, then we know Jesus is our salvation. Our hope is not based on what we’ve done, but on what God has done and is doing through Christ Jesus – the infinite goodness and mercy of God who is with us.
Jesus is the grace given to anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord. Jesus is the promise and the proof that God has never left us in the dark or ignored our cries. Instead God came to be with us, in the flesh, and suffered alongside us and celebrated with us. Jesus, our Emmanuel, is God’s gift to the world. The gift we get to open again, and again.
We can always hold on to hope because we know something greater has come. And something greater is coming agian. We just have to wait, anticipating and trusting in a promised future despite our current circumstance. Whenever you feel discouraged, especially when you feel despair over some wrong in your life, remember that God is always waiting for us – here and now – with unconditional love because God’s promise is real.
And so we can actively wait and participate through the darkest of days because we know how the story of life ends and how it begins again – with Jesus the Christ, our Emmanuel, and God’s redemptive gift to the world.
Advent is a time to remember that Jesus is our hope, our joy, our love and our peace. He is light that that breaks through and overcomes the darkness of the world. That alone is something worth waiting for. Amen.
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett and Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Keating, Thomas. Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit. (Lantern Books; 2007) pp. 71-73.
Polter, Julie. A Whirlwind in a Fire. Sojourners. December 2018.
Roberie, Joshua. Relevent Magazine. Nov 17, 2015. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/when-god-leaves-you-waiting (accessed Nov 25, 2015).
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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