Archive for the ‘advent’ Category

Jesus and Politics

December 27, 2022

Thinking on the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, I was struck this year with just how political the birth was.

  • His birth is linked with Caesar Augustus (the census)
  • The magi were most likely politically tapped in their native countries
  • They saw the birth of a star linked to the king of the Jews
  • They talked with the incumbent king of the Jews (Herod the Great)
  • Visions surrounding Jesus talked of David’s throne (king of the Jews)
  • Herod had boys two and under killed in and around Bethlehem to stop any successor to his throne not his children
  • Jesus’ family fled to Egypt for a time, then settled in Nazareth to avoid Bethlehem
  • He was called Messiah / Christos / Anointed One — meaning King

Yet, in his ministry and teaching

  • He healed Jews and Romans and others alike
  • His only talk of Kingdom was the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God
  • He told the Roman authority that his kingdom was not of this world
  • The label on his means of execution said King of the Jews

I studied politics at university (along with lots of other things); got a very high score on the politics GRE exam; studied politics at graduate school. I’ve even studied the politics of the Roman Catholic Church in European governments from about 600 to 1700 CE. You cannot avoid church and politics if you live in the United States. I also have to recommend a book I read some 50 years ago called The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder–a pacifist take on Jesus’ teachings.

The fact that nothing was said in these stories about starting a church. It was pretty much kingdom, God’s kingdom, instituted and led by a man filled with God completely.

Do I have answers? No. I do think on what Jesus would like for me to do to a) live in the kingdom of heaven and b) lead others to live in the kingdom. And does it matter how I vote? Or not? And how you vote? Or not?

Jesus would ask, what is the status of your heart?

Be Like Jesus

December 23, 2022

As Advent comes to an end and we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I’ve been contemplating the stories and legends surrounding Bethlehem and the shepherds and magi and escape to Egypt and all that. And we can speculate (fruitlessly) on what virgin birth means.

Then I asked Why?

Despite Luke going around the area interviewing people and compiling, we are left with sketchy information about what those first 30 years were like.

The birth was important. His ministry was more important–those stories fill the gospels and other writings. His death and resurrection was most important–without the resurrection the world would not have been changed and we wouldn’t be writing much about it.

Because of the resurrection, Jesus became more than a prophet or teacher. It makes his teachings all the more important to infuse into our lives. So, I remembered this list I’ve written about before.

This year I want to be more like Jesus:

  • Hang out with sinners
  • Upset religious people
  • Tell stories that make people think
  • Choose unpopular friends
  • Be kind, loving, and merciful
  • Take naps on boats

Merry Christmas, everyone.


December 22, 2022

Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting

Carly Simon

We have been told for at least a week that today a blizzard is coming. At 10:00 this morning the temperature will be 28 F; at dinner time it will be close to 0 F. When I get up tomorrow the temperature will be -11 F with 25 mph winds gusting to 50 mph. Forecasters initially predicted 10 inches of snow. Now it’s 3 inches. But it will be messy.

We have been living in anticipation of the blizzard for a week. I went to a store yesterday to purchase a present for a Christmas gift exchange. The place was packed. People stocking up on bread, milk, toilet paper, and the like.

Talk about layered anticipation. We are in the anticipation period of the Christian church calendar–Advent, the anticipation of God visiting Earth.

I wonder, which anticipation is more real?

If you don’t have small children with the anticipation of presents under the Christmas tree, can you still work up emotionally the sense of anticipation that was the atmosphere in the Mediterranean world 2,000 years ago? The sense of anticipation that the first couple of generations of Jesus-followers felt?

Or, maybe like Carly Simon sang, we are paralyzed into inaction in the anticipation not knowing which way things are going. (I could write a whole sermon on that topic, but I won’t. I’ll leave it to your own imagination.)

We Are All God’s Children

December 16, 2022

During my meditation many years ago, I found myself walking past an old, empty house. I walked up the path through the overgrown weeds to the front door. It was unlocked. I entered. I had previously explored the house and entered the basement. (If you are Jungian, go for it.)

That day’s meditation took me down the steps into the basement with some fearfulness of what I would find.

Well, there was a huge party going on down there. I was shown people of every race and nationality and tribe. They were all partying together. There was no rancor. No small groups over in the corner peering suspiciously at the others. It was all one family of humanity. I was told we are all God’s children.

Either in business or on holiday I’ve interacted with people from most of the areas of the globe. I’ve shared meals and conversations. I’ve tried every day to live up to that vision treating everyone like I learned from that party experience (well, maybe except for the idiot that cut me off driving in traffic–no one is perfect!).

Today’s meditation returned me to that time. We are in Advent and also Christmas season. We hear a lot about “peace on earth and goodwill toward man”. Beyond hearing that, perhaps we need to practice it during our everyday lives.

Seeing What Is Before Us

December 14, 2022

We pray for God’s guidance for the day.

Have we done the little things set before us that reflect God in us?

It’s Advent. We sing carols and pray for peace, hope, joy.

What did we do yesterday and what will we do today to reflect that peace, hope, and joy?

We must beware that praying becomes mere words in a formula.

Prayer sets an attitude and perhaps a communication with God. But attitude just sets a direction. What we do when we leave our prayer mat or chair is what pleases God.

Tyranny of the Urgent v Try Easy

December 13, 2022

It happened back in the 70s. My unofficial title at that company was “the kid in engineering.” I was included in the management level whisked off to a company-wide conference. There I was introduced to the professional personal development and productivity guru genre.

I guess I’ll not forget the points the speaker emphasized–beware the Tyranny of the Urgent and Try Easy.

British writer Oliver Burkeman wrote in his last newsletter about Urgent. He calls himself the Imperfectionist. His book Four Thousand Weeks is worth the read…and re-read.

He describes urgency as “a whole state of mind, indeed of body: the anxious knot in the stomach, the clenched jaw, the furrowed brow.”

We get that way. We try to force our way through tasks many of which don’t even need to be done.

The opposite is to know what’s important and work through these in a planned way. Of course, sometimes plans go awry, but the “imperfectionist” adapts and continues. She tries easy.

Reflecting on Advent and beyond in these terms, consider the anticipation of the entire region of a spiritual awakening and a new order. Among some, I imagine even a sense of that urgency. Especially among Jews anxious for the overthrow of Roman rule.

And Jesus was born. Thirty years later he began his ministry. And many men could not wait. Getting rid of Roman rule was an urgent task in their minds.

They didn’t understand. Jesus obviously spent 30 years learning and growing. He worked his plan by teaching and mentoring those who didn’t yet understand. Then came the crisis moment–death, burial, resurrection. But that was later.

We’re still in the anticipation moment. What will the future bring? How will it change us? Change the world? Maybe today we still need to live with some of that anticipation. Perhaps this Christmas celebration and remembrance will bring some change in us.

Anticipation or Completion?

December 12, 2022

Advent is a time of anticipation. We celebrate completion on Easter.  Christmas day is sort of a completion—the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Even that birth is pure anticipation.

The question for us lies in whether we can live in anticipation.

Tension hovers thickly in the atmosphere. Living with tension requires developing a tolerance for uncertainty. It means living a day at a time. Sometimes an hour at a time. Living looking forward to a future condition without certainty of its completion.

I’m not an expert on US situation comedy TV shows. Probably people in China are more knowledgeable. But how many have you seen where there is romantic tension? The show will play for several seasons living with that tension. Then the writers can’t take it anymore. They write in a scene of sexual completion. Now, the show is changed forever. They have to find a new tension. It’s a different show.

Advent teaches us to live in the last century before Jesus’ birth when large groups of people were saturated with the anticipation of God’s stirring. That something new was going to happen. What would that new time look like? No one knew for sure. OK, I bet many people thought they knew. Mostly, they were wrong.

Now we are living in anticipation. What will happen? How will it change me? Change the community? Change the world?

Follow Me, He Said

December 9, 2022

Stories come my way every week about people who call themselves “Christian”, perhaps they are regular, bubbly, smiling church attenders, and yet the congruence between how they live and what Jesus taught us about how to live exists only in their minds.

I was going to write another brief essay about my disappointment. And then, I thought, what good would that do?

Most of us are probably just trying to infuse thoughts Jesus left us about how to follow him. After all, when he decided the time was ripe to start bringing people together, his invitation was simply, “Follow me.” He didn’t ask for belief first. No one of his first followers believed (maybe Martha and Mary?). Three years later, they still didn’t believe. That is, until the resurrection, they didn’t believe.

But they all followed.

And they stumbled. And argued. And learned a little. Forgot a little. Were disappointed a little.

Still they followed.

Even though I don’t feel it, I am an old man. I’ve seen many things. Experienced many joys and disappointments. Sometimes I feel like Mark Twain, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”

This is Advent. It’s a remembrance of a time when people were looking for Jesus. But they didn’t know it, exactly. And when they had it, they didn’t know what it was. And when they followed, they didn’t know where they were going–even unto the last days.

Later reflecting on the journey, they realized it was the best days of their lives.

And they shared it.

What can we do but to take that same journey and look back and say it was the best days.

Can We Live With Mystery?

December 1, 2022

There was a man with whom I once co-taught a Bible class who would often say, “This is going on my list of things to ask when I get to heaven.” He recognized that he didn’t know everything. He knew whom to ask.

We are in Advent. It’s a mystery.

A virgin becomes pregnant. We know that can happen. A couple of hormone-driven teens, sperm gets sprayed a bit, who knows, it happens even without intercourse. But with Mary, we don’t know. There is no detailed manual of exactly what happened. It is a mystery.

Joseph has a vision. Zachariah has a vision, Mary had a vision. Simeon had a vision. Anna the prophetess had a vision. Why so many? At the same time? It’s a mystery.

Jews at that moment of history were living with heightened expectation. I think Greeks and Romans were, also. It was a time ripe for something to happen. Why then? It’s a mystery.

I have some engineering training. Engineers are notorious for seeing things in black/white. A problem solved or not. But I also forged a Liberal Arts education. I’m comfortable with shades of gray, nuance, mystery.

I am not driven to figure out a logical, rational, scientific explanation for all this. It’s a marvelous mystery. And where would we be without the birth of Jesus? But that’s a mystery.

Maybe more of us need to be like my old friend Omar, who admitted he didn’t know everything. But he could be patient and ask and wonder.

Advent isn’t a time to figure out the mystery. It’s a time to revel in it.

God With Us

November 28, 2022

We are now in the Advent season. The sub-head of my blog talks about living with God. But there are so many things I wonder about. Matthew (the gospel writer) says that an angel told Joseph to name his “son” Yeshua (through a series of transliterations, we wind up with Jesus in English) which means Yahweh (God) is salvation or God saves. Immediately after that thought, Matthew quotes from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah that the name of the child shall be Emmanuel–God is with us. Thank you, Jon Swanson, for today’s post that sent me down a rabbit warren of internet searches to refresh my memory of all this.

Even though the sub-title of my website talks of living with-God, I didn’t choose that because I know. I chose it because I want to puzzle it out. What does that mean? How do I live it?

I’ve read where the first Century Jesus-followers literally felt Jesus’ presence when they gathered. The small group movement had a tradition of the empty chair–an invitation to fill it with someone new. I think the first Christians must have had that tradition of an “empty chair” where Jesus sat with them. After all, his last words were, “I will be with you always…”

I miss the formal attention to advent of the Methodist church of my youth. But the tree and decorations around the house that my wife prepares every year are a reminder. It’s where I attempt to focus on God With Us amidst all the distractions of the season.

“I will be with you always…” I guess “always” means, well, always. Even now. It’s not a theory. It’s a presence.