Posts Tagged ‘advent’

He Came To Set Us Free

December 23, 2015

“He had come to set people free, and like Moses with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, he was confronting the powers that held people captive.” — N T Wright, Simply Good News

We are only a couple of days from celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world. It’s not really his birthday, as some sects believe and shun the day. It’s not a pagan holiday, at least for us, but it was certainly adopted as an alternative to the pagan Roman holiday celebrated about the same time.

I don’t care about all that. We just simply celebrate the coming.

Why did he come?

I like what NT Wright says in Simply Good News, “He had come to set the people free.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote essentially the same theme in his book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

I like the Gospels–Mark for his great literary style of simplicity and movement; Luke for his attention to detail and lifting up women and the Holy Spirit; John for his devotion.

But Paul captures this idea of freedom especially in his letter to the Galatians. “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”

I’ve come to see among a great number of Protestant denominations and even among some Catholics the tendency to have it all in the head. It’s agreeing with the right statements, saying the right things, judging people according to whatever law they ascribe to. And the number of people searching the scriptures for hidden meanings and fortune-telling the future simply amazes me.

When I was young, I wanted to be an “intellectual”, whatever that meant. I studied broadly into different fields of inquiry. By personality, I’m one who thinks too much.

What I’ve learned is that most of us think way too much. The meaning is right there in front of us in plain sight just waiting for us to see.

Jesus began his ministry quoting, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“Release to the captives!” Who are they? They are us–all of us. Paul would say we once were captive, but now we’re free.

Who wouldn’t want to go out into the world teaching this? Why do we corrupt the message with too much other stuff?

Jesus came, now we are free.

The Coming of Jesus

December 17, 2015

Christmas is only one week away. I have to admit that so far, other than the tree in our living room, the last two weeks have seemed much like any other weeks except that I’ve been home for most of the time.

It’s advent. We celebrate Jesus’ coming.

The romantics work up sentimental feelings of kids, anticipation of presents and Santa, snow and warm fires, food and family.

Churches put a few Christmas carols in their worship. Maybe light an advent candle. Have a children’s program. Maybe a choir cantata if it’s a traditional church.

We’ll read the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke along with the prophecies.

What we really need to do is project ourselves in contemplation back to the time. Anticipation of something changing, maybe God returning to the Temple, had been building for a hundred years.

Expectations. Simeon and Anna had hung out at the Temple for most of their lives. God had told them that someone special was coming. Every day. Visiting the Temple. Watching. Every person who came. Every baby to be dedicated. Who would be the one? When would he come?

Then one day a baby came. Quietly. They spotted the family and came over to them. He is the one. Finally. We can die in peace. God told us, and he didn’t lie. There he was. They knew.

Jesus came. Many followed him. They tried to do the things he asked of them.Today, many of us still follow him–or try to. We’re glad he came. He showed us how to live.

Even so, with the commercialization, hype, desires for things–not to mention the lack of peace in the world, these things impinge on my consciousness.

Maybe we need him to come again.

Might As Well Relax

December 24, 2014

It’s finally here. Christmas Eve. All the worrying about did I get the right present for someone (or did I get presents for everyone I should have). The stress of coordinating family visits. It might as well be over. It’s too late now to worry anymore.

If you have little children around, just relax and enjoy their anticipation. They will be past that soon enough.

I have already gone to my Christmas church services. Maybe you’re heading out for Midnight Mass (I assume Catholics still do that–the church who ran the school I taught in one year was known throughout the area for its beautiful one). Back home, they’ll have a candlelight service with much singing.

If so, just relax and enjoy.

There’s a scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark’s dad says he got through the dysfunctional family gatherings “with a little help from Jack Daniels.”

Perhaps you can get by with just a few deep breaths.

There are readers of this blog who live in areas where the greater stress is not just family bickering but personal safety. I pray that your celebration is safe, as well as meaningful. It’s amazing to me what Christians in the US think is persecution which is so insignificant when compared to so many other countries of the world.

One of the titles for Jesus is Prince of Peace. As followers, let us all work toward fulfilling that promise of peace.

The Glory of God Shone Brightly

December 23, 2014

Remember when Moses saw the glory of God? His face shone so brightly reflecting that glory that the Hebrews could not stand to see it. So they asked that Moses hide his face behind a veil.

The Glory of God was said to inhabit the Ark for years. At some point, evidently, the glory sort of faded away.

Solomon built a Temple so that the Glory of God could “rest”, that is inhabit, with the people. It was said that God’s Glory filled the Temple.

If there is one overarching theme to the Old Testament, it is that the people of God draw close to God and then abandon Him. This theme recurs often continuing over centuries.

Then with the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians and the second major exile of the Jewish people, God’s Glory was withdrawn from the land. Even with the building of the second Temple, there is no talk of God coming to dwell in it. This temple was not built with God’s blessing and instruction.

The conclusion of that cycle of glory and disengagement ended when God decided to “build” His own Temple. He revealed His glory, not through a stone building, but through a human being–Jesus of Nazareth.

Paul even calls our own bodies temples of God’s Spirit. That was, and is, a pretty radical statement. No wonder the Jews at the time beat him and stoned him.

Even so, we celebrate the return of the Glory of God to Earth at this time of the year. We participated in a wonderful celebration of the Advent Sunday with music, story, sharing.

Merry Christmas.

Pause to Find Self-Awareness

December 19, 2014

Everywhere are conversations among people this week, “Are you ready for Christmas? I have so much to do. Not enough time to do it.”

We hurry from work to shopping to wrapping to parties to work. It’s all a big blur.

We don’t have time to “feel the Christmas spirit” because we don’t have time to notice.

Gene Appel, senior pastor of the Eastside Christian Church in Orange County, California, drew a lesson from one of Jesus’ stories to (and about) his local Pharisees in a message a few weeks ago.

It seems that a man had two sons. One tapped into the old man for a chunk of money and took off for the good life. One day after the money was gone, the friends were gone, the women were gone and he woke up in a pigpen, he “came to his senses.” He became what is one of the hardest things for us to do—to become self-aware.

When did he become self-aware? When he stopped. There was no more hurry. No more drinking, no more women, no more friends, no more hurrying from one party to the next. He stopped. And then he came to his senses.

Perhaps it is time we stop. Just pause and take a deep breath. Inhale until the lungs fill; then keep going until the stomach is “filled”; then keep going until the abdomen grows. Then slowly release the breath. Two or three of those should slow us down until we can become aware of our circumstances, our emotions, our environment.

Stop. Look around. Place your thoughts on Jesus. Rejoice in the celebration.

Listen For Healing

December 18, 2014

Trait of listening to people for healing; listening to God in preparation.

This comment just popped up in some notes I was reviewing. I have no idea where it came from. No idea what the context was. But, it’s interesting, isn’t it?

We’re in Advent, so preparation is on my mind. Much had to be prepared for Jesus arrival. Before conception, Mary had to be prepared. She had to listen to God’s messenger and pay attention.

After conception, Joseph had to be prepared. He, also, had to listen to a messenger of God.

This was listening in preparation. They each had to listen and then act.

But in the story, Zechariah and Elizabeth also had to listen and act. They were important, too. And their son, John, had also to listen (to his parents we presume) and then act.

Our challenge this week is to also listen. What words or thoughts are God whispering into our consciousness?

Then I thought about the healing part.

Who listens? Who talks?

Perhaps we need someone to listen to us. This is a time of year of great stress. There are all the holidays–gifts, parties, family. Also winter is coming on (here in the Northern Hemisphere). That stresses many.

Who do we have that will listen to us? Who will give a comforting word?

Or turn it around. Who needs us to listen to them? Do we realize just how much healing we can do by listening? That would be active listening, paying attention to the words, the feelings, the thoughts between the words. Understanding. Empathizing. Comforting. Praying.

Listening. Preparation. Healing. Comforting. Valuable Spiritual Disciplines.

Do The Same Thing, Expect Different Results

December 11, 2014

Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.
Definition of insanity

A couple of people, maybe more, have entered my life over the past couple of years. They are not encountering the kind of success that they wish for. Yet, they don’t want to change what they are doing.

I sit in my chair reading Scripture and meditating in the morning. The Christmas tree is lit. It’s the same tree as the last many years. It’s a beautifully decorated tree (thanks to my wife, not me). And I’m meditating on why don’t I feel the “Christmas spirit” around me?

Some people are putting up lights. But as I go to the store and hang out at Starbucks, I hear little of “Merry Christmas.”

The economy is good, overall. Yet, people don’t seem as joyful as I remember in the past. Church seems to be going through the motions of the same stuff. Routine.

Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

We need the assurances of traditions (watching “Christmas Vacation” which we have not even done yet this year!), yet we need to bring in new traditions. New ways of building the anticipation.

We know the end of the story. But every story has a beginning. This one is how God revealed himself to the world. A bigger story than Moses. That story led to the Law–which didn’t work. This story leads to the resurrection. That changed everything. We have no Advent without resurrection.

For some reason, I’m in two small groups studying Romans. I’m afraid I might start speaking Latin again. Why Romans? “By faith you are saved through grace.”

Part of this faith is reliving the amazing way that God revealed himself to the world. Totally unexpected. Well, many people were praying and watching for the glory of the Lord to appear. They just didn’t expect the type of Messiah that Jesus was. But it was all so amazing.

Maybe spreading that joy begins with each of us! Merry Christmas.

My Eyes Have Seen The Glory

December 10, 2014

“for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2

When did old people cease being wise? Or did they?

Simeon was an old guy. He was devout. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was one of the group of Jews at the time who longed for God to reveal His glory just like He did to Moses and Joshua, just like His glory filled the Temple that Solomon built.

My bet is that he went up to the Temple (which was not filled with the glory of God) daily to pray and watch.

One day he saw that for which he’d been waiting his entire life. Joseph and Mary brought a baby to the Temple for dedication, since he was the firstborn son.

He said he could now die in peace for he had finally seen the salvation, the glory of God.

Through Jesus, the Jewish hope of the glory of God visiting them again was fulfilled. Through Jesus, Gentiles who probably never had heard of the One God, YHWH, who was the creator of the universe, would now see that God.

Today, as in every generation since, we grow up hoping for the glory and salvation of God to visit us.

In Advent, we re-create the waiting of Simeon. Hoping to see the coming of that light, that glory of God. This re-creating of images and stories is how we learn and experience God. Old people are often the bearers of those stories. Listen to them.

How Much Are You Paid To Watch TV?

December 9, 2014

How much are you paid to watch TV?

How much TV do you watch? Do you watch to learn anything? Or do you watch to pass the time and deaden the mind?

I just read that quote in a book yesterday afternoon. Then I came home and settled in to turn on the NFL football game and do some proofreading. Next thing I knew, it was time to go to bed. TV does that to me.

If I am supposed to be waiting in anticipation during advent, then watching TV is a lot like the five foolish maids at the wedding who went to sleep and let their lamps burn out before the wedding party arrived. They were not prepared.

My wife has her morning ritual of eating breakfast while watching a recorded episode of The Chew. I guess that there is TV watching that is OK.

I’d watch why I turn on the TV, though. Am I diverting my attention just to escape what I should be doing?

I used to go down to the family room to watch one episode of a comedy then return to my chair to read. I discovered that my mind was dead. It took quite some time to get my mind back in focus.

My advent wish for you is that you can be intentional about TV watching and other habits that distract us from our preparation and waiting mindfully.

Spiritual Discipline of Waiting

December 4, 2014

Do you remember being a child at Christmas?

The entire month of December? The night before Christmas?

My wife’s family (according to her) would open one present on Christmas Eve just to get a jump on Christmas. She couldn’t wait. Still can’t.

Luke, writing in his gospel, tells the story of two people who, upon seeing the baby Jesus, saying that they had lived their entire lives waiting to see the Lord’s Redeemer. Now they could die peacefully.

Advent. We’re waiting. Patiently.

We know the “rest of the story.” Yet, we wait in anticipation. Perhaps the deep realization of the Lord’s redemption in us will pop into our hearts.

Maybe we can start living as a true disciple of Jesus–instead of just saying we are.

Maybe we can stop waiting to act out our words–instead of playing one-up with words.

Maybe we can stop waiting to actually live–and go forth and make disciples, heal the sick, stop injustice.

Beckett wrote about Waiting for Godot–and he never appeared. We live in faith that God will appear. In us.

Waiting is required. Then when waiting is over, it is time to go. We wait at a red traffic light watching for green. When the light changes, we go.

When the wait at Advent is over, then it’s time to go forth and make disciples of the entire world.