Posts Tagged ‘Advent’


December 13, 2010 2 comments

Snowy Backroads in NC

I told Kelly we were going on an “adventure.” We left Saturday morning for an overnight trip to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. We left for adventure. Sunday morning as we turned onto our road, we literally clapped and cried thanks to God for bringing us safely from this harrowing adventure.

What happened? I’ll tell you our story in a moment. First let me take a side route to discuss the word “adventure.” JRR Tolkien understood adventure as a side route off the main journey. An adventure is a “there and back again tale,” whereas a journey stretches toward a final, ultimate destination. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins goes on adventure and returns wealthier, wiser, and more powerful. Frodo Baggins goes on journey in The Lord of the Rings. He never returns home.

Kelly and I departed Saturday morning on adventure. We had a vague idea of where we were headed. That’s my favorite kind of trip. Several years ago, we took a trip with Jeremy and Dorry. We had a vague idea of heading toward the coast. As we drove, we finalized plans to Edisto and even booked a room from the car.

I like to start moving, and find out later where I’m headed. So on Saturday, we set out on adventure. A couple days earlier, Kelly’s aunt mentioned that she was traveling to Christmas Town USA in North Carolina. Hmmmmm. My curiosity stirred. I started looking. As it turns out, Christmas Town is really called McAdenville.

I got up Saturday morning and dressed to go. As Kelly was getting ready, I looked up Christmas events in Nashville, Asheville, Chattanooga and even Georgia. She came downstairs, dressed and ready to go.

“Grab a change of clothes maybe we’ll spend the night.”

I like maybes. Maybe I’ll read. Maybe I won’t. Maybe you’ll like this essay. Maybe you won’t.

So we headed out with a few maybes in mind. As we pulled out of the driveway, I turned to Kelly and promised, “We’re going on adventure!” Then I thanked the good Lord for a safe drive and the adventure awaiting us.

When I was looking up Christmas Town USA, I read about Dillsboro, NC. This little town had a Christmas festival planned for Saturday, and it was only a few minutes from Asheville.

“Let’s head toward Dillsboro. But traveling there through Asheville seems boring this morning. Let’s cross over through Cherokee.” On this sunny beautiful Saturday, we drove through the mountains and were treated to creation’s seasonal exhibit of ice crystals hanging from rock ledges. As we drove, memories flooded my mind of hiking the Chimney Tops in winter, the death-defying hike to Mt Leconte in winter, and the magic of sledding at Newfound Gap.

The world around us sparkled in snow and ice, but the day was clear, so we could see far. Not forever, but far enough. We saw layers of mountain ranges, shades of blue and brown and white; trees silhouetted against a sky of blue and white and orange. Though I’ve seen these ranges and views again and again throughout my life, they always surprise. They always provoke wonder. They always compel worship to the good Lord who surrounds us in a world of glory.

As we drove toward adventure, the Lord came toward us and encountered us in the wonder of His creation. Lately, I’ve been thinking about adventure and advent. My gut distinction between the words has to do with motion. In adventure, we move toward an event. We move toward risk. We move toward an experience or activity that may threaten as well as delight.

Advent on the other hand speaks to me of movement toward me. Advent is an arrival or coming that will change everything. Someone moves toward me. When He comes, everything changes. In fact, His coming sends waves of movement through space and time that change everything even prior to His full unveiling or arrival.

During “Advent,” the church watches and waits for the coming of the Lord. We are waiting, watching, expecting, hopeful of His coming to us.

Both words have the same latin source, advenire, which simply means “to come.” It appears to derive from a Latin word that focuses on a jury coming to a trial. There are special customs, places, clothes and expectations associated with their coming.

Even as we wait for the coming of the Lord, we go forward into adventures. Kelly and I went on adventure. For this adventure, the risk was the lack of planning; the openness to surprise; the willingness to change and move based on what we encountered in the movement.

As we came down the mountain, we arrived in an almost vacant Cherokee. We perused a Cherokee gift shop, and oddly enough, I found a book on Cherokee myths and stories. Then we drove over to Dillsboro.

Turns out this quaint little town was only about a square block of stores that put up lights. Nice folks. In fact, I found a bottle of chocolate wine for some odd occasion. But on the whole, Dillsboro looked more exciting on the web than in person. After a quick tour of the stores, Kelly and I decided to keep driving.

“Let’s find Christmas Town!”

To get to McAdenville, we “must needs” travel through Asheville. As we approached Asheville, we faced two choices. “We can turn left and head back home, or we can turn right and head toward McAdenville.”

Or we could forgo the decision and stop in Asheville for dinner.

Door number 3 please.

Kelly and I decided to drive downtown and partake of Asheville delicacies. We took the wrong exit and instead of driving downtown, we were in a dark neighbor with no ramp back onto the highway. Makes me think of another story from another trip, but I’ll tell that story another time.

Most of the time, I love being lost in a city. I figure if I drive around enough, I’ll find something interesting. We took our cues from the movement of cars around us and eventually found downtown. Asheville was too cold and too dark for much exploration, but we did discover a double decker bus bar, and an art gallery that was having some big event featuring all their artists.

One artist painted pictures of clouds. At first, this sounds like a bunch of white on canvas, but his work astounded us. At the bottom edge of every picture, he painted a thin strip of earth: towns, fields, and mountains. The earth images were overwhelmed with clouds bursting with color and movement and white (of course). What was he trying to say? Not sure, but I was stunned by the heavens overtaking the earth.

After this surprising tour, we ate some pizza, bread and a little more bread. Then we decided, “Let’s head to Christmas Town USA!” A couple hours later, Kelly and I pulled into Christmas Town. Well, actually we pulled off the Interstate into the exit lane for Christmas Town.

We joined the line of cars at 9:55 pm. At 10:30 pm we were actually pulling off the Interstate and turning toward the town. At 10:45 pm police cars drove up and down the line, announcing, “Lights go out at 11:00 pm.”

What? We drove two hours and waited in line one hour to miss the whole show? Yikes.

Kelly and I decided then and there, no matter what, we’re driving through Christmas Town. Light or no lights. As it turns out, we drove through at about 11:20 with some lights. Some lights are better then none. And we were determined to enjoy that even if there was only one candle shining out from a darkened house, we’d cheer in delight.

Now at this point in the story “Google Map” let us down. Or least our inattention to the glaring problem in the “Google Map’s” suggested route home. The map suggested we go home via Johnson City. We drove back to the nearest exit off I-40 to the Johnson City route and found a hotel.

At 12:45 pm, Kelly and I ended our big day of adventure ready to sleep late and rest. Then I realized that in the “adventurous spirit” of deciding to sleep overnight, I’d left my medications at home. Since my kidney medications must be taken at regular intervals, skipping was not an option I wanted. Thus we chose to pop up at 6:00 am and resume the adventure home.

By 6:15 am, I was dressed and almost ready to walk out the door. Looking out the window, I beheld a site of glory, of wonder, of dread. A curtain of white snow fell from the sky. Several inches already covered the ground. Kelly scraped off the snowy blanket while I grabbed us some breakfast from the lobby, and we hit the road by 6:33.

After driving for about 15 minutes, we realized this route was not leading us to a main road. Like a couple of winsome children, we rushed headlong into the backroads of a snowy wonderland. We rushed headlong into mile after mile after mile of country mountain roads covered in snow and ice.

We drove into the beautiful, isolated and mountainous Pisgah National Forest–in the dark. At the base of the first hill, my tires started spinning. My car swerved. I held on tight. Kelly prayed.

Up, up, up, up and up. The car inched up the slick mountain. Then down, down, down and down. The car slid and veered down the mountain. Up, up, up and down, down, down continued for an hour. I held on tight. Kelly prayed.

The snow snowed and snowed and snowed.

As I drove, I kept thinking about living fully in the moment. “I’m in this moment.”

“It’s a glorious moment.”

“It’s a snowy, wondrous moment.”

“It’s a shared moment with my treasured wife.”

“It may be my last moment.”

“Lord, I want to enjoy this moment. Lord, I want to survive this moment. If possible.”

We eventually entered Tennessee through Roane mountain. We eventually made it to I-26. We eventually reached I-81, I-40, Alcoa Hwy and finally our neighborhood. “Hallelujah!” Lots of clapping all around.

The drive was so stressful, we both crashed into bed and slept off this adventure.

Life is filled with adventures, side routes. Unlike the great call and journey, these adventures are not specifically the journey that leads to our final destination, but they are “there and back again” tales. We choose some of these adventures, like our trip to North Carolina. Other adventures choose us.

Some adventures are exciting. Some adventures are wondrous. Some adventures are exhilarating. A new job. A new town. A long awaited vacation. Some adventures are terrifying. Some adventures are painful. Some adventures are confusing. A lost job. A disease. A lost relationship.

These adventures are risky, exciting, threatening and potentially rewarding. Whether we chose them or not, they may involve navigating new ground. Finding a new way home again. Discovering people, treasures and knowledge that can help us. As the origin of “adventure” indicates, we move out toward a new place, a new experience, a new relationship.

Some of these adventures may lead us far away. So far away we forget our way home. But in the midst of our chosen and unchosen adventures, someone is calling, coming, moving toward us. In His timing, He pierces our dark confusion with light. He comes with advent hope into the midst of our unsettling and dazzling adventures.

He comes calling. He comes welcoming us. He comes leading us forward on a journey that leads us away from one home and toward another true and enduring home. Even now, He is breaking in around us, around me, around these words.

Jesus is here calling, stirring, inviting. He is meeting us in the middle of our road and leading us on a journey that will end with love inconceivable.

So whether you’re at home waiting. You’re in the midst of high adventure. You’re reeling from an unwelcome intrusion. Look out. Listen. Watch. For He is coming. And He is calling out your name.

Advent – Rejoice!

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

The feast is upon us. For those who’ve kept the advent fast and for those who forgot. For those who’ve been watching and for those who fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel appears announcing, “Good news!” And the dark night becomes a festival of light. Thousand and thousands of voices join in the song,
“Glory to God in the highest,
Peace on earth
Goodwill to man!”

What? You don’t feel like singing? You don’t have the Christmas spirit. Your back hurts. You’re in a bad mood.

I would suggest that for all these reasons, you must sing. Sing out! Pierce the darkness of dis-courage-ment with the light of courage to praise. Even now God’s redemption draws near to you. Today is the day of salvation.

It’s a day of good news, great tidings, delicious, delightful, happily-ever-after news. God has declared “Peace!”

In spite of our warring hearts, in spite of our false loves, in spite of our constant failings, He declares, “Peace and Joy!” In the miracle birth of baby Jesus, we behold the Heavenly King who comes to make all things new—even your sad story.

The story that you thought was a story of failure has become a grand adventure. A love story. A song and dance. A fairy tale that out fairy tales even Snow White and Cinderella combined. For the Prince of Peace wakes your dead soul with a holy kiss and invites you to the Wedding Feast.

Even now He is present and the angels are singing all around you. In fact, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of voices have joined in the song. The saints of the ages have joined in the glorious refrain,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.”

He has not forgotten you. He did not abandon you. Even now He calls you by name. Even now He looks upon you as His beloved.

For the babe Jesus came as King, as Lover, as Healer, and Lord and Redeemer. He did not simply come to restore the people of Israel, He came to restore all of us into His life of love.

Let us join the angel song.

This rejoicing. This singing. This praising. This is why we have our tongues. For once let us use them for their real purpose, to sing hilariously to the good God of Heaven who enters our world of sin and death and pain and suffering, so that we might enter into His world of love and life and joy and peace.

So get up and let us all light up the darkness with the joy of singing, dancing, laughter and love.

The Secret of the Christmas Spirit

December 15, 2008 2 comments

As we wait and watch for the Son, Advent moves from yearning to celebrating. The joy of Christmas penetrates our hearts as we begin to experience the wonder of God’s love. Our culture tries to bypass the desert of Advent longing and enter directly into the fun of Christmas play.

Sadly this often results in hollow celebrations: celebrations that are not really celebrations at all, but festivity to keep the darkness at bay. The twinkling lights, Christmas songs, and Holiday parties don’t seem to work the magic they once did. How often I hear the same refrain, “I just don’t have the Christmas spirit this year.”

In this lament, adults may be acknowledging that there is a joy to be had, but they don’t have it. Children have it. Frosty and Rudolf and Santa bring a laugh to their lips and a sparkle to their eyes. These stories capture the luminous wonder surrounding the Christmas feast. As G.K. Chesterton so often pointed out, fairy tales are food for the child’s imagination. These magical stories invite the children into a world beyond our world, revealing parables of truth as well as intimations of heaven’s love.

But as we grow older, these stories can no longer feed the soul. We enjoy these stories now through the remembrance of childlike joy. It is looking back, remembering, the nostalgia of longing for the innocent wonder of childlike faith we once had.

But something has changed in us. What once nourished our imagination no longer satisfies. As a result, many adults struggle with a slight disappointment in Christmas. Everything is over so fast. The tinsel and the lights and the music fail to satisfy a longing, a craving, a hunger deep inside us.

I might suggest that our lack of “Christmas spirit” may come from not entering far enough into the story. The fairy tales kept us lingering at the gates of wonder when the real and deep joy is “further up and further in” as C.S. Lewis might say.

During Advent, we learn to enter into the story. Not simply the story of a birth, but the story of death and new life. We discover the story of a people, God’s people who’ve been scattered into exile in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt and the uttermost parts of the earth. They have been forgotten in the “valley of the shadow of death.”

As we reflect on their exile, we may come to realize that it is our exile. For we also know the valley of the shadow of death. In this place of trial, we have faced our own disappointments, our own struggles, our own pains, our own sins. Only in the “valley of the shadow of death” do we come to realize our desperate need for a Savior.

If we are not rescued, we will die in our grief, in our sinfulness, in our unforgiveness, in our suffering and sorrow. The only way out of the valley of the shadow of death is through death. So we look to the king who has conquered death. And now finally we may discover that Advent is both a season of the year and a season of our life.

For it is in the advent season in our lives, the season of waiting and longing and grieving and weeping, that we discover the grace of God flowing down like deep joy from a far country.

This is the joy that stands in the face of sin and death and says, “No! The victory has been won!” This is the joy that cannot be shaken. Heaven and earth may come crumbling down around us, but we can still rejoice for our God is faithful and He will not forsake us. This is the joy of Israel when released from her captivity.

Psalm 126
1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
And we are glad.
4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD,
As the streams in the South.
5 Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
6 He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.

This is the joy that we offer to our weak and weary world. Our world is sin weary, war weary, and tired from the long exile. Every day we meet desperate people in desperate positions. We are surrounded by people who question their worth, their purpose, their meaning in life. We come as the people who’ve passed through the valley of the shadow of death. We come bearing news, good news of great joy!

Isaiah 9:6
6 For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We don’t wait to feel the spirit of the season. The Spirit of the God of the season dwells in us. And by His Spirit we bring the joy to the feast. We bring the joy that the world longs for. Our kingdom is a kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

As Demos Shakarian wrote many years ago, “We are the happiest people in the earth.” Let us for forth this season and bring good news of great tidings to all the world. Let us laugh and sing and rejoice.

For we know the secret of deep joy. We know the laughter that echoes beneath Frosty and Rudolf and Santa is the laughter of the God who rescues His people from death and bring us back to new life. Let us make merry for our God in heaven is good and great and most worthy of an extravagant celebration!

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Advent – Light In Darkness

December 12, 2008 Leave a comment

During the season of Advent waiting, I am confronted with the sinfulness of man and the goodness of God. When Isaiah says that the people living in darkness have seen a great light, we ask, “Why are they living in darkness?”

The writer of Proverbs tells us that the wicked stumble in the darkness and do not know what makes them stumble. The wicked deeds of man thrust him into the darkness. The darkness is the utter sinfulness of sin. What does that mean?

Sin is not simply a violation against God’s law as though God were some kind of ogre that creates rules and slaps us down when we fail. Sin is a violation of love, of relationship, of personhood. Sin violates other persons and in so doing, deforms our own person.

We were created in God’s image for a relationship of love. In this relationship there is an exchange of love between persons. Our very identity, our very essence of personhood is in the loving exchange with other persons. We were created to relate to God as person and to other humans as person.
In the story of Cain and Abel, we see sin corrupting relationship. Cain violates relationship with God and with Abel. He kills Abel, breaks relation with God and is cast into darkness. The violation of love damages him. He is a walking dead man, stumbling into the darkness. He gives birth to warring and violent people who hate, corrupt and ravage other human beings.

When we think of evil and darkness and villains, we point at the other guy: the one in the dark cloak who comes to suck the blood of innocents. The symbolism within the vampire is a symbol of sin and evil. The vampire cannot dwell in the light. The vampire takes life but does not give it. The vampire is threatened, destroyed by the light. But the vampire is not someone else: we are the vampires.

While some modern films may reinterpret the vampire symbol in a sympathetic way, I would suggest that is only because we may be trying to justify our own blood-sucking, life-stealing nature. We may feel sorry for the poor tragic vampire, trapped in a dark world. But this is like feeling sorry for the serial killer who victimized your own family. It is evil and perverse and ignorant.

And we are the evil ones in danger of destroying everything, everyone around us.

When ancient Israel falls under judgment, God gives her over to her sin. And it destroys her. Sin deforms, destroys, and darkens everything. Sin is not freedom but slavery to the worst possibilities within us. The trick is that it seems innocent and justifiable. But it is always destroying our capacity to love and be loved. And that means it always destroys everything in a world created for persons to love in both time and space.

Derrida is rightly the prophet who sees through the empty progress of the personless world of modernity. It is not a Hegelian spirit of progress that will move us to some great destiny. It is not the inevitable synthesis that Marx sees as a correction to the oppression of the worker. Our world of progress is rooted in sinful people who violate and are violated. Thus deconstruction is in inherent in the creation of all our systems, structures, and solutions.

Even as we admire the birth of the baby, we know that birth is but the first step in a journey to death. The complete deconstruction of the person. Living within this tragic cycle of human deconstruction, human corruption, human evil, how can we ever find hope?

Only when we can face the utter sinfulness of sin, can we begin to appreciate the light of Advent. In this Advent waiting, we enter into the story of Israel and discover our own story. When God’s chosen, God’s elect, God’s people are cast into outer darkness, we see the first glimmer of something that will ultimately change everything. Israel, God’s blessing for the world, enters into the dark, stumbling death of all humanity. They are suffering for their own sin, yet they are also a sign that God will not abandon all humanity in darkness.

He promises that a king will come to rescue them. And that king will rescue all people. The hope of Advent is the hope of a God who so deeply believes in relationship that he will join his fallen, corrupted, broken people in the darkness. He will bring light to those stumbling in their sins. Jesus comes as the Israel of God. Jesus, God with us, enters into Israel’s history, humanity’s history. He enters into the darkness of sin and suffering so completely, so perfectly that he dies. In his death, he carries all the suffering and struggling and corrupting of sin in himself.

The opposite of the vampire, Jesus is a life giver. Instead of sucking our blood, he bears our death and offers His blood, His life to us. In his resurrection, he overcomes the destructive and destroying power of sin.

During Advent, we celebrate this light that keeps shining out in darkness. Though we still sin, His light cannot be diminished. We trust that His light will ultimately shine out so completely that all things will be enveloped in His light. Darkness cannot resist, overcome, stand against His light.

So it makes perfect sense to celebrate during the darkest season of the year with lights and laughter and songs. If we struggle to find a voice for rejoicing, let us look beneath the snowmen and reindeers and Santas to the Savior. The snowmen and reindeers and Santas are little lights for children that help them to rejoice and play and sing.

But the fantasy, the dream, the magic they all point to is more real and more wonderful than any child could ever imagine, let alone any adult. Love does triumph. Relationships are restored. God has not and will not forsake us in the darkness of our sins.

So let us sing and play and delight ourselves in imaging and wondering and expecting. For though the day seems long and our own darkness seems so dark, it is not too dark for His light. During Advent, we are looking expectantly, hopefully, joyfully towards the spark of His light that will eventually be the full light of day.

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Advent – Desert Dreams

December 11, 2008 Leave a comment

Amidst the palaces of Babylon, Daniel gazes out into the desert. He enjoys power and privilege and luxury as an exalted advisor in the world’s most powerful empire, yet his heart is drawn to desert places.

No matter how many fineries surround him, Daniel cannot stop thinking about his beloved Jerusalem, the city that became a desert. The once blessed city of peace became of a den of cursing and oppression.

God blessed the city with glory and wisdom and fruitfulness. Man cursed the city with rebellion and idolatry and oppression. In the mystery of His grace, God uncreated this world. He lifted His hand and the cruelties of man’s sin returned Jerusalem to the formless and void. The glorious city became a desert, a wilderness, a wasteland.

Three times a day, Daniel sets his face toward the city that became a desert and he cries out to the Lord. He cannot stop thinking about the city, the promise, the hope of God’s glory. So he gazes into the desert. He cries out in repentance, he cries out in hope, he cries out in joy.

For he knows the city will be rebuilt, that the kingdom of God will come, and a way will be prepared in the wilderness. So he watches and waits and longs for the coming of the Lord.

Daniel’s faithful watching challenges us to watch and wait for the coming of the Lord. We live amidst the luxuries of the world’s most powerful nation. Yet the treasures of this exalted land cannot quiet the desert of discontent.

In the midst of our many blessings, we still curse and betray. We violate and are violated. Everything good seems to crumble into decay as soon as humans touch it. We are surrounded by broken relationships, broken homes, broken dreams and broken hearts.

We must not fall for the illusions of Babylon. Like Daniel let us set our eyes on the desert. And may the relentless cry of the psalmist beat in our hearts:
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1)

In the inner desert of our hearts, may we prepare a way for the Lord. May we cry out for the Savior of our souls, of our world. May we watch and wait with expectancy, with hope, with joy. For He is coming and even now His light is overcoming the darkness.

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A Voice in the Desert

December 8, 2008 Leave a comment

What happened to Messiah?

The desert has a way of making even the shiniest vision seem dull.

Waiting. Day after day.
Watching. Day after day.
Longing. Day after day.

Maybe Messiah won’t come after all. Maybe healing waters won’t flow from Zion to all nations. Maybe peace and joy and hope are just words. Maybe it was just a lot of hot air. There’s plenty of hot air here in the desert.

Sort of like mirages.

Weary travelers suddenly run forward certain they’ve arrived at a place of renewal. Only to collapse into the life-sucking sand.

The death-like power of desert struggles cannot be compared to the dramatic destruction of war. Screaming, fighting and falling. No it isn’t like that at all. We sort of fade like an old rug left out in the hot sun year after year after year.

It’s the sun but it’s also the sand. Sooner or later the desert just gets to you. Sand and sun wear everyone down like an old building returning to dust. We’re walking around, but really we’re just dust. And when we die. We fade and blow away. Forgotten.

One day I realized that everything had changed. I was still alive but I no longer felt alive. My parents and their parents and their parents had been waiting century after century after century for a king. This messiah was supposed to make everything all right. When he came, God would return to us.

I guess he forgot to come.

At some point, I just quit expecting. I didn’t have any more dreams. I just existed, surviving from one day to the next, stumbling on some new titillation, some new distraction, some sensation that reminded me my heart was still beating.

That’s where I was when I heard the voice. The distressing alarm arrested my attention. He cried out like the desert was on fire. Maybe it was.

He certainly seemed to be on fire. Burning. Like the bush that set Moses aflame.

I edged closer to catch just a glimpse. His eyes met my eyes and I heard him thunder, “Repent.” Suddenly I was on the ground grieving, crying and even shrieking over my vacuous existence. I wept for my lack of faith. I cried out for my anger and bitterness and resentment against a God who seemed to mock me even more with each passing day. I moaned and grieved so deeply it felt like something in me was dying.

Then suddenly John grabbed me and plunged me into the river as though I was being buried in a watery grave. When I came up out of the water, the world had changed, the desert had changed. It was no longer an ending but a beginning. Everything, everyone around me seemed ready to burst forth in a blaze of light.

In this new world, anything could happen. And then I knew for certain,

Messiah is almost here.

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The Advent Conspiracy of Giving MORE

December 4, 2008 3 comments

Last week’s news brought a disturbing picture of the American Christmas with gluttony of buying, resulting in at least one death. The picture of ravenous shoppers does not seem to reconcile with the image of God entering history in the humiliation of a manger. I wrote some posts last week on Christmas time vs Business time, and I had one more thought about responding to our consumer intoxication.

Angie’s post discussing the Advent Conspiracy video reminded me to write this up. The video challenges us to step back from the uncontrolled purchasing frenzy and spend more time relationally, serving the poor, etc. Angie responds:

The video says “Jesus gave himself relationally, incarnation, time, space presence.”

Exactly! Jesus also gave us climbing roses, puffer fish, Chianti, thunderous waterfalls, the aurora borealis, ladybugs, rosemary, penguins….he gave us gifts extravagant, needless, beautiful, abundant. Then He gave us the most priceless gift of all–Himself. Why not celebrate that in grand style?

And then later she suggests,

I’m inclined to think, though, that some (not all) may embrace this “Advent conspiracy” stuff as a way to justify their own laziness and/or curmudgeonliness. To those folks I say: stop griping about the celebration and start celebrating! Put up an extra strand of lights. Give your kid a little trinket every day from Christmas through Epiphany (the twelve days of Christmas). Buy extra hot chocolate and marshmallows for the family to enjoy while you have your Advent devotionals and singing.

Thanks Angie. Excellent points. I believe the proper response to our consumer-driven Christmas is to give MORE, not LESS. Christmas seems overly commercial because we celebrate it too little and not too much. The whole world is a pulsating expression of God’s extravagant giving. He overwhelms the saint and sinner with gifts of life and goodness.

I grew up in a family that practiced extravagant  giving. In other words, when we woke up on Christmas morning, we could barely see the tree for all the presents. My parents overwhelmed us. Some would say that spoiled us. They gave physically, tangible gifts that we as children enjoyed: trains and guitars and dolls and forts and more. And yet, the giving was NOT a substitute for time. They gave a time extravagantly as well. They played with us, told us stories, and listened to our stories.

They gave us so much, we couldn’t help but become givers. That’s right. The extragence was not simply self-induglence. It was celebration. It was an overflow of the joy they had in raising us. That joy continue to flow as we grew up. Our house became the center for all the lost friends and souls who had no where to go on Christmas (or any other holiday).

The party kept extending outward and inviting others into a celebration.

Did they give us too much? Of course (and they still do). In my parents, we learned the true intoxication of giving of everything. Presents, time, laughter, and life.

The answer to our outward culture’s selfishness is not inward selfishness (either in miserliness or in self-righteous judgment of those around us). Rather, it is in giving even more of our life, our love and our STUFF. Once we get the hang of it, giving is so fun that you can give anything away. Our hands open and we can freely give to the deserving (and undeserving), to the poor and needy, and even to the selfish.

So instead pointing fingers at all those evil shoppers. Let’s love them. Let’s love the down and outers. Let’s love the spoiled kids. Let’s love the forgotten kids. Let’s extravagantly enjoy the goodness God’s creation and give ourselves into a fit of uncontrolled hilarity.

Advent – Waiting on the Light

December 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Advent begins in darkness.

The children of God stumble and fall … into captivity. Cast into outer darkness. The Temple burns. The Promised Land is desert.

The land where milk and honey flowed lies waste. The lonely howl of hyenas echo across the desert plane. Jackals wander the ruined palaces. Wild goats and owls now dwell in this place that has become “no place.”

And the people once named by God now lie in chains with “no name.” Called to be a blessing, they’ve fallen under the curse. Called to bring the light of righteousness to the world, they multiplied the darkness of wickedness instead.

Century after century after century, they mocked the commands of God. They abandoned their high calling. They forsook YHWH, the Lord God who redeemed them from Egypt.

Finally, the Lord said, “Enough!”

And their idols became their captors, dragging them into exile and destroying their homeland.

Now they sit in darkness–no longer a people. Only the ache of loss and regret remains. In this place of darkness, of absence, of exile, Advent begins.

There is no laughter, no song, no joy in Babylon. Only weeping.

The people weep and wail and lament. They cry out to God for mercy. In their deep grief, these cursed people become the blessing they were created to become. For now their cry becomes the cry of an entire world, languishing in outer darkness.

And God hears their cry.

In the dark oblivion of hopelessness, they hear the light wonder of God’s promise. Isaiah’s words pierce the hellish night of captivity with hope:

“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Is 11:1)

A king will come from the house of David. A king will come. And,

“The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” (Is 11:2)

This king will fear the Lord. This king will restore justice. This king will slay the wicked. This king will renew the land. This king will gather the children of Israel from the four corners of the world. This king will bless all nations.

And this king will be called, “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” When this king comes, Israel will know that God has returned to redeem and restore His people.

Their prayers were answered. The King came. The hope of this promised king became a light for all people living in darkness.

During Advent, we meditate upon this King whose light overcame the darkness. We meditate upon Immanuel, God with us.

God came to dwell among His people in and through Jesus. King Jesus entered into the darkness of His suffering people. King Jesus entered into the exile of His people cast into outer darkness. King Jesus drank the cup of suffering and hopelessness and pain caused by the sins of His people.

King Jesus took the griefs. King Jesus bore the sorrows. King Jesus bowed under the crushing stripes of judgment … for our healing.

During Advent, we watch and wait for King Jesus. He alone is our hope. He alone is the hope of the world. He alone brings light to a world stumbling in the darkness of captivity.

As we wait and watch, let us bring our sorrows, our desert places, our griefs, our sicknesses before King Jesus. As we cry out for the coming of King Jesus into our own brokenness, let us bring, bear the brokenness of a world crying out in desperation.

Let us cry out on behalf those suffering in Sudan. Let us weep for grieving in Mumbai. Let us bear the dark struggles of those languishing in Somalia. Let us share in the burdens of weak, frail, poor, forgotten, abandoned, forsaken, and dying. Let us cry out afresh for the coming of King Jesus.

We have known the light of love that pierces the dark death of hopelessness. Let us pray and give and act on behalf of all those suffering in this world. May they know hope and peace and joy and love. May the rule of King Jesus bring the light of justice and healing and restoration to all those cast into all the outer darknesses of this planet.

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Advent: The Cry of Desperation

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Advent breaks into our satiated lives with a disturbing cry. Beneath the constant chaos of non-stop activity, we’re confronted with lonely, aching voice of desperation.

Something is wrong.

Our ingenuity cannot fix it. Our laughter cannot repress it. Our motion can silence it. The painful howls of Jeremiah echo across time, penetrating our cool pretension of comfort and ease:

My eyes fail with tears,
My heart is troubled;
My bile is poured on the ground
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
Because the children and the infants
Faint in the streets of the city.
(Lamentations 2:11)

Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong. Jeremiah watches in disbelief as his world collapses. He cries until no tears are left–only the dark, putrid bile of despairing revulsion. All anguish of all the years converge in Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations. The overwhelming grief of sin’s destructive force is realized in this moaning cry of desperation.

But we don’t know this desperation. Thus we find it difficult to wait and watch the coming of the Lord. And this waiting is the essence of Advent. How can we wait if we are not really even anticipating his coming? Sometimes, we think His coming might interfere with our plans, our hopes, our dreams.

“O Lord, don’t come yet. Please wait until
I’m married
I’ve traveled the world
I’ve fulfilled my dreams.
I’ve seen my grandchildren.

“O Lord, don’t come yet. I’m not ready.”

Isaiah lived among a people very similar to us. He could see they were clothed in rags and were desperately poor, but they proudly sported their humiliation as a thing of pride. They were blind to their desperate condition.
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
And there is no one who calls on Your name,
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us,
And have consumed us because of our iniquities.
(Isaiah 64:6-7)

Advent begins the church year, reminding us. We are desperately in need of a Savior. During Advent, we stir ourselves to take hold of God.

Without the Advent’s desperate longing, Christmas joy seems empty and mocking–a superficial smile covering the anguish caused by sin. Our world is not all right. Would we, could we but catch a glimpse of the pain that stretches across this globe in one single moment, we might break under the weight of grief. Jeremiah’s lamentation over the destruction of Jerusalem anticipates this woe more fully than any other human prayer–save one.

The tears of blood shed in the garden by our Savior. Jesus realizes this anguish perfectly and suffers beyond all human comprehension and grasping. In his suffering, he enters into the suffering of every single human across the ages.

In moments of clarity and honesty, we admit an ache that reverberates through our being. The ache of failure, of suffering, of bitterness, of loneliness, of rejection, of loss, of separation. We know the ache of disappointment, of dreams that will never be realized, of sorrow that knows no consolation. We may deny it. We may ignore. But we still suffer. And the fear of these pains drive many of our actions in this world. Ultimately, we all face the desperate terror of being separate from God. And it burns within our souls.

Only from this realization of desperation can the waiting for the coming of the Lord make any sense. As we pause from the frivolity of our darkened and darkening world, may we acknowledge our all-consuming condition of neediness.

Only then, may we come to understand the wonder and the glory of the hope Jeremiah discovers in his dark night of eternity. For in the midst of Jeremiah’s song of woe, he realizes there is hope in waiting upon the Lord. As we begin the season of waiting and longing for our Lord’s second coming, let us join the waiting and longing for His first coming, and discover a hope that cannot be shaken.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the LORD.
(Lamentations 3:20-26)

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Advent Resources and more

November 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Bosco Peters has an excellent site on the liturgical year that I’ll be referencing, and you might find helpful as well.

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