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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.

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 – 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 Longest Night

December 13, 2007 Leave a comment

In the older Julian calendar, tonight would be the longest night of the year, as the light of day gave way to an engulfing dark expanse. The church responded to this bleak time by celebrating St. Lucy, a young woman martyred for her faith in the 3rd century.

While little is known about Lucy, her name means “light,” so Lucy’s Day became a way of reminding the church of God’s light upon His people in the midst of dark seasons. According to one legend, her eyes were gouged out before her death, yet she could still see.

Today many Norwegians, Swedes and Danes still celebrate the feast of St. Lucy. Some young girls will memorialize Lucy by dressing in white and wearing a crown of candlelight.

When the sun fades from our horizon and twilight gives way to encroaching dark, shadows may seem more real than the fading glories of day. The fear that seemed so weak and foolish just hours ago, now looms large in our imaginations. In spite of our fast-talking, clever minded mockery of darkness, no one can escape the struggles of the human soul.

We learn to manage our schedules, but we cannot manage out the pain of broken relationships. Our intelligence, our wit, our technology cannot save us from disappointments, tragedies, offenses, and misunderstandings. We’ve learned to treat a multitude of sicknesses and physical problems, yet our bodies are not immune to sickness and death.

The Christian faith doesn’t hide from this darkness or deny its existence, but it looks beyond the darkness to a God of light and hope and love. Some people scorn this faith as blindness or pollyanish piety, and they are free to do so.

In the midst of their sneers, we will continue to look into the darkness of a starless night with eyes to see the Uncreated Light of love. Isaiah looked out upon a crumbling kingdom. He saw the impending demise of a once great hope descending rapidly into darkness. Morality was fading and the enemies came crouching: ready to descend upon the prey of God’s forgetful people.

He saw the darkness. Yet he also saw the light. He saw the lion lay down with the lamb. He saw a little child playing in the midst of snakes. He saw men turning weapons of war into tool for planting and harvesting. He saw beyond the horizon of man’s wisdom to a God will reveals a peaceable kingdom in the midst of a world that appears to be lost for good.

His words continue to inspire and stir of world of believers…and unbelievers. No matter how deep the darkness. Now matter how loud and how long the scorners scorn. The people of God are called to look beyond the arm of human flesh to the Creator who dwells in unapproachable light.

Trusting in the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, we look toward the light of His unchanging love. As we look out in hope, we see His light shining and revealing lights all around us. We see the uncountable multitudes of people like Lucy who quietly trust the Lord in the midst of a world bent on destruction.

And as we behold the unveiling of God’s light in darkness, we walk toward His light, revealing the reconciling power of His love in and through our frail and failing lives.

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