Category Archives: Advent

Addicted to Conflict

unknownI feel that we, as a society, are addicted to conflict. Everything from our sporting events to our television shows to our political system is predicated on conflict. One team beating another team. One television show character in conflict with another character (think of every “reality” tv show). One political party using words, press releases, legislation and speeches to create conflict with the other. Sometimes I feel we haven’t come very far from the Roman citizens shouting for blood in the Coliseum.

Conflict gives us purpose. It gives us authority. It gives us a side to be on and a group to belong to. Or at least it gives us the illusion of those things. And perhaps like the Roman citizens in the Coliseum, all of our conflicts, or illusions of conflicts, keep us distracted and preoccupied from seeing the real conflicts that fester right under the surface.

It’s the conflicts that we find festering under the surface, however, that really impact the world. In the scope of the eighty-something years we live on the earth, the fact that our team won the game pales in comparison to the struggle against poverty. Ending the use of child soldiers in global conflicts ranks just a little higher than whether this reality star is going to get into a shouting match with that other reality star. And yet SportsCenter grabs our attention and the talk shows grab our attention. I wonder what it would take of the real conflicts to grab our attention.

Especially at Advent, as we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we should be drawn to see the world with big eyes. The Messiah- the one who would set the world right again, the one who would defeat evil, the one who would establish justice and righteousness, the one who would be placed on the throne of David forever- is the one who would bring peace into the conflicts.


As we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we should be drawn to see the world with big eyes.


Yet Christmas brings the temptation to draw us further into the world of decorations, presents and parties. It brings the temptation to make our eyes smaller and turned in on ourselves instead making them bigger and turning them outward to celebrate the Messiah that has come, to see what the Messiah has done in the world, grieve that there are still conflicts in the world and anticipate the Messiah’s return when Jesus, the King-elect, will be coronated to reign forever.

Today, take a few minutes and turn your eyes to the world. Look at:

  • Syria and the violence to children and civilians
  • Nigeria, the persecution of Christians and the 2.1 million people displaced by conflict there
  • Refugees
  • The 45 million people in the US living at the poverty line
  • The 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US

What else in the world do we need to see? Let us know in the comment section.

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An Un-Advent-ful World: Love

St. John, the Apostle

St. John, the Apostle

John, the disciple of Jesus, writing to early believers, mentions it almost as an afterthought. It is such a huge thought and yet John doesn’t even give it it’s own sentence. He could have written volumes on the ramifications of this thought but John only gives us a couple of sentences of elaboration.

What is John’s huge thought?

 

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8

God is love.

Perhaps no greater words have even been written. But love is a tricky entity to describe and for love to be love it must be shown by action.

How does God, as spirit, show love to physical human beings?

God becomes a physical human being.

Jesus came, fully God and fully man, as “the exact representation of [God’s] nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus perfectly reflects God, a God who’s very nature is love.

In an un-advent-ful world God’s love remains an abstract idea. In an un-advent-ful world, love does not possess hands and feet. In an un-advent-ful world, love does not heal the sick, love does not feed the hungry and love does not restore those caught in sin. In an un-advent-ful world, love does not spread out it’s arms and die on a cross.

In Jesus, in advent, we have a God who does exactly that. We see love become flesh and dwell among us and in Jesus we can see God’s glory.

As your church lights the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, let’s see Advent in light of what the world would look like without it.

Merry Christmas!

 

An Un-Advent-ful World: Joy

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'” Luke 2:10-11

In this Advent series, we are looking at the themes of Advent as they are represented in the tradition of lighting the Advent candles: hope, love, joy and peace.

Joy is one of those words that rarely sees use in everyday conversation. Joy isn’t the go-to word for most people talking at the coffee shop or chatting around the office. People use words like ‘happy,’ ‘excited,’ ‘ecstatic’ but rarely ‘joy.’

The word joy is used over 200 times in the Bible but just looking at the times it is used in the New Testament, we find joy attached to a variety of events/attitudes/things:

  • The good news of the gospel brings joy (Luke 2:10-11).
  • Finding the kingdom of God brings joy (Matthew 13:44).
  • Being hated, ostracized and scorned because of Jesus brings joy (Luke 6:22-23).
  • Doing the work of Jesus brings joy (Luke 10:17).
  • Having your name recorded in heaven brings joy (Luke 10:20).
  • Seeing a sinner repent brings joy (Luke 15:10).
  • One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).
  • We should consider it joy when we face trials (James 1:22).
  • Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that would follow (Hebrews 12:2).

That is just a small sampling of how joy is used through the New Testament. When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, it announced news that was to bring great joy to all people- every person and every people group. This was to occur because Jesus, the Messiah, had been born. In an un-advent-ful world, we may still be able to find joy but we are going to find joy in different places than what the biblical writers tell us. In an un-advent-ful world we will find joy in the things that bring pleasure, in things that are temporary or in things that bring excitement.

We may catch glimpses of more in the joy of a child or the joy of a beautiful sunset or the joy seeing a great work of art but in Advent we are able to experience everything as joy because we have the person of joy. In the coming of Jesus joy become more than a feeling or an emotion, joy become a person. We are able to experience everything as joy because we have Jesus, the person of joy, with us in and through everything.

When we see Jesus and when we have Jesus, we have a joy that can never be taken away (John 16:22).

 

 

An Un-Advent-ful World: Peace

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

2015 will go most likely go down as the bloodiest year for gun violence (although Congress has placed a ban on the collection of fully accurate gun violence statistics. Read an Washington Post article about that here.) Around the world we hear about the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS, the fight against Boko Haram, tensions in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

The political left mercilessly attacks the political right. The political right mercilessly attacks the political left.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

National politicians, political candidates and state governments battle over immigrants, refugees, use of the military, gun control, the LGBT community, the environment and healthcare.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

In an un-advent-ful world, peace is achieved through conflict. That statement, while being full of irony, is also full of truth. Peace is achieved when the strongest voice removes all traces of the voice, or voices, of decent. Throughout history this has typically been accomplished through violence, murder, coercion, assassination or imprisonment.Peace under those conditions is not really peace.

Jesus came not only to make peace between God and humanity but between humans ourselves. Jesus demanded that the Kingdom of God (which he announced had, in fact, begun) could not advance through violence or coercion. The Kingdom of God couldn’t come via Peter’s sword. It couldn’t come by James and John lording over the other disciples. It couldn’t even come by Jesus calling down legions of angels.

The Kingdom of God could only come by way of a cross, a broken body and a bleeding Son of God.

That cross, the Apostle Paul tells in Ephesians 2, not only made peace with God but it made peace between people groups because now all people have access to God. It is also because of the cross that Paul can write, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

How do we advance the Kingdom of God?  We advance it through truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, salvation and the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).

The question remains, even in the midst of Advent, if we are called to a gospel of peace, where is peace and where are the peacemakers? Will be be people of peace and peacemakers within the world?

[This song really isn’t about Advent but it’s theme is very similar to what we have been discussing.]

 

An Un-Advent-ful World: Hope

adventwreathIn this year’s Advent series, I want to take a look at the themes of Advent as they are represented by the Advent candles: hope, love, joy and peace. What is remembered during the Advent season is that through the coming of the Christ-child, each of these takes on a new, a greater and a fulfilled significance. These themes should not be unfamiliar to Christ followers and they are not unfamiliar to this blog. In order to look at these four themes with fresh eyes, I want us to imagine what hope, love, joy and peace would look like in an un-advent-ful world.

Hope: the belief that life will get better- or at the very least that life won’t get worse.

Our lives are really saturated in hope. We hope that we won’t get cancer. We hope that we avoid the tornado, the hurricane or the fire. We hope to find a spouse or have children. We hope that our jobs gives us fulfillment. Some simply hope that they won’t go hungry today. Hope is the admittance that much of our lives are outside of our control and, just like placing a bet on a roulette wheel, we can only wish that the ball lands on the right number.

However, even with the odds stacked against us, it remains a cultural taboo to cross the line from hopeful to hopeless. We must keep hoping because giving up stains our character. It makes us look weak, that when we can’t hope in anything we can’t even hope in ourselves.

In an un-advent-ful world, our hope can only be ourselves. We can’t hope in circumstances. We can’t hope in other people. We can’t hope in the Divine- because even if there is a God/ gods, there’s no reason to believe that God/ gods have any control or care over you and I as individual people in the midst of billions of individuals on a small planet within one solar system of one galaxy in the vastness of all space.

But even hoping in ourselves leave us lacking. It’s been pointed out by others that each of us creates a moral standard that then we ourselves fail to live by. If we hope in our own moral uprightness, there is a good chance we will find that hopeless as well.

The reality is that in an un-advent-ful world, there really isn’t any reliable place or person in which to place our hope. In Jesus, the God of the whole universe proves that he cares about each and every individual. In the coming of the Christ-child, hope comes in a person who heals the sick, calms the sea, feeds the hungry and raises the dead.

In the Advent season we hope not in ourselves but in the God that became one of us.

“Again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come to the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.’ Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:12-13

 

Emmanuel: Because a Good Story is Worth Retelling

One of the things a theology student learns in studying the Gospel of Matthew is that one of the goals of Matthew’s writing is to show how the story of Jesus’ life parallels the story of Israel.

images-1One of the places we see this parallel within the birth narratives is in Matthew 2. Here see the threat of evil already rising against the plan of God in the self-preserving schemes of Herod. Herod, hearing of the birth of a Jewish king attempts to silence any threat by killing the male babies of Bethlehem. Jesus, however, is secretly taken into Egypt.

Knowing the story of the Exodus, one can see the similarities: Pharaoh and Herod both take the lives of innocent male children, Moses and Jesus both escape this fate and both the Hebrews (God’s people) and Jesus (as the perfect embodiment of God’s people) come out of Egypt.

What’s the importance of Jesus paralleling the story of Israel?

Most basically, is because the story of how God interacted with his people is a story that is so important it is worth retelling. And it is a story worth retelling right.

From time to time over the last several years, Hollywood has been overrun with the remake. It seemed like no movie writer could develop an original idea, and so the industry took old movie after old movie and remade them.

That is what God did with Jesus and the story of Israel. The difference though is that this wasn’t God failing to think up a new idea, rather, God, in Jesus, was retelling the story the way it should have been.

The story of Israel ended like a Shakespearian tragedy: disobedience, idolatry, oppression of the poor, war and exile. Jesus’ story turned the tragedy into the climax of all of human history; not because Jesus was somehow super human but because God, the author and director of the story, came to play the lead role.

Every year when we celebrate Christmas or Easter and every Sunday when churches gather to worship, it is our turn to retell the story Jesus. By re-telling the story of Jesus, we are retelling the story of how God saves and redeems his people- a people that fail, mess up and turn life into a tragedy. But that’s all of us and it’s our story and the story of our salvation is a story worth retelling.

Emmanuel: Because I Hate Your Church

I have a confession to make: I hate your church. It’s true. I hate hearing about your church and what your church is doing. I hate reading about your church on Twitter and I hate your “I Love My Church” hashtag. I hate seeing pictures of your awesome worship services. I hate hearing about your baptisms and how people’s lives are being changed. Mostly, though, I hate that God is moving in your church but not mine.


I have a confession to make: I hate your church.


"Presentation of Christ at the Temple" by Hans Holbein the Elder (1500)

“Presentation of Christ at the Temple” by Hans Holbein the Elder (1500)

In this Advent series, we have been thinking about the word “Emmanuel.” We saw that Emmanuel is the ultimate coming together of God and Man. Additionally, we saw what Emmanuel meant to a group of shepherds who desperately desired a personal encounter with God. But for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the biblical birth narratives and the meaning of Emmanuel actually comes after the story of Jesus’ birth when Jesus is presented in the Temple in Luke 2.

In the Temple that day there were, perhaps, hundreds of people who unknowingly were in the same place as, crossed paths with, saw and heard the newborn cries of the Christ child. But out of all those people, only two knew who Jesus was in the very moment that they laid eyes on the baby: Simeon and Anna.


When Jesus showed up, they weren’t the ones who missed him.


Aged. Wise. Prepared. Observant. Devout. All those words could be used to describe Simeon and Anna. They both knew that God’s Messiah was promised and that God would fulfill that promise and they had assurance that the promise would be fulfilled in their lifetime. They believed they would live to see the one who would be God’s Redeemer. When they saw the baby Jesus, they knew what and who they were seeing. When Jesus showed up, they weren’t the ones who missed him.When God was with them (Emmanuel) they didn’t miss it.

That’s what I fear about my church. If God showed up in our midst, I’m not sure we would know it. I think we would be like the rest of the people in the Temple that day who walked right by the Messiah instead of Simeon and Anna who immediately knew that God was in their presence.

Maybe you feel the same way about your church or yourself personally. Maybe you feel like God is moving in every other church or in every other person’s life but your church or your life. What is there to do?  I won’t say that I know exactly what to do and often I find myself in the same position and asking the questions myself. But maybe just asking the question makes it more likely that we won’t miss God when God does show up.

I don’t really hate your church, but I am jealous because I want God to show up in my church and in my life in amazing ways. I want to be like Simeon and Anna who saw and immediately knew and not like the hundreds of others who passed by and missed Emmanuel.