Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Light to Come

For those of you who pay attention to these things, you may have noticed that I am not following the lectionary texts this year. Our church was working through the parables in Luke (the lectionary gospel readings for most of the fall) and it felt appropriate after struggling through their meanings to return to the beginning. So, for Lent I'll be following the texts we'll be using at Sojourner Covenant Church from the first chapters of Luke throughout this season. This past Sunday we focused on the promise of John's birth to Zechariah in Luke 1:1-25. This Sunday we'll be reading from Luke 1:26-38, the announcement of Jesus' birth to Mary.

My reflections for this particular day bridge both stories... the promise of a child. Two children really. One a long awaited answer to prayer. The other an answer to prayer before its time. God can be so frustrating like that. Moving too early or waiting too long. If only the world operated in our timing... And if only the things we hoped for turned out just like we pictured them... I suppose what struck me most today from the readings was the phrase from Luke 1:14-15: "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord." It seems obvious at first. Of course Zechariah and Elizabeth will be ecstatic having a child after all these years of waiting. Of course the entire community will rejoice, knowing that the shame has been removed, that their priest has been justified. And yet, that is not the reason for the rejoicing. Instead, they will rejoice because John will be "great in the sight of the Lord." If I could just manage to be joyful in the things of God...

To be honest, it terrifies me to think about having a child who will be "great in the sight of the Lord." Such a child is not my own. I cannot protect such a child. Such a child will be different from others, will likely be a bit of an outsider. Such a child may face persecution. Such a child may suffer. How in the world were Zechariah and Mary able to rejoice at the news they were receiving? That their children would walk difficult paths and face much suffering?

We say that to walk with God is to be in the safest place possible. We profess that a life of faith and witness is the highest ideal. But do we really believe it? And are we willing to seek that for our children? This Advent season, will you rejoice in those who are becoming great in the sight of the Lord?

(By the way... thank you to Ileana Garcia-Soto for creating this beautiful manger that sits in front of the Bethlehem scene that will grace the altar at Sojourner throughout this season.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Terrifying Presence

What does an angel of the Lord look like? What in the world did Zechariah see as he stood in the sanctuary of the Lord? What is it that made him terrified and overwhelmed with fear (Luke 1:13)? Advent begins with Zechariah confronted with something beyond his experience or understanding. An angel of the Lord standing before him. And then, things get even more terrifying. The angel promises something that is impossible, something that is outside the realm of human possibility, something beyond hope... And that, perhaps, is the most terrifying part of all. Zechariah is asked to hope again. Hope for something he had been longing for all his life but had most likely given up on.

The first Sunday of Advent asks us to hope. We tend to forget that hope can be a terrifying act, one that involves tremendous risk, putting your heart on the line, testing your faith and trust in God. In the Bible, hope is not just wishful thinking, or positive thinking, or some denial of the trials of life. Instead, hope is an act of faith. Hope is a clinging to the promises of God. Hope is risking a belief that what God has promised will come to pass despite all evidence to the contrary.

What do you need to risk hoping for this Advent season? What promise of God to the world do you need to be reminded of? What do you need to cling to once again? This Advent season, may God prepare your hearts again to receive the hope of the world.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Clearing A Path for Christmas

I spent the first day of Advent hiking along the Natchez Trail in Nashville, TN with my family. The trail was well cleared in some areas with trees and logs freshly cut down laying along the side of the trail. Other sections were steep and rocky and we often slipped and stumbled along the way. This was partly due to the nature of the trail and partly due to the fact that I was not necessarily wearing the best hiking shoes.

Walking along the trail, I thought a lot about this Advent season. In particular, I thought about the text for this Sunday from the first chapter of Luke: the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Christ. How prepared am I for the birth of Christ again during this Christmas season? What logs are lying across the road of my life right now? What needs to be cleared away? What are the things getting between me and God? Am I jealous? Greedy? Is there sin in my life? Have I stopped praying regularly? How can I once again listen to John the Baptist this Advent season and prepare a path for Christ in my life again?

Or perhaps the trail is simply rocky. There are bumps and slippery spots along the road of life. These are not simply trees that have fallen across the road and can be cleared away. These are the realities of life and I simply need good walking shoes. I need to be reading scripture, praying, spending time in worship and community, serving, giving, sharing. I need to prepare my heart to receive Christ even along the rocky path of life.

How will the paths in your life be made straight this Advent season? What logs do you need to God to clear from your life? Or what do you need to do to put on your hiking shoes?

Welcome, once again, to another season of Advent... I am planning on posting and blogging each day as part of clearing the logs in my own life. I hope they will help you do the same.