December 14, 2013 § 3 Comments
A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Just this week a young pastor in Florida took his own life. It is a tragedy. He was our son and daughter-in-law’s pastor until last year when his personal life began to unravel publicly. He was both gifted and brilliant. But he carried pain.
His dad (also a pastor) and I have corresponded since things began to fall apart last year. My initial contact was to encourage him with what his son had been to ours. Some years ago, at a crucial point in our son’s life, this young man took time out of his crazy schedule to field his questions about life and faith and ministry – We will always be in his debt, and nothing that has transpired since will take that away. At this point I have no words – only sadness.
And I am freshly reminded that as long as the world is broken, people will be too – you – me – everyone. We carry our pain.
The Advent cry is God’s gift to the broken. We long for healing and wholeness, when we will no longer walk the earth in the confusing tension of secret shame, besetting sin and genuine hope. The insecurities, weaknesses, ‘demons’ and struggles we carry are real – they are our right-now reality.
But our hope is every bit as real, and because of Jesus we live in the promise of what we will one day be, when He will come and make everything new.
What you need to know is that God is okay with this. He isn’t the One expecting you to be perfect – you are. And that isn’t helpful (it also isn’t righteous!).
Jesus has come and He is coming. Until He does, He has given us the assurance that His grace is sufficient. It is ‘from the fullness’ of this grace, and not our ability to keep it all together, that we receive ‘one blessing after another’ (John 1:16).
With full view of our flaws, sins and failures, Jesus extends Himself.
Friends, this is good news…
peace on earth.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Christina Rossetti, In the Bleak Midwinter
December 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
“The goal of human existence is that man should dwell in peace in all his relationships: with God, with himself, with his fellows, with nature, a peace which is not merely the absence of hostility, though certainly it is that, but a peace which at its highest is enjoyment. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in nature, to enjoy living one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion
Until a fellow pastor taught me that God draws us into the shared brokenness that is our fallen world, I lived under the sad and selfish delusion that if all was right with me and mine, then that was enough. But this couldn’t be further from the teaching of the gospel and I will always be indebted to this dear friend because of his patient guidance.
Just this week Nelson Mandela died, and the free world grieves. It mourns because in his work to end Apartheid in South Africa something resonated within us. We were created to be free, and every person instinctively knows this to be true.
It is evident in the offerings of the culture (even in the DC store window pictured!). The best movies are redemptive. The sweetest writings echo compassion. The most passionate causes aim at justice. Even at Christmas I am freshly reminded of this in Stevie Wonder’s song, Someday at Christmas…
Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care
This is the cry of the prophets, perhaps no more beautifully expressed than in Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
At Advent we freshly enter into the collective brokenness of our world with a longing for healing. Until Jesus makes everything new, even our joy is incomplete unless it is expressed through the embrace of a shared sorrow. After all, it was ‘the joy set before him,’ that is, it was the joy of a reconciled and redeemed new world, that sent Jesus to the Cross.
With this in mind, He captured our sorrows in His own, our sins upon Himself, and our future joy in His resolve.
What good news…
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
Adolphe Adam, 1847
December 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
The snow has fallen (you know I had to say something about the snow!). The Christmas benediction (blessing) has been offered. Gifts have been exchanged. The traditional breakfast has been eaten. We await friends who will come and share a meal with us this afternoon. Later, as per our family tradition, we will see a movie together. This particular Christmas tradition has always been a bit of a risky adventure – though also always a memorable one.
I am struck by how fast it all happens. Not so much in the I’m-getting-old-and-time-goes-faster sense, but in the sense that life really does go on. We don’t get do-overs and there is no slow motion for the sweet things. Everything about life happens in real time and speed.
And then we move on. We are 364 days away from the next celebration of Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining or grieving – just taking it all in.
What I love is that we have is Today – this moment. It should be that way. It is what the shepherds had when the angels visited them – Today. Today promises that whatever hope Jesus brings with His appearance, it is enough in spite of all my yesterdays. Today is fresh. It is now. It is a completely fresh set of a day’s worth of seconds, minutes and hours.
It is what C.S. Lewis calls ‘the moment of all moments.’
Whoever I was yesterday, and whatever I did, though real and unalterable, will now be reconstituted by who and what I am Today – because of Jesus. And in this I have hope.
Because Jesus has come.
Let the just rejoice, for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice, For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice, For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice, For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Friends, this is our good news of great joy. Rejoice!