Advent

Advent

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Now What?

Christmas is over. The presents are unwrapped, the wrapping paper thrown away or recycled, the family and guests have all gone home. We have even passed Epiphany, the commemoration of the wise men arriving to worship Jesus.

If you are like me, sometime in the past week or so you began taking down the Christmas decorations, packing them carefully away for next year. I hope to finish that up soon.

I happen to have several nativity sets that I put up every year. One is merely to look at. The other two are for children to play with. As I was putting the pieces away yesterday I of course came to the baby Jesus. For the past number of weeks, the focus of our devotions and worship has been on the incredible mystery of the incarnation – God taking on human flesh, that of a helpless infant no less.

And now, with all the celebrations over, I was packing up the baby Jesus until next year. That struck me as odd.

As I packed away the symbol I wondered about the person of Christ, now risen and seated at the right hand of the Father. What would I do with Jesus this year?

For that matter, how do I even know what to do with him? There seems to be a lot of confusion about this. You see, its fairly easy to worship the newborn king. The infant Jesus seems helpless and tame, his omni-attributes veiled beneath the chubby baby cheeks.

But what about the Jesus who rebukes evil spirits, tells the woman at the well to sin no more, and accuses his followers of being an “unbelieving and perverse generation”?

And what about the Jesus who instead of proclaiming peace on earth as our Christmas cards and carols proclaim, tells the people: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

Or how about the Jesus who reminds us that the cost of following him is rejection by the world? (Luke 9:23-24; John 15:18-19)

What will I do with all of Jesus – not just the warm and fuzzy parts – this year?


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent Reflections, part 3

Last Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, my pastor preached on Matthew 11 focusing in on verses 1-4. In this story, John the Baptist is in prison. We can suppose he has heard about the teaching and miracles of Jesus from his followers. These followers of John are in the crowd that day and they ask Jesus a question on behalf of John: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

My pastor reminded me that morning that just a few chapters earlier, John had been preaching in the desert “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” He had also told his followers not to get too enthralled with his message because there was one coming after him whose sandal straps he was unworthy to untie. And of course, John baptized Jesus.

So why this question? Didn’t John know?

My pastor suggested that John’s circumstances made him doubt even what he had seen with his own eyes.

That not only made sense to me it also made John seem utterly human, a lot more like many of us than some spiritual giant. And isn’t that the case with many of the so-called giants in Scripture? Particularly the prophetic giants?

Just consider the first Elijah who, after courageously standing up to the prophets of Baal and watching the power of God soundly defeat them, descends into utter despair. Jezebel was not happy about the slaughter of her prophets and was out for blood. Elijah runs to the desert outside Beersheba, sits down under a broom tree, and tells God he is done, asking God to take his life.

Answering God’s call to speak God’s word and plead his cause to the people – the essence of prophecy – is hard work. It is generally thankless work. And discouragement lurks around the edges of this task waiting for the chance to pounce.

It’s easy to forget the mighty works and faithfulness of God in the past when you are sitting in a prison of discouragement. Hope can look more like a fairy tale.

Advent is a season that reminds us of God’s work in the world in the past, his continuing work today, and his promised faithfulness for the future.

God is King: Let the earth be glad!
Christ is victor: his rule has begun!
The Spirit is at work: creation is renewed!
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!  (Contemporary Testimony, art. 2)



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Reflections, part 2

Yesterday in the mail I received the alumni magazine of my college alma mater. In addition to the usual sorts of articles, this particular issue included the distinguished alumni. These are indeed people who have done some pretty impressive things. But it got me thinking….

I wonder if Mary would have made the distinguished alumni list; or Joseph; or Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I have no bone to pick with these sorts of honors. I have no doubt they are well-earned. My own institution does this yearly as well. I’m not sure how to get around such things.

Nonetheless, it is the case that Scripture consistently points out the honor of those who are dishonored by societal standards. It consistently urges us to take notice not of the strong, but of the weak and marginalized. We are prompted to consider those who the world would never consider; who will not make the pages of Forbes or U.S. News; who may not be known by anyone other than those closest to them.

It may have been the juxtaposition of receiving this alumni news with sharing dinner with three of my closest friends last night that prompted my thinking about this. None of the three will ever get an award. But all three are more than award worthy.

All three spent a good portion of their lives as homemakers, making sure their homes ran well, tending to the children and their needs, giving others a place to be welcomed. One invested herself in a profoundly handicapped child, working eventually to begin a home for other children whose parents were now aging and finding it difficult to care for these special-needs kids. One has served her four children tirelessly, making sure they had the education and opportunities that she longed for but did not have access to. One recently gave up the peace and quiet of the empty nest to take on a needy teenager whose adoptive family treated her more like an indentured servant than a beloved daughter. This child’s grades have gone from D’s last spring to A’s and B’s this fall. But not without a lot of effort. All have been fully invested in their churches.

None of them had high-powered careers although all were fully capable. And none of them resent that they poured their lives into their church and family in place of such a career, although they could.


As I read about those who were marked out as distinguished and thought about my friends, it seemed to me that their lives look much more like the lives of Mary than most of those we typically call attention to. And like Mary, I think that God regards these women as ‘highly favored,’ perhaps because their work here on earth goes unnoticed by most.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent Reflection

This past weekend, wedged between the hype and indulgence of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the first Sunday of Advent quietly arrived.

The days surrounding this Sunday and the Sunday itself have at least one similarity: all are forward-looking, steeped in anticipation. But that is where the similarities end.

The consumer holidays look forward to increasing the amount of stuff we or others have purportedly to increase one’s happiness quotient. Advent looks forward to the coming of Christ, the only one whose coming will deliver true happiness once and for all.

The consumer holidays look forward to parties and food and family gathered together in all of their imperfect relationships. Advent looks forward to the wedding feast with the Lamb, the ultimate party where broken relationships will finally be healed.

The consumer holidays look forward to symbols of abundant life that moths and rust most surely will destroy at some point. Advent looks forward to the abundant life promised by God that nothing – not even death – can destroy. In fact, Advent points us forward to the day when death itself will be destroyed.

After an election year filled with strife, where insults and promises filled the air, Advent reminds us yet again that the Prince of Peace came not with power and prestige and wealth, but as a tiny baby of unknown, poor parents. The promises of this Prince are the only truly trustworthy promises and they come to us in a power that is displayed as weakness.

God – the Creator and Sustainer of all there is – taking on human flesh, indeed that of a baby born of a woman just like you and I. The great theological reflections of Chalcedon barely scratch the surface of this mystery.

And so we enter this season once again. Filled with hope we pray “O come O come Emmanuel.” Indeed, come quickly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

5,539 Miles

13 days, 13 states, 5,539 miles, Hoover Dam, 3 National Parks, and 1 wedding with family = an awesome vacation!
A few weeks ago, on the day we returned, I posted this line on my Facebook page. I’m still high on the trip my husband and I took. We drove and camped our way to California, stopping along the way at a few places we had not been before and revisiting others.
We are not landscape snobs. Our family has generally driven cross-country to our destination. We have learned to ignore people’s remarks about places like Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. We have camped in all of those places, stopped along the road, and found that if one takes a little time in this “fly-over zone,” there is much to be appreciated. Each area of the country has its own peculiar beauty.
I admit that we were not exactly thrilled with the idea of driving through Nevada on our way home. But it turns out that beginning with the peculiar salt formations at Mono Lake all the way up to the northeast corner where it meets Utah, Nevada is a strangely beautiful place.


I am also not particularly fond of the dry southwest. I brought plenty of lotion on this trip! But there too, the stunning colors that layer the land and the odd vegetation that is able to survive there have a beauty that is unmatched.


It is not uncommon to hear people quote Psalm 19 when thinking about the creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Or Psalm 8: “When I consider the heavens, the moon and the stars that you put in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them?” The direction of the gaze is always up.
But while the night sky at Homolovi State Park and Death Valley National Park was stunning, so were the rocks, one of which is represented below.

If we did not praise God for the beauty of this world and his glory that was so evident in every place we traveled, I am certain that the very rocks would cry out, as Jesus indicated at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Just Kidding

So, just in case you were all excited about my move to the WordPress address and format that I mentioned in my last post, I have decided to put that off for a while. 

It turns out that it is difficult for folks to get notices that I have posted. I am also not familiar enough with the mechanics of the pages to have it work the way I would like it to. I have to ask a colleague to help with background and other issues.

In other words, for now, I am remaining here so any of you who follow (I know there are a few) can continue to get notices when I write. I do plan to put up two recent posts in the next day or two. 

Thanks for hanging in there with me as I explore other options. For now, the more familiar is better for me. If I change my mind again, I will let you know :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Moving Domains

Dear Friends,

You may have noticed over the past year that I have not posted as regularly to this blog as I once did. I have struggled with finding the time to keep this up with my other responsibilities. After discussing this with several of my colleagues, I have decided to try again rather than give up. To that end, my technical support person at Calvin Seminary has advised that I move this blog to a different format. I anticipate making that move within the next week and to begin writing regularly again.

I hope to not only comment on various theological topics that seem timely, but also to begin to include a few more personal anecdotes and stories  (some of which I have done in the past), and maybe even some practical ideas related to life in general, as the title suggests.

Thank you for reading this over the past number of years. I do hope you will sign up to continue to read my thoughts, comment on what I am sharing, and wonder together with me about Life, God, and Other Mysteries.

My new site (which is in the final stages of construction) is lifegodmysteries.com.

Thanks again!

Mary