Saturday, December 17, 2011


I heard a popular Christmas song on my way home from work today. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” If the title is not questionable enough, there is a line in the song that says, “it’s the hap-happiest season of all.”

I wonder if a more appropriate line wouldn’t be ‘it’s the lon-lonliest season of all.”

The people who know about such things say this is true. Depression and suicide rates go up during the holidays.

I don’t know the reason for this, but perhaps it is because what can be pushed aside or ignored the rest of the year, shoves itself in one’s face during the holidays: everyone else is happily enjoying family, friends, etc., and you are alone.

Maybe not actually alone. But alone.

All around us, all the time, are lonely people.

At Christmas parties.

At work.

At the mall.

At school.

And even at home with their families.

Its interesting that the church today pushes the idea that Jesus is your friend. He is there for you. He is always with you. You are never alone. But of course what we tend to forget is that despite the presence of Jesus in our lives, we cannot hold him, or touch him. When we talk to him, he rarely responds. He may understand us better than anyone else, but this is hard to get your mind around when there is no tangible evidence.

So if the church wants to be credible in this skeptical age, we can’t just promise the comfort of Jesus, we have to show it. We have to be willing to step out and build relationships with those who we come into contact with. Genuine, time-consuming, listening, understanding relationships.

That might be with the bus driver or the rather grungy woman who rides with us every day. Or perhaps with the surely young person who, in trying not to be noticed, is really screaming, “notice me!” 

Only insofar as the church practices hospitality – not the superficial kind but real, I am here for you, hospitality – will the claim that Jesus is with us make any sense. What better way during the advent season to show Immanuel, God with us, than by opening yourself up to the folks around you. Who knows, you may meet an angel in disguise.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coming Undone

There is a song by a popular country artist that has this line in it: “You’re tied together with a smile but you’re coming undone.” The song is, at least in part, about what it feels like to be a teenage girl with all the growing pains that entails.

But when I heard it today I couldn’t help but wonder whether that line wouldn’t describe most of the people in our churches as well. Maybe even you.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have perfect lives. But who would know? We show up at church every week, put on a smile, and pretend we have it all together. I’m sure that some of us are closer than others, but I’m equally sure that none of us have it all together.

Which makes me wonder…

What if church was a place we could be real with each other, without fear of judgment. What  if we could share our deepest sorrows, frailties, and even sin and know that this is a community that would enfold us, love us, help restore us to what God intended.
What I mean is what if we could come to church and tell them that we are struggling with alcohol or greed or lust and we are failing. And what if, rather than sideways glances and judgmental stares, we were met with understanding and prayer, and promises of help and accountability.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that church should become a place where failure and sin are accepted; that we can come as we are and stay that way. That sort of community is not church, not  the ‘called out ones.’ God calls us as we are, but expects us to put on the new clothes of Christ every day. We live our baptisms throughout our lives, dying to our old sinful selves and rising to new life in Christ. And the church is where we should be helping each other live into that new life. But that’s pretty hard to do if we can’t acknowledge that our old life is still appealing, and still tempting us.

Perhaps what we need is to be reminded that we are a not a community of perfect people, despite the smiles on our faces on Sunday morning. Perhaps we need to hear that we are all coming undone, we are all working to unravel the old and live into the new.  And most importantly, perhaps we need to be reminded that we can’t do it alone.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Waiting for Immanuel

Just about a week ago was the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church year. The Sundays of Advent are marked by both remembering and anticipation. The church remembers God humbling himself by taking on human flesh. We remember a teenage girl submitting herself to be used by God for this purpose. And we recognize that all of this was for our sake.

But we also look forward. After all, Christ told his disciples that he would return to finish what was begun with Advent and Easter. Thus, the church waits expectantly for Christ’s promised return.

Some churches get so caught up in the Christmas season that no mention is made of the anticipatory aspect of Advent. But whether your church pays attention to the church year or not, whether they speak of Advent as waiting and not just for the celebration of Christ’s first return, but for promised second coming, all one need do is look around to realize that Christ’s return is everything we long for.

Within the past two weeks, I have cried with friends and family who are dealing with injuries, cancer, depression, divorce, and near-suicide. Each piece of news hit me like a brick in the pit of my stomach. And each piece reminded me of how broken our world is, of how we continue to suffer and groan with creation as a result of sin.

So it seems to me that the best we can wish for is the thing we wait for during Advent—Christ’s return. What better gift could we ask for than the final restoration of all things?

I can’t think of a thing. So I will pray, as I do every year, “Lord Jesus come quickly.”