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Rural

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.