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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
All during Advent, we waited and prayed for God to come into our lives as God came into our world through Jesus. We celebrated how God comes in unexpected ways, born as a baby, placed in a manger. We remembered how this same God chose to show love and power by dying on the cross for us all. Now we move forward into the Christmas season, and into the new year, and the challenge is if we can carry all this joy and hope and celebrating the unexpected forward.
As we read the Gospels, we hear about Jesus’ life. The writers of the gospels don’t seem to be as interested in Jesus’ life between his birth and his later years of ministry as many of us might be. I’ve always been more curious than they seem to be. With more than one difficult confirmation class, I’ve found myself wondering what preteen Jesus would have been like? Would he be the one throwing pens at the soda can or playing paper football? Or would he end up interrupting saying, “no, this is what my Father and the Spirit were thinking…”
Today, we hear the only story of Jesus in his later childhood. He went with his family to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. He hasn’t returned with them. His parents are understandably upset, wondering where he has gone. They go all the way back to Jerusalem, to the temple, and find him there.
He’s not running around with the other kids, causing mischief, he’s both learning from and teaching the teachers.
It’s hard for me to see this scene: respected teachers and religious leaders gathered around a kid, with recognition in their eyes that he has wisdom to give them.
I can’t see it because I can’t see my community doing the same thing. We organize our lives around our children, trying to give them the best, but it doesn’t seem like we look to them as if they have much to offer.
Jesus is God, so he had plenty to teach others. I don’t think we need to get caught up in a debate of how much Jesus retained Godly knowledge and how much he set aside to embrace humanity. The challenge in this text is to consider in whom we’re ready to meet God.
Those teachers made a choice to sit down and listen to Jesus. They allowed him to sit among them. No one would have thought it strange if they had brushed him off, saying, “sorry, kid, I’m busy.” They could have overlooked him in favor of their own disciples as they asked teaching questions. Instead, they chose to be open to receiving God through this precocious preteen. By being willing to humble themselves to listen to a child, they were blessed by Jesus’ teaching.
I have to wonder if I’ve missed the opportunity to meet God because I haven’t been open to sitting down to listen.
Who have you or I assumed wouldn’t have anything to offer? Who have we said wasn’t old enough? Who doesn’t have their life together enough? Who was simply overlooked?
At baptism, we declare that the baptized are filled with the Holy Spirit and we call on them to let the light of Christ shine through them. We don’t say strongly enough that we’re ready to welcome God working through them.
What if instead of wondering how we would manage children, providing a space away from the rest of us to be noisy, we heard God’s voice in their song? What if instead of trying to shout over someone who’s on singing the wrong verse, we stopped to learn from that person with an enthusiastic faith and commitment to worship? My job security might be dependent on a system which requires professional clergy, but we are squelching the Spirit if any of you are convinced that you don’t have a faith worth sharing, an idea worth trying, or gifts that could be used in service of God’s work.
Unexpected as it might be, the good news is that God is found in you. You bear Christ’s light into the world, and in you dwells the Holy Spirit. God has humbled Godself to be found in you and me. We are not perfect people, we are not always wise or strong or right… but God works through us. At this moment in time, God has no hands but ours. Saint Teresa of Avila reflects on this in her poem:
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
She reminds us that we are each members of Christ’s body, called to continue his work today.
The God who has come to us by being born into humanity continues to be found in and among us. God is as near as the person next to you, God is here in bread and wine, God is outside these doors, waiting to be met, waiting for you to join in God’s ongoing work to heal the world. God has humbled Godself, and chosen to be found with us.
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Goodnight Manger by Laura Sassi, Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
I love this “Goodnight Manger” book because it forces us to take a look at our expectations about Jesus. If those expectations make us feel like we’re not good enough to be around Jesus, they’re false. We discover that God comes to us in all our messiness. That means that God comes in love to each one of you, right now and forever.
How do you usually imagine that first Christmas? My picture of that night of Jesus’ birth is an image removed from reality. It’s sketched in by our hymns. “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”
Whenever I remember the story of Jesus being born in a manger, I think about the rejection of all the innkeepers, the crowds that have left no room for the Holy Family, forcing them to find shelter in a stinky stable.
I always have had this sense that Jesus is born and everything is made better. The sheep don’t stink anymore. There’s no drool from the horse overhead. There’s no craziness, because God is born into this world and makes all the messiness go away.
But if that were the case, then it would be that somehow this stable was elevated out of reality when Jesus was born. If Jesus requires all around him to be better than what it actually is, then we might have to admit that Jesus could never find a home among us.
I like my picture book, because it reminds us that God enters the messiness and the messiness continues, but God is there, making it holy, making it sacred, meeting us in our messiness, not requiring us to get cleaned up first. In Jesus’ birth, God says – I love you- as you are- and I love you so much I want to be with you- even though you’re not always calm or bright, even in your frustration and pain.
That is a relief for me. I find a lot more in common with the Mary who ends up in a tizzy as she tries to get a tired baby to sleep than with some glowing virgin leaning against a fuzzing cow cooing a lullaby to the sleeping savior.
The good news of the great story of this day is that our God comes, to us, in our real lives. God brings the holy into our hectic.
God embraces messy, complicated, broken people. God is found among all of us. Even though God has entered our lives, we haven’t yet been transformed out of our brokenness. God is with us, but we still mess up. God is able to love us through our difficulties, and we are called to love each other through the same. As you gather with family and friends, you might be stretched to love each other through the messiness of your relationships. I’ll let you figure out how this applies in your family, but let’s consider the example of our congregation.
Many of us come to church expecting that this will be our hour of peace. That we’ll make friends here, who will never gossip behind our back. We expect that will be there for each other, making meals, praying for each other. We envision that anything we work for together will be accomplished, that together we can save the world from all its problems.
When we gather together, we meet the reality. We realize that we need to be here and we need to meet Jesus because we are broken people. We don’t get love right, and that’s why we need to receive Jesus’ love. But it also means we don’t always live in community the way we want. When we gather as a congregation, we discover that we don’t have our lives together, we haven’t loved – because even among our closest friends we have betrayed, we have neglected.
So when we gather together, things aren’t perfect.
God has come into our midst, and yet, it just isn’t that much different than the rest of our day or our communities. People annoy us. Someone doesn’t sing on key, someone doesn’t answer with the correct response, someone talks when it’s time to be silent, and that’s the kind of community Jesus comes into. Hectic, hopeful, strained, loving- holy.
The manger wasn’t silent. The manger wasn’t clean. The shepherds didn’t have all the right words. And frankly, those kings, those wisemen weren’t prepared with the right gifts. We’ve told the story with such conviction in our spiritualization of their gifts, but let’s get real people, this carpenter and young mother do not need these things.
We are at a loss when God enters our world. We are not prepared. We have silent Night playing in our head, and we are not ready for the God who comes in to creation as it is, in all its complicated relationships, in a stable where you just might step into the droppings on the ground.
God brings the holy into our hectic. When our lives don’t match the calm of Silent Night and our actions don’t match the holiness of the blessed Virgin, God still comes to us. What kind of God chooses to be housed in a noisy, stinky stable? in broken hearts? in fragile community? Our God, the God With Us- Immanuel, Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
To you a child is born. These are the words of great hope which herald the change God is enacting. For you, God sets aside power and puts on humanity. God comes into our world. Creator is born into creation. All of this is for you.
We gather around the manger tonight to remember that God chose to enter our world there. That this wasn’t a queen’s bedroom reminds us that God has entered at the most ordinary and lowly of places. Unlike the oval office, this stable, a room where a few animals were housed, would be somewhere most anybody would have seen. This good news isn’t just for the top 1%, Jesus’ birth is for everyone.
That’s good for us, because we need this birth. We need a change. We are the people who sit in darkness, who need the light to shine on us. We know the grief of loss. We know the pain of strained relationships. We fear violence and the uncertainty of the future. We carry guilt or hate or grudges that hold us back from experiencing joy.
On us, light has shined. Jesus’ birth brings hope for our present and our future. God has chosen to be with us. God is the master of life, peace, and forgiveness, and brings those gifts to us in Jesus. God is at work to transform the darkness of our lives with the love embodied in Jesus.
The joy of meeting Jesus at the manger comes from realizing that we are not really anyone special, we’re not perfect or even good, but God has chosen to come into our world because God loves us.
Today, God continues to break into our ordinary lives. Through Jesus, God has permanently united with all of creation. So wherever you go, God is with you. In whatever work you do, however you spend your days, the possibility is there for God to show up in powerful ways.
Jaime offered a powerful witness to the way in which God showed up in her life. In Jaime’s work as a music therapist, she experienced God at work. …. You can read her words in the Fellowship Hall and see the music book which opened her experience of God’s work.
The stable in which God invites you to meet Jesus is your ordinary life. Contained within your days are opportunities to see God at work, bringing reconciliation, hope, comfort, love, and new beginnings. You are one of the many mangers in which Jesus has been placed. Through you, others are able to meet the God who has come for us. In this season, and throughout the year, God works through you when you act in love. Where is the opportunity for you to shine the light of Christ? Is there someone alone, feeling forgotten? Is there a relationship you’ve let go sour? Is there someone in need? Is there a voice that has been silenced? How might you let God work through you as you embody God’s love for the world? The world is longing for the healing Jesus brings.
We celebrate Jesus’ birth this Christmas, even as we look forward to God’s coming entry into the world. We claim in faith that the light of God shines into our world, while we still see much darkness. We wait for a day when God will bring all things to light. We wait for God to make all things new. We wait for God to heal everyone and bring us all into life.
We retell the story of Jesus’ birth to give that good news a place in our hearts. God’s act of love in Jesus’ incarnation gives us courage that God will act again. We tell each other of the nativities – the little birthing of Christ- in our own lives so that we can be encouraged in faith. We sing of all that God has accomplished and will accomplish, as God continues to enter our world. In faith we join
“all the world give (to) back the song which now the angels sing: peace on the earth, good will to all”
We are the shepherds who seek out signs of God’s entrance and we are the angels who sing out the good news of witness to the places God is here, at work.
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: depression, gospel, hope, judgment, new life
Well, people of God, I’m a little confused by our text, because it calls itself something I’m not so sure it is. So I want to know if you’re with me…
Tell me- What’s good news to you?
Maybe a friend getting new job? Or a baby being born? Or a positive review or good grade?
Good news, to my ears, doesn’t sound much like John the Baptist’s tirade.
Yet that’s what the gospel calls it. The closing of our gospel reads, “So, with many other exhortations, (John) proclaimed the good news to the people.”
But all those exhortations- everything that comes before this closing verse – sounds a lot more like bad news- than good! At the minimum, it’s hard news to hear.
“You brood of vipers!” John shouts. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” He continues on and on- and all I can imagine is a crazy guy shouting and pointing fingers.
It might be like me standing up here, saying, “You nest of hornets! What got you up this morning? Are you here to make yourself look good? Wanting to be sure you’re on God’s good side, just in case this God stuff really is true? Since when did you care about anything besides yourselves? Thought you’d be good because you’re baptized? Still living any which way that feels good, thinking you’re safe because you call yourself a Christian? Buzzing around like you’re busy with God’s work? You’re not fooling anyone- God knows who you really are. God’s made plenty more faithful than you. What does God need you and all your good intentions for- I don’t think you’re going to make the cut.”
Um… is that good news?
Is that the good news that God sent a messenger to proclaim?
My mother grew up in a church that preached more hellfire and brimstone that she’s heard since in an ELCA congregation. She left that church because of the focus on judgment and fear and punishment. That’s not the good news of God through Jesus. It’s not something any of us would choose to hear.
But maybe, sometimes, judgment is the prelude that brings us into the song of life. We can need the shock of cold water to wake us up.
There’s this inertia to life. We start living a certain way and it becomes a habit and then it’s hard to question it and hard to stop.
Think about the way you eat. I always grew up with a focus on sitting down together as a family, and always thought that would be the way I live life. But then came the kids, and I’m running to feed them before they cry, or to grab the baby’s plate the minute she’s done, before she throws it on the floor… and I end up not eating, or eating later, and certainly not often enough eating the healthy food I intend to eat. Or there’s one meeting or another between the two of us adults and we end up having more conversation over toothpaste than dinner. So, little by little your intentions for a good life are eroded by an unintended way of life. But it’s not a way of living that’s any different from anyone else’s struggle, so it becomes normal. Then one day you come to a point where nothing feels right- about your priorities and your relationships – any more.
Think of the way Thanksgiving has developed, with Black Friday sales creeping in to Thursday. You wonder if we’ve really messed up when a day of gratitude is transformed into a day of discontented greed.
We all can name that life doesn’t seem right, but it can be difficult to name what it is that has to change, and even more difficult to change that habit.
John the Baptist calls the people names and tells them they’re in trouble. This isn’t really bad news, because it’s something they know. It’s the reason they’ve travelled out to see him. They know life isn’t right. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t look right. But it’s the way everyone else is living and the way everyone else is expecting them to live, and they just can’t get their minds around how to change it.
They’re not the only ones who are realizing that their lifestyle isn’t sustainable. Today, we can come to see our way of life isn’t working. What’s it for you? Where are you stuck in a rut? When have you been looking for fulfillment and not getting filled?
The good news is that there’s a way out. There is life. It comes only after God confronts you and shows you that the only life-giving option goes through the ultimate life-giver. Jesus is so ready and willing to give you the life you need.
But first comes the hard news: It’s not about you. The path to true life opens in front of those who stop seeking themselves.
John’s life changing message is the preparation for the fulfillment of the good news. There’s more to come, but it’s going to be Jesus who brings that in. John’s got his role to play. Jesus is going to be even better for us.
A wake up call has a purpose. It gets you ready to go in to the rest of your day, but it’s not like you have an alarm buzzing every five minutes! No one could function like that.
In my day, there’s only certain times I set multiple alarms- when something really important is coming up. There’s been a couple days when I’ve gotten the “World’s worst Mom” award, arriving so late to pick up Laila from school that I have to go in and find her waiting, head down, abandoned, in the office. Feeling that guilt has led me to try to change my actions, so I’ve now set at least three alarms over the course of 15 minutes to remind me that nothing else in that moment is as important as my little girl. These alarms are a signal to prepare myself for the action I need to take for the sake of another. Because without those warnings, I’m too caught up in myself- and it sometimes takes me ten minutes to tear myself away from the object of my focus.
There might come a day when I become more used to this schedule, when only one alarm will be enough to remind me of the time.
But until I’m trained into that schedule, I need all the wake up calls I can get.
John functions as the wake up call to all of us who are too caught up in ourselves. His teaching trains us toward a new focus. John calls us to examine the way we live in relationship with other people. Then he tells us to take action.
Do things that retrain you away from selfishness. Look at your stuff, you have too much, give half of it away. That’s John’s generic message, but then he names groups of hated people- tax collectors, soldiers- and he has a message of change for them. Unspoken is the message to those who have been oppressed by these groups, but John has a point for them as well: maybe you’ve never had enough, you’ve hated those who have power over you and have taken what little you have. It’s understandable that you’d have no love for those who have made you suffer. Well, now they’re going to be a part of your community, and it’s up to you to love them into a new way of living.
Hard news. Good news.
God confronts us as we coast contentedly through mediocre lives. Wake up. Get ready. Jesus is coming. Jesus is going to pull you from self-centeredness and stick you in community with people you don’t like. Jesus is going to work like fire, consuming ways of life that aren’t life giving, making room for new habits and relationships. The Christian message, the good news, isn’t the same as a self-help book. This is radical and difficult and driven by God. Through the discomfort of confronting the real news about yourself, God will bring you to the good news.
We need to be mindful of the differences between a discontent that grows out of looking for the meaning and life that only God can offer, and other feelings of unease. One closely related feeling is what is sometimes called the dark night of the soul, when we hunger spiritually and feel that there is no longer nourishment for us in the spiritual practices through which we once strongly felt God’s presence. It can feel like God has suddenly gone silent. During such a time, we need to continue to search for God, trusting that God is with us, engaging in both our regular ways of connecting with God and in new ways, pressing on in trust that God will see us through this time of testing and growth.
Feelings of depression and meaninglessness, while they can have a spiritual side, also need to be explored and healed with the support of those God has called into the medical and psychological fields. No matter how much we want to wake up and live in a way freed from depression and anxiety, this can’t be done alone, we need God, and the professionals God has blessed us with, in order to live into our best selves. Any one of us can find ourselves trapped by forces that close our ears to God’s love, to the community’s love, and to hope for life. But nothing, not even death, takes us away from Jesus.
Jesus is transforming us, in this life, and in the life to come. Jesus is moving us into a life that is centered on his love, turned towards God in praise and neighbor in service. Jesus is bringing us from death into life, and the life Jesus places us into will never be taken away. John’s harsh words prepare us to welcome the good news of new life in Jesus.
Jesus has come to bring you into new life, a life that is focused on God, is lived with love for all, and answers the needs of others. This is a life of meaning and purpose, within the great purpose of God, who is working to renew all things. You are being called into something greater than yourself. This is the good news. And the hard news.
Filed under: Sermons
When I was younger, magic eye pictures were really popular. I had a big poster in my room, with dolphins, fish and a whale all around the outside of what looked like pink and purple patterns and squiggles. If you were to stare at the picture just right, sort of unfocus your eyes, a 3D image would appear.
Different images have always fascinated me, from my little kid magazines with the “Guess the Object” super zoomed in photos on the back, to middle school years pouring over Where’s Waldo, finding one little figure in the midst of a crowded scene, to my college dorm room plastered with Escher’s impossible designs of stairs going up and down, looping infinitely.
These eye puzzles are all about perspective and focus, being able to see something specific and unexpected.
Our Gospel readings from Luke are the oral equivalents of portraits that take your mind from the broad landscape into minute specificity.
For our psalmody, we heard and sang Zechariah’s Song. Zechariah is a priest and the husband of Elizabeth. While Zechariah is serving in the temple, an angel appears. Through the angel, God tells him that he and Elizabeth will have a son. They will name him John, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. John will bring people back to God. After the angelic visitation, Zechariah cannot speak. While he remains mute, Elizabeth and Zechariah conceive a child. This joy came years after their hopes of having a child had passed. When the child is born, at his naming, Zechariah is freed for speech and out of his mouth, which has been silent for almost a year, pours this song of praise.
Zechariah begins with broad strokes, “blessed be the Lord God of Israel”- painting God’s faithfulness to the ancestors and through the generations.
His song moves down to the specific eight day old infant in his arms, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.”
Finally, he closes with a focus on the gifts of God for himself and for all, “the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zechariah moves from the big, ancient picture of God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, and David. He sets as the backdrop the faithfulness God has shown in the past, freeing from slavery in Egypt, rescuing from captivity in Babylon, and paints the foreground as this present moment with this child. He draws listeners forward to imagine the new things God will do through those gathered in that room. Zechariah’s scope narrows from the historical view to the present, all the while seeing God at work.
God’s ancient work is made real in the present. What has been hoped for will come into being among them, now!
We heard Luke 3 as our Gospel reading. It picks up John’s story as he preaches in the wilderness around the Jordan.
This reading opens in a particular way, “when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,” This litany of rulers and places locates the scene in a specific time and place.
“The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Here we hear the point at which the scene narrows. God is acting in a specific person, at a specific place, at a specific time.
Luke takes our cosmic picture of God, beyond all time and space, powerful, but maybe distant, and zooms down into a point in time to say, there! At this time! At this place! God is entering our plane and doing something really big.
Where in chapter 1, Luke writes Zechariah’s song by layering John’s birth onto the faithfulness of God throughout the ages, and the hope of the people who look into the future, trusting God to act on their behalf, in chapter 3, Luke highlights God’s entrance through John’s ministry with a pop of contrasting color.
All the people of power are named in one long sentence. The powers of the empire, the powers of the local community, the powers of religion- they are filled in with the same tone. But this is not a monochrome painting. There is a splash of color that might just transform everything around it. Set apart from all the powers of the world, the power of God is appearing.
How do you image your life, our world, and the God who is entering?
What is the backdrop against which your life is painted?
If you’ve painted recently, you know that sometimes the background shows through the foreground. Think of a little kid trying to paint a pink flower over a green grass background. Kids aren’t the most patient, so some of the green might still be wet, and as she tries to swirl a pink petal, it becomes a brown blob as the colors mix.
Or you might remember the last time you tried to paint a room, and if you’re like me, trying to save some money, you might think you can cover a stained white sealing with another coat of cheap white paint and skip the primer. You’d find that, once your hard work dried, the stains would show through.
As much as we might want to live our lives focused on the life and hope God has given us, sometimes the background is painted by the world. The strokes of that scene are made in fear and hate, images express words like ISIS, Death, Terrorism, Economic, Borders, Guns, lockdown, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, divorce…
The world paints a compelling background with the power to seep through our designs of hope. Sometimes, we can’t muster up enough faith ourselves. That’s ok. We don’t paint alone. We look to the master painter, who will transform not only our lives, our families, but will transform all creation, so much so that even the background of darkness will be changed. We haven’t made it to that transformation yet, but we are called to follow in Zechariah’s lead, celebrating the signs of God’s faithfulness that are real in our lives. Where is God breaking in to your life today?
These Advent texts want to mold our image of God. Luke takes our big, cosmic ideas about God and refocuses us to see God at work in real time, real places, through real people. After generations of hoping, God has come: to this little baby John and in the baby who will be born in a stable. God continues to enter our world, sometimes in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. Look for the beauty of God’s faithfulness to you. Let God transform your sight and give you the eyes to see the beginning of the reworking of the grand portrait of creation as we move towards the fulfillment of all hope.
Filed under: Sermons
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Now that the turkey is finished, Christmas preparations are in high gear. Some of you may have put up your Christmas trees. Does anyone put out presents before Christmas?
When we got married, that was one of the conversations Jeff and I had to have as we negotiated the process of merging our holiday expectations. Would we be a family that eagerly watched a growing pile of presents, both for us and for others, under our tree? Or would we have a great unveiling, when everything would suddenly appear?
I grew up with parents tiptoeing around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, placing presents in separate areas for myself, my brother, and each other. I’d watch my little pink clock, waiting for the hands to line up just right for my 8am release from my room. Then I would run down and be greeted with a child’s vision of great joy.
As I raise my own children, I can understand why we never had presents out any earlier. One morning two or so years ago, I came downstairs to find Laila sitting in the middle of shreds of wrapping paper, with all the toys I had prepared as potty training prizes around her.
It’s not easy to wait for the right time.
But there’s more to waiting, especially waiting in Advent, than simply counting down to Christmas. There’s more to it than delayed gratification. What if we thought about waiting, not so much as building patience, but as growing in hope?
Then we are turned from being patient for some good thing I will get in the future towards relationship with the one in whom I place my hope, my trust. Advent waiting, Christian waiting, is living in hope, trusting in God, believing God’s promise to heal and renew and bring life.
We are not alone in looking to God as the source of our hope. The texts of this season bring out the voices of people across a wide span of time who all looked up from difficult circumstances to the God they knew was still faithful, and would bring into being what God had promised. They represent people who experienced oppression by foreign governments, destruction of their country and of their most sacred places, war, slavery, famine, rejection by family and faith community, as well as the hopelessness of disease and death.
These are texts that resonate with us. They are witnesses that might inspire us in hope.
In our Gospel today, Jesus speaks of signs and portents, strange words of judgment. Some Christian voices have looked at these texts and tried to correlate them with modern events, arguing that the end times have come.
We might be better served by remembering that those for whom this text was written were in the situation this text describes. They have seen war ravage their city. Their faith family in the synagogue has turned them out. Their friends have died and still, Jesus has not returned.
In their situation, it would be easy to say, this is the end- the end to the relevance of faith. After all, what has it gotten them? Not comfort, not security, not honor, and certainly not a connection to power.
As relatively wealthy Christians in America, we do not know persecution. In other times and places, people have felt the overwhelming power of evil through the oppression of government, they have been in danger because of their faith. Even so, we can find ourselves bound in fear.
We fear a changing world, as our heads spin and can’t seem to catch up. We fear the violence we hear on the news and the violence that happens in our homes, schools, and malls. We fear economic instability, and our inability to control our future. We fear that phone call from the doctor, and the bad news we’ve been dreading.
When everything goes wrong, when fear sets in, we want to hunker down and close off. We function as if making our circle of protection smaller will make things better, or at least, manageable. We cling to what we’ve always known, even if it’s not helpful any longer. In fear, we curve inward and draw what we love and know close.
Jesus commands, “Lift up your heads!” In the midst of destruction and fear, “Stand and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That’s not a position of fear- that’s a position of hope. We stand and look up in openness to see what good thing is coming.
Imagine those early Christians who received this Gospel, being told that the world as they knew it, in which the powers in control are the powers that oppress- was ending. They would welcome judgment, in which that which is evil would be declared evil, instead of being called good because it was aligned with the structures of power. Finally, all would be revealed- and they would be vindicated in their belief. They would be uplifted by the validation that their faith was put in the one who ultimately has power. Judgment here isn’t an accounting of your personal sins versus your acts of charity. Judgment is the revealing of the truth- that those groups of people who claim they have power, who in their shows of power have made others suffer, have limited power. Judgment is the revealing of the truth- that God -who uses power to raise up and give life, has ultimate power.
Look up, your redemption is drawing near. The redemption Jesus enacts buys you back from fear, death, and destruction. These evils do not own you. They are not the final word. No matter the chaos of your present day, God is faithful and sure. God is your stability and will raise you up out of today’s struggle.
You are invited to live in a stance of openness. What does it look like, when God turns you from your inward gaze, and draws your vision higher and wider? How might your hope spill over into a widening circle of cared for others?
Luke is written “so that you may have faith”- the point of this entire book is to help the beloved have hope. Advent hope grows as your relationship with God, the one with ultimate power, is nourished. In your eager waiting, be alert to signs that God is faithful. As you wrap gifts this season, celebrate the joy of generosity. As you look at the lights, remember that Jesus is the light that pushes back the darkness. Let the little signs of life and joy feed your trust in God, the faithful one who will bring all good things into fulness. We don’t know God’s right time, when the freedom and life God has promised will completely push out fear and death. Until then, we wait in faith, preparing to celebrate what God already done for us in Jesus.
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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude. We have much to be thankful for. As Christians, we don’t simply hold this warmth in our hearts or our families, but we direct our thanks to God, as the source of all good things, and we allow our thanks to transform our actions towards others.
Gratitude is an attitude of transformation. It’s an outward sign of God working within us. God works to free us from turning in to ourselves. God works to make us people who trust in God, people of faith, turned towards God with thanksgiving.
I know that’s God’s vision, so why am I not a more thankful person? Why is it so easy to fall into complaining rather than giving thanks? To be caught in worry rather than trust?
Jesus speaks words that drive right into our experience: “Do not worry.” How many of us can say we lived in to that invitation?
Jesus knows the kinds of things we worry about: what we will eat, and what we will drink, and what we will wear. We worry about finding a job, making enough money, or passing the next test, finding friends, being safe at home or school. We worry over those we love, about their health and their wellbeing. We worry about our churches and the spiritual growth of our communities.
Jesus doesn’t give us a list of things that it’s ok to worry about. He says, “Do not worry.” Worrying doesn’t help. Your worry doesn’t do anyone any good.
The kind of anxiety that Jesus is talking about, this worry, comes from our illusion of control. We might even go so far as to call it sin. We set ourselves up as gods over our own lives. We think we’re in charge, and so we spend much time worrying about whether or not we’ll be able to make the future match our plans. We try to gain control over other people. We complain when our reality doesn’t match our expectations, because we believe we should be able to make our expectations happen.
But we’re not in charge. God is. Jesus promises that God will take care of us.
Faith is the antidote to worry.
Living free from worry about ourselves frees us to live for Christ. We achieve this freedom as God turns our minds closer to the mindset Paul declares he has when he says, “I’ve learned to be content with what I have.”
When Paul encourages us with his example of being content in both richness and poverty, he points us to the source of all we have. God has given us everything. Jesus tells us that God desires to give us, not only our daily needs, but citizenship in God’s kingdom.
Paul is not speaking to the poor, telling them to be content with their poverty, and to the rich, to enjoy their riches. He does not mean to stomp the poor down in their poverty. Rather he invites all of us in to a different mindset, in which all our attempts to control our wealth and well-being grow out of God’s sure and certain gift of salvation.
God has already done what is necessary to make you well. Jesus has achieved what you could not do: making you right before God. Your identity as a beloved child of God has been secured and is for life. This big stuff is taken care of.
With a recognition that our salvation is out of our hands, and that it’s a good thing we are not in control of our salvation, we turn to the decisions of our daily lives. In what else might we relinquish control?
We are called to hold all things loosely, not only for the sake of reducing our anxiety, but for the sake of our neighbors. It is our call and responsibility to feed the poor, house the homeless, welcome the stranger, comfort the grieved, and wipe away the tears of pain and fear. When the rich hold what they have loosely, the poor will not want for anything. God has provided enough for all when it is shared.
When we function as gods over our lives, we hold all things tightly. We are attached to our plans for our lives.
Ignatius of Loyola writes, “We need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things… we should not want…wealth more than poverty… health more than sickness… we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created (which is to praise God)” (Principle and Foundation)
What would it look like for you to serve God in whatever circumstance you find yourself in?
How might you cultivate a gratitude that comes from having a loose hold on all things? Not grasping on to life, money, house, job, but only on to Jesus? So that you can say to yourself, these other things might slip or be taken out of my hands but even then I am not lost- I still have Jesus.
I find freedom when I remember this truth: I control so little. Perhaps I can, with the help of God, control my attitude towards the world. God pulls me around to Godself, to faith. Holding on to God, I can hold on to all else loosely. Everything is gift. Nothing is mine to possess with attachment.
Thanksgiving and freedom from worry rise out of a recognition of who is the source of all we need- and that we have already been given what is most important, a permanent place in God’s family. God will take care of us- God has already given his Son for us- what more could God hold back? We are called to live with the same looseness – so that what we have flows out of our hands and into those most in need.
For life with God, for all that we have, for opportunities to serve alongside the God who provides for all, we rejoice: Thanks be to God.