Tag Archives: Advent

Do I Want Him to Come, or Go?

Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. Luke 8:37 (NIV)

Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Luke 8:40 (NIV)

Life is filled with mysterious paradoxes. As a follower of Jesus for almost 40 years, I have witnessed many debates and intense conversation spring up over the years among theologians, zealous followers, and various boxes of institutional Christianity who argue perpetual questions of faith and life. There are those questions that produce endless debates which are endlessly renewed and rehashed with every subsequent generation.

At the top of the list of these perpetual debates is a simple question. Does God choose us, or do we choose God? In theological terms it is worded: Are our lives predestined, or do we have free will to make our own choices?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to jump into the deep end of theology on you here to renew and rehash the question in this post. You’ll have to buy me a pint if you want me to discuss my thoughts on the matter. I simply raise the matter because of an observation in today’s chapter.

As Dr. Luke continues his biography of Jesus, he continues in today’s chapter to relate stories from Jesus’ miraculous ministry tour. He’s in one region along the shores of Galilee. There’s a local in the area who has been a lunatic his whole life and everyone in the town knew it. The man’s insanity was rooted in things spiritual. He was possessed by numerous demons. Jesus casts out the demons. The people of the town, rather than being impressed, are freaked out completely. They beg Jesus to leave them.

Jesus and his entourage get in their boat and sail back across the Sea of Galilee, returning to a town that had become a sort of base of operations for Jesus’ tour. When they arrive, a crowd is there at the dock waiting expectantly for Jesus to arrive.

Here is my simple observation from within the quiet this morning:t my spirit’s attitude towards God matters. The people in the region of the Gerasenes were afraid and freaked out. They asked Jesus to leave, and He did. The people on the dock, in contrast, were eager, expectant, seeking, desiring, and waiting for Jesus’ return. Immediately a woman is healed and a girl is raised from the dead.

Followers of Jesus around the world are in the middle of a five week ancient tradition called the season of Advent. In simple terms, it is about the attitude of one’s heart toward Jesus. It is a time of heart preparation, expectation, seeking, and longing for Jesus’ arrival like the people at the dock. We celebrate His first arrival at Christmas, and we look expectantly towards His second arrival which He promised on a day and hour that is, itself, one of this earthly life’s perpetual mysteries.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve discovered that under the weight of endless theological debate I often find a very simple spiritual truth.

I can ask Jesus to leave and stay away.

I can seek, desire, and expectantly welcome Jesus in.

Jesus responds accordingly.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Grappling With “Never”

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

Parade of the Downhearted

English: Christmas lights in Sanok
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 68

God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Psalm 68:6a (NLT)

“Christmas is such a happy time of year,” Wendy said to me as we drove to rehearsal the other night. The Christmas lights on the businesses along Franklin Street were shining bright in the crisp night air and the Vermeer Windmill was decked out with all of its holiday decorations.

I wasn’t trying to be a Scrooge, but the first thought that came to my mind and my response to Wendy was “It’s not a happy time of year for everyone.” I know that the holidays can be incredibly stressful for some. For those who have lost loved ones or who struggle with loneliness, the holidays can be a time of increased anxiety and depression.

I can tell in the quiet this morning that my heart and mind have made the turn toward Advent. Advent comes from the latin term meaning “revealing.” It is traditionally the season followers of Jesus prepare their hearts each year to celebrate the birth of our Jesus on Christmas Day. Psalm 68 is a song of procession and was meant to be sung as people paraded to the temple to worship. It made me think about all of us who are making a procession towards Christmas. As I read the lyrics of the opening stanza of Psalm 68, I found it interesting those whom it describes in this processional to praise:

  • Fatherless
  • Widows
  • Lonely
  • Prisoners

How appropriate, I think, for the downhearted to be called out for this parade. The whole reason for Christ to come as a baby, to live among us, to die for our sins, and to be raised back to life, is that which is broken in all of us might be healed. Consider that in His first public message, Jesus proclaimed his personal mission statement when He quoted these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Christmas holiday in relation to the downhearted, the lonely, the grieving, those in bondage to their destructive thoughts and behaviors, and those who are suffering emotionally and physically. As we proceed toward Christmas, I’m praying that those of us who are suffering. Instead of experiencing increased levels of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and pain, I’m praying for us all – myself absolutely included – to find the healing and hope which can be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Chapter-a-Day James 5

English: Deer on Winter road in Alberta, Canad...
Image via Wikipedia

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. James 5:7 (NLT)

As I read this verse from today’s chapter I thought about the season of Advent. Our church is focusing on the Christian calendar this year, so the messages leading up to Christmas have been about Advent, which is a latin word meaning “coming” or “revealing.” It’s the season of expectation prior to Christmas as we await the coming of the birth of Jesus.

As I read this verse in today’s chapter I thought about the warm autumn rain that’s been falling for the past day here in Iowa. The fields are brown and death-like, and yet there is already anticipation of next year’s crop. The moisture is a welcome sight for farmers who are waiting and already thinking and planning for planting next Spring.

As I read this verse in today’s chapter I thought about my dinner conversation last night with Wendy. With our Vikings at a miserable 2-11, we are already talking about baseball and all of the changes for our beloved Cubs this off season. Christmas is almost here, then  a sojourn through January. February means the beginning of Spring Training and suddenly it doesn’t seem that far away.

Through the journey I’ve learned that I can be an impatient person. I don’t like waiting. God’s timing is so rarely my timing. More often than not I find myself waiting and expecting. It is woven into the fabric of the journey. We stand on the path, but our eyes stare ahead to the horizon.

God, help me to find the balance between contentment and expectation. Help me to balance my desire to get to my destination with the patience to appreciate the place that I find myself at the moment and accept all that the journey is creating within me.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 12

“Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks. Lucky the servants whom the master finds on watch!” Luke 12:35-36 (MSG)

It’s interesting how God’s message meets us right where we are. It gets filtered through the lens of our momentary circumstances, and sheds light on the exact place we need illumination. There’s a certain synchronicity to it. Sometimes God’s Message joins with disparate threads of our life, and weaves together important life lessons.

This week has, obviously, been focused on the opening of Annie. As I read Jesus’ example of the house servants being awake and ready for the arrival of their master, I couldn’t help but think of my first entrance in the show tonight.

With his opening entrance, Warbucks enters his mansion after being away on a six-week trip. His servants bustle about having everything ready, anticipating his arrival. There is sense of anxiety, preparation, and excitement in the air as they worry about having everything ready.

The season of Christmas is known as Advent, which literally means “arrival” or “coming.” This past Sunday in worship the message was about preparing our hearts for the arrival of Jesus. How would our thoughts, words, and actions change if we knew that Jesus was literally returning on the eve of December 24th, 2010?

Today, Jesus weaves different thoughts from my week into one strand, reminding me to be mindful of what Christmas is really about: the arrival of the Master. Christmas is more than goodies and presents and even more than family and friends. Christmas is when the Master arrives.

I want to be prepared.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 2

King born in a manger.  "Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, he provides both intelligence and discernment…." Daniel 2:20-21 (MSG)

This is the time of year when all of the media outlets come up with their "Top 10" lists from the previous year. It's interesting to look back, but it can also get kind of depressing for me. There's so much craziness in the world on so many levels. I don't need a recap of the death, tragedy and scandals – thank you very much.

As I watch the daily news, I have to remind myself that God is guiding history. It sometimes takes conscious effort to recall that God "raises kings and brings them down." It is so easy to get discouraged and fatalistic.

I was reminded again in todays chapter of the season of Advent we are in. David reminds King Nebuchadnezzer that throughout the earthly kingdoms God will be "building a kingdom that will never be destroyed." Advent is the season of expectant anticipation of the coming of the King of Kings. Advent culminates at Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the "Prince of Peace" who came to establish God's Kingdom work on Earth.

Even so, come quickly King Jesus.
 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mtsofan

Chapter-a-Day Micah 2

The search of the Magi.  If someone showed up with a good smile and glib tongue and told lies from morning to night—
'I'll preach sermons that will tell you how you can get anything you want from God:More money, the best wines…you name it'— you'd hire him on the spot as your preacher!
Micah 2:11 (MSG)

I was on a business trip this week and spent a few late evenings flipping through the television channels. Channel surfing drives my wife crazy, so when I'm on the road I like to overindulge myself in an all out surf fest. I found it interesting the divergent slants the different news channels had on the same events. It didn't shock me. It was just another reminder that we all like to listen to people who agree with our point-of-view.

The more things change the more they stay the same. The prophet Micah was complaining about the same thing about 2700 years ago. We want to be told what we want to hear and will often go out of our way to make sure we hear it.

In this Advent season, I'm thinking about the Magi who sought out the Christ-child. Perhaps what made them "wise men" was not their position but their desire to ask, to seek, to knock. I pray that I may continually search for that which is True rather than that which is merely comfortable.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Sacred Destinations