Finding God: Jesus

Jesus-Christmas[This is the final devotional I wrote for Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Find the daily journey through Advent here.]

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

The distance between expectations and reality is often one of the greatest strains on us as people. When our expected hopes never arrive we can easily descend into frustration or disillusionment. “What happens to a dream deferred?”, Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem,” about unrealized equality. The final lines summarize one aspect of that angst-filled reality: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?” Endless anticipation that is never realized tumbles from the high peaks of hope into the chasms of hopelessness.

Yet when our anticipated hopes do arrive it is like the flash of glorious sunlight across the mountain peaks. It is like drinking a glass of clear, cool water on a hot, humid day. In the depths of our being we rise up into that realized hope and say: “Yes! Finally! This is what I have been waiting for!”

The birth of Jesus is not only the culmination of our Advent journey, but also the realization of all our greatest longings as human beings. In the words of the old hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Jesus arrives, bringing the peace of God Isaiah prophesied, the hope of God that Elizabeth tasted, the joy of God John the Baptist preached about, and the love of God that Mary felt deep within her.

Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “who was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), is now nestled in the warm flesh and solid bone of humanity at His birth in Bethlehem. God has done it! Our dreams are no longer deferred but met in Him here and now. God has drawn near and the wonder of this moment invites us into awe-filled wonder and worship again. So, let us do that today. Let us join our voices with the women and men of God throughout all the ages to speak praise from the depths of our soul to Jesus, our infant king:

O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

Reflect:

  • How has your life with God been different from what you thought it to be?
  • What has been the greatest part of knowing you are loved by God, loved by Him so much that He sent His very own son to die in your place?

A Prayer for Christmas Day (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of glory,
your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem,
where the Light of the world is humbly born
into the darkness of human night.
Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world,
so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice,
and defenders of all for whom there is no room. Amen.

Finding Love: Mary

advent-mary.jpg[This is the devotional I wrote for the fourth week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that is how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is in play, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved. There is some truth to that, but the kind of love we all deeply desire is a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love.

John 3:16 is such a well-known Scripture passage because it describes God’s love as real love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life. Even as the world could potentially be condemned because of evil and injustice, God takes a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-47, 50).

That little word ‘mercy’ is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s love. As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

Reflect:

  • What difference does it make to you that God loves you—no matter what, just as you are?
  • Who in your life needs to hear that God loves them…absolutely and completely? How and when will you tell them?

A Prayer for the fourth Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

O God of Elizabeth and Mary,
you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption
in the coming of the Savior.
Make our hearts leap with joy,
and fill our mouths with songs of praise,
that we may announce glad tidings of peace,
and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 December 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

apocalypse“Why Apocalypse is Essential to Advent” – I am just concluding a long preaching series on the book of Daniel at Eastbrook Church entitled, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.” Moving through the entire book this Fall brought the apocalyptic visions of the second half of the book into alignment with the season of Advent. I have not had a better preparation for Advent than this in a long time. Because of all that, I really could not agree more with Fleming Rutledge in this excellent essay over at Christianity Today.

 

cherries“Grace” – Over at First Things you will find a beautiful, narrative reflection on grace and Advent by Patricia Snow. It begins: “On a hazy afternoon in late May 1986, I wait, as I wait every weekday afternoon in a parking lot in Branford, Connecticut, for my son to be dismissed from school. While I wait, I listen to Ceci, another mother new to the school, whose son is in my son’s class. She is telling me about her car.”

 

The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing

“Detention of 100 Christians raises concerns about religious crackdown in China” – The intense pressure by the Chinese government continues to be felt by minorities of all types, and specifically upon individual Christians and church communities. This latest report, occurring last weekend, highlights the ways that President Xi is ratcheting up control to degrees that have not been experienced for quite some time. Religious freedom is a real issue in many parts of the world and Christians must be aware of the present challenges. One church in China is responding more vocally than normal to this challenging situation: “‘Faithful disobedience’: An influential house church in China responds to a wave of police detentions.”

 

Beth Moore“Max Lucado Reveals Past Sexual Abuse at Evangelical #MeToo Summit” – An important event took place last week in Wheaton, IL, related to the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. “Today, [Beth] Moore joined major evangelical leaders—including Australian evangelist Christine Caine, bestselling author and San Antonio pastor Max Lucado, and Seattle pastor Eugene Cho—for a Billy Graham Center event called Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence. The event represents the largest inter-denominational response to sex abuse since #MeToo took off last fall.”

 

merlin_147632778_6dffd07c-9d53-48f3-b187-adaaca0217c5-superJumbo“Internet Church Isn’t Really Church” – In case you weren’t clear on what church is, Laura Turner writes to at least help you understand that online church isn’t really church. Of course, this is in part a response to Judah Smith’s launching of a church app for personal, online worship, but that is merely the latest iteration of something that has been happening for years now. Turner writes: “This, then, is the beauty of the church: not that it is perfect or convenient or fits easily into my life but that without it, my life would be deficient. I could still believe in God without the church, could celebrate Christmas without it, or go once a year. But I don’t believe I would truly be a Christian without the real, in-person, Sunday morning church.”

 

hillsong worship“Where next for contemporary worship music?” – Speaking of modern afflictions of church, here is Madeleine Davies’ exploration of the history of worship music and the challenges that it faces today. This is not a short read, which means that it is really worth reading. I would encourage you to take the time to read through this piece and reflect on what worship really means and how music is or is not a part of that.

 

Marsh-and-Fannie-300x225.jpg“Charles Marsh Delivers DuBose Lectures at Sewanee University” – At the end of November Dr. Charles Marsh, professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, delivered the DuBose Lectures. His topics bring within their range some of my own greatest areas of interest: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his ‘religionless’ Christianity, civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so much more. I have not listened to the lectures in their entirety, but hope to do so soon.

 

Vitamin waterVitamin Water will pay you big bucks to give up your phone for a year – Armed with $100,000 offer and a lie detector test, Vitamin Water is reaching out to see if anyone could really go for an entire year without their smart phone. I’m tempted to go for this, but not sure I could complete all the requirements in the fine print since I preach from an iPad on weekends as a way to avoid using paper notes each weekend. Maybe you could do it!

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]