7th Day of Advent: Faithful Readiness – Luke 21:25-36

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?

Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

It’s hard to read the Gospel accounts where Jesus clearly gets things wrong. Here in these verses, Luke has Jesus declaring all these creepy cosmic signs of the end times, and it’s clear in these words that Jesus thinks it all will happen sometime very soon.

People will faint from fear… the seas and the waves will roar… the Son of Man will come on a cloud…

Be on guard… the day will come and catch you like a trap…

Holy crap. Really? Jesus seemed to be a whole lot more alarmist about the end-times than we care to realize.

Bart Ehrman wrote a book called Jesus: The Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium in which he argues that Jesus was first and foremost an apocalyptic prophet who wrongly believed the end was coming soon—maybe even during his lifetime.

Perhaps he was.

Luke makes Jesus sound like all the crazies out there. The ones who are much more interested in instilling fear than in instilling faith. The ones who put judgment where love is supposed to go. The ones who are much more interested in counting the sins of others than in reminding themselves that God’s grace doesn’t know anything about counting.

What are we to do with this?

First off, with all of this language here about distress and foreboding and being alert, I don’t see anything here about judgment. I see words of warning and counsel, and, yes, they are still quite intimidating, but there’s nothing in here about who is in and who is out.

Maybe the Kingdom of God doesn’t have a cosmic bouncer standing outside of it. Maybe it’s not even a place we wait to get into. Maybe the Kingdom of God is where we already are–we just need eyes that open to it.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus seemed interested in having others realign their sight to the sight of God. To replace the priorities of the world with the priorities of a new kind of life—one where God’s desires for this world are put above all else. A kingdom that exists right here and right now as well as in the world to come. On earth as it is in the heavens.

I can only agree with Bart Ehrman on this one—Jesus got it wrong (or at least Luke’s version of Jesus gets it wrong). There may be no cosmic ending in our immediate future and time spent waiting for one is time wasted.

Advent is filled with a different sort of waiting.

Advent is about waiting for the present to reveal itself to us rather than waiting for the future to collapse upon us.

It’s a time when we wait with faithful readiness. A time to hope and listen for something new to spring forth among us and renew us. When the world gets rearranged once again by divine priority. When we are invited once more to see what God desires for it.

Advent is when we wait for new and full meaning to invade a world that too often feeds us with stale and empty meaning.

May this advent be one that throws light into the dark corners of this world. May this Advent be one that opens our eyes to the reality of a new heaven and a new earth. A new order revealing itself right in front of us, if only we use our eyes as we’ve never used them before.

A reflection by Pat Ryan.

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Pat is a candidate for ministry in the PC(USA) and is ready for a call. He tweets at @writingpat. You can see where Pat blogs at his about.me page.

6th Day of Advent: Re-tune My Heart

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There are a lot of moments when I am acutely aware of my own inadequacy. I feel the people I minister with have over-estimated me. Don’t they know I am under-qualified to convey these monumental and intensely intimate ideas to my self, my congregation and my culture? How could I ever fully explain that our God loves us and moves into our broken hearts, neighborhoods and nations? I am at a loss.

I want so desperately to do justice to this good news, I mire my soul in well-meaning
action, but it never seems to be enough. I don’t need recognition or glory. Hell, I’ll even
do without sleep. Just one more article, one more sermon, one more visit, one more
call, one more meeting, one more event, one more prayer, one more project, one
more rehearsal, one more hour, one more day…

The trouble is, in so doing, I may instead express a taskmaster God who drives me
to distracted exhaustion. And I spend so much time communicating, conveying,
counseling, and corralling people that I am shocked and embarrassed to find myself
on empty. At the end of the day, I find myself alone and wondering if this good news
is only for other people. When will it be for me?

Maybe after I finish the next thing.

I suspect God is not interested in making me busier but better: to once again infuse
and transform my life, if I’d slow down long enough to let it happen. Advent reminds
me that God can lovingly re-tune even my easily distracted heart to the kingdom of
God, and fill even my mediocre offering with joy, peace, hope, and love.

In rough-edged wind,
edge of town,
end of day,
light all used up,
a shed waits, still,
dust settling,
shadows
bedding down for the night,
doors resting on their hinges.
You want to say it’s empty,
but it’s full—
full of silence, of longing,
of waiting,
full of God’s hopes,
full of space for a birthing.

The passion that makes worlds
is still dreaming.
This stable is made of that,
the manger carved, through eons,
of your deepest ache,
this empty space,
this womb,
created by your soul, unerring,
leaning toward that realm.

Enlarge its longing in you.
Breathe in.
Let the cupped hands of the manger
hold your heart open
with God’s deepest desires.
The angel song that sounds like sorrow
but feels like joy,
the harmony of longing and confidence,
swells in the waiting silence,
wondering.

Warm wind
blows in through the window.

—Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Unfolding Light” (unfoldinglight.net)

May you stand still enough to feel God’s wind (tee hee).

A reflection by Kris Marshall.

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Kris is the Associate Pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Rosa, California. Kris tweets at @revkris. You can also subscribe to her weekly sermon podcast.

3rd Day of Advent: A Reflection on Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Days are surely coming. Branch to spring up. Execute justice. Righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved. Jerusalem will live in safety.

Cool. So, what do you want me to do, God? It sounds like from this short passage, that God’s got things covered… so what are we supposed to do again? Live.

That’s all. Just live. But live as one who believes the story is going to end this way.

In the great theological work, Back to the Future, Michael J Fox’s character goes back in time only to discover that he has disrupted the time space continuum by making his mother fall in love with him. He not only knows how the story is supposed to end, his very existence is dependent upon his parents falling in love at the dance and eventually conceiving him. As he works to get them together, he looks at a clue from the future to see if he is on track: a picture of his family. When it looks like his dad isn’t going to get his girl, Marty and his sister begin to disappear, but when they fall in love, the family picture comes back into focus.

Marty didn’t work to get his dad together with his mom because they were a clear match. The girl was way out of this guy’s league. No one would have given McFly a chance with her. No one except Marty… Marty knew that is how the story ended. And when you know how the story ends, you can live in such a way and wait for certain things that might seem crazy to others.

When I bartended I often would place bets on games that were going on. I never lost. Not once. What was my secret? I only bet on games that were replays.

When you know the ending, making choices others call risky, are in reality, a safe bet. Stanley Hauerwas (imagine Doc Brown as a theologian) says it this way:

Christians are called to nonviolence not because we believe nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war…. But in a world of war, as faithful followers of Christ, we cannot imagine being anything other than being non-violent. And that will make the world possibly more violent; because the world does not want the “order” it calls “peace” exposed as the violence it so oftentimes is. Learning how to wait as a people of nonviolence in a world of war… you’ll know what Advent is. Advent is patience. It’s how God has made us a people of promise in a world of impatience. Christ has made that possible: for us to live patiently in a world of impatience. ~Stanley Hauerwas

Jeremiah is telling us how it is all going to end so that we can live differently. Because we know it will all end in peace, not only do we not have to live in war, we don’t even have to live into the “reality” that the world sells as “peace”.

That means when the Church tells us that it is “normal” and “the natural order” and “peaceful” for us to have cheap food at the expense of abused, enslaved immigrants–because we know how the story ends, and because we can live into that ending right now, when we hear lies like “dehumanizing farmworkers is okay,” we can call bullshit.

That means when the Church tells us that it is “normal” and “the natural order” and “peaceful” for us to exclude certain people from our community, leadership, wedding aisles, or ordination stoles because they were created by God to love the same-sex–because we know how the story ends, and because we can live into that ending right now, when we hear lies like “it’s not time yet,” we can call bullshit!

When we do that, it will very possibly make things worse… because the Church does not want the “order” it calls “peace” exposed as the violence it so oftentimes is.

Thank God for that Christ child, cross and resurrection. Days are surely coming. Branch to spring up. Execute justice. Righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved. Jerusalem will live in safety.

And we can live patiently in a world of impatience. Patience isn’t sitting back and doing nothing. Patience is actively being a peacemaker in a warring world because you know how it’s all going to end.

A reflection by Andy Oliver.

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Andy is the Communicatons and Technology Coordinator serving Reconciling Ministries Network. Andy tweets at @HeyAndyOliver and blogs at http://about.me/andyoliver

2nd Day of Advent: A Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Have you ever had that feeling of excitement when a good friend was coming to visit? You know, that excitement that may cause you to clean a little, cook a little, and sleep too little?

An excitement that, at the same time, means you don’t have to have the perfect looking house or dinner on the table because you know that just seeing each other is going to be all that really matters?

Well, that same excitement is present in our celebration of Advent is–it so often becomes the focus of our celebrations, but it’s really only part of the journey.

This scripture points to another kind of excitement, an excitement of a relationship that doesn’t end because of time and distance. A relationship that wishes the best for another even if that wish isn’t something you can provide for them–a deeper relationship that’s full of excitement, full of hope. A hope that some time, things will be like they used to be. That the closeness that comes when we think of one another will be fully realized when we’re together again. And even as we are apart, we are not separate.

No, we are part of one another, connected by a power we cannot easily escape. The desires for one for another are so strong that the distance between us is a minor hurdle that we know will be overcome. This excitement, the excitement of knowing that something will be even though we know it is not (and may not be) soon is essential to our story as Christians.

It is a hope that when God comes, everything will be as it should be. It may not happen today, but we know it will happen. So, even as we wait for that day to come, we share in relationship fully, apart yet moving together. Hoping together, planning together, sharing life together.

And that, just that, is wonderful.

A reflection by Adj Williams. 

Adj Williams

Adj is the Director of Educational Ministries at Harbor View Presbyterian Church. Adj tweets at @keepsetting and blogs at http://keepsetting.blogspot.com

Why Advent Matters

“In a religious milieu that has fixated itself on using Jesus to provide seekers with their most profitable lives here and now, Advent is an awkward intrusion. Advent links our hearts with those of ancient prophets who pined for a long-promised Messiah but who passed away long before his arrival. In the process, Advent reminds us that we too are waiting.” – Bobbie Gilles