11th Day of Christmas: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Things don’t just happen in a vacuum. The Magi don’t come to Jesus without causing a stir, and Samuel doesn’t become, well, Samuel without a mother.

Of course Samuel’s mother is keeping her promise at all costs. A son she sees growing up but once a year, not the joy of many mothers I know, but she made a promise, and she will keep it.

Of course the Magi also agreed (implicitly if not explicitly) to tell Herod about where they found the baby. And they justifiably didn’t.

For everything there is a season, even a time to do the “wrong” thing. Samuel grows up well because of the care of others. Jesus grows up because of the watchful protection like that given by the Magi. It is not WHAT people do in either of these stories, but why they do it. They do what they discern is right regardless of the expectations of others.

The idea that there is one way to live this life is one of the biggest fictions in our lives. The faithful life we are called to is one of constant discernment–one where we cannot know what is coming or how what has come truly affects us or the world.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes says to enjoy and take pleasure in all of our living, there is the underlying theme of not trying to be perfect, not trying to not do things exactly according to the rules, but rather to do things as faithfully as possible, realizing that sometimes the hard decisions don’t have right answers and sometimes things just aren’t going to make sense.

But when we follow the star, when we follow our deepest desires and seek that which God has placed within us, we will do what we can to find the Kingdom on earth. And that is something always in season.

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

3rd Day of Christmas: Reflection on Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

One of the many debates I had with professors in seminary was focused on this passage. The question was built around how we understood God’s redemptive acts: is salvation FOR all people or did God appear TO all people. The question has continued with me as I never found peace with any conclusion. Yet peace is what is found when we’re willing to live with that ambiguity, and this scripture gets right to the point of why that is.

“While we wait.”

“While we wait” is a term that we’ve all heard in some form: “While we wait for permission to take off, please listen to your flight attendants as they review the safety instructions of this aircraft,” or maybe when we were young, “While we wait for dinner why don’t you go wash your hands.”

Waiting is a hard thing for us in this culture. We want to get to the point, get to a conclusion, get to a destination. A couple of days ago we GOT there as Christians! Christ is Born! Christmas happened! WOOOO! Okay, but now again, we wait. We wait, and we’re told to do things we know we should do, but don’t always (I know I don’t listen to safety instructions nor did I often wash my hands) while we wait. We wait for “Thy Kingdom Come.” A Kingdom that Jesus always referred to in the present tense. Well if we’re here, and it’s here, then what are we waiting for?

We’re waiting on us. Waiting for us to do the beautiful things that need to be done. That’s what good deeds are, they are the beautiful things that need to be done. Beautiful things like justice, mercy, and humbleness. Beautiful things like love. Beautiful things like peace. Beautiful things like joy. Beautiful things like hope. Beautiful things that make us all live into that image in which we are created.

Beautiful things were done on Christmas, beautiful things need to be done today.

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

1st Day of Christmas: A New Pledge of Allegiance – Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased their joy; they rejoice before you as with the joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his Kingdom.

After more than a month of rushing around like crazy people, buying gifts for our loved ones, our colleagues, our pets–after our marathon run to shopping centers, continuously investing ourselves in the world’s version of Christmas, sometimes we get to the end and wonder how we lost ourselves once again.

After the frenzy of the shopping season and the hustle and bustle of all the ways we celebrate Christmas, after opening our gifts on Christmas Day, we sometimes sit in silence and wonder why we worked ourselves up into a frenzy for something that ends so quickly.

At some point each year we realize all of the ways we got tricked once again by letting our culture tell us how to celebrate our Holy Days.

These words from Isaiah stun us into silence and make us feel a bit foolish.

This is no “Jesus is the reason for the season” message I’m bringing to you. I think that phrase is just as tired as the over-consumerism of Christmas. And dare I say, just as empty. These words from Isaiah teach us something different about our faith than any bullshit rhyming bumper sticker phrase out there.

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.

These words from the prophet Isaiah tell us about a new order among the people. They are a desperate shout through the ages, and they tell us about the real meaning of Christmas, that light will one day chase out darkness—that meaning will one day replace meaninglessness.

Christmas according to Isaiah is about the ever-present hope for a Messiah to come and invade the world with new purpose and direction—to come and occupy this world with the divine peace and justice it so desperately needs.

Isaiah hoped for a new order for our world, and his hope is one that echoes through the ages and still has the power to cut through the gift wrapping paper-thin veneer of an over-commercialized Christmas.

These words from the prophet Isaiah urge us to shift our perspective and to open our eyes. They are words that tell of a coming light—a light that chases out the dark, that show us the way out of our meaninglessness, that reveals to us the One who has come to teach us allegiance to a new order for our lives.

This Christmas, the coming of our King means that we are invited to turn away from the noisy promises and promise-makers that have invaded both our Christmas celebrations and the world in which we live, and instead pledge our allegiance to the One who offers us our greatest promise.

Merry Christmas to all!

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.

16th Day of Advent: Advent According to Anna – Luke 2:36-38 and Isaiah 12:2-6

And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known God’s deeds among the nations; proclaim that God’s name is exalted. — Isaiah 12:4

Anna spent every day of her life in the Temple. She knew who came and who went, and her eyes were peeled. Along with Simeon, she was looking for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Anna spent her days speaking, sometimes shouting at the top of her lungs, that God had not abandoned the people. But as Anna looked around, she mourned the direction that things were moving in.

The Caesars and the Herods ruled Jerusalem with an iron fist. Rome occupied the Holy city of Jerusalem. Even the King of the Jews, Herod, did everything Caesar wanted him to do. There were no princes, or kings, or rulers who had any concern for the well-being of the common people, and as long these cruel leaders were in control, there was no consolation for Israel and no redemption for Jerusalem.

Anna saw what was happening in the Temple, too. The signs of power and greed that were overtaking the region had begun to overtake the Temple itself. Money changers overcrowded the corridors of the Temple, each of them profiting off of every transaction. Exploiting poor peasants like Mary and Joseph was an everyday practice for the Temple money changers. Merchants were selling animals for sacrifice at unfair prices.

Anna spoke against this type of sin. This was God’s Temple and God was never interested in these kinds of riches. Anna was concerned that wealth was becoming the peoples’ new salvation and greed their new God.  But Anna knew that real salvation never involved collecting more and more. Salvation was about how God’s love frees us to give more and more of ourselves to one another.

Anna hoped for a new type of power, one that changed people’s hearts—one that brought princes to their knees and made the rulers of the earth into nothing. The only kind of power mighty enough to bring down princes, kings, and the occupying Roman authorities would have to come from God. What Anna hoped for was a Messiah.

The Messiah would be someone who would come from among the people and speak for the people, who would give them a voice, and a new way to see how God works among God’s people. The Messiah, Anna hoped, would usher in a new kingdom.  One stronger and more meaningful than any that had ever existed before.  Not one that exploited the people, but one that raised them up and freed them.

Anna waited in the temple for the one who would come to redeem us all.

Anna listened closely, she looked around. The promises of God were about to unfold before her.

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.

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.