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

Advertisements

18th Day of Advent: Joy – A Reflection on Philippians 4:4-7

Farewell, Greetings, Rejoice, Be Glad, Delight! One Greek word so many meanings, yet they are all connected–especially on this Advent journey we’re taking.

So often we take the idea of rejoicing as a happy term. Yet it has a salutation or a valediction that brings with it more depth–the depth of distance. Joy is not just a momentary emotion, but one built around a journey and a larger, longer connection between the parties involved. We are not called to simply celebrate God being God, but to remember the journeys we have been on and the life we share with God.

That greeting–that connection of joy–is not because we’re promised all we could ever desire or because God makes us happy and gives us reason to celebrate, but because of all the emotions we’ve experienced in our past in our relationship with God. It is that depth of emotion that causes us to say so many of those terms mentioned at the start of this reflection.

We express meaningful greetings and farewells with those who know us deeply and who we know deeply. We ask those closest to us to help us when we’re in need and worried. It is with this same sense of deep, longing joy that we speak to God.

It’s like a letter full of jokes, stories, and memories sent with a deep-seated need to tell someone about what is most important to you at this very moment. This is prayer, and it is the joy of our relationship with God. We don’t just ask, but we share. And the response is not a check in the mail or having everything fixed as we would like it. Like those letters sent to the ones who know us best and care for us most, what is most important is the peace that we receive.

The peace of closeness and connection, the peace of knowing that we are known fully and cared for beyond anything we can understand. And at the end of the day, that is Joy.

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

14th Day of Advent: In the Middle of Our Mess

ANGL0013

You may not think this post is very Christmassy.

I woke up Friday morning, as many of you did, to news of a shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut. It was joined later in the day by reports of a mass stabbing at an elementary school in China.

The Twitterverse raged with visceral grief for the families, anger at the shooter, shock and horror at a kind of tragedy that is becoming all too familiar, conspiracy theories about whichever particular political party or organization is to blame, opinions about how to fix it all, outrage at the media’s tactics, fear for the soul of our society, and gratitude for the safety of their own families. Some urged prayer; others, judgment; others, action; others, legislation. I confess to running in all of these directions at once.

No, not very Christmassy.

I had planned to tell you a story from my childhood that illustrated in a humorous way the central point of Advent. The story I’ll keep, but the point is still appropriate: Advent is trusting Christ to show up in the middle of our mess. Today, when we see violence up close and personal committed against the vulnerable in our society, we don’t need to be reminded just how messy humanity can be.

This most recent shooting is the 31st school shooting since Columbine. There have been more victims of violence in other mass shootings in workplaces, public centers and houses of worship. Every year in the US alone, there are over 100,000 victims of gun violence; nearly a third of these shootings are fatal. That’s about 266 people shot every day, and 86 fatalities (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Not to mention victims of other kinds of weapon-related violence. We could pile it on: domestic abuse, psychological abuse, hunger, poverty, sexual assault, and oh, so much more.

What a mess. But it’s Advent. And Advent is trusting Christ to show up in the middle of our mess. So where is Christ?

The Apostle Paul compared the church, the followers of Jesus, to the body of Christ. In other words, people experience Christ through the ones who claim to follow his teachings. When we follow Jesus into the mess, Christmas happens. When we trust that God’s kin-dom offers a better reality for all, and we choose to live into that reality now despite truly terrible circumstances, Christmas happens. When there is no theological easy answer, when the only thing that works is love and presence, Christmas happens.

It’s the only reason Christmas ever did.

It may not have the shine of tinsel or the cheer of a lustily sung carol, but Christmas happens when we follow Jesus into the mess and offer what hope, comfort, peace, grace, and joy we can. If you want to find Jesus this Christmas, just look for the nearest mess, and see who is quietly sweeping up the shattered lives and piecing them together again.

Pray for the people of Newtown and Chenpeng. Pray for the shattered families in their confusion and grief. Pray for the teachers, administrators, and students who survived as they cope with the trauma in the months to come. Pray for the first responders who are branded with these horrible images as they seek security and justice. Pray for the therapists, counselors, and pastors who will help people pick up the pieces of their lives and community. Pray for the shooter and all those so broken and damaged that violence becomes the only answer they see. Pray for our society, that through the lens of our broken hearts we may come to observe and confront the painful systemic injustices–and pray for the strength, courage, and wisdom to change them. Pray for the people of Newtown and Chenpeng.

Then, if you really want to experience Christmas, look for the nearest mess… and
grab a broom.

A reflection by Kris Marshall

pacific

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.

11th day of Advent: John and Oscar – Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, 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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

In the third year of the presidency of Jimmy Carter, when generals were ruling over El Salvador, and rebels (armed by the US) were planning a coup, and priests who stood with the poor were called terrorists and communists, the word of God came to Bishop Oscar Romero in the wilderness of a civil war.

Both Oscar and John the Baptist spoke an unpopular truth that upset those in power.  In the scripture above, Luke didn’t just throw in all those hard to pronounce names to try and stump the scripture reader. He was framing the world into which this prophet John was preparing the way. In the midst of these oppressive leaders, John was not only speaking words about the change he knew was coming, but he being those words made flesh. John’s weapon of choice was the waters of Baptism; Romero used the bread and the cup.

Romero went into the town square, proclaiming that God was present with the poor, calling on the government and church to repent, and he served the bread and cup as the ultimate protest against the oppression of the poor. Romero knew that the body and blood, when embodied by the people, empowered them to make paths straight, fill valleys, lower mountains and hills, and smooth over rough places… how? Romero believed that God was present in the bread and cup, was present in the poor themselves, and that all flesh would see the salvation of God.

Said another way, Romero framed the plight of a people being oppressed with the perspective of a Christ who suffered and died and defeated death. Romero could confidently serve the bread and cup in defiance of those standing around them with guns pointed because he knew how the story ends: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Do not be confused… this is not a “it doesn’t matter what happens here on earth because everything will be okay in heaven” theology. This is the theology or life perspective of “I know how this is all going to end—love defeats death—so I am going to live then ending now. I am not only going to speak words about the change I know is coming, but I am going to be those words made flesh.”

In the words of Oscar Romero:

Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. This is what Advent is: Christ living among us.

Again, don’t be confused… this is not a history lesson about events that happened over 30 years ago. This is as true today as it was then. Advent is not all love, peace, joy, and candles on Christmas Eve.  Advent is a chance again to prepare for the persecution that is coming when we welcome this revolutionary, table turning, bread and cup-serving Christ child into our lives again.

There is no real peace without justice. Oscar and John stood up to corrupt governments and churches that preached “peace” that was dependent on the oppression of the poor and the silence of mass graves. “Peace” was maintained by the US-assisted Salvadorian government through kidnapping, torturing, and killing those who preached about what real peace looked like.

In Romero’s words:

It is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.

Sounds a lot like today. We hear propaganda like “freedom isn’t free”, while those who speak about what real freedom and peace look like are condemned as troublemakers and sometimes terrorists. Many of our churches that are “thriving” are maintaining their growth on the backs of the poor—proclaiming “peace” where there is no justice, while those who stand with the poor are sacrificed by those same churches in order to maintain that “peace”.

But the hope we find in this Advent time of waiting and preparing can be found in the very words made flesh by John and Oscar:

John the Baptist quoting Isaiah:

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Bishop Oscar Romero blessing the bread and cup:

We receive here the body of the Lord who offered himself for the redemption of the world. May his body and blood given for us nourish us in such a way that we, too, may give our body and blood as Christ did, so we may bring justice and peace to our people.

Immediately after speaking these words, Romero was shot dead by the government; John the Baptist was eventually beheaded by the government. They were both guilty of speaking truth to those in power, telling the oppressed something the powerful didn’t want them to hear:

Freedom is free.

Real peace is only possible with justice.

Love conquers death.

And this was all made flesh by a little baby whose blood would be the seed of freedom.

A reflection by Andy Oliver.

My Photo

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

10th Day of Advent: What Is Love? – Luke 1:68-79

What is Love?

In our current society, we have moved to a place where romantic love trumps everything and is the reason most marry or enter into relationships. We also have decided that when talking about how we should interact with others that it is the correct word to use, but often we use it as a synonym for respect, or to recognize each other’s mutual humanity. None of these things are in essence wrong, they’re just different ways we understand this word called love–the hardest of terms–especially when it comes to being loved by a God who creates and calls us while also giving us freedom within the created world.

Love becomes even harder to understand when it seems that a God who has that much power leaves us seemingly vulnerable and weak. What kind of love is it that allows for abuse, inequality, crippling poverty, hate, and so many things that harm the very people created in your image, God?

It is in these desperate places that people will act out of their desperation for those they care for. God shows us love through desperate actions. God’s love is the love of promise. A promise is a desperate act, an act that says “I want you to know that not only do I care about you, but I also hear what is important to you, and I will do everything I can to make that happen.” God is a God of desperate love and promises. Thus God is always for those who have nothing but their desperation and their word.

For them, and thus for us all, God will see the promise through: that we will find a new dawn breaking that brings with it light for those in darkness and in the shadow of death. A promise that God will grant a way of peace for us all.

Yet we are not just those who are given that promise. We are participants in that promise–joining in the work, joining in God’s desperation, joining in the promise-making.

We are, as John the baptizer was, sent ahead to prepare the way, to give knowledge, to forgive, to move, to act, to promise, to love.

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

6th Day of Advent: Re-tune My Heart

gettoworkdemotivator

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.

pacific

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.

5th Day of Advent: A Prayer of Unity and Deliverance from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

My Creator, I want to pray from my heart for my colleagues in distant places. I have never seen all of them face to face but I know them by their marks around this strange brain we call ‘the Internet’.

Though we can deliver our words instantly, God we need your divine guidance as we work toward common goals. Our work draws us deep into our callings, even through difficult stages. Often, the scent of distraction is too much for us and we become lost not only to each other but to ourselves.

This Advent season, give us a collective beginning. Make us a community. Shape each piece of that community to interface with each other, on the one hand, and to fit with our working communities, on the other, so that we can become true bridges. Take that special part of ourselves, that oft forgotten soul element, and shape it to know you better.

As we continue through this Advent journey, bless each step we take to get closer to our Messiah – an unexpectedly compassionate figure in our shared culture who, nevertheless, grew to be a source of courage and inspiration for all of society. We thank you for raising Jesus, and none other, to begin the ministry that we continue today.

We ask you to help us not to be short-sighted as we look to the future, because we are not simply fire-keepers–we are all blessed with your fiery Spirit of Pentecost which was the definitive victory over despair. We became one that day because Jesus was able to become one with his Creator.

Please send your spirit into us. Make us thankful and contagiously joyful. Bless us through each other with a love that comes directly from you. In your sweet name,

Amen.

A prayer by John Daniel Gore

jd (428x640)

JD is a Methodist missionary living in Bethlehem and serving in Palestine. JD tweets from @Xavier_Phoenix and blogs from xavierphoenix.wordpress.com