Re-Ordering

upsidedownworld“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1: 47-55)

 

We love this passage.  It is Mary’s Song, the poetic rendering of her realization that she has truly been blessed, that she has been called to do what no one else has done, what no one else will do.  She has been called to give birth to God in this world, to deliver the promise that her people have always known.  But don’t get too lost in the poetry and the familiarity. E. Stanley Jones called The Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world”.  It is said that The Magnificat terrified the Russian Czars so much that they tried to dispel its reading.  It is an out and out call to revolution.  Less subversive language has started wars.  Edward F. Marquart depicts it as God’s “magna carta”.  It is the beginning of a new society, the preamble to a Constitution that most of us are not ready to embrace.  We’d rather chalk it up to the poetry of an innocent young woman and keep shopping.

 

See, this is God’s vision for the world. It is not a world where the best and the brightest and the richest come out on top. It is not a world that we can control. It is not a world where we can earn what we have and deserve who we are. It is rather a world where God’s presence and God’s blessings are poured onto all. But it comes with a price. Those who have, those who are, those whose lives are filled with plenty are called to change, to open their lives to God and to others. Because God will scatter the proud, those who think they have it figured out, those who are so sure of their rightness and their righteousness.  In other words, those of us who think that we have it all nailed down will be shaken to our core.  The powerful–those with money, those with status, those with some false sense of who they are above others–will be brought down from their high places.  The poor and the disenfranchised, those who we think are not good enough or righteous enough, will be raised up. They will become the leaders, the powerful, the ones that we follow.  The hungry will feel pangs no more and those who have everything–the hoarders, the affluent, those are the ones whose coffers will be emptied to feed and house the world.  God is about to turn the world upside-down.  Look around you.  This is not it; this is not what God had in mind.  And God started it all not by choosing a religious leader or a political dynamo or even a charismatic young preacher but a girl, a poor underage girl from a third-world country with dark skin and dark eyes whose family was apparently so questionable that they are not mentioned and whose marital status seemed to teeter on the edge of acceptable society.  God picked the lowliest of the lowly to turn the world upside down.

 

And when you’re turned upside down, things tend to spill. No longer can we hold onto what we know. No longer can we rest on the laurels of our past. If we’re going to be part of God’s vision of the world, we have to give up those things that are not part of it. We have to change, learn to live a new way, look upon the world and others not as competition, not as threats, but as the very vision of God pouring into the world. So, THIS Advent, what are you willing to let go of so that you will have room to offer a place for God? What are you willing to change in your life to come just a little bit closer to what God envisions? How willing are you to turn your world upside down? What do you plan to do with this precious life you’ve been given?

 

There are those who will read this and dismiss it as some utopian socialist notion, something that flies in the face of our capitalistic society. I don’t think it’s either. God’s vision does not align with any form of government on this earth but is instead ordered with love and grace and abundant mercy. It is not a vision where everyone is treated the same; it is a vision where everyone is loved. So, again, what are you willing to change in your own life? What are you willing to trade for love? Christmas is six days away. Six days…that’s all that’s needed to create a new order.

 

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. (Thomas Merton)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Pointing to the Light

zechariah-elizabeth-and-john-the-baptist-the-other-nativity-story57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1: 68-80)

 

We don’t always pay attention to this story. It is not the story of a manger. It is not the story of an angel appearing to a young maiden. It is not the story of a star that leads its followers to the place they are called to go. It is the story of another baby, a baby named John. Born to older parents, parents who had never thought they would have a child, parents who were related to the young Mary, who held her in their arms after her encounter with the angel and told her that everything would be alright, that she was blessed, that she was not alone.

 

And so he became John. And, it says, they pondered what he would become. Of course, every parent does that, wonders what this child they hold will become. I’ve done it when I’ve held a baby that is only an hour old. You hold the baby and there is a sense that you are holding all the hopes of the world, the chance for things to change, to move just a bit closer to what God envisioned they could be. What then will this child become?  They may have dreamed that he would become a learned rabbi or a great leader or a successful businessman. They probably did not dream that he would make his way into the wilderness, cover himself with animal skins, and live off of the earth. They probably did not dream that he would place himself in the position he did that would eventually get him executed. They probably did not dream that this child they were holding would be the one that got it, would be the one that would point people to the Messiah, would be the one that would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

 

So, why do we read this during Advent when we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, for that manger birth of our Messiah? Because Jesus was not born out of or into a vacuum. Jesus, fully human just as he was fully Divine, had a mother and a father and, later, even siblings. And he had this cousin. Maybe they grew up together, played together, schemed and dreamed and played with their first-century toys. Maybe they came in muddied and torn and their mothers wondered where they’d been. See, God seldom sets us up to work alone. Even Jesus had the one that pointed people his way. His name was John. He was not the One, but he pointed to the One. So, “what then will this child become?” What the child became is exactly what God called him to be—the messenger, the forerunner, the One who would pave the path that God had outlined, who would give all that he was for Jesus and for what Jesus would bring the world.

 

So, then, why do we read this during Advent? Maybe because Jesus is not an historic figure for us to emulate; Jesus is not some future image that we aspire to one day meet; Jesus is God-With-Us, Emmanuel, here, now. And what, then, will we become? THIS Advent, let us become the one who points to the One, the one who helps pave the way for the world to know the Christ that comes. So are you almost ready?

 

I cannot create the light. The best I can do is put myself in the path of its beam. (Annie Dillard)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Blessed

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth
Painting in the Church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

(Advent 4C)

 

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1: 39-45)

Remember the story. Mary, the young maiden, betrothed to Joseph, probably planning her wedding and dreaming of her life to come, was approached by an angel. Now the Scriptures seem to lead us to believe that an angel coming was not that extraordinary but I’m thinking that angel-coming stories are grossly over-represented in the Bible because, frankly, it’s at best a little surprising and, to be honest, downright disconcerting. So, the angel, after calming her down (our clue that this was NOT an ordinary incident), asked her to do one thing—just one thing—to birth the salvation of the world. (Sure, no problem!) Just one thing. But here’s the catch, Mary: your life will never again be what it is now; your life will be one of extremes—incredible joy and the most profound grief that you can possibly imagine; your life will be nothing like what you’ve planned for it to be. Your life will be one full of moving from place to place and really never again feeling at home. There will be times when you are running from things and times when you are searching. And it may be lonely, oh so lonely. And, no hurry, except that we really need to have an answer now because, frankly, all this time that we’ve waited, all this time that we’ve hoped, all this time that we’ve prepared has now ended. Now is the time. But, other than that, no hurry. Take your time. And the world stopped, if only for a moment…

So, Mary, not really sure of what she was getting into, agreed. This young maiden who the world doesn’t even know will birth the Savior, will become part of the redemption of the world. So, the angel left and Mary stood there. What in the world have I done? I mean, I love God and all, I want to serve God, but what in the world have I done? So, she runs. She runs to a place where she knew they would take her in, where they would hold her, where they would love her. Elizabeth would have been surprised. After all, it’s not like Mary could text her and tell her she was coming! And when Mary entered, she knew. The child inside her knew. The world knew. The angels’ gossip line was going crazy! After all, the world was with child.

And then Elizabeth took Mary in her arms. After all, this was not going to be easy. The world expects so much and is sometimes incredibly unforgiving, expecting too much, No one knew the road that lay ahead for the young girl but it didn’t matter. Elizabeth would be with her, to hold her, to love her, to listen to her as she worked things through.

You know, that’s really what it means to be blessed—not to be showered with riches or surrounded by happiness or, God forbid, to have our lives turn out the way we plan, but rather to be held and loved as you walk this journey that God has laid before each of us. Mary’s journey mirrors ours. God calls us to change our lives, to sometimes let go of our plans and our dreams and trade them in for what God envisions that we can be. And it is there that we will be blessed. So, THIS Advent, may you be truly blessed!

Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of Creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

The Next Chapter

Manger and cross

(Advent 4C)

5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrew 10: 5-10)

So why did God come? Why did the Divine make a way into the ordinary? Why did the Creator of the world, the Maker of all that is, come and dwell within Creation and hang around with the muck and mire of the world? So many times this passage is read as if God somehow traded one world for another, as if God somehow felt the need to start over on the grand plan that God had previously proclaimed as “Good”. Does that really make sense? Did Christ come into the world as a “do-over”, as if what God had so lovingly begun had somehow failed?

I don’t think God is throwing away the old order; I think God is continuing to create it. God is always continuing to create, not to exchange one way of being for another but to change one way of being into another. God was always coming into the world. There were incarnations all along the pathway, if we had only dared to open our eyes and notice. But then it was time for the next chapter for those of us who were called to that part of the story. And what had begun with God’s goodness and God’s mercy and the holiness of the Divine continued, bringing a new order to the whole story.

Christmas did not begin nor end with the manger. The shepherds and the visiting kings did not drop their baby presents off and go back to their lives. As Christians, Christmas is our entrance into the story, into something relevant, into faith, into a story that will take us to Golgotha and then home. It does not replace the part of the story that Abraham brought to us; rather, for us, it brings us into it. And from there, we continue on. So, in a way, Christmas is our birth as much as it is Jesus’. So, in eight days, on that holiest of nights, when you light your candle and sing “Silent Night”, do not look at it as the beginning of the story, but rather the chapter in which you come to be, the very dawn of redeeming grace spilling into a waiting story-filled earth.

Christmas did not come after a great mass of people had completed something good, or because of the successful result of any human effort. No, it came as a miracle, as the child that comes when his time is fulfilled, as a gift of God which is laid into those arms that are stretched out in longing. In this way did Christmas come; in this way it always comes anew, both to individuals and to the whole world. (Eberhard Arnold)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

I’m Sorry…Where EXACTLY is Bethlehem?

Bethlehem with wall.jpg

Advent 4C

2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5: 2-4)

So you think that power only comes from the rich and the powerful and the larger-than-life? Bethlehem of Ephrathah, the place of one of the little clans of Judah, shall bring forth the ruler. Notice that this is not the capitol city. This is not the center of wealth and prestige and whatever the media chooses to cover. This is not the place where the kings and princes and presidents come to make their mark. This is not the place where the politicians that want so badly to be in charge stop off for their photo op. This is not the place where the story is made and published for all to partake. Dateline will not be coming to Bethlehem of Ephrathah anytime soon. Bethlehem of Ephrathah is a small, little-known place on the outskirts of what is happening. But it is here, in Bethlehem of Ephrathah, that something wonderful will happen.

Now, understand that that the original writing never associated this with Jesus’ birth. We Christians are shaped by our roots. We know that Jesus came to be in Bethlehem, in, according to the Scripture and the tradition, a lowly manger in a lowly stable (or probably just the part of the house that housed the animals). So, when we read a story of Bethlehem that is where we go. But the original writing was probably claiming a new Davidic king, one that would rule relying on the strength and wisdom and mercy of God. And to those in exile, those struggling to regain hope and identity and life itself, it seemed that the line was ending. Who are we kidding? It seemed that life was ending! The gates were bowing with the pounding of the Assyrian armies. Things were about to change. Darkness was seeping into their lives. And the prophet proclaimed that, regardless of what seemed, the Light was coming.

You see, God NEVER obeys those rules of life that we have created. Thanks be to God! Over and over, God comes into the outskirts of civilization. Over and over, God comes into the places that we would rather forget, into the places of the displaced, the refugee, the places of homelessness and poverty and a world that doesn’t really have room, the places that are not prepared for God to come. And in the darkest corners of the world, God enters and Light comes to be. (Because, really, if God only came to the places that knew God was coming, to the places that were cleaned and sanitized and ready for the maker of the world to enter, the places that were only filled with those who knew God was on their side or agreed with them or didn’t think they needed to change into who God thought they could be, then, really, why would we need God at all?)

But Light comes into the darkness, whether or not the darkness recognizes itself. Light seeps into through the cracks and crevices of our carefully-constructed world that we have walled off to others and begins to make a home. Light comes uninvited into those places that never knew they were dark at all. Light comes whether or not we are ready, whether or not we’ve planned it, whether or not we have done what we should do, and Light makes a home in a manger or whatever else it will find and we will never be the same.

Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world. (Mary Lou Redding)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

Where Righteousness is At Home

Overhanging trees8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance…. 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.  (2 Peter 3: 8-9, 13)

God will come when God will come. We’ve heard that over and over. But, granted, this life of faith is at times frustrating and often just downright difficult. How do you keep holding on to a hope when you often see no progress at all? How can we continue to be forced to wait for whatever it is for which we’re waiting? Because, as the passage says, we are promised a new heaven and a new earth. We are promised that all of Creation will be recreated. We are promised that, once and for all, righteousness will have a home. Righteousness, then, will be the norm. Righteousness will be an everyday thing. Righteousness will be that place where at the end of all our wandering, at the end of all our frustrations, at the end of the difficult days and the hours when you feel like you can do no more, we will enter our sacred place and be invited to pull the covers of righteousness over our heads and feel like things are the way they should be. So in this Season of Advent, we learn to wait. Good things cannot be rushed. The plan for God’s Kingdom was not made hastily and it cannot be just thrown together because we are getting a bit impatient with the whole ordeal. So, what do we do in the meantime? We live as if it’s here. We live righteousness. We give it a home. The Holy and the Sacred is not unattainable. In fact, if we just open our eyes, it is spilling into our lives even as we speak. God does not sit back and watch us squirm and strain until all is said and done. Rather, God gives us glimpse after glimpse and incarnation after incarnation and waits with infinite patience for us to respond. Look around…there are more burning bushes and parted seas and even waiting mangers in holy grottos than we can ever possibly imagine. As the writer of this passage maintains, it is that Holy Patience, that Waiting God in which we find our salvation. And so if we live as if the Holy and the Sacred has completely filled our lives, righteousness will indeed have a home and we will no longer be waiting for salvation.

But the part that we can’t forget, is that after righteousness has found us and soothed us and covered us, the next morning invites us to enter again and bring the home that we’ve found into our lives and into the world. See, the covers were NEVER meant to stay over our heads. Living righteousness is about being whatever it is for which you’ve waited and waking up and living it, whether or not the world seems to notice.
Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass.. it’s about learning to dance in the rain. (Vivian Greene)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

(Sorry I’ve gotten thrown off the last few days…life happens…back on track, hopefully! :))

Silencing the Frenzy

dreamstimefree_2009266120But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! (Habakkuk 2:20)

Well, tis the season!  THIRTEEN MORE DAYS!!! 20% OFF ONE DAY ONLY!!!  FREE SHIPPING TODAY ONLY!  FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS RECEIVE A FREE ______________ [I don’t know, just fill in the blank!]  The truth is, we are frenzied!  We live at a frenzied pace with which, truth be known, none of us can keep up.  I think about my last couple of days.  I haven’t even been able to breathe. Today I decorated five Christmas trees (one big one, four small ones), straightened my house, decorated all over the house, made a cheesecake, and now I’m writing this really late blog. Oh yeah…I wrote a sermon too! I think it’s just a conspiracy to keep us from dancing!  (Sorry this is so late in the day!)

But, think about it–we’re probably not the first people on the planet to live frenzied.  Think back–”Joseph, you’ll need to spend the next few days and take off from your carpenter’s job (unpaid, I’m guessing) and pop over to Bethlehem to pay this new tax that we’ve concocted.  We hope that works for you. Oh?  Your wife is about to go into labor?  And, really, she is birthing the salvation of the world, the Son of the God, the Messiah?  Well, that’s great, but you still need to pay your taxes on time or we can garnish your wages or take your house or throw you into one of those new Roman prisons.”  And so they went–Mary and Joseph, supposedly on a donkey or a mule or something of the like.  They arrived in Bethlehem.  But apparently everyone had gotten the same notice.  Do you believe all this traffic?  Why didn’t we make a reservation?  (Oh, really, Joseph?  What were you thinking?) Where is that first century Groupon when you need it?  Mary, I know this is hard.  I PROMISE that I will find a place for us to spend the night.  You’re WHAT?  NOW?  Are you kidding me?

We all know the story.  There would be no room.  There would be frenzy.  And so we made do.  We took what we could get–a sort of back room filled with hay and cast-off blankets.  It was filled with animals cowering from the cold.  And there Jesus was born into the frenzy of the world.  Truth be known–there was never calm but there was always peace.  But the point is that God still came–came into the frenzy of the world.  God does not wait until everything is calm and together.  God does not come because you have all the decorations up; God does not come because you finally have all the gifts wrapped; and God does not come because the world is ready, because the world is at peace. God just comes, frenzy and all.  And all we have to do is put on our dancing shoes!

So, THIS Advent, let go of the frenzy and remember…the Lord is already in the temple…the Lord has already come…God is just waiting for us to notice.
There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli