Yeah…but

St_-John-the-Baptist(ADVENT 3C)

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. (Luke 3: 15-18)

Well if John shows up, it must be Advent. We’re not sure exactly what to do with him. He’s completely unorthodox, dresses oddly, eats bugs, lives in the wilderness, and, it seems, just cannot seem to tone down his rather zealous message. After all, this is the season of sharing and wonder and twinkling lights as we look for the coming of the Christ-child. “John…shhhh…you’ll wake the baby!”

We know that John and Jesus go together. John was born about six months before to Mary’s cousin, the child of parents who never thought they would have a child. And, if you remember, John was the one who supposedly moved or kicked or at least made himself noticed in his mother’s womb when the pregnant Mary walked in the room. John was clear about his calling. He was not the Messiah but he was the one who would point to the Messiah. He was the forerunner, the opening act, if you will, that would set the stage for who and what was to come. John preached repentance, turning around. His message carried an urgency that called us to change, to be ready for the coming of Christ. Yeah…but…

But we still don’t know what to do with him. We like to think of Jesus as one who is kind and compassionate so John sort of becomes the “bad cop” in the duo. But have you ever thought that perhaps we have a hard time understanding John because, truthfully, we don’t understand Jesus. If John was the one that pointed to Jesus as the one who would baptize with water and Spirit, as the one who wielded the power to save the world, then why would we assume that John’s message was really all that different from Jesus’? See, we like this season of waiting and birth. We like the image of the baby. It’s safe. We like the image of a Jesus who is kind and compassionate, a smiling man surrounded by children as he stands on a mountain and preaches love and mercy and forgiveness. Yeah…but…

Jesus was a radical, folks. Jesus burst into the world essentially through a back door. By the time the establishment knew he was here, things had already begun to change. Jesus did preach love and mercy and forgiveness. But he also preached following and change and a calling to lose our life. That’s right…a calling to lose our life that we know and become someone knew. John called it repentance, turning around. Jesus message was a little more forceful: Lose your life or you die. Change your life or you’ll miss the Kingdom of God. Yeah….but…

There is that moment on Christmas Eve when we sing “Silent Night” and light our candle. In that moment, the incredible twinkling moment, the baby comes into the world for us. But it’s only a moment. Because in that moment, our world changes. For a few verses in the Bible, we’re allowed to be a little silent, to look upon the newborn and beam with expectation. But it doesn’t last long. There is work to be done. Perhaps John’s whole purpose was to simply wake us up so that we would hear the message that Jesus brought. John pointed us to Jesus; Jesus points us to God. Otherwise, it’s just too tempting to stay at the manger and keep Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes where he is kept safe and we are kept comfortable, where we don’t have to think about Golgotha or our own shortcomings. So, THIS Advent, listen to John. Let John’s message point you beyond the manger to the One that will point to God, that will bring you life. But you have to let go for that to happen. Keep in mind, if Jesus as a baby was the point of it all, we would have a manger on our altar. But the baby grows up and asks us to follow. And the cross on our altar reminds us that we will never be the same again. Yeah…but…

“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus did not point people to himself but to God. Our worship of Jesus may well be our worst disservice to him and the easiest way of effectively ignoring him. The religion about Jesus is quite different from the religion of Jesus. May my honoring Jesus never stand in the way of the more important challenge to imitate him in his openness to the Divine. (Ron Miller)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Finding What You’ve Waited For

dancing-joy(ADVENT 3C)

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 4-7)

Do you remember a couple of years ago when that “don’t worry, be happy” slogan was everywhere? I hated that, to be honest. It always seemed a bit sappy to me. Just forget your worries and be happy. Just forget all your cares and skip down the yellow brick road of life. Ok, see, even Dorothy (of Wizard of Oz fame) had some issues along that road. The Scripture doesn’t tell us not to worry so that we can be happy. The Scripture tells us to not let our worries consume us.

Our culture spends a great deal of time searching for happiness. We watch TV and we see sitcoms and commercials and now those strange reality TV shows with happy people giving us their own clues as to how to get happy like they are. It seems to be our goal in life. After all, what makes you happy? Are you happy when you are with friends or family? Are you happy when you are traveling, seeing parts of the world that you do not know? Are you happy when you are eating ice cream? Or at the beach? Or shopping? Or surrounded by beauty? But anyone will tell you that happiness is fleeting. It’s not the same as joy. Joy is deep and abiding. It exists in the deepest part of our being and rather than covering us up with a sort of pink cloud temporary existence, joys comes from within and fills us. Think about it. Most happy people will describe themselves as happy. But to say that one is filled with joy is different. Joy is being filled with that which surpasses all understanding. Joy is being filled with something that makes no sense and doesn’t have to.

So, here is Paul, probably writing from a prison cell. It would be odd for him to fill his letters with words that might convince his readers that he is happy. He is NOT happy. In fact, Paul is frustrated beyond belief. He wants to be out there doing the work that he is called to do, helping the fledgling congregations that he has barely gotten off the ground. But here he sits. No, Paul is NOT happy. This was not the plan. But beyond what the world understands, beyond what the world can even imagine, beyond any happiness that may come about, is joy. Rejoice in the Lord always. Happiness is fleeting. Joy breeds joy.

So, no matter what is going on, give thanks to God for your life. Give thanks to God for the life in Christ that you have. Let it fill your life. Do not let your worries consume you. Do not let them turn you into someone that you are not. When it’s all said and done, this WILL come out alright. That’s the whole promise. So, when life gets rough, when happiness seems to elude you, talk to God. Pray for peace. Don’t worry about praying that God will fix what is wrong. Just pray for peace to wash over you. Pray for joy to fill you. That’s all you need. Because there you find the heart and mind of Christ.

Think about it. Jesus was born into a waiting world, a world that was sure that all it needed was someone to fix its problems and put its adversaries in their proper place, a world that had figured out what it needed to make itself a happy place. But Jesus showed up on a dark night in a dingy stable in the middle of the poverty of the land and almost immediately began a life that would consist of evading the status quo and those in charge. And roughly 2,000 years later, the world is still not a happy place. So, perhaps this season is not about what makes us happy but rather what gives us reason to rejoice, what makes us whole and fills us and makes us who we are. For into the darkness, came Light and into our dying days came Life. Rejoice in the Lord always!  And, there, there you will find everything for which you’ve waited.

Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

God is Here NOW?

Standing in God's Presence(ADVENT 3C)

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; (Zephaniah 3: 14-15a)

When I was little I used to lay in bed and try to imagine God looking at me. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I had been told in Sunday School that God was with us. It was odd to me. So I shut my eyes tight and opened them to try to actually see God peeking from behind some cotton-candy cloud, I suppose. I wondered, though: Did God have time to watch me sleep? Did God watch me take a bath? Did God know when my brother and I fought? (I don’t know if Donnie was as concerned as I was with that!) I think many of us still struggle with that. I mean, really, doesn’t God have better things to do than to watch us all the time? So somewhere along the way, we convince ourselves that God is out there or up there or somewhere down that road that we’re on. After all, why would God spend a bunch of time in the muck of this messed-up world. But then we read that “the Lord is in our midst.”—not out there away from us, not up there over us, not down that road patiently waiting for us to catch up. God is in our midst. God is here…among us….with us.

The Lord is in our midst—not coming, not waiting to appear like some top-billing star of the show hiding behind the curtain waiting for the big entrance, but here, now. Here we were desperately looking for God in our life and this little unsung hero of a book wedged in between all those Minor Prophets had it there all along. God is with US. No wonder we couldn’t find God! We weren’t looking in the right place! So all this time that we’ve been waiting for the Lord, God’s been here, waiting for US to notice. All this time that we’ve spent trying to figure God out and figure out what God wants and figure out how we can get to God when we should have been rejoicing. And the passage says that the Lord has taken away our judgments, just smoothed them right over, I suppose. (Actually, I think that’s called forgiveness.) The Hebrew Tanakh translation talks about it as God “soothing us with love”.   I love that, the thought of being soothed with love.  I mean, I guess it would be uncomfortable for God to hang around with us and continue to pick us apart at the same time and why would God hang around at all if it wasn’t for love?

So in the midst of a world that makes no sense, in the midst of a life that is sometimes riddled with questions and heartache, in the midst of the way we hurt each other and judge each other, God comes. God comes right there into our midst. You see, God didn’t wait for the world to be right. God didn’t wait for us to stop fighting with each other or arguing over who belongs here with us. God didn’t wait for terrorists to quit attacking innocents. God didn’t wait for us so-called innocents to quit attacking those who we think MIGHT be terrorists. God didn’t wait for us to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. God didn’t wait for us to figure out what it means to be made in the image of God. God just came. God just showed up, really sort of uninvited because frankly sometimes we forget to do that. I don’t think that matters to God. God is not waiting for us to invite God to show up. God is waiting for us to notice that God in our midst. Maybe THIS Advent, we’ll notice. Rejoice! The Lord, your God, is in your midst! Hmmm…maybe we should get ready NOW!

 

Bidden or unbidden, God is present. (Erasmus)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli