The Time to Make Room

 

traveling-to-bethlehem2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2: 1-5)

And I remember that long journey to Bethlehem.  It was uncomfortable.  It was scary.  It was lonely.  We were traveling with others but it seemed to be just Joseph and me.  Perhaps it was because we were the only ones there that knew.  And, yet, we didn’t know.  We thought we would find appropriate lodging.  We thought that perhaps there would be a lovely older woman there that could talk me through the birth.  We imagined that we would have a place that was warm and comfortable.  But that was not to be.  The city had filled to capacity.  There was just no room.

I have always thought of that night and wondered if it was the way God intended.  Did God mean to come in virtually unnoticed through a back door of the world in the darkest of alleys?  What was the point if no one noticed?  Or was this God’s way of testing us to see if the world was open enough to receive the Christ?  I’m not usually in to believing that God tests us.  I think God came into the world just like we all do—as an innocent baby who needed to be held and loved and welcomed into the world.  But the world was moving much too fast as it often does.  The world was not prepared.  The world was not ready to change.

I now understand that God did not come because the world was ready.  God came because the world needed God.  God came because it was time.  The world needed to be saved not just from the evils surrounding it but from itself.  The world needed to be awakened.  The world needed to be reminded who it was.  So, into the darkest and most foreboding part of the world, God came.  And the baby that I held was indeed the very Saving Grace of the world.  The baby that I held that day was not the One who would make our lives easier or clean up our world.  He would not stop wars or stamp out poverty.  He would not bring us together as one world.  The baby that I held that night was the One that would show us the way to God and that on that journey, we would be called to bring Light into the darkness over and over again.

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold, the King of glory waits; the King of Kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here!

Fling wide the portals of your heart; make it a temple, set apart from earthly use for heaven’s employ, adorned with prayer and love and joy.

Redeemer come, with us abide; our hearts to thee we open wide; let us thy inner presence feel; thy grace and love in us reveal.

Thy Holy Spirit lead us on until our glorious goal is won; eternal praise, eternal fame be offered, Savior, to thy name! (George Weissel, 17th century; trans. By Catherine Winkworth, 1855)

___________________

And not that [this] story is told, what does it mean?  How can I tell?  What does life mean?  If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling the story. (Henry Van Dyke)

FOR TODAY:  What do you need to change or re-arrange to make room for God coming into your life? (And given the hour, this is an EXCELLENT time to figure that out!)

Peace to you as we begin to see the Light coming into the world,

Shelli

In Our Search for Belief

Cross-Abstract
“Faith, Day and Night”, J. Vincent Scarpace, 2012

Scripture Passage (Romans 10: 8b-13)

 

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

 

 

You know, this whole faith journey thing would be a whole lot easier if the rules were better laid out! So, are you supposed to confess your beliefs first or believe what you’re saying first? (because did you notice they get switched in this passage?) I mean, just make it easy! How DO we get this right? Just tell me what I’m supposed to do and I’ll do it! Just tell me what to say. I’m a pretty fast learner. I could probably remember enough to get through the initial exam anyway.

 

That’s what most of us want. That’s what those that Paul was first addressing wanted. Good grief, just tell us what we’re supposed to do to get this right! They wanted him to tell them what acts, what righteousness needed to happen so they could check off that they were following the law. We’re no different. We’re used to racking up points or grades or salary levels (or for churches, it would be members or attendees or giving patterns or apportionments—aaaagggghhhh!—there, I’m better!), all so that we can check off that we’ve achieved something. But when you read this, Paul isn’t even laying out what it is we’re supposed to believe. There’s no talk of original sin or not, no mention of which salvation theory Paul thought was the right one, and no list of rules or beliefs to which we needed to adhere to get “in”. Paul’s answer instead was to just believe. Just ask. Just open your mouth and pour out your heart and say it. That’s all. Because, see, it’s there. It’s all right there. Just call on the Lord and start walking.

 

But there’s another side to this. If we’re not told exactly what it is that we’re supposed to believe, then why would we think that our beliefs are the way everyone should believe? The passage says that “everyone—that means all of us—who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In other words, desiring God is enough. Desiring God is what leads us toward God. Wanting to pray is praying. Yearning to be with God is being with God. Confessing our belief is believing. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have what seem to be crises of faith. (I have one about every week lately!) It doesn’t mean that we will ever get to the point where we don’t have questions. (If you meet someone that tells you they don’t question God or question what they believe, personally, I’d run! I mean, are you really willing to stake your whole existence on what YOU’VE figured out God is going to do?)

 

Desiring God, wanting to be with God, wanting to follow is enough. Beginning is enough. I mean, I’ll be honest, if God had some prescribed list of rules and definitive beliefs in mind, why in the world would God have chosen Paul to be the head writer of the greatest treatise on salvation of all time, with his circular thoughts and grammatically incorrect run-on sentences? Maybe God’s whole idea is that we wander and we explore and we question and we journey not until we “get it” but until we realize that the journey IS the way we live with God, that this wilderness in which we find ourselves IS the Way to God and, at the same time, the way to ourselves. That is the reason that in this season, we find ourselves in the wilderness. It is not a punishment. It is a reminder that the God who created us has never left us. It is for us to realize that in the deepest part of our being, we desire to be with God almost as much as God desires to be with us. That is the reason that God came, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, to walk with us, to perhaps wake up our God-given desires to be with God. So, begin. Wanting to be with God IS being with God. And THAT is something in which you can believe.

 

There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every [person] which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ. (Blaise Pascal)

 

Thank you for sharing your Lenten journey with me!

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Discovered

God holding handScripture Text:  John 12: 20-36

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

 

We had this passage week before last, but it also appears as the Holy Tuesday lectionary reading.  We know about the wheat, how the seed must die so that the fruit can be, how, essentially, the seed must surrender itself, allow itself to die so that it can become something else.  It’s hard for us to grasp.  Those of us who live in Western society are much more accustomed to being told what to believe, for our beliefs to grow as they are added on to each other until we are so full of a collection of beliefs that we are about to explode.  The idea of surrendering, of letting a part of oneself literally fall away is foreign to us.

This morning (because I’m late in posting this), the Today Show interviewed three faith leaders as part of their week-long series on faith and spirituality.  The question for this morning is “Who is God?”  That’s a pretty big question.  It’s essentially the same question with which those in this Gospel account are struggling.  Who is God?  See, they said, we’ve learned from the law that the Messiah remains forever.  We got that.  So what is this about being lifted up?  And who this Son of Man character that you keep talking about?  But we are no different.  We would be much more comfortable if God just laid it all out for us, made it all a bit more obvious, maybe just made that light into which we are supposed to walk so incredibly overwhelming that none of us could miss it.  What we’re saying is that we would be much more comfortable if we COULD faithfully answer the question “Who is God?” and know that we are actually getting it right.

But then we are told that we have to die, give up the self that we have tried so desperately to hone and perfect.  Essentially, if we let our ideas and notions about who God is die away, we will know who God is.  Now that just seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  I don’t think we come to know God by learning about God.  We come to know God as we discover who God is in our lives, as we walk through the wilderness where God is revealed to us without the shadows of our lives and our preconceived notions getting in the way, as we walk through the darkness and finally see the light for ourselves rather than it being something that blinds us to itself.

Jesus never really gave a straight answer to this question.  (ACTUALLY, I don’t really think Jesus ever gave a straight answer to many questions.)  We are instead compelled to follow, to leave ourselves behind, and to come and see for ourselves.  Our faith journey, our coming closer and closer to God, our own way that God is revealed in our lives comes about through discovery rather than memorization, through doubt rather than certainty, through darkness rather than blinding light.  So as we walk through this Holy Week, let us leave ourselves behind and discover our Lord anew, discover the God who will raise us up if we are not so tied down.

 

Religion is about transcendence, and spirituality is about finding meaning in the mundane. (Joan Chittister)

“You Raise Me Up” (Josh Groban):

 

FOR TODAY:  Close your eyes and let yourself slip away.  Open them and look for the light that you were missing.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli