Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I haven’t posted anything in quite some time. Partly, that was about the busy season and trying to finish up the semester. Mostly it was about fear, though. I got bogged down in my uncertainties about the future and bittersweet memories of the past, and I didn’t really want to hear what God might have to say. It was more comfortable to wallow in self-pity than to turn to God and give Him the opportunity to heal my hurt and point me in a new direction.

So I’m back now. Can’t promise that I won’t wander away again. I tend to struggle with that. But I’m trying again, and that’s the best any of us can expect from ourselves – when we finally realize that we’re the ones holding ourselves back, we get back up, dust ourselves off, and walk on.

So today, I’m cheating a little bit. I’ve been thinking about Advent. In the church I grew up in, I don’t remember ever even hearing the word Advent. I had no idea what it was until I began singing with church choirs. I think that was in high school or college. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that the liturgy and the lectionary readings interest me so much. I grew up about as far from a liturgical tradition as you can get. And now that we have entered this season of Advent, I find myself wondering what the big deal is. It’s the BIRTH of Christ that matters, right? Because it’s the death of Christ that changed the world.

So, I cheated a little bit today, and went back to the lectionary reading for Sunday, because the Sunday readings seem to be more timely than the weekly readings; more focused on the calendar. And I was a bit surprised by what I found.
The first reading is Zephaniah 3:14-20

Verse 17 says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior, He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” And verse 19 says, “Behold, I am going to deal at that time with all your oppressors, I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. “

What I remember taking from Christmas as a child was the idea a precursor of John 3:16 –“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” You know what I’ve never noticed about that verse before? It doesn’t say anything about Christ’s sacrificial death. I still believe it’s implied, but Christ isn’t just talking about His death here – He’s also talking about His life. And somehow or other I’ve always had the idea that this verse, and Christmas, were about Him arriving so He could die. And that’s all. But that’s not what John 3:16 says. It says believe. It says the Son was given. Yes, that implies a sacrificial death. But it also implies the simple act of living. We speak often about the pain God experienced in watching His Son die on the cross. The Scriptures say that He turned His back. But we rarely discuss how it must have felt to watch Him leave heaven for Earth. To watch Him walk among mortals for 33 years. To watch Him go through the same fears, pains, disappointments, betrayals, heartbreaks that we puny humans do. The act of allowing Christ to live must have taken almost as much from the heart of God as the act of allowing Him to die.

So that life must have meant something. And that’s what Advent is about.
Advent prepares our hearts for the coming Christ. Because, as Zephaniah says, He came to DO things. Not just to die. Not just to become the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Not just to pay the price of our redemption. But to live among us, “to exult over us with joy,” to “gather the outcast,” and to “turn their shame into praise and renown.” Those aren’t things a dead Man can do. Not even a resurrected one. So His life mattered too.
So Advent exists. And in the second reading from Sunday, Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist brings a message of preparation. Yes, he speaks of coming judgment. But his specific instructions to those who would ask are not about guilt or shame over sinfulness. They are about LIVING in repentance, justice, and mercy. He tells the wealthy to share with the poor. He tells the tax-collectors to do their job honestly. He tells the soldiers to be good stewards of their authority. He doesn’t tell the rich to feel guilty that they have when others don’t. He doesn’t tell the tax-collectors to quit their jobs because they are universally despised. He doesn’t tell the soldiers to leave a corrupt system. He tells them all to DO SOMETHING to change perceptions and change lives.

And so must we. As we walk through this Advent season, we need to remember that God has called us to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” In preparation for the coming Christ, Who will teach us how to do all things well, we must turn back to the work of the Kingdom, in showing the love and God to a hurting world. Surely that was Christ’s mission here for all 33 years of His life. We can renew our commitment to it for one month.

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