Today, we prepared for a visit from Santa. No Scripture reflection tonight. Advent is in full swing.
Here’s the thing about our tree: I’m not sure it’s pretty to anyone but us, really. I’ve seen some of your trees, all decorated in a colorful theme or with ribbons or balls, and they are lovely, really. Our tree is a mish-mash of various types of homemade and store-bought, old and newer. Ornaments from the trees Jason and I grew up with, carefully saved by our mothers and offered to us when we bought our first house together. All of the angel ornaments given to me, one a year while I grew up, by my Godmother, Donna. Ornaments made at various ages by Jonas, who is now almost 19 years-old. Ornaments we bought from Matt’s Newsstand when it was still open in downtown Henderson and I was trying to begin small collections. Many given to me through the years here in Henderson as gifts from families connected to the church.
Every one is a memory, really, and as we decorate the tree, I remember where each came from, or the story told to me about it (would you believe Jason cross-stitched one of the ornaments on our tree?).
Remembering can be a lovely, humbling part of the holiday season. The season gives us many occasions to remember loved ones no longer with us, fun times from when our children were small and Christmas was a special kind of magical, the mishaps and victories that we associate with tree lights and tinsel. I’m grateful to have so many reminders of wonderful people and times and places.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:3-7
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away. (Psalm 138:4-6)
Not a movie star? Not rich and famous? No crown or bling to speak of? Rest easy. You are loved by a glorious God.
(Speaking of movie stars, these sunglasses adorn the set of Sunday morning’s Christmas pageant, which will happen during the 10:30 worship service at the Presbyterian Church.)
The use of the word “awesome” is interesting. It means something like “awe-inspiring” or “magnificent,” but since the 1990s, it has had a much more casual meaning that essentially amounts to “good,” which is quite a bit less impressive than “magnificent.”
“Becky, your Lean Cuisine is done cooking in the microwave.”
Nothing about my Lean Cuisine is actually awesome, by the way. But it gets the job done at lunch time.
When God’s people look for awesome deeds, we may be tempted to look up, searching the sky for celestial wonders or an awe-inspiring sunset. We may be tempted to search for something powerful and dazzling. I would imagine this has always been true.
And yet God’s awesome deeds often come unexpectedly, in unexpected circumstances in unexpected places.
During a quiet night in the middle of tumultuous political times while shepherds kept their flocks. In a manger in the middle of nowhere attended by the most ordinary of people and their livestock. With the Son of God coming to earth in the most unlikely circumstances, at least it must have seemed.
The most awesome of deeds. The most holy of nights. Yet only noticed by a few at the time.
May we learn to look for God at work in places we would not normally expect.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
Yesterday I was feeling rather sick and didn’t take a single photo.
So I bring you this photo from this past summer. It was taken the night before Jenn and Brenden’s wedding in Cascade, Idaho.
This is such a great passage of scripture. If it sounds extra-familiar, it’s likely because you’ve heard it at many weddings you’ve attended. It’s the one that has the description “Love is patient, love is kind…”
We are known well by the people who love us best, and we are known perfectly by the one who created us.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! (James 3:3-5)
Today I did something fun.
This afternoon, I met my friend Lawrence at The Creme, a coffee shop in Owensboro, and listened to him talk. To be transparent, as I was also transparent with him, the purpose of our meeting was for me to fulfill requirements of a scholarship application, to listen to him speak about subjects he and I do not agree about and truly listen to what he had to say about them without trying to influence his opinion or insert my own (and then write an essay about that). That may have been the purpose, but the benefits included I got to drink coffee and spend time with Lawrence and learn a little about who he is what he believes in an environment that was not facebook and with true intention of hearing what he had to say.
Here’s the thing: our tongues are killing our relationships. When we verbally distill each other down to the worst caricature possible, when we would rather talk about someone than to someone, when we are more interested in getting our own words out than hearing the words of others, we are not focusing on the opportunity we have to truly know each other and hear each other. When we seek to somehow advance our own images rather than seek to see the image of God in each person around us, we can do a lot of damage.
“Behold a small fire–such a great forest it kindles!” James 3:5 (my meager translation of the Greek.)
I took the picture posted here in the bathroom at The Creme. I thought the “Love one another” sign was a good reminder of why I had come there and that the “poop” sign was pretty unique.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)
This is my buddy, J. Today, for about 30 minutes of our after school ministry time, he stayed as close to me as he could. He sat on my lap. He tried to climb onto my shoulders. He pulled at my hair and played with my earrings before he finally settled on trying to figure out my Fitbit.
If I had to go help another child, he walked me over and sat on my lap as soon as I sat down. He walked me around the room when I just needed to stand up for a moment (maybe hoping he’d find something else to do in the meantime).
He was a tangible reminder of God’s Spirit. After all, J, “where can I flee from your presence?”
Today was a tough day for many reasons. I was grateful to have the opportunity to reflect on scripture that tells me about a persistent God who stays by my side no matter how rocky the road gets.
Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:1-4)
Today begins Advent.
I’m a lover of words (a logophile, if you will), and I always have been. In middle school, I loved the lists of vocabulary words we had to memorize and learn to use and I get a little giddy when I’m the Grammarian at Toastmasters and get to inflict a challenging new word of the day on my club. As I write sermons or papers, sometimes I catch myself being a bit too loquacious and realize I better check myself before I wreck myself.
The word “advent” is a vocabulary word. It is used to speak of the arrival of someone or something notable. Particularly, we might use it to mark the dawning of an era, usually in retrospect. One might speak about the “advent of social media,” for example.
In the Church, the word has sacred meaning. It marks the first season of the church year, which starts today (Happy New Year!). It also speaks of the coming of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, to earth, either for the first time, which we celebrate at Christmas, or the second time, which the Church awaits in hope. It marks a rending of the heavens, and opening of the veil between the holy and the human.
Advent denotes deep human longing for God to come near and dwell with us.
The prophet writing the words we read in Isaiah 64 knew this longing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” The prophet writes from a time long before Christ’s first advent, before God dwelling so tangibly and perfectly and purposefully with humanity was revealed in Christ.
From our perspective well on the other side of that first arrival, we may know a similar longing, so that Isaiah’s words ring all around us. “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Come, Lord Jesus, and bend all that is wrong and unjust in our world toward your holy justice.
If you are starting an Advent journey today, may it be blessed.
Note: During Advent this year, I am using the photo prompts from the United Methodist Church’s Rethink Church Initiative.
Additional note: I am aware that a lot of translations of this scripture say “O that you would rend the heavens and come down,” which is some fun vocabulary. Yet the word today is “open,” so I went with the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (which I usually yield to anyway).
It’s (almost) time! Advent will start on Sunday. As in years past, I’ll be taking photos and posting daily using the word prompts given by the United Methodist Church and their Rethink Church initiative.
I’ve found this to be a great discipline for Advent (and Lent) and you should absolutely join me. Reflect on the word each day and take a photo that represents it. Then use the tags #RethinkChurch and #UnwrapChristmas to post via your social media accounts. More detailed information and instructions are available here.
Have a blessed Advent!
As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ –Luke 9:57-58
Reading between the lines: Following a poor Messiah without esteem or power or even a permanent home does not guarantee security or comfort. Follow anyway.