Tension

Tension

Today’s Word: ‘Tension’ as in… Advent is a season filled with seemingly contradictory realities held together even by their curious differences.

Consider these tensions of Advent:

Already/Not Yet.” We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus…” Yet, even this prayer acknowledges that Christ is already present. We await his coming while already celebrating his birth!

“Infant/Ruler.” We hear the soft cry of a baby in a manger. Yet, and in the language of the church, that manger is the throne of a king who rules with equity, justice, compassion and boundless grace.

“Mystery/Majesty.” We experience the sights, the sounds, the aromas, the feelings, even the tastes of this ‘Waiting Season’ combining to create a sense of mystery that swirls around us, embraces us year after year. Yet, in that waiting there are those moments when the majesty of this season drops us to our knees in utter wonder and awe.

“Darkness/Light.” The days grow shorter and the nights grow longer. Yet, we live with the promise of longer days and shorter soon nights to come.

“Death/Birth.” In one verse we lament death: “Fast away the old year passes…Fa la la la la la la la la…” and in the very next breath we sing of life: “Hail the new, ye lads and lasses…Fa la la la la la la la la…”

This is the Advent tension.

We are living in the tension of the in-between-ness of life. Yet, at the same time we know that the promise of a new time has already come to pass. Maybe that’s what Isaiah was pointing to when he announced:

“The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide!”

Advent! Tension!

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Mystery

MysteryToday’s Word: ‘MYSTERY’ as in… that which cannot be known is coming to be known and to make known the mystery of God’s amazing grace and awesome love!

I grew up in a faith community where “What to believe” and “How to talk about it” was communicated by well-meaning pastors, teachers, leaders, and youth trip volunteers. Between hayrides in the fall, sledding in the winter, prepping Easter morning breakfast (waffles and strawberries), and bike trips in the summer, we spent time trying to capture, categorize, and contain what was essentially, a mystery. Our leaders were careful, thorough, and well meaning; but they gave us what had first been given to them. The mysterious narrative they handed on to us was the remarkable narrative that had been handed off to them and others before them. Not much thinking was involved. We weren’t taught to ask questions, and we never questioned authority. We’d just been handed a list of theological essentials that would be turned into concepts that would, in turn, be turned into dogma which was then passed along from one generation to the next.

Advent is a season of waiting and preparing. The beauty of Advent is in the anticipation wonder, and mystery.

But it’s also a bit counterintuitive.

Though what we wait for is certainly mystery, it’s not just any mystery. We wait for The Mystery! God made flesh; God moving into our neighborhood!

We wait for that which cannot be fully known. What a mystery!

The ancient prophet Isaiah reminds us to this day that this Mystery, this One who promises to know us fully cannot be fully known. This One whose birth we await has already been born among us.

Isaiah recounts the words of Yahweh:

“So—who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?”

The Advent Mystery is that no one, nothing can hold a candle to The Mystery who comes as Light to illuminate the whole world! That which cannot be known is coming to be fully known and to make known the mystery of God’s amazing grace and awesome love!

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Imagine

Imagine

Today’s Word: ‘IMAGINE’ as in… how do you imagine God? A baby? Really?

Respond with either True or False to these statements:

  • “I can trust God no matter what.”
  • “Sometimes God leaves us on our own.”
  • “God is patient with us even when we’re impatient.”
  • “When God seems distant, God really is distant.”
  • “God is always present in my life.”
  • “We can trust God even when we can’t ‘see’ God.”

Your responses actually say a lot about your image of God. When we try to imagine God, all kinds of images come to mind. We might imagine a grandpa or grandma, a friend or even a parent. We might imagine a teacher or a judge, or perhaps even something completely different than all of those things!

A friend of mine imagines God as the color blue.

For her, Blue is sacred, strong, nurturing; Blue is comforting and a creative way of “experiencing God.”

How do you imagine God? How was your image of God shaped, and who helped shape that image? Has that always been your image of God? Has that image ever changed? Do you have more than one, or even a few images of God? Honestly, how would you draw, describe, or paint God?

This is tough enough for adults! Imagine what it’s like for kids!

America’s Four Gods” is a website that examines the different ways Americans perceive God. The developers, Paul Froese and Christopher Bader contend that people in America see God in basically four ways: Authoritative, Benevolent, Critical or Distant. The website is set up to poll people on their views. It’s not very scientific; doesn’t need to be, but it is interesting to take the poll. One of the God-images displayed showed Jesus washing feet and I indicated that that image represented God to me “Very Well.” As it turned out, 54% of the people polled indicated the same.

As the season of Advent continues, we continue to make room for all kinds of ways to imagine God “moving into our neighborhood.”

But a baby? A baby in a manger? Really?

Yes, a baby, really.

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Empty

Empty

Today’s Word: ‘EMPTY’ as in… if we’re going to be filled, we’ve got to become empty.

I just switched up all of my music playlists. A whole bunch of stuff that I listened to leading up to Thanksgiving had to “go away” in order to make room for the Christmas Playlists: Bing Crosby, Chicago, James Taylor, Christmas Jazz, Christmas Quiet, Christmas with Gene, Cooking, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. There’s also a playlist titled Christmas Goofiness (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas).

After all, there’s just only so much bandwidth to go around.

Mother Teresa was more famous for what she did than for what she said. And while she would have most certainly balked at the thought of any notoriety that didn’t point to the nameless, faceless, even lifeless people she served, she did say some powerful things.

Mother Teresa often talked about praying that God would “enlarge her heart to make more room for God.”

She wrote:

“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself: Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive him and keep him as your own.”

Simply put, if we’re going to be filled, we’ll have to become empty.

Advent is about emptying in order to make room for the fullness of Christmas. In order to be filled to the Christmas brim, a bunch of stuff has to get deselected or even deleted. Advent is experienced most fully when we realize that we are in need of being filled, but cannot fill ourselves.

Christmas is experienced most fully when we are empty enough to be filled with the Holy One, God, birthed into the world, birthed into us as a child in the manger.

So, let me ask you just one question: What needs to “go away” in this season of Advent in order to make room for all that Christmas will bring? For me–if I’m honest, really honest, unplugging would be helpful. But then, what about all of the music, the playlists? Fewer playlists mean more bandwidth and less noise on my part, means more room for God to speak.

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Near

Near

Today’s Word: ‘Near’ as in… the One who is soon to come, is, even now, so near!

The second Monday of Advent challenges us to ask this honest and brave question:

“Where is God?”

God is near, God is here, God is in our midst as the One who is soon to come, yet even now, so near. Psalm 46 speaks powerful words of nearness. My late friend, Eugene Peterson, in his translation of Psalm 46 from the Message Bible understands it this way:

“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea-storm and earthquake, before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD-of-Angel-Armies protects us. River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High. God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn.”

In our weakness, God is our strength; God is near to us. In our terror, God is our refuge; God is near to us. In our trouble, God is our Savior; God is near to us. When we’re going down, God lifts us up! God is near to us in our work and in our play, near us at school, in the broad daylight, in the dark of night! God is near to us among our family and friends, and when we fell alone, near to us when we laugh and when we catch ourselves laughing when not so long before we thought we’d never stop crying. God is near to us in the carols we sing, in the stories we read, in the sights, the sounds, the aromas, the feelings, the flavors of this Advent season.

In this second week of Advent, the light is just a bit brighter; two candles now, not just one. As we continue to wait; we wait knowing that all of our Advent anticipation points toward the Prince of Peace, the One who is soon to come, yet even now, so near.

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Peace

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Today’s Word: ‘Peace’ as in… let’s be still and give peace a chance on this second Sunday of Advent! A

s the second week of Advent continues, I’m still trying to catch up from last week! I found the Yule Log in a mislabeled box in storage, but the candles that go with it are still missing! Winter is here; it’s cold, but my favorite gloves are still in a plastic bin in the crawl space next to a box of lights that need to be tested to see if they work before I put them up! Christmas cards are filling the basket by the tree, but we’re still deciding if we’ll send cards this Christmas!

This “Holiday Season” already feels overwhelming!

Every year I promise to slow down, be still, and give peace a chance. But finding peace is always the greatest challenge. And to be honest, that’s probably because being still is always a challenge.

The Gospel writer Mark tells a story about Jesus, the disciples and a storm. It’s “dark,” they’re “going in a different direction,” they’re “alone” and they’re on “a lake.” One rich metaphor after another! It’s a perfect storm. So, of course a storm arises and threatens everything. “Peace. Be still!” Jesus says. Isn’t it fascinating how peace and stillness go together!

Here’s the story from Mark 4:35-39:

“When evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they got into the boat. A great windstorm arose and the waves were tossing them. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. So they woke him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

On this second Sunday of Advent we’re invited to be still and give peace a chance by considering the calming presence of the coming Christ who is always present, meets us in every moment, and invites us to be still and give peace a chance!

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Hope

Hope3Today’s Word: ‘Hope’ as in… Advent is a season of waiting with hope!

The challenge is that we no longer have to wait for much. We’ve lost something of the art of waiting, and because of that, we’ve lost the ability to wait with hope. If we want something, we just go get it. Whether it’s tangible goods and services or something less tangible like information, we have ways of getting those things without much waiting or hoping at all. Not long ago the idea of ordering something online today and having it in three days seemed like a big deal. Now, of course, we can order it this morning and have it this afternoon. Because of this, it’s easy to have an uneasy relationship with hope.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it best:

“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.”

Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

Our waiting is rooted in that hope.

A few questions: Can you identify something in your life that you’ve genuinely had to wait for? How did that waiting go for you? What is your greatest hope for today? Is there anything in this Advent waiting/hoping time that is teaching you something about yourself—or about the One whose birth we’re waiting to celebrate?

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