Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Light in the Darkness

December 25, 2018  –– Christmas
Isaiah 9:1–6 / Psalm 96 / Titus 2:11–14 / Luke 2:1–14
Light in the Darkness

Generally speaking, humans do not like darkness. Many people complain of Seasonal Affective Disorder and are depressed when days are short or overcast for too long. Of course, “darkness” is relative (actually, “darkness" only exists according to the degree to which light is decreased). We have ways of making “relative darkness” cozy and beautiful––a small lamp or a fire in the hearth in an otherwise dark room, or a display of lights on the outside of our houses to illumine a winter night during the Christmas season.

Still, we do not do well with an absence of light…. either physically or spiritually. Have you ever been in total darkness? Years ago I visited Mammoth Cave and I still remember when our group was assembled at the lowest part of the tour and the lights were turned off for a brief time––total darkness.

The Bible begins with that image and the contrast of God’s activity: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light (Genesis 1:1–3). Throughout the rest of Scripture there is an ongoing theme of darkness and light.

A disobedience to God allowed darkness to have an inordinate place in the world. The darkness of unbelief and rebellion has besieged people for so long that we can assume it is as eternal as God himself. but the power of darkness has no chance of domination. John tells us in his first letter that God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). In Peter’s first letter we hear that God is always and forever the one who [is calling] you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

This is the promise Isaiah was making to God’s people after they had detoured into darkness and lost hope: The people who walked in darkness have see a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. The promise was fulfilled in the little town of Bethlehem. Luke gives the details of the story: Mary and Joseph, a first-born in a manger, shepherds, and angels…. and the Good News: a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.

St Paul tells Titus what it means: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways…. We reject godless ways when we turn away from any and every thing that extends the darkness of pain and despair and death. We see the reality of the grace of God whenever a bit of light shines on our path.

Christmas is the celebration that Jesus is that Light. God himself came to dwell among us and open the way to the fulness of Life . John opens his Gospel saying In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world…. [and] to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (John 1:5–12).

Like the Christmas lights that shine into these winter nights, we are immersed in a Light that darkness cannot overcome. This is why, on that night long ago, the angels illumined the sky and sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace those on whom his favor rests.

Through Jesus Christ, the favor of God rests on us. It is the gift of Light and Life.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Looking for the Day of Christ Jesus

December 9, 2018: 2nd Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5:1–9 / Psalm 126 / Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11 / Luke 3:1–6
Looking for the Day of Christ Jesus

One of the great verses of the Bible is Philippians 1:6 –– being confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is at work in our lives. It helps to keep in mind what God has done and what God is going to do. These are two crucial things. The first is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). A second thing is that Jesus is going to come again––the day of Christ Jesus, and it will bring the full effect of his death and resurrection to all of creation. Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for our salvation but the full effect is yet to come. We live “in between” what Jesus did in his first coming and what he will do in his second coming.

Christian life is lived in this tension of what God has done and will yet do. The great thing is this: What God starts, he will finish. Christians live in hope. That is why we live by faith; we believe that God has already done something incredible, and that he is going to finish it when Jesus is fully revealed as King of kings and Lord of lords––the day of Christ Jesus.

As Christians, everything we do and everything we value needs to be understood between these two fixed certainties of what God has done and what he is going to do. As Paul writes this Philippian letter, he is in prison; despite his circumstances his hope is in what God has done and what God is going to do. This is meant to be our model. We all live with threatening situations: An important relationship begins to unravel…. a loved one gets seriously ill or even dies…. hopes for our children get torpedoed…. we discover we have inherited dysfunctional living patterns…. our job (and thus our earthly security) is threatened…. What do we do? We hang on to what God has done and what he is going to do.

Now, while our faith is indeed rooted in what God has done through Jesus in his death and resurrection, that alone is not full salvation. This world has not yet come into the reality of God's rule. So Christians, like all others, still suffer. Christians, like all others, still physically die. The fullness of God's salvation is yet to come; it is what God will do. We live for what's coming. We prepare for what's coming. We make our decisions based on what's coming. We choose our values based on what's coming.

Here is what is coming: the day of Christ. This is in continuity with the Old Testament reading for today and prophecy that John quotes in the Gospel. This is the hope of every Christian who has chosen to trust God in spite of the pain, the tears and the death. Jesus is coming as God's King of the universe, and he is going to change this world to be all that God has promised.

It is more than we can imagine, so critics say this is a pathological diversion––“imaginary pie in the sky by and by.” It is said that this world is what matters, and it is implied only this world. Yes, there are many good things which call for our attention in this world. There are also other things which can distract us spiritually and even hurt us. So this is the question: is this world as we know it all there is? Is so, then there is nothing to Christian Faith. But if we grant Christian Faith, then there is something that makes sense of all the details that surround our live.

Now if we try to keep track of all those details in an attempt to get everything right by ourselves, we will only get bogged down and lose our way. As we make our way in this world we have one focus: the day of Christ is coming, and it will put everything right.

One winter day five boys were playing in the woods. They decided to see who could make the straightest set of tracks in the snow. Most of the boys very carefully watched their feet, putting one directly in front of the other. But when they had crossed a clearing in the woods and looked back, one track was curved, one was crooked and two were zig-zag. Only one boy had a straight track. When they asked him how he did it, he replied that he had not looked at his feet; instead, he had picked out a tree across the clearing and had walked straight toward it.

As we "walk" through the details of our lives in this world, we keep our spiritual eyes on what God has done and what he is going to do. That is what it means to live in faith. That is the way we can enter into the real meaning of Advent. We keep our eyes looking for Jesus…. until the day of Christ. He is coming!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Waiting for the Lord

December 2, 2018 –– The First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14–16 / 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2 / Luke 21:25–28, 34–36
Waiting for the Lord

Advent begins with this Gospel that reminds us of hard things because we live in a world that does indeed have terrible things. Christian Faith does not turn away from what is difficult; the message and model of Jesus invites us to call a thing what it is. But we do not dwell on the bad news. We believe that God is at work even in the darkest and most difficult times. Christians know that our Lord is at work in and beyond the threats and discouragements.

In Advent we are called to wait for the Lord. We believe that Jesus came to fulfill Jeremiah's promise of the righteous branch. He fed the hungry, he healed the sick, and gave himself a ransom for our sins. Jesus wants us to know that this world still belongs to God. Nothing must shake our faith nor weaken our resolve that God is in charge and that Jesus is coming again.

We can feel like it’s up to us to fix things. We can feel guilty if we don’t fix ourselves the way we think we should be. In Advent we remember that God is at work; he is going to make things right, even if it’s not the way we expect or on our time schedule.

Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. He tells about some friends of his who were trapeze artists. They told Nouwen that there's a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one that lets go, and the catcher is the one that catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air. One of them told Nouwen, "The flyer must never try to catch the catcher." The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.

As our hearts desire the promise of Christmas, we need to learn to wait. We may feel that we’re suspended in mid-air––far beyond our comfort zone. Advent tells us that, in the midst of things that can make us impatient and even hurt, our Lord is with us on the journey. Wait on the Lord….

I suggest a little exercise for the next four weeks. When you sit in the soft glow of your Christmas tree some evening or when you enjoy the delicious food at a holiday party, at some point remind yourself that these things are not mere pleasant distractions. Holiday ambiance is not a brief opportunity to forget the world's troubles for a little while. Rather, it is a reminder that even as the darkness swirls around us, we live in the Light that shines in the darkness. It is a Light that no darkness can prevent from shining. As the holiday lights shine around us,  remember…. the Lord is near….. the Lord is here.

Site Meter