Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends. Thank you for joining me on another Advent journey.
Alleluia, Christ has come!


Monday, December 24, 2018

A Savior, Swaddled and Victorious

I have an image I’ve wanted to use all Advent. It’s a pile of cloths, waiting to be used for some mundane purpose. But as we look at the image of Jesus Christ as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, the purpose of such pieces of fabric seems far from ordinary.

I gathered more inspiration from an article on Christianity Today’s website entitled My Swaddled Savior. In it, pastor Jeff Peabody, wrestling with his own mental illness and the idea of being bound with the captive fetters of his mind’s disorder, says,

“The simple image of Jesus, God’s gift to us, being wrapped up in cloths comforts me with the powerful truth: He understands the bindings on my mind and soul as only someone who has a shared experience can. The concept of Immanuel, God with us, takes on a new and profound clarity.”

At first, one wonders what it must have been like for the world of God-incarnate to be reduced and tightened so severely. Were the swaddling clothes constraining or consoling? After all, Jesus needed no use of hands and limbs to pull humanity towards Himself. What was mere strips of cloth to the maker of the universe?

Indeed, it was an act of humility. A boundedness that He entered according to the will of the Father. As we let this sink in, no longer do we see the sweet cooing baby in the folds of a clean blanket. We see God Almighty “contained in unnaturally small dimensions,” experiencing unfathomable limitations for our behalf.

Jesus entered the world in wrappings, spiritual and humble. At the end, we see them again. He was bound during His trials. Nails hammered into his wrists and ankles took the place of chains. Yet we know it was not wood and iron that held Him there. Jesus was immobilized again for our behalf, held captive to His sacrifice by His great love. The final wrappings came in the form of burial shroud, wrapped lovingly with spices and ointments.

Peabody writes about Christ's final confrontation with His wrappings:

“This time, the story ends with the image of the cloths being left behind in the tomb, set aside by the risen Christ. The gift is now fully ours, the wrappings discarded. He broke the power of the bindings that had held him in a death grip and emerged into complete and total freedom. . .”

He offers us freedom from our own tight bound swaddlings too. These swaddlings come in all shapes and sizes—tightnesses and pressures, locked lives and chained souls—but only He can pull the release.

Tomorrow we celebrate Christmas. We read the Nativity story. We wonder at the beauty of God’s plan. Like Mary, we cherish all these things in our hearts. But don't let it end there. Arise from the end-of-celebration stupor and embrace the King. He came to open hearts and minds; to set the bound free. And He promises to come again. Can we prepare Him room?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

"Take Joy" by Fra Giovanni Giocondo

This evening we’ll travel back to 16th century Italy. In 1513, Franciscan friar, architect, archaeologist and scholar, Fra Giovanni Giocondo, wrote this Christmas prayer “Take Joy” as part of a letter for the Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi.

I salute you! There is nothing I can give you
which you have not;
but there is much, that while I cannot give,
you can take.
No heaven can come to us
unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take Heaven.
No peace lies in the future
which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace.
The gloom of the world
is but a shadow,
behind it, yet, within our reach,
is joy.
Take Joy.
And so, at this Christmas time,
I greet you,
with the prayer that for you,
now and forever, the day breaks
and the shadows flee away.

-Fra Giovanni Giocondo

Blue Christmas: "I Needed Darkness as Much As I Needed Light"

Tonight is the longest night of the year. In some traditions, today is called Blue Christmas.

This evening, as in years past, I attended a service at my friends’ house. We sang, read, prayed. It was a time to mourn he sufferings of the world; a time to acknowledge the darkness; a time to ask God for His mercy in new and brilliant ways.

Because only when there is darkness can we truly see how radiant the Light really is.

Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor writes,

“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
(from Learning to Walk in the Dark).

This metaphors of darkness and light are repeated many times in Scripture. They chart our course from Creation until Christ’s final return. I quoted this passage during the first week of Advent, but it bears repeating:

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Isaiah 9 is one of the best messianic passages contrasting dark and light. It shows us, just like Taylor’s quote, how very important the darkness is in God’s plan for humanity. We often pray for the darkness to go away, but that’s not the way God answered Israel’s cries when He decided to send a Savior. As the gospel of John, it says God sent Jesus as the Light of Life:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.(John 1:9-13).

That was the will of God. He did not miraculously take away the evil and darkness of the world, the suffering of Israel under the hand of the Romans, or the centuries of persecution. He sent a Man so full of Light that the “darkness could not overcome it” (John 1:5b).

The famous passage from Isaiah 9 ends with this,
“Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
(Isaiah 9:7)
The zeal of the Lord will do this. Let us not forget God’s zealous plan of salvation. Often it calls us to trust in His mysterious plan. But as we read the Christmas story, we are blessed with a glimpse of that Light coming down. And making all the difference.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

God So Loved the World

You could more easily catch a hurricane in a shrimp net that you can understand the wild, relentless, passionate, uncompromising, pursuing the love of God made present in the manger.
- Brennan Manning

We talk a lot about the omnipotence of the nativity; God’s amazing plan coming together under the bright twinkling light of that Bethlehem star. But do we recognize the love God poured out to make all these things take place?

Some of the most-memorized verses in the Bible, John 3:16-17, say,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

He gave up Himself. For us. For you. For me.

And in order for us to be saved through Him, God chose that Jesus would died a human death. But first, He needed to have a human life. Jesus needed to be one of us, in order to show us the way. Like the allegory of the birds stuck out in the snow (see post from December 22, 2011), God loved us so much that he could not leave us alone in our own flailing. This is the Gospel 101, yet during Advent, it is easy to focus on the details of the Christmas story rather than the reason that it happened at all.

We will never understand the mystery of the Incarnation; nor will we ever understand the mind of God. But what we can grasp is the narrative. God shaped the Wisdom of cosmos into a tiny babe. It is His story we can know. It is His story we should know.

If, like me, God’s love sometimes feels distant, take this Advent season to recount the way God showed His love and faithfulness to His people recorded in Scripture. Before too long, you will see yourself in the faces of God’s beloved.

The manger didn’t have to happen. But that’s what the Lord of all Creation chose. And that was love.