Advent: Wait

(This post first appeared on HuffPost Blogs: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/advent-wait_us_5a1cb465e4b07bcab2c6996a)

Recently my four year old needed to use the bathroom while we were out to lunch. There was a wait for the men’s room and no line for the women’s. He did the expedient thing and used the women’s.

Waiting is seldom fun. We all have better things to do than to wait in line or be stuck in traffic or wait for the cable guy to show up.

Sometimes our impatience is a result of the hurry we are in. Sometimes, like my son, we need to GO RIGHT NOW. Sometimes we think waiting is beneath us. Sometimes it is simply because waiting is dull and life-sucking.

“Wait” is a difficult word to hear in our right now world.

Wait.

Wait for the light to change. Wait for the check to clear. Wait for the hour hand to hit 5 o’clock. Wait for the elevator to come. Wait for a text response (we know you saw it).

Wait.

Wait for the pregnancy test to reveal news or no news. Wait for the uncomfortable truth to finally be revealed. Wait for our fairy tale ending. Wait for the other shoe to drop. Wait until next year, next time.

Wait.

Wait for wrongs to be made right. Wait for things like cancer and murder and terror and sexual assault to be swallowed up forever. Wait for the chains of addiction to be broken. Wait for our sons and daughters to come home. Wait for answers to long-prayed prayers.

Wait for the darkness to give way to light.

We wait.

We wait in the tension of the already and the not yet. We wait because, as my wife will preach this Sunday, Christ has come and Christ will come again.

Christ has come. His Kingdom has been inaugurated. It is here amongst us, close enough to touch. And Christ is coming again. His Kingdom is not yet fully realized, but will be one day. He will make all things new.

And until that happens, we wait.

But we do not wait idly.

This type of waiting is about preparation. We need not sit in our pews and shrug our shoulders at a struggling world. We actively work and pursue and seek God’s Kingdom in our hearts and on earth as it is in heaven.

We do all we can and cry out to God for the rest. In our waiting we hope and lament and ache and pray for all that is broken to be mended. In our waiting we do not despair. In our waiting we trust that God is up to something.

Because this type of waiting is also about expectation.

In Advent the Church waits in expectation, in anticipation that Christ is coming. That this newborn babe in a manger is going to do a new thing in us and a new thing in the world. We wait with bated-breath for our long expected Jesus who brings good news of great joy for all people.

And we await his return. For the day when all waiting will be banished forever. Hallelujah. When we finally and fully find our rest in him.

This wait will not last forever, but this wait is worth it.

Waiting reminds us that we are not in charge. It reminds us that we don’t know best. This wait instills in us a very real need for our God. For Someone to come and fix all that we have broken. To make right all that is bent within and around us.

So this year don’t skip the line. Don’t hurry past. Don’t jump to the end. Don’t grab for microwave answers.

Wait.

Prepare. Expect. Long. Anticipate. Hope.

And believe.

Christ has come and Christ is coming again. I’m staking all I have on that. I’m here hoping and waiting for Christ to come in our hearts and homes, in our marriages and in our neighborhoods and in our public squares and perhaps even in our churches. I am waiting and trusting for the faithful love of God to rule and reign in all places and people.

The psalmist says it best:

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord— my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord— my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you— that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord— more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.

(Psalm 130, Common English Bible)

Advertisements

O Come All Ye (Not So) Faithful

invitedOne of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming. Come all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus? If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

Advent: Hope for a Dark World

fvl4b1gjpbk-mike-labrum.jpg

Candles. Mike Labrum, unsplash.com

Turn on the news. Pull up your Facebook feed. Go outside. The world is a dark and messy place. It is full of destruction and darkness and death.

Battles rage around the globe. In Aleppo, Syria not a single hospital has avoided bombing. In the United States there are approximately 415,000 children in foster care, mostly due to the harmful choices parents have made. Families fleeing war wash up on foreign shores. 1 in 3 women in the world today is a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. We are still a nation viciously divided by politics and race and culture.

None of those things are part of the world that God intended. None of them are welcome here. And one day, all them will be defeated.

The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote these words about that one day:

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2)

No more war. No more violence. No more greed induced destruction. No more hate.

The things we once used for harm will now be used for nourishment. We’ll turn our bombs into flower pots and machine guns into shovels. We’ll turn our tanks into merry go rounds and our jails into libraries. One day we’ll use our protest signs to roast marshmallows and the police will use their batons for a game of stickball.

This is not some crazy pipe dream. This is not some hippy fantasy. This is God’s plan and vision for the world.

This Advent we put our hope in that vision. And while God’s vision isn’t fully realized yet, it has begun.

It begins with the coming of Christ. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is realized when the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and the lonely are loved. It breaks through when forgiveness is found and lost sons and daughters come home.

It doesn’t just happen in our churches. It happens in our day to day. It doesn’t just happen one day way off in the future. It happens now in our hearts and in our homes.

If one day we will put away our weapons, perhaps we should put them away today. Maybe we don’t fight with swords or guns but we’ve likely wounded and cut with our words. We’ve likely caused pain and destruction in the way in which we treat others. Lets beat our words and thoughts into things that bring encouragement and growth.

If one day all wrongs will be made right and all enemies will become friends and all strangers will become neighbors, then lets work to make that a reality today.

If one day peace will reign, then I want to begin to realize that peace today. I want to be first in line to make it a reality in my world.

We have hope that God will make all things right. That justice will roll down like a mighty river. That the things that now destroy will one day be destroyed. That darkness will ultimately give way to light.

That is our hope. And that is our mission. We don’t just live with hope, we work toward that hope. With expectation. With anticipation.

We live and work with a holy ache for the world as it should be. We put in the blood, sweat, and tears to join God in the redemptive mission to reconcile all things.

We put our hope in Christ and therefore reject the idea that we can hate our enemies. We put our hope in Christ and we live as ones who cannot be finally defeated. We put our hope in Christ and lay down our rights. We put our hope in Christ and live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and work to bring about the beautiful vision laid out by Isaiah.

This Advent season join in God’s vision to bring all people together and to bring an end to the wars that rage on the news and in our hearts and in our homes.

Let’s walk in the light. Let’s defeat darkness little by little, candle by candle. Let’s see the world as God intended. Let’s work toward that end. Let’s hope relentlessly and let’s be that hope with skin on. 

 

On Santa & Jesus.

Each year I hear some form of the question, “Should Christians allow their kids to believe in Santa?”

In case anyone cares, my answer is simple… If you want to, go for it. (*Disclaimer – My parents let me believe in Santa and this is how I turned out, so…)

The concern is that we are lying to our kids or that we are making presents more important than Jesus or that Santa is really just the devil in disguise (red suits anyone?). I have heard the horror stories of kids who reject Jesus because they have been lied to about Santa and now they can’t believe anything their parents say.

That is sad. And it is sad because if our faith is as easily dismissed as our belief in Santa then I am not sure we have much faith to begin with. If my children are able to compare the way I live my life as a follower of Jesus with the way we celebrate a chubby husky guy coming down the chimney once a year, then I have a problem.

The problem isn’t Santa. It is me. The problem is my lack of making sure to demonstrate the reality of Jesus in my life every day of the year. Our faith should be able to be seen. It should be tangible. It should make a difference in the way I talk and work and spend and (when I try really hard) drive.

Faith is not a mental assent. It is not just a way you view the world. It is the way we live. You can believe in all things you want and not actually have faith in any of them.

You can not believe in Santa and still be wrapped up in the materialism of the season or in the constant fear of condemnation. You can still miss the wonder and the worship and the Good News while trying really hard to make sure everything else is perfect or everyone is where they are supposed to be or simply just because you missed it.

At some point in history Christians have been told to avoid Christmas tress, Christmas lights, Christmas carols, Christmas presents, and even December 25th altogether. If you choose do that, that is your choice and I don’t condemn or fault you for it. Our family doesn’t embrace everything that our culture does around Christmas. If you choose to celebrate using all those things or some of those things, I think you can do it in a Christ-centered way. Do what works for your family and do it thoughtfully.

One day my kids may come to me and say why did you let us get our picture with Santa or why did you let us watch Peter Pan when pixie dust is a lie or you mean you weren’t really finding those quarters behind our ears?

If their questions or now shaken worldview leads them to ask about the reliability of Jesus I hope I have more to give as an answer than “Trust me.” I hope I can point to the places and times where my faith has been evident. Where Jesus has been real in my life. I hope I can point to how we have treated others or how we have chosen where to live and do ministry. I hope I can point to the way we help people in need or open our home or they way we handle conflict and stress. I hope I have more than enough examples to show that Jesus is not only real, but the most real thing ever.

And if I can’t do that I have a whole lot more to worry about than how to handle a pretend St. Nick each December.

santa

source: graphicleftovers.com

All I want for Christmas…

It is sometime in the late 80’s.  Maybe 1990.

The only thing I want for Christmas is a new Nintendo. It has the greatest graphics, the best games, and a Power Pad. A Power Pad, people.

I know we don’t have a whole lot of money, but that doesn’t stop me from asking for it. I tell Santa what to bring me even though I know he is only a seasonal mall employee. I tell it to my parents. More than once. I’m sure I make them feel guilty. But it is the NES and a little guilt has never hurt anyone. I need the Nintendo. I’m not positive but I feel like this may make or break my life.

And then The Day comes. Christmas morning. My brother and I come downstairs in our (probably matching) Christmas pajamas. We read the Christmas story to remind us that this day is all about Jesus, but I am too busy looking for Nintendo shaped boxes to be bothered by all that.

The gift opening begins. One of the first gifts I grab is a thin little box. Much too small for a Nintendo. It says, “Open Me Last.” About the time I find it my little brother notices that he too has an “Open Me Last” gift. It is a monstrosity, about as big as the living room or an elephant or the Titanic.

My heart sinks. There will be no Nintendo this year.

We open the remainder of the presents and (hopefully) I convincingly feign gratitude. I’m sure the Ninja Turtle toys will be awesome and the socks are needed, but in my young mind Christmas hinged on getting what I wanted. Disappointment reigns supreme. Maybe I am being selfish, but I’m really good at being selfish. It comes quite naturally.

When we have unwrapped all but the last two presents, my brother opens his mountain of a gift. It is a FischerPrice tool bench. He is ecstatic. Never happier. He dances. He hammers. This moment is most likely the inspiration for the hymn “Joy to the World.”

And my heart sinks even further. I am teetering at Grinch levels of despair. My brother gets exactly what he wanted and it is “The best Christmas ev-er!” and I get a tie box. I am sure it is filled with something lame and/or embarrassing. Like more underwear.

Reluctantly I undo the bow and the paper. I slip the lid off the box and inside I find a single piece of paper. I read something along the lines of “You have one more gift but you are going to have to work to find it.”

I perk up. I read the paper again. It gives a clue as to where I should look for my gift.

Suddenly, there is hope.

I run from the room and find another note. It sends me to another room and another clue. Room to room I run, eagerly in search of what might happen next. Each step of the way raises my expectations. Each leg of the hunt brings more smiles and anticipation. And then I open the kitchen pantry.

A Nintendo Entertainment System.

Santa, it turns out, came through. My parents are saints. Life is good. Christmas is saved. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Sure, my parents could’ve just wrapped the game system and put it under the tree. They could’ve left it with the other presents but they wanted to give me something more than just a game system. What they gave me was an experience. They gave me a journey.

And it was the experience and the journey that made that Christmas the most memorable I have ever had.

We would do well to remember that sometimes the journey is a gift.

We tend to know what we want and when we want it. When Santa, or worse, God, doesn’t come through for us how we demand expect we feel rejected. If you are anything like me that can be really frustrating. I tend to think I know best. I know what I need and life would go a whole lot smoother if I just got my way all the time.

But God knows better than that. Thankfully He doesn’t always give me what I want or operate on my time schedule. Thankfully He has much more perspective and insight into what is best for me even when I don’t see it.

So when I don’t get my way or when things seem off kilter or when life hands you a tie box, maybe we need to remember to enjoy the journey. Maybe the journey is the thing that matters more than whatever we find at the end. Maybe what we learn and experience along the way is of far more value to us.

My parents didn’t leave me clues in order to toy with me or drive me crazy, but in order to watch me run and laugh and search.

What if that is what God wants for us? To watch as we enjoy the journey we are on. Maybe there are things He is trying to teach us along the way. Maybe the process is more valuable to our development. Maybe it is in the waiting and the searching that we have the most growth.

Maybe we spend so much time hoping for Nintendos and wealth and security and acceptance and relationships and [inset whatever it is you desire here] that we miss out on what God is doing right now. We miss out on the life we have been invited to live with or without those things.

Hold on to the hope that what you are searching for may just be around the bend or at the next turn or come with the next sun rise. Maybe it comes in ways you never expect. Maybe it comes better than you ever imagined.

Don’t miss out on what is to come because you are so focused on what is not yet. Don’t miss out on what is happening right now because you are so focused on what you want to happen next. Don’t miss the joys and the laughs and the memories that can be made right here and now.

Life is a journey. And the journey is a gift.

nintendo,vintage,retro,8bit,design,deviantart-dde8da4297828dff7631882c2feb3422_h

The War on Christmas

I suppose it is okay if I talk about Christmas this early…

Because Hobby Lobby sent me an email saying all Christmas décor was 50% off. Because radio stations are already dedicating their playlists to Christmas music. Because my daughter has been practicing her Christmas program in my car for weeks.

I’ve already seen stories shared and emotions flare around this particular topic. Starbucks, for instance, doesn’t have “Merry Christmas” on their famous red cups. One Facebook post I saw said it’s because “they hate Jesus.” Another group was boycotting a mall because they changed out Christmas trees for glaciers.

Grab your ammo. Circle the wagons. The war on Christmas is in full swing.

Soon we will be inundated with “Happy Holidays” and forced to buy X-mas trees and our kids will be out of school for “winter” breaks and all of this is points to the fact that our culture despises Christians and should rally us to use our buying power to shop elsewhere this holiday Christmas season.

Except no. Not really.

The North American Church has wasted far too much energy on this issue and it is to our detriment. Somewhere along the way we have decided that our culture owes us something. We’ve somehow come to believe that the way Target makes its billions of dollars needs to cater to us and our beliefs, and everyone else just needs to get on board. We’ve made a decision that anything short of that is unacceptable, sinful, and/or proof the world hates us.

The early church, the first followers of Jesus, would have no framework for this mentality. They were a persecuted minority. They had no voting power. Politicians weren’t interested in courting their vote. They had no say in any process. They had no influence. They had no rights.

Back then stores didn’t send out coupons with “Happy Holidays” on them. Instead many marketplaces required an offering of worship to Caesar for the opportunity to buy goods. Many employers required you to declare “Caesar is Lord” in order to work for them. Failure to comply, failure to bow to the empire, meant it was likely you couldn’t engage in the economy of the community. You were pushed to the margins, forced underground, and left with the decision about what was more important: feeding your family or faithfulness to God.

Fast forward 2,000 years and Christians are stomping their feet and throwing temper tantrums because our empire is now less likely to wish us a “Merry Christmas” when we check out at the grocery store. Never mind the fact that the White House is selling the official national Christmas ornament for just $18.95. Never mind that fact that Christmas is a federally recognized holiday. Or the fact that 96% of the U.S. (including 81% of non-Christians) celebrate this day.

Never mind the fact that term X-mas originated with the church. And that holiday means holy day.

And of course, never mind the fact that our culture owes us nothing.

Somewhere along the way we came to desire and demand position and influence. We enjoyed being the majority and being in control. We liked having a say in how things worked. And we are unwilling to let these go. At least not quietly.

We have become gluttons for power and privilege.

Unfortunately these things, as fun and comfortable as they are, look nothing like the life of Jesus. Jesus gave up his privilege and his power and humbled himself, becoming a slave for the sake of others (Philippians 2). And right there in that passage it says that we are to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus and look to other people’s interest and do everything without complaining and model the outrageous love of Jesus.

Ours is a story of Savior who lays down his rights, makes room for those pushed to the outside, and dies for his enemies. Ours is a story of wanderers in search of a home, slaves in need of freedom, exiles longing for home, and a small band of faithful followers who believe losing your life is the way to find it.

We could stand to remember that around the world people are experiencing actual persecution for the sake of following Jesus. If you feel persecuted because your non-Christian neighbor says “Happy Holidays” or because your town doesn’t put up a manger scene anymore, maybe take a moment and reflect on just how much freedom and privilege you have.

What if we responded to these things with the humility and graciousness the way Jesus demonstrated? What if this is the way to keep Christ in Christmas? What if that is how we change the world?

Hallmark is not the enemy. Atheists are not the enemy. Even Starbucks, with the overpriced, delicious, generically labeled cups, is not the enemy.

If there is a war on Christmas it’s in the fact that we celebrate the coming of a humble Savior, born to a poor family in a barn by spending $600 billion on gifts while it would take just $10 billion to bring clean water to the world. If you want to boycott the eggnog latte do it not because of what is on the cup but because you have the disposable income to bring clean water to other humans. (check out charity:water for more information or to get involved)

The war on Christmas most likely occurs when we overlook peace on earth and goodwill to men to rush out on Thanksgiving Day in order to buy cheap televisions and video games. Or when we pack our December schedules so full that we have no time to enjoy relationships with the people around us, racking up debt and anxiety.

This year instead of demanding our way or taking offense to the fact that the world doesn’t feel the same way about Jesus as we do, maybe we can do better. Maybe we can respond lovingly in each circumstance. Even when we don’t get our way. Maybe we can remember that Jesus came for us while we were still a mess and far from God. Maybe we can focus on the needs of others and point them to the hope of Christmas.

Let us take the initiative to bring good news of great joy to all people.

Not through our greeting cards or the places we shop, but in the way in which we love, the way in which we order our priorities, and the way in which we lay down our lives for others.