Advent Readings Day 24

Reading: Luke 2:22 – 40

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’”  Luke 2:29 – 32

As we approach Christmas Day, we turn to one of the most surprising (and one of my favorite) images in the whole Bible as we see Jesus presented by Mary and Joseph in the temple.  There are several reasons that make it my favorite.

For one, this passage shows me the extent of Jesus becoming human and taking on our sufferings, our struggles and our flesh.  Imagine, The Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world was about to be dedicated in the temple and Mary and Joseph only had enough to make the offering of the poor on His behalf.  There’s no fanfare and no ram.  Just a couple of doves or pigeons, which was the provision if a person could not afford a ram.  That’s all they have to offer.  Jesus is fully consecrated to God with the offering given by the poor.  I think that says so much for where we find ourselves today.  He identified with the poor in this offering.  And He identified with you and I.  In our quest for greatness and having nothing but the best, may we be mindful that Jesus was consecrated with the offering of the poor.  The King of Kings once again humbled Himself.

Second are the two faithful people who have longed for this day to come.  My heart prayer is that someday I could be like Simeon.  Someone who has kept the faith and kept on looking for the fullness of all that God wants to do into my old age.  A wise old man.  A man who had held onto a promise that he would see The Messiah before he died.  He woke up that morning and the Scripture tells us He was moved by The Spirit to go to the Temple to see what God would do.  Even after all of that waiting, he is still soft and available to The Spirit’s prompting.  And then as he is praying it is as if a window into the future opens to express the arrival of The Savior of the World.  How amazing that a dedicated servant can now die in peace, knowing that He played His part in the redemption of the world.

And then there is Anna.  Anna who after her husband had widowed her decades before has come to the temple to fast and pray that God would have His way.  I’ve known widows like her and my belief is that they are the backbone of The Church.   Watching and praying and fasting and watching and praying and fasting and watching and praying and fasting.  What does she do when she sees Jesus?  She praises God and speaks prophetically about who He is to those who were looking for redemption.  Look!  Redemption is here.  He has arrived in this little package.  How sweet it must be  to come to the end of your life and see the redemption you have prayed for right in front of you.

What does this mean for you and I?  We get to continue in the long history of saints who have laid down their wills to take up God’s Kingdom desires.  You and I get to join with those who have humbled themselves and chosen discipline in following Jesus as the way to True Life.  Today we move away from a season dedicated to celebrating Jesus’ coming.  May we do so with Simeon’s words on our lips, understanding that everyday is an opportunity to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us and to look forward to His return.

Much Grace and Peace to you in this new year.

Advent Readings Day 23

Reading: Psalm 42

“As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42: 1 – 2

Growing up and even into my early adult years, I imagined that everyone loved Christmas. After all it can feel like such a magical time of the year complete with concerts, cookies, special candy, new emphasis in church services, cookies, shopping for that right gift, cookies, and on and on. It is so wonderful that we have this festival to mark Jesus’ coming.

But along the way I started to get glimpses of how dark Christmas can be for others. These are the people who put on great smiles at the office party, but inside they are suffering as Christmas brings so much pain into their lives. The first time I ever noticed this was in a young troubled couple that Christy and I started reaching out to our first Christmas together. They were poor, uneducated, underemployed and seriously oppressed as a result of a series of poor choices they had made. Christmas simply added an extra weight to their shoulders with so much guilt and shame.

Since then, a similar message has echoed over and over again as I have walked with others through Christmas. A single mother who sees the injustice at Christmas as she feels so lonely. The homeless man who will spend the whole Christmas season in a shelter because his PTSD left him too difficult for his family to deal with. The young child who is embittered because Child Protective Services had to put her into custody and she is not be able to see her family. The young wife who will spend Christmas in a safe house because her husband became abusive yet again. The young family who lost a child and will spend the season feeling the gut wrenching pain that everyone is not around the table who should be.

While many of us are engaged in “the most wonderful time of the year,” others are living out quiet lives of desperation as they pray away the days until December 26th when everyone can again forget about all of this “Christmas spirit” stuff.

It is into this kind of darkness that Psalm 42 speaks words of life. Here is a raw, honest Psalm that speaks to the deepest places of our desperation at this time of year. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?…My soul is downcast within me…I say to God my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?”

It is in the midst of this honest, raw, gut-wrenching questioning that The Psalmist gets his answer, and we get it, too. Verse 5 – “Put your hope in God. “ Verse 7 – “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. “ Verse 8 – “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life. “ Verse 11 – “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

The truth is that many of us face pain and hurt. However, we enter into a Christmas season of indulgence in a way that makes us delay our pain for a season. We numb the pain by turning our attention to sugar rushes, cocktails, over eating, shopping and social settings. Yet, like those who dislike this whole season, our pain will revisit us again.

But in the Jesus’ coming, we see His healing and wholeness. Our pain is not to be numbed, but rather it is to be healed. He extends His wholeness to us and to those around us. In the incarnation he entered directly into the pain and hurt of our world. He knows it and He understands it. He offers healing both to those of us who cover it well and others who do not.

The way to healing is in verse 1. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” In our thirst, our pain and dysfunction, our God welcomes us to be filled by Himself. He welcomes our raw honesty that admits the darkness of our current situation while seeking Him to heal and fill the deepest needs of our souls.

Jesus has come as the gift of God in the flesh. He came as our Redeemer and Deliverer. He came as the Living Water and The Bread of Life. He came as Emmanuel – God With Us. May we drink deep of Him this season and find full satisfaction in Him alone.

Advent Readings Day 22

Reading: Luke 1:46 – 56

“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:50 – 53

Isn’t it wonderful when a plan comes together?  All of a sudden a foggy dream becomes much clearer.  A once distant and out of focus image on the horizon is now close by and the identifying features can be discerned.  A vision that has been cast over the ages is about to be fulfilled.  As Mary speaks (or sings) these words, history is on the edge of a seismic shift and she recounts God’s goodness that has sustained Israel to this point in time.

Now, of course Mary did not fully understand what was about to play out, but how many of us ever do?  We are so limited in our ability to understand and grasp the mind of God.  We are able to express the part of the reality that we do understand in praise while understanding that the details and the full reality are up to Him to deliver in His timing and His way.

But look at Mary’s words as this cosmic earthquake, that would forever change the landscape of everything, was about to hit.  God was about to deliver on His promise in an unexpected way.  He was coming to earth – Immanuel – God With Us.  The Mission that He has been on ever since The Garden of redeeming and restoring was about to enter the phase that would bring it to completion.  Hold on.

What do you do when you sit on the edge of a history changing event?  First, is to praise God.  Mary praises God for what He has done for her as well as for Who He is – Holy is your name.  She refers to God here as The Mighty One.  What a name for God.  The One who is all powerful and who has protected His people and His Plan throughout the centuries and Now He is powerful enough to move and bring fulfillment to that promise.  He is not weak.  He is mighty.

Another quality that Mary focuses on is God’s mercy.  He has not given Israel what they deserved.  Unfaithful humanity is being redeemed by a faithful God.  Mercy from generation to generation.  Mercy for Israel who turned their backs on Him time after time and forgot about Him, yet He remembered them and now is delivering on His promise.  How easy it is to be unfaithful toward God.  Yet, in His mercy, He does the inexplicable.

Third is Mary’s understanding of how God is turning everything upside down through His mighty arm that has stretched out and remembered those who were oppressed and forgotten.  Notice, Mary’s song does not focus on God somehow having come to rescue the successful, the have’s, the powerful and the rich.  It is quite the opposite.  The God who has sided with the oppressed and the poor, speaking against injustice and corruption throughout the centuries, is now delivering justice by turning everything upside down.   I believe Mary is prophesying here.  She knows what is coming and speaks as if it already is done, because as God’s plan unfolds these promises will become reality.  How?

  • He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. We hear echoes of Jesus words, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
  • He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble.    The rulers who sit elevated on their thrones in control of the politics and resources and power of the world are being dethroned and brought down.  The humble are are being lifted up. We hear echoes of Jesus’ words “The First shall be last.”
  • He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich go away empty.  What amazing imagery as we think of a table where a hungry person sits with nothing on a simple table except maybe a piece of stale bread compared with a lavish banquet table filled with decoration and silver as well as the finest roast beast of the rich man.  Jesus words suddenly echo through the place, “I am the Bread of Life.”

I have the privilege of seeing this upside down reality every day.  Take my neighbor for instance.  She and her brother live in a tin shack that is 8 feet by 10 feet.  In that one room shack they sleep, they eat, they cook.  It is everything that they own.  They are in their late 40s and 50s I would guess, yet they look much older than that.  They are in no way shielded from the harshness of life.

The first day we met them was one month after moving into our house.  We were returning from a religious festival called Timkat (which celebrates the baptism of Jesus) when our neighbor called us into her house.  We entered into this one room and she scrambled to find us stools that we could sit on.  We tried our best to hack away at some Amharic to break the silence, but then she did the unthinkable.  She had been fasting for days to prepare herself for the festival, but she asked us if we would join her in breaking the fast.  This made us very uncomfortable because we knew that she had so little, but trying to be gracious guests we said, yes.  She was so delighted as she went to her cupboard that was totally bare inside except for one small loaf of bread that was a bit bigger than a dinner roll.  She took it and passed it around to us – all 6 of us – and we each tore off a tiny bit, trying to make sure there was enough left for her.  And we all sat in this tin shack and had this moment of a Kingdom reality.   She has so little, yet she has so much.  Jesus has come for her and He is making Himself known.

Now, that event started a great relationship between us.  We all try to be good neighbors to each other.  We help them out and they help us.  They are deep in our hearts and everyday they are an example to us of an upside down Kingdom.

Mary had an inside glimpse.  Everything is changing.  Redemption and Restoration is at hand.  The Empire of darkness and Satan is about to be overthrown.  There is going to be a new sheriff in town and His Rule is amazing.

Today I invite you to rehearse Mary’s Song a few times.  Give praise to God that through Jesus He has done this very thing that she sang about.  She had a window into the future of what God was up to, but we sit surrounded by the reality of His Kingdom, His redemption and His restoration.  May we praise Him all the more for what He has done and what He is doing in, through, and around us.