Advent Readings Day 25

Reading: John 7:37 – 44

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,  ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” John 7:37 – 39

A few months ago a group of men from the church we attend set off for a day to visit a national forest about an hour outside of Addis Ababa.  It is home to a beautiful centuries old cypress forest that has been preserved for over 400 years.  But the real highlight of the forest is not the trees, but rather the mountain,  Suba Mountain.

We hiked hard to get the top of that mountain (at least I did being as out of shape as I am and the altitude was wreaking havoc on me) .  I was relieved when we reached the top, but my friend looked at us and said, “There’s an impressive mountain over there, let’s hike to it.”  Up for the challenge I said yes and we started off at a pretty quick pace.  I was dying.  My legs were becoming rubbery.  My head was killing me.  I thought I was going to die.  You think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you that I am not.

And then it hit me that I had not brought water with me.  I was on the hike of my life and I didn’t have any water.  I was becoming dehydrated and my body was rebelling against this activity.  I eventually landed in a heap and let the rest of the group hike to the summit while I sat and tried to muster enough strength for the hike back to camp.

This is not only how I climb mountains (unsuccessfully) but also how at times I try to live life.  Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice (I love the emphasis), “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”  Anyone who is thirsty?  Let’s be real, most of us are thirsty today.  At some point in time we started doing life on our own power and our own strength and we find ourselves burnt out, exhausted from life and needing a break.  Jesus’ loud voice calls us back, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

Then He continues to talk about the Spirit being rivers of living water that flow in us as His followers.   Isn’t that an amazing image. A flowing river that continually flows in and through those who trust in Jesus.  We don’t need to be thirsty.  As we come to know Jesus and as The Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, there is a river flowing through us. All of the time.

But wait.  I’m a Jesus follower and I still get thirsty.  I thirst deep inside of me and I keep trying to fill it, but it isn’t full.  Where is the Holy Spirit, then?

Could it be because we forget about His Presence and being present to Him?  Could it be that like my journey where I set out without my water bottle, we often set off forgetting that He is present to us? Or could it be that we even forget that He has accepted us and we start to prove our worth ourselves on our own strength?  Could it be that at times we say that Jesus has quenched our thirst with our mouths while deep down we have other thirsts that we haven’t yet given Him access to?

Jesus calls out to you and I today in a loud voice – “Are any of you thirsty?  If you are, come to me, sit with me and let me fill you with all you’ll ever need.”

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.