Friday, November 30, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

The season of Advent is one of both anticipation and preparation. The anticipation is the aspect we associate with joyous celebration. Israel had a history of being oppressed by other countries and now she was under the thumb of the most powerful country in the world. Israel wanted, hoped for, release from her oppressor - and some of her own people who cooperated with  the occupiers. Israel yearned for and anticipated the day that her salvation would come; the day her God would rescue her from her torment. So Advent recalls  Israel’s anticipation of her deliverance, and through Israel, the world’s reception of her Creator.

Israel’s history though, also provided the reason she was being oppressed—she was guilty of not having sufficient faith in her God; of not following him, and not embodying his character. So, Advent  includes not only anticipation of salvation, but also a realization of why she and we needed rescuing. Advent includes self reflection, or examining our own responsibility in Jesus’ ultimate coming to earth. 

And so, as we celebrate our God’s coming to rescue us, of becoming like us and living among us, we also take this time to re-center and refocus ourselves on our calling as his people; as his children. Are we ready for our God to come to us? Will he find us faithful and watching, or will he find us hopelessly off track?

Over this and the next three Sundays, take some time to allow yourself to feel the excitement, and feel the tug of circumspection. Take this time to not only rejoice, but to return your focus to God’s priorities and the call you have accepted.

This coming week, set some time aside to read Luke’s account of the Annunciation, and Jesus’ birth. Slow down while you read Mary’s  exchange with the angel and her song of rejoicing. Mary is asked to bear both a great grace, and a great burden. She has been selected to give birth to the Creator, and yet will suffer through his humiliation and death. 

Have you considered the burden you have been asked to carry? What does it look like in your life? Do you try to avoid it, or do you accept it for the glory of God?

When you read Mary’s Song, what ideas seem to stand out for you? How do or might those ideas apply to your own life?

Mary rehearses God’s history with Israel and she seems to see herself as part of Israel’s history. These are, after all, her own people. How do you see your life in the history of God’s work? Do you feel isolated in the present time, or do you see yourself as a participant in God’s on-going work in the world? How do you perceive the difference between these two views of your place in history? How might one or the other affect the way you live your life?

The coming of God into the world is reason for rejoicing. In what ways do you have reason to rejoice with his coming? 

Here’s a prayer for you: Our Father,  you have promised to save your people and I rejoice in your offer of grace for me and for the world. I know though, that I am imperfect , often distracted, and inconsistent in living the faith I have in you. I trust in your love and in your mercy toward me and I rejoice that you have come to us as one of us—to save us from ourselves. Thank you, amen.

Blogging Matthew - Chapter 20

Three times in Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem, where he will be killed. The first, in chapter 16 is where we read of Peter's objection and Jesus' response of "get behind me Satan." The second comes in chapter 17. In this instance, the disciples, we are told, are distressed but we have none of the bravado in the earlier event. Finally, in chapter 20, we find the third declaration but absolutely no response from the disciples.

Matthew places this third declaration between the parable of the early and late workers in the first part of the chapter, and the story of who will be on Jesus' right and left hands in the kingdom. A story of the generosity of God on one side, and a power grab on the other, book-ending if you will, Jesus' final declaration of his going to die at the hands of the powerful in Jerusalem.

Jesus' response to the power grab is a reminder that the kingdom of God has set up leadership and priorities different from the world's. Those who would be first among God's people will give themselves for others, just as Jesus will do in Jerusalem. Immediately after this lesson Matthew gives the opening of the eyes of two blind men - who just want to see.

It's interesting that matthew gives us two blind men at this juncture - Mark records one, and that they "want to see." Could this be Matthew's way of juxtaposing the blindness of Zebedee's sons with these two physically blind men who, instead of arguing over who's "better," just want to see. It seems that this is what Jesus has wanted for his disciples - that they see what he's about. 

In these three statements of Jesus' death, we are reminded of his having set  his face toward Jerusalem. It is time for his mission to come to its end and he is stoically set on seeing it through. Knowing he will be mistreated; knowing he will be killed, he nevertheless continues his ministry to those around him. Single-focused and yet still ministering, still present to those around him. Single-focused and ministry become one and the same.

Our calling is the same as Jesus': to give ourselves for others, knowing that we will be insulted, dismissed, and even placed in danger by those around us and even those in power. How do we, you, wade into this calling?

Have you set your face toward self-denial, or are you jockying for position? Have your eyes been opened, or are you still seeing through world lenses?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Blogging Matthew - 11.4-5

“Go and tell John what you hear and see.”

John has sent his disciples to find out if Jesus is Messiah, the one Israel has been awaiting. You see, John’s in prison and his world doesn’t seem to be working for him lately. He’s been out in the wilderness eating honey and bugs, preaching and arguing with self-righteous Jews, and pretty much getting his legs and feet water logged. More recently though, he’s been arrested and is sitting in Herod’s prison, and he won’t get out alive. Maybe he knows that, maybe he doesn’t. I suspect though, that he’d exchange the cell for water logged feet without much coercion. 

Jesus doesn’t answer John’s disciples directly. Instead, he talks around the answer, expecting them to draw their own conclusion based on what has been going on. These signs, he says, that I’ve been doing – healing folks, restoring sight, raising the dead – what do they tell you? 

Keep in mind that John is Jesus’ cousin, that John baptized him and presumably heard The Voice and saw the dove. John has even told others that Jesus is the one who was promised; that John wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.

And the answer he gets is essentially, “what do you think?”

This response isn’t unique toward John. Jesus uses essentially the same response or even the same question with his challengers and even his own disciples. When asked for a sign, Jesus’ response is that there will be no sign except that of Jonah. When pressed in another place, he tells his hearers that they can tell the times of the year, but they can’t read the signs of God right in front of them.  Instead of telling his disciples who he is, he asks, “Who do the people say I am,” and “Who do you say that I am?”

He seems to think his identity should be obvious to people who have their eyes open. If they’ve been paying attention it should be relatively obvious who he is. But it’s not as though they don’t see what’s happening. Even John’s disciples are told to consider what they’ve seen and heard. Rather, in keeping with the oft stated admonition, “let him who has ears, hear,” or negatively, “having eyes, they do not see,.” Jesus avoids a direct answer and puts the question back on the inquirer.

The point of these sayings is that we do see what’s going on, but we fail to comprehend what is happening; the import of what we see. We see Jesus, but do we see Messiah? Do we see God? Do we see the salvation of the world in the kept promises of God?

This is our challenge as much as it was John’s. Do our eyes show us, do our ears bring to us the revelation of God’s presence in the world? Do we have the ability, the practice, to discern God in his creation and in our world? Do we see him in our lives?

If we become discouraged and wonder if God is really there, we often want a clear answer. A good, tight, physical hug would help too. What do or will we do if we get an answer similar to the one John received? Can we see God in the middle of our hurried and anxious lives, or do we miss him and wonder if this is all real?

What has been your experience?

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