Anticipating Advent

I’ll admit it.  In the past I have been somewhat of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  My scroogeness was born out of all the trendy things to dislike Christmas for: over-commerclization, consumerism, Christmas cards, untangling lights to put on a tree, and mall parking lots.  I was a part of the crowd shouting to focus on ourselves on the meaning of Christmas.  Not the FoxNews crowd, but the cool – but not hipster cool – Christians who wanted nothing but Jesus and the incarnation at Christmas.

And then I had a child.

It is hard to be a scrooge when your two and a half year old is enamored by the entire season.  Luke, in a way that is capturing my imagination, is eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  But not for the reasons most would expect.  At the beginning of Advent we gave Luke a nativity scene he could play with.  And play he has!  It is almost a daily activity to have conversations with the different figures.  I am usually the angel and he is Mary and I have to tell her she will have a child.

After explaining all the different figures, we took the baby and wrapped him in a present and placed him under the tree.  If you ask Luke if he excited for Christmas he will tell you he is.  And the reason?

“We get to unwrap baby Jesus!”

I dare you to be a scrooge in the face of that.

But it has me wondering, “Do we all anticipate Christmas morning with that level of expectation?”  The mystery of the incarnation of the Word should stir our hearts and minds.  The Christ child changes everything.  In putting on flesh and dwelling among us, God affirms his declaration that the creation is “very good.”  If the creation is very good, then that means eating is good, drinking is good, hugging is good, laughter is good, singing songs is good, giving gifts out of love is good…Christmas is very good.

But I wonder, have we been caught focusing on the past?  Has our celebration of the incarnation taken away from our anticipation for the future?

Reading the Old Testament prophets reveals an expectation that the Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God.  They used pictures like beating swords into plowshares and everyone resting in the shade of their own fig tree (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).  Redemption and restoration were common themes in their hope for the future.  Paul picked up on this in Philippians 3 when he anticipates the day in which are lowly bodies are transformed into a body like the glorious resurrected body of Jesus.  John shared the hope of the Old Testament prophets and Paul in his Revelation when he envisions the new heaven and new earth, where “there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”  This is the anticipated coming Kingdom of God.

In Acts 1 the disciples were wondering if Jesus would finally restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus proceeded to tell them that the kingdom of coming, but it wouldn’t come like the thought or when they thought, but it was coming.  After he ascended, the angels told the disciples that Jesus would one day return and at that time the kingdom would be established.  Many debate when that will be and what it will look like, but that is a secondary point.  The main point is simple: Jesus is coming back!

There was a first advent, Christmas.  As good as that advent was, there is better, fuller, richer advent, Jesus coming back.

So this Christmas, embrace everything.  Eat good food.  Have deep conversations.  Drink deeply of moments with friends and family.  Give good gifts.  Decorate the house.  Laugh together.  Take pictures.  Celebrate well.  Anticipate goodness.

Because Christ came.

And he is coming.

Can God really be kept out?

Recently I have noticed many who profess to be Christians crying out that God has been, or is being, removed from the public square.  From the comments of Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee, or the Facebook posts stating that God would love to stop school violence but, unfortunately, he’s not allowed in school (never mind the fallacy of that statement) I fear we have substituted the Lion of Judah for a house cat who needs to be given permission to get on the kitchen counter.  And the one who gives permission seems to be the government.  Tell me, on whose shoulders does the government rest (Isaiah 9:6)?  And who gives the government its authority (Romans 13:1)?

A god who has to be given permission by the government is not a god over the government, but under the government.  And a god under the government isn’t a god whom the government serves, but rather a god who serves the government.  I’m sorry, but the God of the Bible is not a God who serves the government.  He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace.

So why would God be unable to enter the school?

Does God only go where we ask him to?  

My guess is the Ninevites weren’t begging God to show up and let them repent.  Nor were the money changes asking Jesus to come into the Temple courtyard.  Or the Pharisees and religious leaders for that matter.  Reading the Bible we see God continually show up where he was not asked to.  The incarnation of the Word of God boldly proclaims that we can’t keep God from showing up.  He will come to where we are, like it or not.  To find us.  To rescue us.  To offer us life.  To redeem and restore us.

The obvious objection to this line of thinking is, “Where was he at Sandy Hook or any of the other tragedies that occur?”

I don’t know.  And that is what makes faith in the face of tragedy difficult.  Faith, in those moments, becomes a choice.  A choice to chose life over death.  A choice to work for justice and beauty.  A choice to look for the good gifts in the midst of hard circumstances.

Faith is a constant choice to believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

And I wonder, maybe it isn’t that God didn’t show up.  Maybe it is that we, the people of God, didn’t.  You know, those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.  Those who are called sons and daughters of God.  Those who are heirs to the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead.  Maybe we sat idly by, distancing ourselves from any responsibility for the condition of the land by bemoaning and pointing fingers at those who want God removed from the various public squares all the while ignoring the fact that they can’t keep us out.  

It may seem like a small thing.  Me showing up.  I’m not God.  But it is no small thing for the people of God to show up as the people of God.  Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”  If we believe that then guess what?

If we go to the school, then Jesus is there with us.

If we sit with the homeless, then Jesus is there with us.

If we listen to the mentally ill, then Jesus is there with us.

If we go where God is not wanted, then Jesus is there with us.

And not just with us in a feel-good sort of way, but he is with us as we bring his shalom (peace, harmony, justice) to this place or to this person.  What if we believed that?  What if we didn’t just cognitively understand that, but what if we believed it to the degree that we lived that?  How might the world be different?

Might we experience the shalom of God more?

Maybe people would stop wondering where God was because they would know where he was.

He was the one looking them in the eye, holding their hand…the one with them.

Sandy Hook Deserves Our Honesty

Aside

It is difficult to put words to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. As a father, I cannot imagine what these parents and families are going through. There is a thought that breaks my heart: No doubt, there are homes with presents under a tree that will never be opened. Our thoughts and our prayers rightly go out to all those affected.

I am saddened by what happened. But today I am mourning the loss of empathy in our society. I, like many, followed the events of yesterday on social media. Hours was all it took for people to climb on top of their soap boxes and feel the need to connect this tragedy to a heart felt cause. I’m not saying those issues aren’t important, I am lamenting our ability as a society to “mourn with those who mourn.”

I think our inability to enter empathetically into the suffering of another comes, not from our preoccupation with our particular causes, but from our emotional immaturity. It might be right to label it as our emotional ignorance. I wonder, in the face of so many posts about gun control, mental health, violent video games, and the media if we really know how we felt yesterday.

Did the person who posted about guns not being the real issue understand their post as an anxious response to indescribable evil?

Did the mental health advocate see their response as an effort to negate the choice of another by labeling it as a disease?

Did the media hater recognize their desire for a scapegoat?

My Facebook and Twitter feed filled with people blaming this or blaming that or making the case as to why we shouldn’t blame that, but very few (if any) stated the most common emotion we all felt: fear. Deep down I believe all of us felt fear.

Because that could have been our children.

It could have been our son.

It could have been our neighbor.

It could have been our town.

It could have been me.

I wonder how we might respond if we moved towards our fear rather than shroud it in a brazen opinion about what may or may not be the reason for evil. Evil exists. And people make evil choices. We can try and figure out what makes a person do what they do all we want but we will never eradicate evil. No amount of legislation, medication, or anything else is going to change the broken nature of a human being. My wish, is that in the face of evil, we as a society could be authentic about what we are really feeling. Because maybe if we admitted that anyone who could walk into a school and shoot children scares us, then we might be able to embrace our humanity enough to embrace another. Maybe our mourning for others would really be mourning. Maybe we would really show compassion. Maybe grace might be extended. Maybe people would feel cared for because they wouldn’t have to wonder if they are being used by some cause. Maybe our authenticity would lead to a genuine care for each other. Maybe in saying how we really felt we would see what we would really hope for.

Maybe this might happen less.

So, for the sake of authenticity, how did you feel yesterday?