Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Carols and Funeral Marches

I got behind in my Bible study, Jesus the One and Only, so today, just 10 days before Christmas, I am reading about the Betrayal, the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion.  It's a little bit strange, and yet the news reminds me that this is life.  Christmas carols and funeral marches playing in counterpoint.  Bitter herbs and sweet wine.  Tears and thanksgiving.  Redemption and waiting.  And I feel like I've written all this before.  And I have.  But it's just becoming more and more real to me.  27 dead in Connecticut shooting, most of them children.  What a broken, crazy world we live in!  Bitter herbs reminding us of the bondage and the fall and the need for a savior.  And in some strange way, the joy of Christmas shines a little brighter against the darkness for me today.

I was singing "O Christmas Tree" to my kindergartners yesterday and we were talking about evergreens and how people began decorating these trees during the winter to remind them of hope and the fact that spring was coming.  Though it gets too cold for many of the trees to keep their leaves, the leaves of evergreen trees stay green and never fall.  They don't know the depth of it all, but someday they will.  I grieve today for families who have lost so much and children whose innocence has been so badly marred.  Yet by some miracle, I find my heart rejoicing because Christ has come and He has redeemed us.  The Lamb of God fulfilled the plan of redemption, and he has saved and is transforming and sanctifying all those who are willing to accept His gift.  No matter how bitter cold evil makes this world, that Tree stands as a reminder of hope.  Spring is coming.  Maranatha.  The Lord comes.  The Lord came on Christmas, the cross in clear view, and He is coming again.  We, His Body, live as a reminder.

And I ask the questions too.  If you are with us, God, and you heal wounds and bind up the brokenhearted, if you win, what keeps you from ending all of this?  If you came to redeem the world, why are you waiting so long to come again?  I don't have answers and I wouldn't dare try to give one, but I know God is good because He came and saved us, and He will come again.  So I cry, "Lord, come quickly.  Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth and it is in Heaven."  And I cry, "How long, O Sovereign Lord?!"  But amid the cries, I hear the call: Child of God, rise up!  Live love, and live slow.  Watching all this through the eyes of one called to teach humbles me.  These precious lives God has entrusted me with!  I will have an impact on them whether I like it or not, and I pray that God will equip me and the Holy Spirit will fill me and that no matter how crazy life gets, I won't miss it.  I don't want to miss looking into the eyes of those precious little ones and loving them and nurturing them into the people they will become.  I don't want to miss it with my kids; I don't want to miss it with anyone I come in contact with!

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.  Let us live pure religion by remaining unpolluted in this broken world.  Let us not forget the things these days are stirring in us, the desire to hold our children tighter and recognize the value of life, the desire to be more like Jesus.  He came.  He showed us how to Live.  He died.  He set us free to Live.  He rose again.  He showed us we would Live forever.  He is coming again.  He gave us hope to Live.  Let us Live!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent: A Celebration of Waiting

Today marks the first day of Advent, a time when we remember the wait for a coming King.  I find myself wondering what it must have been like waiting for the Messiah.  Four hundred years of silence and waiting for the Promised One who would come and save.  I think of the words of my favorite Christmas carol: O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. Oh, but Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel has come to thee oh Israel!  And it is true.  Emmanuel, God with us, the with of God, the presence of God, the walk with you, live with you, pitch my tent among you God is here.  He has come, and we rejoice!  God is with us.  Grace is everywhere because God is with us.

And yet we still wait.  We wait for the second coming.  We wait for tears to be no more.  We wait for the full redemption of this broken world when Christ comes in a flash of power and glory.  Because life is tragic at times, frail and unpredictable.  It is that strange ugly-beautiful.  What is grace?  What is grace is a broken, waiting world?  What is grace in the passing of a 10-year-old from cancer?  In the mother of four who may live paralyzed?  What is grace in the silence, in the waiting, in the darkness, depression, and anxiety?  Where is grace in the promises yet to be fulfilled?  I wonder.  I Know of grace.  I believe in grace, but what is it?

Is it in God on the other side?  I think so.  I think it is knowing that at the end of the road of pain and sorrow God is and has been with us.  And I don't mean it in that cliche "footprints in the sand" kind of way.  Because when you walk the long, hard path of captivity, mourning in lonely exile and brokenness, it doesn't feel like grace.  Advent is not so clear, or worth celebrating.  Who celebrates the waiting, really?  But we live.  Through all of it, we live and God comes.  God is on the other side.  We have the Body and the Blood and the Resurrection and the God who dove into the mess of it all just to be with us.  Just to be with us!  Emmanuel.

So rejoice!  Rejoice!  God has come to thee.  I feel the question rising.  How?  Rejoice always.  How?  What is rejoicing wrapped in pain?  Rejoicing wrapped in pain is hope that opens the heart to a peace beyond understanding.  Rejoicing wrapped in pain looks no more like rejoicing than God wrapped in the skin of a newborn baby looks like God.  When it's time to mourn, it is time to mourn but there is still the gentle glow of a heart that can rejoice because Emmanuel has come to them and He is coming again.  God is on the other side.  And I pray it's written on my heart today for that moment when the darkness falls: rejoice, oh my soul, though the world around you crumbles and your heart with it, rejoice, for God With Us has come to thee!

Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 17, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."  Yes!  Our pastor said it this morning and how true it is.  Emmanuel, the with of God, did not just come for the broken, He comes through the deeply broken.  He is not just with us; He is within us.  And often, that makes the Kingdom hard to observe.  As hard as finding a King sleeping within a baby in a manger in a small town in Israel.