Advent 2012

God has done great things….

Why is this so hard for me to find the words to say?  I know God has done great things in my life.  Me standing here is a great thing God has done.  He did not give up on me even when I did.

Advent… is about anticipation.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We celebrate the gift of the one who came to show us the way and to give us ever lasting life.  But He did that through the cross.  This is also the beginning of the journey to the crucifixion.  Think about that a minute.  All the mania and crazy shopping lines, the funny/silly tv specials, food, parties and waaaay too much of our extended families….  All to celebrate the death and resurrection of the baby born tonight.

It’s often so easy to take for granted the blessings we receive the rest of the year.  I saw a tag line part of me wants to put up in my office to remind me; it said “Christmas, the time of year Christians act like they’re supposed to.”  And it made me laugh and take a minute to reflect upon this year.  The thought sobered me.  Have there been times when I have looked upon my brothers and sisters who needed help and turned away?  I’m sorry to say there have been.  Have I heard people who claim Christ as their savior talk about how certain people should be excluded from His love or turned away?  Yes.  Just turn on the tv.

But this time of year is about celebrating the absolute leveling of the playing field.  “Life’s not fair~!”  How often do we hear that?  Anybody who’s ever been a kid has heard it at least once, coming from their own lips if no other time.  But Jesus came to show us that life is absolutely fair.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.  God loves everybody, the nice, the mean, the laughing ones, the crying ones.  And He loves us equally.  To prove it He sent His son to live, breath, die and live again for us.  The great equalizing fact of this season is that no one is alone or unloved.  We may feel that way.  The weight of the world may feel like it’s crashing down on us but the truth is, there is still hope for the future, peace is still available to everyone who searches, joy is present in every moment and love is coming.  Despite our best efforts to prove otherwise at times God continues to move in our lives and provides countless blessings we often are not even aware of.

This does not mean life is easy or that things won’t get rough.  We are not promised that.  The scripture today talks about how God has done great things for us.  But that’s only part of it.  It also speaks of those who go out weeping carrying seeds to sow.  One of the interpretations I read of this indicated that it meant the people were taking out the last of their seeds, the last of their food, to plant.  It was being given as an offering with the hope that they would be able to last until the harvest and have more than enough to eat.  The next verse reflects this hope with the response that those who weeped will return with songs of joy.  We are not offered a safe sure road.  God requests that we give our all, just as He has.  We are not called to be part-time workers for Him.  The joy comes in living full-time in God’s love.

But what is this thing called joy?  Too often in our society joy equals happiness and I’d like to set the record straight.  While they are definitely related, in that after someone has experienced one they want more of it, happiness is a fleeting thing, requiring satisfaction of some sort, having a need met.  Joy is more nuanced and complicated and is deeper.  Joy is about finding the good in any situation.  And there is good in any situation, I honestly believe that.  When my nephew died, there was nothing I wanted more than to have him back.  I don’t feel like he died for a cause or that there was some deeper plan behind it… but there have been joyful moments remembering our life together and in those times when what has happened has opened doors for me to talk to people I otherwise would not have been able to bring a ministry to.  Do I still miss him?  Absolutely.  Do I still grieve?  Yes.  But neither of those things can take away the joy of his life, even if they can take some of the happiness away for a while.

The same was true when my grandfather died.  We spent the day visiting with my grandmother and other extended family members.  Telling stories about him, sharing memories.  It was one of the most wonderful times of my life.  I got to hear things about this man I had never heard before, hilarious episodes from his past before I was born.  I got to spend time sharing with family I rarely got to see.  But he was dying.  And it was in the dying that my grandfather taught me the greatest lesson about joy, because I will stand here and tell you again today that the day he died, his life brought more joy to my heart that it ever had before, or will again.  I finally got it, in my gut, what he meant, when he told me as a young man that man is that he might have joy.

Nothing is for certain, other than the love God bears each one of us.  That love was on full display that day and it was that love that lifted the joy from the bottom of my heart to the top.  And it’s that joy that we celebrate here today.  God’s joy in this moment and season of advent is bittersweet.  On the one hand He is giving us the greatest gift of all, the life of His son.  On the other He is going to have to watch Jesus grow, suffer and die, before the resurrection.  This moment is still going on.  It is still being lived out.  Only we who are finite beings experience it as being in the past.  God loves us.  God’s greatest act is one of selfless love.  It’s to bring us up out of the darkness of the places we find ourselves, for whatever reason.  Maybe not in our time or in the way we want, the primary definition of “fair,” but in God’s time.  I have struggled with God my whole life.  Not in believing that He existed but that He could love someone like me or that if He did, what did all this bad stuff seem to keep happening to me.  I have stood the brink, trying to die and because of the gift offered here today, His love and the love His son showed to us, I was brought back.  I would run and run again throughout my life, still do sometimes.  But God continues to pursue and Jesus continues to open His arms to me.  To bring me home, to offer me the joy of His presence.  Tears, warts, mistakes, anger and all.  Jesus is our companion on the journey, not our magic wand.  But that’s the greatness of it, in something as small as a little baby.  God’s joy is alive in every moment of every day.  WE are blessed because He lives.  He lives~!

Christmas Eve…now what?

Ah yes, that wonderful holiday time of year… Linus and Lucy – Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi when people forget how to drive, parking lots are always full, stress rises just like the bread in the oven.  We try to package all the gifts just so, much like we shove our own emotional issues under the bed for the day (or week, poor soul) and pretend that we really are okay with the way things are.  I’m sitting here looking out my office window, watching the rain change slowly over to sleet then supposedly snow later on this evening, wondering what this Christmas really means to me.  This was the great Homemade Christmas of 2009.  With budgets being so tight I decided to make things for this holiday season…needless to say I could have been better prepared.  But it did get me to thinking.  As I worked on the goodies and gifts, measuring and cursing in equal measure, I tried to get my son in the holiday spirit by having me help with a couple of the projects.  Now it could be that he’s 12 and like every 12 year-old in history, thinks his old man is a weird freak who doesn’t really know anything…and that’s probably fair… but as we argued about who was going to do what, it made me wonder…is this what Christ was born for?  For my son and I to lock horns again and again to make a few small trinkets to give to others?  We finally agreed on the projects he would help with and have managed to complete them, get most of the stuff wrapped and the house cleaned.  All in all a major Christmas triumph, on top of rehearing for the Christmas Eve service in about 4 hours.  But I have to think this holiday season, as we gather around to share stories and yes, gifts, and with each other’s company… part of me thinks that it’s not about “What Would Jesus Do?”

It’s about what he DID.

Came down to earth to be here with us humans, and show us a better way.  I don’t know what my son will remember of this Christmas in 20 years…maybe nothing more than the fact that he didn’t get as many presents as in years past, but I hope not.  I hope he remembers instead that this year, instead of running around trying to find the perfect gift and fighting the holiday crowds, we had the chance to pause and remember just what the season really IS about…  and now back to Star Wars… or something like that.