Only a few days to go …

Welcome to the fourth Sunday in Advent. In a few short days, we will celebrate the coming of the Light of the world, and the commemorative time of waiting and darkness will be over. During the last month or so, somewhat coincidentally on my brother Gabe’s recommendation, I’ve been reading Ben Patterson’s Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent. I could write much about my own journey of waiting (and I will, eventually), but that’s not what this blog is about.

Four hundred years. It had been four hundred years since anything had been heard from God. And the children of Israel languished under Roman occupation, oppressed and marginalized in what was supposed to be the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of freedom and prosperity. This was not what the fulfillment of God’s promises was meant to look like.

And into that environment, into that darkness, into that uncertainty and longing, hope came, love came, justice came, grace came: the Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood. Jesus was born: the fullness of God in a fragile, helpless baby.

It’s been two thousand years since that cosmic event and those who follow in the heritage of Israel—the followers of the Way—are waiting. Jesus came, and we wait for his return, when the earth will be made right and justice, hope and healing will reign on the earth. Still, we live in the in-between time, and we might often find ourselves thinking that this is not what the kingdom of God that Jesus heralded and inaugurated with his coming is meant to look like: conflict abounds around the world, disregarding God’s commandment to love one another; poverty and hunger continue to afflict millions, even as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, flying in the face of Jesus’ exhortation to care for the least of these; a blithe disregard for the creation shows a blatant disrespect for the Creator. And that’s just a snapshot.

But in this environment, this season reminds us of the coming of Jesus, the hope of all creation. We remember that though there is much that may discourage us or deflate our spirits, the most ultimate victory was begun with the birth of a baby boy, over two thousand years ago.

“For God loved the world in this way: that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

"Homeless at Christmas"

These poignant and challenging thoughts come from my friend Kurt:

He was born to an unwed teenage girl.

Born in substandard housing.

He was first greeted by some of the most marginalized people in his culture.

Under fear of death by a powerful politician, this boy and his family fled to another country and lived some time in exile.

The man who raised him was not his birth father.

He spent his most significant adult years as a wandering teacher without a permanent home.

He was executed by a coalition of religious and secular leaders afraid of his revolutionary ideas.

This one, born homeless, has become the one who offers hope to the world.

As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, it is good to remember Jesus’ earthly beginning, and his self-emptying, servant stance. Jesus reached out to the marginalized throughout his life. Jesus cared for those who were aliens and marginalized following the grand tradition of the people of Israel who once were aliens themselves.

Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us. He is still God with us. He has stepped into our neighborhood and everything changes.

He stepped into the messiness of our lives — so as his followers, we must step into the messiness of our world.

Bono of U2 spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington a few years ago. He called attention to the poor and the vulnerable in our world. In that talk before then President and Mrs. Bush, King Abdullah of Jordan, and other politicians and religious leaders, he said:

“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives … and God is with us — if we are with them.”

May the celebration of Jesus’ birth stir us to look beyond ourselves and towards others.

Merry Christmas!

Daniel Berrigan: An Advent Reflection

Passed on by some friends of mine, here’s an Advent reflection from Daniel Berrigan, poet, peace activist and Catholic priest:

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss —
This is true: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction —
This is true: “I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.”

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever —
This is true: “For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.”

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world —
This is true: “To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.”

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church, before we can be peacemakers.
This is true: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young shall see visions, and your old shall have dreams.”

It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humanity, for justice, human dignity, and
peace are not meant for this earth and for this history —
This is true: “The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope.

Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.

Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage:

Jesus Christ, the Life of the world.

Verses quoted are, in order: John 3:16, John 10:10, Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:17, and John 4:23.


Welcome to the first week of Advent:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:25-36

A word for the hurting

You’re trying to hold on, you’re trying to be strong;
but you don’t know if you can wait that long
coz sometimes it just seems too far away
when you don’t know if you can last another day.

But don’t lose heart, coz you’ll lose everything;
show your soul, baby, though you don’t feel anything …

Touch the sky
And though the pain, it seems too much to bear,
it means that you’re alive, it means that you still care.
Touch the sky
To forgive and forget but you can’t, oh, not yet
But that’s alright.

Don’t lock yourself in a cage of your own choosing;
don’t shut yourself off from the risk of losing
everything once again, but maybe this time
You’ll find all you were looking for, somewhere down the line.

Taste and see, breathe and be
Take a second just to scream
Let the tears come, let the colors run
There will be a day when you’re never undone.

— Justin Fung, “Touch the Sky”, 2006.