Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent - Week 4 - Love

Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

This final Sunday in Advent, we focus on love. The love God has for all of creation is important.  The love Jesus has for all people leading to the chance for salvation is important.  Without them the world would cease to exist - at least in any form we would recognize. As important as the love of God and the love of Jesus are, in the forefront of the scriptures this week is the love of people for God that affects the outcome of his kingdom on Earth.

In the Old Testament I think it is hard to find many figures who loved God more than the prophets. God gave them the thankless duty of delivering his message to the entire nation - from leaders to the least powerful. Most of their messages harshly condemned widespread behavior in the society that violated God’s rules. When they gave good news for an undisclosed point in the future very often the people realized that the good news was not even going to happen in the lifetime of their children (and sometimes even later). It takes a great deal of love to faithfully recite the message from God to the people. Isaiah faced that when the leader refused to do what God directed (ask for a sign). Instead he was forced to tell them of the sign (Messiah) who was to come some generations in the future.

In the Romans passage, Paul describes the process by which Jesus’s followers came to have the authority available to them: believe that Jesus was God’s son. After believing in Jesus, the believer is expected to love God enough to complete their part of God’s plan. In Paul’s case it meant giving up his prominent position within the Jewish religious elite to replace it with a New Covenant that also included the Gentiles. Early Christians abandoned tradition for a new teaching.

The story in Matthew would be vastly different if Mary and Joseph had not loved God as much as they did. Despite fantastical occurrences that friends, family, and society would have rejected outright in the moment, Mary and Joseph loved God enough to follow his direction and trust everything would work out as he promised. They too rejected traditional ways of behaving in the circumstances and followed the way God directed them to go.

We often refer to the power of love in trivial ways, but when we see the power love carried through these passages we begin to understand the transformative power of love in the world around us. As we reflect on the impact love had on the Christmas story we can also reflect on the many times Jesus gave directions to love. What would happen if we truly started loving with a love equal to that found in the scriptures today? Our world might be a little more like God wanted it to be. That’s the power of love.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent - Week 3 - Joy

Isaiah 35:1-10
Luke 1:46-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

In the third week of Advent we focus on the joy of the return of the Lord. The passages this week continue with the idea of Christ coming as a judge, yet we as the faithful take joy in that idea that when he comes, the world will be the one of justice we should be striving for today.

Isaiah and Luke both give us examples of celebration. In Isaiah we hear of the earth, the natural creation, celebrating God’s presence. Mary’s ecstatic response to being chosen fills the verses in Luke. I can only imagine how transformed we would be if we could celebrated with the joy that brings a desert into celebration and a young girl into song. As Christians we have reason to celebrate with such exuberance.

Our worship services, even the most dynamic contemporary services, are so scripted and routine that we find it quite comfortable to slip into the routine.  The gift we have through Christ, though, should cause us to worship in true celebratory fashion. Our social norms do not accept such ecstatic worship as we see in Isaiah and Luke; however, when we encounter God personally, we will find it impossible not to rejoice with our entire being.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent - Week 2 - Peace

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

A few weeks ago, one of the passages (Nov. 24, Colossians 1:11-20) gave one of the most complete descriptions of who Christ was in the human form for his ministry on earth. This second week of Advent we get another thorough description of Christ and who he is when his kingdom is established.

The Romans passage continues the lesson from the first week concerning living differently than the rest of the world. Specifically it deals with the welcoming of Gentiles; however, we can understand it to mean that we are to welcome people of all backgrounds. Just as Christ transcended traditions and rules of that time, he expects us to look beyond our culture and comfort zone in cooperation with others. God expects us to seek peace with all people. As the Prince of Peace he desires that we live in peace.

Isaiah 11 gives us the description of Christ. Recounting his human lineage which gave him all the physical nature of humankind. Describing God’s characteristics in Christ, we see the complete nature of God in him. In his kingdom natural harmony prevails. Christ judges all humankind and peace so prevails that even animals we know to be predator and prey coexist side by side. The harmony intended for the creation finally comes to fruition.

This week as we celebrate the peace of Christ, we are challenged to imagine just what that peace means. When we truly embrace God’s direction to welcome all people, we approach the vision from our imagination.  Advent guides us through anticipation of the Lord’s return, but even as we work through the anticipation, we are reminded that until that day comes, we are charged with providing an example of that coming kingdom in our lives.

Advent - Week 1 - Hope

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 12:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The Advent season brings us to the start of a new liturgical year and preparation for the Christmas season. This year we begin with the powerful reminder that God set us apart from the rest of the world. We are required to stand out and demonstrate to the world the expectations God has for our interactions with one another. We have been given the power to live in the world, among everything that entails, while maintaining a standard above the world.

We can live this way because we look forward to the return of Christ and this Advent season we prepare for that return. As we know what Christ will do with his kingdom we can avoid the conflicts common in humanity. When the ultimate judge is coming, our conflicts suddenly seem pointless.

Standing apart from the world while being immersed in the middle of it challenges even the most faithful. None of us are perfect, but with the help of Holy Spirit and guidance from the Scriptures, we do our human best. We have support and knowing when to use them shows both wisdom and faith. We just need need to find the endurance to persevere until Christ’s return.