Advent Musings: Birthing Hope

“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to [Jesus] fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to [Him] in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be Mary.

Meister Eckhart (14th century)

 

Author’s Note: I am doing two Advent revises and reposts on Hope; one is on Wild Hope and this one on Birthing Hope.  I am fond of saying all the time to people (like a random broken record) that although Scripture tells us “Love is the greatest” thing, I truly believe that hope is the most necessary. Without hope, the ability to even carry on is almost unbearable and impossible. – Niles

 

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming.”  Indeed, it is a time of year when we tune our hearts and minds to remembering the birth of hope in Jesus the Messiah.

I have written previously about Advent as a time of wild hope, and it is. But the thoughts just keep coming about the hope that Advent offers. And since I am in the throes of depression, and seeing little hope in my current days, I am doing all within my reach to seed and water any hope I can. So here are more thoughts on Advent.

This time of the “Coming” is indeed a time of true hopefulness because it is a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos is a Greek word for time that is unlike the human concept of time known as chronos (from which we get chronological time). Kairos is not a time of the clock but is a time of divine visitation, a rending of the human cloak of reality when God comes to dwell among his people in an extra-ordinary way.

Kairos in many ways sums up Advent: God going to great lengths to come to us in a manner which we would truly be able to relate. It is God coming to us through the fragile vulnerability of a newborn child, who would grow to be Messiah, a human being through and through acquainted with the pain of sorrow of life as well as the power of resurrection.

We need this sign of Hope desperately today: a sign of faithful love and solidarity given with no expense spared. But it seems we have fallen prey to some of the same distortions as the people who lived during the birth of Jesus, namely the misled belief that Messiah would come as a powerful military King to liberate his people.   

But God, it seems, had different plans.

As is the case in most of Scripture, God did not come to people the way everyone ‘expected’ it; not in power or might, not in a giant warrior or a billionaire CEO.  No, God chose instead to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the occupation of a vast Empire.  This reality truth defies all logic and reason.  It makes no sense that God did not come to us as some warrior king with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for obsessive control.

God’s way if often upside-down…

No, Jesus came to us, as one of us, and chose to make God known in vulnerability, fragility and poverty.  And this, my friends, is what hope is all about: in the midst of chaos, feeling lost, wandering, and despair Hope chose to come to us to shine brightly the warm light of God’s love upon us.

Advent reminds us that Hope, coming in the Man of Sorrows, is indeed a scandalous moment: a moment where God made his unfathomable grace known and available to each of us in ways comforting and disturbing.

This time of year is a time to remember that the hopeful coming of the Messiah occurred in relative obscurity, with little pomp or circumstance, with no “Black Friday” sales, or shiny decorations, and without the hottest new toy that we somehow deem necessary for our survival.

God comes to us again this Advent just as God did over 2,000 years ago: in the gentleness of vulnerability; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; and in the promise of hope when all hope seems lost.

Advent is not only about God coming to us; it is also about opportunity.  It is an opportunity for us to remember during the darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become like Mary, a place where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

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“Incarnation” (Frederick Buechner)

Frederick Buechner is one of my favorite spiritual/religious writers in the world.  He is a pastor, an artist, a poet and to top it all off he spent many years in my favorite place in all the world – Vermont.  His words on the Incarnation are rich and challenging.  EnJoy!

“The word became flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity, it is the way things are.

All religions and philosophies that deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earthbound, are themselves denied. Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth, but our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Our bodies are sown perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42).

One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.

~ Written by Frederick Buechner and originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words.

Advent: A Time for Pregnant Pausing

 “Advent is a season of the secret of Divine Love growing in Silence…” Anonymous

Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.”  In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going and rushing about’ than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the birth of Divine Hope.

One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all.  Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.

Advent was and is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention.

Advent is about taking the time to ‘stop’ time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite holy and sacred.

Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in our lives in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.

Advent is also a specific “liturgical time” that gives us a chronological space for sensing God’s movement in our lives and in the world around us. It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for divine love.

This time of year is a time for seeking and seeing all the ways God comes to us, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: places like a manger (a feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; or the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen or the forgotten and lonely or those struggling with addictions or the person next to us in line at the store. All of these are moments when we can both see and be Christ.

In these last days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, discovering the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us and the world.

So as we continue to journey on into these days of Advent, let us all pause…

and reflect…

and take time…

to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.

“The Mood of Advent: We All Need A Savior” (Internet Monk Classic)

This is a repost of an original Internet Monk article.  Published by iMonk, December 2007

I have several friends who are doing Advent in their Baptist churches for the first time, and they have lots of questions about candles and logistics. I wish there were more questions about Advent itself.

For example, the mood of Advent is dark and serious. It’s not the mood of Lent, which is a particular kind of seriousness as the shadow of the cross extends over our path. It’s the mood of darkness that comes because the world is in darkness.

We need a savior.

This is the time that we stop and see that the powers of evil are entrenched in the world. Evil authorities and evil persons are having their way. A good creation is being ruined. Hearts made for love and light are imprisoned, crying out and empty.

There is war, terror, the loss of innocence and the curses of ignorance, poverty and death. The wise men of this age are propagating nonsense. Men and women made in God’s image are addicted to the worst the darkness has to offer. They think backwards and cannot find their way out of the dungeon. They have lost their will to live and love, and have settled for the cheapest and palest of imitations.

Advent’s darkness includes the failure of religion to bring any light to this fallen and dying world. Religion has become as empty as fool’s errand as can be imagined. The religious take themselves seriously, but the world hears the hollowness of it all.

In the Christian family itself, the prosperity gospel makes a mockery of the very savior it claims to proclaim. Western Christians plunge into the pagan celebration, spending thousands on themselves and their children. We spend enough on our lights to save thousands upon thousands of lives. But those lives are in the darkness of Advent’s waiting. Our “lights” are nothing more than an extension of that darkness. They have nothing to do with the true light that comes to the world.

The real center of Advent’s dark mood is that we need a savior. We who sing and go to church for musicals and eat too much and buy too much and justify the season by our strange measurements of suffering.

We light candles and wait because, after looking around and taking stock, there should be no doubt that we need a savior.

Ironically, after 2,000 years of offering our Savior to others, we- Christians- need one more than ever. When we mark ourselves has “having” Christ more than “needing” Christ, we miss the Spirit of the Advent season.

Despite the fact that the world needs a savior, those offering him and his story to the world look no more “saved” than anyone else. In fact, with an extra facade of religion or two, we seem to be in every bit as bad a shape as the world we call “lost.”

The mood of Advent is that we are all lost. Advent isn’t about the “saved” telling the “lost” to “get saved.” Advent is a light that dawns in all of our darknesses. Advent is bread for all of our hungers. Advent is the promise kept for all of us promise-breakers, betrayers and failures.

Can we find a way to celebrate Advent as those who NEED to be saved? As those who NEED a savior? Not as those who know for certain that someone else does?

Scripture says that we who had not received mercy have now received mercy. Those who were nobodies are now the people of God.

The key to Advent is not living as if we are the people of God and always have been. The key is to live as if we need a Savior, and he has come to us, found us, saved us and is there for everyone in the world.

The mood of Advent isn’t “come be religious like us.” It is “We are all waiting for our Savior to be born. Let us wait together. And when he comes, let us recognize him, together.”

When the day dawns, let us all receive him. We go to the manger and worship. We give to him our gifts. We take his light to the poor.

Until then, we are the poor, the weak, the blind, the lonely, the guilty and the desperate. We light candles because we who are in darkness are in need of a great light. We need a savior.

So we wait amidst the ruins, we protect the lights we hold in hope. We sing to one who is coming. We look and wonder. We pray for his star to take us, once again, to the miracle.

Originally posted December 2007. Original Link: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/53257

 

Ragamuffin Musings…

Note: this is old school, first thought writing. There has been no editing, so know that it is as raw as it gets.

I am a ragamuffin; worn-out frenzied, failing at being even human sometimes, so hard on myself I crush out the very candle wick Jesus said he would not.

I struggle to forgive and accept forgiveness. I am a one man band on a self loathing pity tour. I am loved and deeply known by a God I far too often FEAR.

I am clean and sober, no longer held by the vice of active addiction, but I still hold too many secrets and regrets about the pain I caused so many dear ones who were held hostage by my drinking and drugging.  My ‘daily reprieve’ is sometimes not enough.

I am stitched together by the grace of Jesus. He loves me deeply, so much so, I shudder to think that he knows ALL the evil and suffering I have caused and been through, all the dark nights of the soul and body that are all woven together and held by his golden thread. Jesus echoes in my mind, in my heart, constantly asking me just one question: “Do you truly know how much I love you?”

“Niles, do you know I love you exactly as you are not as you wish you were?”

Some days I get it; some days I don’t. Some days I need it; others I delude myself thinking I got this thing.

Today I need it. A friend committed suicide, falling to the deadly cunning of the disease of alcoholism, his darkness too much for the still small voice of Love. My friend is free of his pain now, free from us. Now…he is dead.

I feel dead today. But Jesus keeps whispering, “ragamuffin child, come to me, lay your rage, your pissed off, ungrateful, unhappy, leery soul upon me, and I will sit with you as you seethe and sink. I will hold you up as you let My Love seep into the cracks and crevices of your shattered heart. I will bring my light to bear upon you in warmth and tenderness. I will be your sobriety. I will be your love. I will be your life.  I will be your Hope. I will hold you when you can no longer hold on…”

Jesus says these things to me as I realize my eyes are too dry to weep for loss and death, my heart too cold for prayers, my faith too old today to run the marathon called life…

Today it does not matter. All I hear in the din of my storm is the simple words of the children’s song echoing in the empty chamber of my heart and today it is enough: Jesus loves me this I know…

Going About…Doing Good

“You know…what has happened all over Judea…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power [and Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed…for God was with him.” (Acts 10:37-38, NAB)

I’ve often realized that sometimes the sacred Scriptures get quite “dull” to me, and I think the reason is that for all the “this and that” over Scripture, it is and will always be a collection of stories about real people of people, and their interactions with each other and with God.

That is why I love the above mentioned Scripture; for it says that the love story of Jesus, and how he lived and what he did, was known all over Judea (so even back then ‘gossip’ and stories were afoot and the norm).

When I think about Jesus, I often forget or deny his humanness (back in the day that was a named heresy with punishment being excommunication and a hot party of one on a burning stake!).

Yes, Jesus was utterly and completely human, and he was filled with the Spirit and power. And what did he do with his Spirit-filled power: he used it to go about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed. Now, how many of us can say if we had “power” that this is what we would do? Be honest…

And when I look around at the self-proclaimed Christians, I am often left wondering and amazed at just how power hungry some God mongerers are. Wouldn’t it be grand if most of “Christendom” and the “true professed followers of Jesus” were known more for going around doing good and healing the oppressed rather than what most of Christians are known for now: gay bashing, gun-toting, reactionary close-mindedness, narcissistic self-help pedagogies promoting earthly riches. The list goes on…

Truly, I sometimes feel that if Jesus were alive today, we’d lock him out of our houses of worship: how dare he hang out with whores, drug addicts, money-launderers, and those people who smell funny and talk to themselves when they walk down the street.

Can you hear it? Just exactly who does this Jesus think he is? How dare him. Well, he’ll mess up my agenda. He’ll mess with my Constitutional Rights! He’ll come across as unpatriotic. He’ll offend the neighbors…

Blah, blah, blah. Damn right Jesus will mess with you! For going around doing good and healing the oppressed got Jesus killed! He did not win some local civic award, or the Nobel Prize, nor did he get 1 million hits on his YouTube viral video or have the most popular Facebook account.

He got strung up on a tree for following the leading of the Spirit and doing good and being with and healing the poor and oppressed. It is vital to remember that in the time of Jesus, much like today, the poor were maligned for being so because it was their fault; they had sinned or committed some heinous error that had caused God to punish and curse them.

Jesus screws all that screwy theology right to hell.

I’d like to be all pious and sanctimonious and say I want to be like Jesus. Well, I do, just without the cross. I do want to be filled with the Spirit and go about doing good and being a source of God’s healing for the oppressed. But I am afraid because those who love God and the poor often times suffer the same fate as the poor.

What will the stories be about me when I die? Will I be known for going about doing good? Will you be known about going around doing good? What legacy am I leaving?

The question is: am I out there going about doing good and healing those who are oppressed?

Grace is Not Reasonable

Reasonable: Sensible, rational, practical, logical, evenhanded

When you get right down to it, God can be a bit unreasonable.

God is not always rational, practical, sensible or within the bounds of reason.  How reasonable and rational is a God Who chooses to use the wounded, the broken, the fallen, the fallible and even the wicked to do the divine bidding?  I mean becoming flesh, walking among us, telling us we are God’s children and that God cares for us better than the best parents?  Then he tells us anyone can draw near to God, be a friend of God, if only we surrender and accept the grace of it all?

Jesus was not so reasonable or practical; his resume would not have gone too far in the corporate or religious world today, if we judged by reason, rationale and appearances.  God’s ‘business plan’ was (and still is) completely maniacal: hang out with the poor, the rejected, the unclean, the blue collar types.  It gets even better, Jesus decided to spit fire towards the pious, the righteous, the religious leaders and consistently show disdain for the emperor time and again through stories, healings, and parables proclaiming to both that there is a new way, a new Leader, and a new Kingdom where all are welcome if they but ask.

That is not my idea of sane or reasonable and Grace is the key to doors of this upside-down Kingdom.

Jesus is just plain unreasonable and screws up all my preconceived notions, messes with plans, confuses me and makes me uncomfortable.  And those who say they follow him try and tame, deputize, and moralize him, making him into an Uncle Sam savior or a Pinocchio wrapped in Levi’s, a goatee, hipster glasses and mod rock music.

Try and tame a tiger and risk losing your hand.  Try taming God and risk losing everything…

God is unreasonable.  And if God were not, we’d all be doomed.  For grace is the outflow of God’s unreasonableness.  So therefore grace is not reasonable either.

Grace can be absurd.  God’s love is absurd as well. Why would Jesus of Nazareth live a life that he did: loving the unlovable, defying social convention and norms, threatening the state simply by the love he showered upon people when he healed them, only to be executed for sedition. Why?

It is absurd that one must die for the many to live.

I will say it, plain and simple, grace is absurd.  And way too many of us spend too much time trying to ‘figure’ it out rather than experiencing it; far too many try and control it foolishly, like gripping sand tightly hoping to prevent it slipping from their hands.