December 16, 2017

Why I'm Cherishing Advent a Little More this Season

The passing of our country's recent tax bill has left me feeling heavy. I have felt anger, confusion, grief, and unrest. In disbelief, I have watched people who align themselves with Christianity push policies that deliberately oppress the poor, undermine education, and pass a blind eye to the sick.  I have watched our nation become more concerned about being pro-birth than pro-life. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and materialism plague us, while we ignore the blood on our hands, stained by gun violence.

I wish I could say politics alone have me bewildered, but I don't hear these topics being discussed from the pulpit. I've only heard one sermon related to a mass shooting incident, but I've heard countless sermons on tithing. I've been greeted by many in the congregation, but it's been a long time since I've heard somebody genuinely ask me in church "how I'm doing". I've witnessed good things happen to greedy people, and crappy things, like unemployment, miscarriages, and cancer happen to good folks. I guess I'm feeling a little out of sorts these days, as Sarah Bessey put it in one of her books.

I think that's why advent means a little more to me this year. It quiets the chaos around me as I recall the silent night Emmanuel was born.

Meditating on the nativity story is helping restore my faith. As I imagine that holy night, I envision a wooden manger in the midst of a messy, smelly barn. I see a worried young mother and a tired father finally taking a seat on a bundle of hay. They look like two worn-out, relieved parents, glad to have finally found somewhere to lay their newborn son (because there was no room for them in the inn Luke 2:7). I see horses and sheep gathering around the manager curiously, and a bright shinning star guiding three wiseman -- who believing in the prophecies, choose to pause their daily routine to bring offerings to a child who would one day save the world. When they laid eyes on the child, they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). The shepherds approaching and  far off in the clouds you could hear angels singing in jubilee about the birth of the newborn king: "Hail the heaven born prince of peace. Hail the sun of righteousness. Light and life to all He brings. Rising with healing in his wings. Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with angelic host proclaim 'Christ is born in Bethlehem'!"

That night was certainly not glamorous, but it was magical. In meekness, Emanuel graced us with his holy presence. This is why I'm cherishing advent. It's reminding me that the gospel has nothing to do with corrupt politicians, hatred, or apathy. Things may seem upside down, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever more (Hebrews 13:8). He joined us on earth humbly and lived frugally. He cared for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the ill. He broke bread with thieves and let a whore wipe his feet. He said we should give anonymously and sometimes pray in silence. He fed and healed the people when he preached. He told us that the last would be first, and that the kingdom of God belongs to children.

The nativity story introduces this Emmanuel to us and brings with it a warm peaceful light. It reminds us that although there is much wrong around us, Jesus' love is unfathomable and his kingdom is noble. It reminds us of what the season is truly about, and in doing so stirs in us hope.

Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding us of your character this season. Forgive our trespasses, bitterness, and doubt. Restore our world's brokenness and help us cling to your truth, even when it feels like so many are representing you poorly. Fill us with the fruits of your spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control - Hebrews 5:22-23) this season and every other so we can live better. Help us forgive as you have forgiven us, and teach us to really care about each other. 

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