Monday, December 11, 2017

An Unexpected Moment

Baptism of the Lord Sunday which shows up on the Christian calendar in early January was always one of my favorite Sundays for preaching.  I would preach on baptism and life in Christ, but before the sermon I would announce that at the end of the sermon there would be an invitation for anyone not yet baptized to come forward to profess faith in Christ and to be baptized.  Rare were the Sundays when someone did not surprise themselves by coming forward in response to the invitation.  It was an exciting moment of worship as I waited at the end of the sermon to see who the Holy Spirit was going to move to profess faith in Christ and to be touched by baptismal waters. 
It may have been true that no one came to worship on one of those Sundays expecting to be baptized, but it was also true that I learned to be surprised if it did not happen.  Those folks who showed up at the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist preaching probably did not go expecting to be baptized.  It is not likely that they woke up one day and said, "Hey, let's go down to the river today and be baptized by the wild eyed preacher!"  Most likely they went with more curiosity than desire for God, but God was about surprising stuff in those days and many left with the river water still wet upon them. 
Advent is a season unlike the other seasons of the Christian year.  We find ourselves surprised that John the Baptist, that old rough looking character from the wilderness, gets the spotlight for so long when we really want to see Jesus, particularly the baby version of Him.  John was announcing that new things were happening.  Baptism was a sign that something new was being offered by God as baptism was not something needed by a practicing Jew.  As we consider this appearance of John on the Advent stage, we can only wonder what surprising thing God desires to be about in our lives.  "Lord, open my eyes and heart to the new things of Your kingdom.  Amen." 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

An Old Friend

An old friend, (well, we have been friends a long time) really introduced me to John the Baptist.  It was not exactly one of those, "Bill, this is John.  John this is Bill" moments, but an introduction, nonetheless. Russ and I shared together week after week with some other clergy guys in a weekly preaching group.  I was no stranger to this baptizer who always shows up in the early days of Advent when everyone is looking for baby Jesus, but Russ opened my eyes to see this man who readied the way for Jesus in a new way. 
John the Baptist would not be the kind of guy a father would want his daughter to bring home with the announcement, "Dad, this is the one."  As my friend often pointed out, no one would John to show up in their church.  He was a wild eyed Bible thumping guy who dared to call those of the religious establishment a bunch of vipers.  No wonder he won no popularity contests.  He lived out in the wilderness around the Jordan River, had the smell of locust on his breath, and his beard stayed sticky with honey.  He wore no designer clothes, only clothing made from camel.  Most likely folks could smell John long before they saw him.
But, he is an important character in the story of Jesus as well as in the Advent season.  His voice was and continues to be like a trumpet announcing that things are getting ready to be more different than they have ever been.  He points to Jesus as the One who is going to make it happen.  John made no attempt to build up a large following as today's preacher's do.  His only concern was that those who came to listen to him were pointed toward Jesus.  Today's preachers should take this page out of John the Baptist's book on how to do ministry.   "Lord, make me ready for whatever it is that You want to do new in my life.  Amen."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Come, Lord

Again, I'm waiting, Lord,
   not for some epiphany,
   or extraordinary thing.
     Just waiting,
     alone now,
     but hopeful,
Soon, Lord come.

They say, "Look up, way up,"
   as He left, He returns,
   ascending and descending.
     Watching now,
     eyes tired,
     still searching.
Your coming, Lord.

Praying, working, serving,
   no idle hands or heart,
   busy and attentive.
Your Kingdom, Come.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Be Attentive

I will confess at the beginning that I have this thing about people who live with their eyes on the one hand that is raised slightly in front of their face as if it is guiding them through life.   Of course, these folks are not admiring their hand, but monitoring the little screen around which the fingers are draped.  I suppose it is all done in the name of being connected.  But, connected to what is what I wonder?   Are they connected to a false image of someone else's life?  Or, are they so indispensable that the work place will cease to function without their input?  Or, maybe they are just connected to whatever because life is so boring.
It seems that people are so attentive to their hand held device and the pseudo world it presents that they are no longer attentive to the world through which they are moving.  When the Word of God tells us in these early days of Advent to be attentive, to watch, to stay in a state of readiness it is telling us to be on the lookout for Jesus breaking into our world.  It is a moment we are likely to miss if we are looking no further than our hand.  The truth is we miss a lot of important moments with Jesus because we are not looking.  We are not watching where we are.  We are not expecting a divine breakthrough.  We give sacred status to the mundane and ordinary and miss out on the holy.
The Scripture says we are to be on the lookout for Jesus.  The One who ascended in the clouds has a return event already planned.  But, this does not mean we are to become sky watchers who look up so much they cannot see what is front of them.   And what is in front of us?  A thousand faces who come to us as the Son of God.  To see those in need is to see Him.  To see the ones who suffer is to see Him.  To see the ones hopelessly locked in impossible circumstances is to see Him.  Watch.  Look for Him.  Be attentive to His presence in the present moment and in the ones still to come.  Be ready.  He appears at His choosing even when we are pre-occupied with what is in our hand.  Missing Him should not be an option.  "Father, forgive me for my obsession with myself and create in me a desire to look for You.  Amen."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

In the Dog Fennels

When I was racing toward ten years old, we live out on the edge of Waycross, Georgia in an area of town known as Hebardville.  It was a neighborhood and our street was one of those places that had not yet reached wall to wall house status.   Next to our house was a large corner field filled with dog fennels that soared high over a ten year old boy's head.  I beat down trails and made round clearings big enough to be my own personal hiding places.  I remember laying out in those clearings surrounded by towering dog fennels watching the white puffy clouds drift by on summer days.  I was sure if I looked long enough I was going to see God who I was convinced lived up there and might be caught peering down at me over the edge of one of those clouds.
While I never did see God riding across the blue sky on one of those big white clouds, I suppose I could say it was the beginning of a lifetime of being on the lookout for Him.  The truth is we never know when He is going to show up.  Sometimes it is in the midst of the most ordinary moments of our life.  Sometimes His coming is so extraordinary that it gets framed in our memory as one of those mountain top experiences.  And, surprisingly enough, we have also learned after a life time of struggles that He most surely can be seen and experienced in those dark moments when everything seems to be turned upside down. 
These days of Advent tell us to keep our eyes open.  We are to watch.  We are to be ready.  We are to experience what it is to live with expectancy.  God is always on the prowl.  He is more constant and faithful than anything or anyone in our life, but He can also be very unpredictable.  Advent reminds us to be doing what we should be doing every single day of our life.  Every single day of our life we should be living as if God is going to be meeting us in the next moment.  When we live with such expectancy, no moment is mundane and every moment is filled with the holy.  "Father, I want to be one who has eyes to see and who bless me.  Amen."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Like the Kingdom

For some time now I have been watching those soaring white barked sycamore trees that stand near the branch on the edge of the hayfield.  Maybe waiting is a better word.  Or, maybe the right word is anticipating.  Three years ago my youngest grandson who was four years old back then discovered the way those big-as-your-face sycamore leaves come drifting down to the ground.  The two of us watched those leaves as they started their journey to the earth and we ran and tried to catch them.  He ran, rolled on the ground, and laughed from deep in his belly as he tried to catch one.  His exuberance and laughter made a boy out of this old grandpa who ran and laughed beside him.  It has become a yearly ritual and each year I wonder if this year will be the last that a grandson wants to catch falling sycamore leaves with his grandpa.
So, as I watch those trees, there is a lot of anticipation.  I anticipate not just the moment of the falling leaves, but the boy laughing.  I anticipate sharing the unbridled joy again with him.  It must be like this in the Kingdom of God once it has fully come upon us.  Oh, I know Jesus said that the Kingdom is near, even here, but it is also still coming.  I suspect that the coming part is going to be exceedingly more wonderful than anything I might could imagine.  Surely, it will be filled with unbridled joy, deep belly laughter, and a giant exuberance for life.  Surely, it will be filled with young boys and their grandpas chasing sycamore leaves.
It seems that my Advent mantra this year has been those words from the most famous prayer ever prayed.  "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."  Even as I have watched the sycamore tree, I have been watching those words, waiting on them, hoping that they will one day soon come to pass.  There is this part of me, and most likely it is true of all of us, that longs not just for a better day, but a new day.  We long for that day when our tears will turn into laughter, our cautious living will turn into rolling in the grass, and our death will become our life.  "Lord Jesus, make me hunger and thirst for the things of Your Kingdom.  Amen."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Waiting and Watching

They said to get ready and to watch.  So, I set out to do it.  Knowing what was coming and knowing I wanted to see, it was the only thing which made sense.  Before darkness fell heavy on the ground, the old gray pick up truck carried me to the middle of the hay field where there was an unobstructed view of the eastern sky.  At first there was nothing to see.  Just the darkness.  And, then, there was a hint of light.  My eyes started searching as if they wanted to be the first ones to see.   There on the horizon appeared a sliver of orange.  For a moment the glory that was about to abound seemed like it was banded to the edge of the world unable to rise, but suddenly it leaped and raced upward as a bright orange globe bent on filling the sky with glory.
I remember another time when I was told to get ready and to watch.   It was not some unknown "they" who told me, but someone I trusted.  How many now during the early days of Advent have I read those words of Jesus which told me to watch, to be ready, to be attentive?  How many times have I heard those words from the sacred book telling me that as Jesus had ascended into heaven, so He will come from heaven?  How many times have I been caught looking?  How many times have I set out to look for Him and to see Him as I set out to watch a full moon rise gloriously in the night sky?

Too many times I must confess to hardly looking.  Or, maybe there have been those times when I looked so hard, I could not see.  Whatever the case, I sense that my life has been too much about missing what I should have seen instead of seeing the One for whom I was told to watch.  This Jesus has a history on this earth.  He also has a present.  And most assuredly, He has a future that includes being seen and known in a glory not yet seen with these eyes of mine.  "Lord Jesus, help me to see You coming in the paths I walk and in the future You will reveal to me.  Help me be ready. Amen."