Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent 2012

While Advent has a way of jarring our spiritual sensibilities, it is a jolt hardly felt by so many of those who watch the altar paraments change from the the white of Christ the King Sunday to the purple of Advent.  In our liturgically impoverished ecclesiastical culture, Advent is little more than an awkward prelude to Christmas.   It is the out-of-step with culture season.  The secular culture around us has no place for songs like "Come, thou long expected Jesus," or "Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God with us."  The message of the secular culture is "Get it now!" while the Advent word calls us to wait with patient expectation.
To be honest is to admit that Advent is more tolerated than experienced.  We clamor for Santa to be dethroned so that Christ can be put back into Christmas; yet, we have so little patience for the liturgical tool which actually can accomplish such an end.  Perhaps, this should not surprise us.  Perhaps, it all speaks of the tension created by the Advent season and its message of expecting Jesus who is to come and experiencing Jesus who has come.  There is no season which so invites us to live in the world of the Kingdom of God in our midst and the world of the Kingdom of God not yet come.  Surely, it is both confusing and perplexing to consider what we are being asked to experience during these days of Advent.
Advent is most likely best experienced by those who can live in a world where everything does not have to be figured out and wrapped in a neat orderly package.  Advent challenges us to look over the edge of what we declare to be reality; it calls us to admit facing Jesus face to face would be a most uncomfortable moment; and it creates a mindset which when embraced causes radical re-orientation of our values.  It is no wonder we would rather get baby Jesus on stage quickly rather than stand too long so close to Christ who has come because of our sin and will come again to do the unthinkable--turn secular culture's table upside down once more.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A New Baptism

"Day is dying in the west, Heav'n is touching earth with rest; Wait and worship while the night Sets it's evening lamps alight Through all the sky.  Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heav'n and earth are full of Thee!  Heav'n and earth are praising Thee, O Lord most high!"   I first learned and came to love this song long years ago at Young Harris College as we gathered each evening for vespers in the chapel.  Although not sung often through the decades since those days, it is a song never forgotten.  Recently, I have found myself remembering, re-discovering, and singing aloud this wonderful evening song so filled with praise.
The season of retirement has opened new windows to see the world.  In the evenings I am no longer rushing to the church building for a meeting.  No longer do I spend those transition moments between day and night inside.  Instead, a majority of my day is spent outside and each evening as the day is finishing up, I am doing what I think of as my end-of-the-day chores, things like feeding the dog, gathering the eggs, shutting up the chicken coop for the night, checking the water level in the cow trough, and making sure everything outside that needs tending has been tended.  It has come to be a favorite time of the day.
Tonight I was a bit late getting started and the sun was long gone from the  western horizon.  Darkness had settled in.  The Frosty Full Moon had risen and was shining through the fog which was rising in waves all around me.  The air was filled with strong hints of winter coming and I was just privileged and blessed to see and to be a part of it.  It seemed like a moment of being baptized in creation and I found myself remembering and singing aloud that song of praise learned so long ago at Young Harris College.  "...Heav'n and earth are full of Thee!  Heav'n and earth are praising Thee, O Lord most high!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Precious Gift

It was an ordinary afternoon.  The sun was on its way down and I was finishing up the things of the day.  For a brief moment, I was sitting still just feeling what was inside and watching what was out there before me.  I was counting the chores accomplished and being aware of the weariness in my body.  Suddenly this unexpected and surprising wave of gratitude swept over me.  Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to say I sensed this spirit of thanksgiving rising up within me.  Regardless of the language, it is something experienced by all of us from time when we allow a little still space in our lives.
The moment brought forth a prayer.  What was growing in my heart found expression through softly uttered words.   Suddenly, I was thankful for the day that was ending in a way not expected.  It really was a precious gift.  It had within the physical accomplishments that underscored a body that was alive, healthy, and strong.  The gift of one day was like a reminder of the days given by the Creator.  Some of those days had within them deliverance from danger and harm.  Some of those moments of being kept from harm can be remembered, but most passed by without my being aware of how close they were.  Another gift. 
Each day is such a precious gift.  I have had too many days when I took this gift of God for granted always figuring there would be another.  So far there has been, but here is one place where there are no guarantees.  Now is the moment for living fully and now is the moment for being thankful.  Now is a moment for finding a little still space in our life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Liturgical Harbinger

Some folks will call next Sunday Christ the King Sunday and they will be right.  Actually, only folks in the more liturgical traditions will note the day on the calendar and even then, there will not be too much fuss given to the observance.  It is certainly not like Christmas, or Easter, or even Pentecost.  The church calendar people note it, but for the rest of us, it will largely pass without a holy whimper.

What makes it such a harbinger has to do with its theme.  Christ the King Sunday calls us to recognize the sovereignty of Jesus.  Everything and everyone is under His sovereign power.  It is a noteworthy pause as it comes as the final word of the Christian year.  And, of course, what follows is the season of Advent and the early days of Advent always remind us that the One who has come will come again to establish His sovereign rule.   The manger of Bethlehem may have held a baby who would save His people from their sins, but it also was filled with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  This is the One who was worshipped by shepherds and the Kings of the East.

Just before the old year passes, Christ the King Sunday shows up on the church calendar to point us toward Jesus, the King who reigns now and forever.  It is an end-of-the-year Word which causes us to realize that partial commitment will no longer cut it.  Those who follow after the King who reigns sovereign above all other powers cannot appease Him with the bits and pieces of our lives.  His call is for the submission of our whole self, everything we are and everything we hope to be.  Anything less is less than enough.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Not Some, But All

My Mother always had a strong sense that some of what we have belongs to God.  My first experience at making money took me to the streets of downtown Waycross, Georgia where I hawked boiled peanuts for ten cents a bag.  Now no respecting parent would send their child across the tracks to town alone to sell something on a street corner, but it was a different world back in the '50's.  What surprised me after my first Saturday on the job was my  Mother telling me  that 10% of what I earned belonged to God and would go in the offering plate at church the next day.  Looking back I am glad she was an Old Testament person who believed in the tithe and not a New Testament person who took Jesus seriously when He said, "…sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor….  (Mt. 19:21)

But, I also remember another time when she taught me to give to God what belonged to Him.  I was probably about ten years old.  We were attending the Hebardville Methodist Church on the north side of Waycross.  It was a small neighborhood church.  The parking lot was a grassy corner and field behind the building.  Since we lived only two streets over from the church, we walked to church on Sunday.  One Sunday after church as I was walking through the parking area, I found a quarter lying on the ground.  Finding one caused me to start looking for others.  I learned that when car keys were pulled out of a pocket, a coin or two would often come out as well.  Since the parking area was dirt and grass, they made silent landings and the owner never heard the sound of silver hitting concrete.  Walking slowly through the parking area after church on the way home turned into a profitable exercise for a ten year old boy. 

When my Mother discovered what was happening, she put an end to my new economic venture by telling me, “Since you found it on the church ground, it belongs to God so you put it in the offering plate next Sunday.”  I did what she said, but it sure took some of the fun out of looking for lost coins.  However, what she did say to me was a word about giving to God what belonged to Him.   It is a Word which has never been forgotten.  It was a Word which finally caused me to realize that it is not just some of what we have which belongs to Him, but all.