Posts Tagged ‘words of advent’

ImpossibleIt’s been the word of the season at Restore Church this year: impossible. And it’s a word that all believers must hear, should hear, need to hear and understand. This word is about us today and our faith. This word is about the extent to which God will do something from nothing. Thanks Pastor Jess Bousa for this word, now illuminated.

It sounds impossible, but listen—you know your relative Elizabeth has been unable to bear children and is now far too old to be a mother. Yet she has become pregnant, as God willed it. Yes, in three months, she will have a son. So the impossible is possible with God. [Luke 1:36-37, The Voice]

The concept is a simple one, that the impossible cannot be expected: it is a miracle after all. And yet these miracles are among us every day but we fail to give them their due. Isn’t it a miracle that a man, like Jess, could be transformed from full-blown drug addict to pastor of a thriving church? Or that I, a self-indulgent, pot-smoking, foul-mouthed actress wannabe could become a follower of the Christ? Or that my children, all adopted, would be “the ones” out of a million orphans to come into our family? All of our lives are filled with the miracles of impossible when God takes the raw material of “nothing” and makes something. Whether one sees the Genesis story as word for word real or symbolic, the message is the same: Creator God is a Maker God, who uses building blocks that none of us can really fathom. Something from nothing. Possible from impossible.

In Greek, impossible is adynateō with meanings that bridge the distance between weakness, inability, and powerlessness to the bottom line: it cannot be done. And God asks me, when will I see and understand the adynateō in myself? Not weakness in what I want to do, my dreams and ambitions. No. This is the weakness in the face of what God wants to do. In Corinthians 12:9, God speaks through Paul saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God is talking about the God Plan in Paul’s life and ultimately, in my life too.

God’s power manifests in doing God’s plan. 

impossible triangleOh, silly me. I have missed this obvious all along. I keep trying to get the blessing (and success) for my ideas, my plans, my ambitions, my projects. But there has been little room in my masterminding for the impossible, the unexpected, the miracles of God.

How many sermons and teachings have we heard about knowing God’s will for our lives, as though we might be able to figure out the impossible?

This is the only time I can truly say that the cliche, “whatever,” used by teens for the last decade or so, is truly the correct word in this situation. Our surrender to God is a “whatever.” That is, whatever God wants to do, whatever the Holy Spirit wants to manifest, whatever is possible in God’s cosmos, I choose to embrace today.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am sure this is not a passivity where we simply lie down on a bed and wait for a miracle. If anything, it’s a reckless abandonment of my narrow views in favor of the expansive potentialities of God.

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Schutzengel (English: "Guardian Angel") by Bernhard Plockhorst depicts a guardian angel watching over two children

Schutzengel (English: “Guardian Angel”) by Bernhard Plockhorst

Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life

Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life

Angels are a challenging topic since they have now developed a following of their own. It is no longer just Christians who speak of angels but all kinds of folks are communing with them, protected by them, and traveling with them in some other dimension. Angels are the subjects of books, both nonfiction and fantasy, and they are even seen in stories doing battle with demons and vampires. Angels are no longer like Clarence in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” or mere messengers who play harps all day or hover over sleeping children at night. Angels are hip.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. . . . Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” [Luke 2:9-10, 13-14]

Fantasy Angel wallpaper

Fantasy Angel wallpaper

Aggelos in Greek means messenger or envoy, someone who is sent. This role seems to have lost its significance in all the angel lore of recent years. In truth, if this meaning is true to their nature, they are merely brokers of information. They do not really operate with a lot of free will. At least, I don’t remember any examples in scripture of angels having a negotiation with a human outside the intended task assigned by, well, that is the question, who sends them: God? Jesus?

Angel of the Lord by Bill Osborne

Angel of the Lord by Bill Osborne

In the Old Testament, the term for angel(s) is malakh (or malach) and malakim for plural. The word also means messenger or ambassador, although a hierarchy appears in Judaisms angels that is not as prevalent in the New Testament. In fact, there is a reference to “angel of the Lord” that seems to be more deity than angel and in many circles, some have claimed it was an early representation of the Christ. Of course, no way to validate that, not really. In the Old Testament, these angels are referred to as masculine in gender. A summary discussion of the many angel roles in Jewish history is on Wikipedia.

In the New Testament, the hierarchies seem to be delineated by arenas of responsibility and strongholds or spheres of influence. I turned to Wikipedia for this review as well. It’s all more than I can relate here or want to.

Angels of Peace by Marlina Vera

Angels of Peace by Marlina Vera

So, let’s return to our original story: an angel appears to the shepherds, gives the “down-low” on the birth of the Messiah and where to find him. Then, it goes from one angel to a multitude. What would that look like? I can’t really imagine it or perhaps, whatever I do see in my mind is proscribed by the various artist renderings of the “Angels we have hard on high” variety.

I’ve been watching consecutive seasons of Dr. Who starting back about five years ago. In so many of the episodes, alien vessels appear in the sky, sometimes huge, sometimes fast and small, sometimes pointy crystals, and sometimes dark and forbidding. But in all cases, people run out of their houses and gape, looking up. Who else saw the multitude that night? If they really filled the sky, then there were other witnesses. Would they have explained it all away the next day?

I’m also reading a new book by Mitch Albom, The First Phone Call from Heaven. The reactions of people are fascinating, from disbelief to total belief to manipulation of the situation for profit. People are funny in the face of things they don’t understand. Even messengers from heaven.

crying angelI wonder. Have I seen angels, really and just not noticed or remembered because my logical mind could not process it? That would be a shame, to miss an event of pure wonder.

So, do I believe in angels? Sure. But I think they have a unique and limited role in the workings of reality. We are living in the age of the Christ within. Angels do not operate in that place. My faith is not extended by the presence of angels; but they would be key to unlocking my ability to see/process multi-dimensionality. They aren’t people/human and don’t look like them. imho.

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Fountain 15 by Woonkey

Fountain by Geoffrey Platt

Joy is a big word in the enormity of its meaning. Appearing 58 times in the New Testament alone, as chara in the Greek; it is a particular kind of gladness, happiness, and delight that comes to us as a result of something or someone. It is our response, but not just a momentary moment of laughter or grins, it comes with an understanding. Joy carries knowledge with it.

But the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. [Luke 2:10-11, NIV]

The angel is promising the shepherds them the experience of joy because of the import of the message and the opportunity to see the promised Messiah in the flesh. Very few were given this experience. Joy came from revelation!

I remember the first time I went to a wedding (it seems to be more common now, almost as a matter of course) when the bride and groom were introduced, that everyone exploded in cheers and applause because we all knew the difficulties the two had faced to get to this day. It was pure elation shared. It came upon me in a flood and I didn’t have to search for it or do anything to achieve it, merely allow myself to feel it.

Joy cannot be chased down like a fox in a foxhunt. It cannot be bought or traded.

In essence, joy comes from within, based on the big picture, not on circumstances. True joy is not the product of some success or or the avoidance of failure in the skirmishes of our lives. Joy is part of the rock upon which our faith is built.

I wish I could say that I walk in joy. I am even more frustrated to have this head knowledge but not the full grasp of what the plumb line of the Holy Spirit could mean in my life. I am distracted. My ego continues to be unyielding. I am still sorting and labeling and controlling my day to day experiences.

If I look at my time in quiet meditation or worship or praise or contemplation, I can see the fragmentation. Is there any wonder I cannot sustain joy? But I have had those moments, perhaps, as above, in the blessed good fortune of others or while singing a particularly meaningful set of stanzas in church or the burst of love toward a friend or child or other loved one. I have experienced the joy of nature in its beauty and majesty and in the power of the sea.

But deep inside, I know that there is a well of joy from which I have barely drunk. Oh human, we, will this fountain flow free?

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shepherdsHow many of us know a shepherd. Honestly? At best I may have met a 4-H person at the Farm Fair. Oh, and one of my library colleagues used to raise a few sheep for the wool which she sheared and spun and created beautiful things. But she wasn’t exactly Little Bo Peep. And although nativity story shepherds have been romanticized, the truth is they were on some of the lowest rungs of the ladder. They were a necessity for the economy, the protection of the sheep, but their jobs were B-O-R-I-N-G. In modern day, I might compare them to a rent-a-cop on the graveyard shift of a storage unit.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [Luke 2:8-9, 15-16, NIV]

I’ll look into angels tomorrow but for now, let’s look at shepherds. Back in the day, the shepherd metaphor was a good one. The Greek word poimēn word means herdsman or shepherd, but even then, it was seen metaphorically, the one who watches over the flock, the one who protects the herd from outside danger, the one who seeks for lost ones, the one who heals the sick. For these reasons, many have compared shepherds to pastors in a church. And certainly, even Jesus himself, allowed this comparison [John 10:14-16].

What’s funny about shepherds to me is that despite their humble station, the critters they guarded appeared to be quite stupid and over the years, and this has stuck. Despite some contrary information in recent years about sheep being able to recognize faces of other sheep and human caretakers, build relationships, and possibly know how to eat certain plants to make themselves feel better. But mostly, we find sheep to have such a strong flocking instinct and “follower” genes that they will do themselves harm based on who they follow. That metaphor has never been complimentary to the church or people who follow leaders blindly.

But no matter how much we imagine this shepherd/flock relationship, it’s not really in our modern ken or culture. We don’t have a modern counterpart to the stinky, smelly sheep workers who were more comfortable alone with their animals than they were with other people. They were undoubtedly loners and nomadic by nature. They often endured taunts for unappealing acts with their ewes. Was it true? I really don’t know. And yet, these most lowly of men were, according to the story, visited by angels in such a large number that many shepherds (scattered over the fields) saw the spectacle and responded.

It is so often the case that the poor and “least of these” type folks get the message. They have nothing to lose, having little to begin with. The grassroots campaign for the Christ began with them. Come see–go tell. The Messiah has come.

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numbersWhat is it with human beings and counting? How many kids do you have? How many dogs and cats? How many people came to church on Sunday? How many books were checked out of the library? I mean, what does it really mean anyway, these sum totals?

 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. [Luke 2:1, NIV]

Apparently, the main reason that censuses were taken in the past was for tax purposes. According to the article in Wikipedia, the census around the time of Jesus birth was actually the Census of Quirinius, based on the history written by Josephus (however, there are historical problems with this date and the generally accepted date of Jesus’s birth–a challenge for the scholars I suppose, but that relevant to me. However, for more about this conflict, read the article). And apparently, the Jews resented the taking of the census anyway because of its implications for the domination of Rome over their country and their livelihoods. The prevailing opinion was that the taxation would be too high (sound familiar?). The zealots began their rebellion during these times.

In modern times, the census (supposedly) ensures that all people will be adequately represented in our government through representatives and senators and the like. However, that system is currently very broken and no census will fix it.

So, let’s go back to the more general idea of counting. Why do we count the number of people or things in a place at a certain time? Why do we believe that the higher the number, the more successful we are or the more plenteous our booty? When it comes to money, the rich get richer and the poor wish harder.

By the way, there’s no census in heaven.

In fact, all of this counting and measuring is human in origin. As is time. How much and how little? How many and how few? How long and how short? We compare to one another and we compare to history (as though the circumstances in the past could actually compare to whatever is now). Sort of silly really.

There is another biblical story about the census that has completely different aspect [I Chronicles 21], in which David declares thatcounting days a census would be taken, without the blessing and/or direction of God. According to one scholar, “. . . God was angry at David, in those times, [because] a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him.” And I find that concept fascinating. Perhaps we need to consider if we are counting too many things that are not ours to count?

This then begs for the challenge, does God own everything? Have I given over that “ownership” or not?

Read Psalm 50:10-12: ” . . . for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,

    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

For if everything I own is God’s, then I don’t need to really count or worry about that number being large or small. If I could just stay focused on the quality of my relationships, the quality of my service, the quality of my work and lifestyle, then the numbers game could fall away and into the very hands of the Christ who lives within me: teacher, guide, savior, CEO.

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nativity scene with childrenIf you went to church as a kid, you know that the Baby Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. Many of us have been in those Christmas pageants, where one of the girls got to play Mary (coveted role) while another girl had to play Joseph  with a fake beard and they walked across the stage from inn to inn asking for a place to stay because, after all, Mary was preggers. All the innkeepers shook their heads no until one nice one agreed to put them up in the stable (or was it a cave–biblical scholarship is mixed on this minor point).  But then, voila, baby appears in a soft bed of hay with a pretty blue blanket.

While in Bethlehem, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them. [Luke 2:6b-7, The Voice]

But really, don’t we all know, having a baby in a stable could not have been a picnic. And don’t we wonder, did Joseph help Mary through her labor, telling her to breathe rhythmically? I doubt it. There may have been a midwife, but we will never know this part of the story. It’s been sanitized over the years and honestly, by the men who wrote it. Back in those days, having babies was woman’s work.

Did Mary wonder? First a bright, slightly overwhelming Angel comes to her with the big news that she’s having a baby by the touch of God and then, her world begins a slow crumbling until her ends up in a strange city, pregnant, with not even a bed to give birth to this wunderkind. Oh yes, Mary had lots to ponder in her heart [Luke 2:19].

I can imagine that throughout the time of her pregnancy and the birth of her son, she was feeling ostracized from her community and her family. I doubt very seriously that anyone around her (except for Elizabeth who lived in a different city altogether), believed Mary was the anointed mother of the Messiah.

There was no room for this story as it was happening.

All she had was a prophecy, a promise, a supernatural appearance, and a dream to hold on to through their trials. They were homeless and alone. They were poor and without many resources.

soylent greenWhen the phrase “no room” came to me, outside of the Bethlehem story, I remembered the science fiction movie, Soylent Green, a film that was loosely based on Harry Harrison’s novel, “Make Room! Make Room!” :  a civilization gone mad, over-populated and consuming green wafers made from– (well, you should watch the movie or read the book). There was little room for anything or anyone. No room for human caring, no room for individualism, no room for random acts of kindness. Nothing, just survival: food, shelter & clothing. Is it too much to ask?

But are we doing much better? Have we such busy lives that there is no room? Have I? Is my schedule so packed that there’s no room for the unexpected need, the human soul in distress, the unforeseen incident or meeting? Am I turning away a Mary or a Joseph because I am too busy? Am I turning them away because I am protecting my own little half acre? Really? No room?

Who am I in the real Christmas story played out every day?

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Second_Sunday_of_AdventThe word does not appear in scripture as part of the Advent story. In fact, the four references in the New Testament have to to with the day before Sabbath or the day before Passover. It is a time for getting ready. It is one of the reasons Jesus was taken down more quickly from the cross in response to a request from the Jewish leaders. In most Advent traditions, the second week is given the word, preparation. paraskeuē
means to make ready or equip.

In the old testament, one of three appearances of this word is this:
Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. . . . ” [Joshua 7:13, NIV]

In this case, it is part of the story of Achan who, when the army of Israel under Joshua destroyed the city of Jericho, everything was to be killed except for Rahab and her family and all of the gold, silver, and other precious treasures were put in the treasury of the Lord’s temple; the rest was burned. But Achan coveted and secreted a few beautiful things and silver. And when they went to battle a second time, 36 men died and the army fled from the men of Ai. When Joshua lamented to God, he heard from God clearly of betrayal in the camp and for this cleansing, everyone needed to prepare, for the perpetrator would be revealed the following day.

Preparation then is a combination of cleansing and equipping. Since the Israelites were not allowed to work (even the women), all work had to be completed on the 6th day. The 7th day was a day of rest and this was a day for the Lord, time in study, prayer, and worship. This was God’s day. In some ways, even in Achan’s story, it was God’s day, who identified the sin and cast it out from among them. So, God can cast out our own sins, if we confess and lay them out honestly before God.

Jesus came to us as a baby, in innocence of experience but still full of the Holy Spirit. And perhaps it is one of the mysteries of being “born again,” to return to a purer time when the fullness of the Spirit has reign and learned responses to the world do not win out of habit.

Christmas time is also a time of much preparation. Unfortunately, we have lost most of the purpose of this preparation. The apex or crowning moment would be the symbolic birth of Christ celebrated and remembered. It is could be a holy day of remembrance. Instead, it has become a day of consumerism gone wild. I am no different from you. I do the same. I don’t really know how to stop it without the buy-in of family.

Too much effort in the preparation and not enough effort in the day at the end, the day of rest and remembrance.

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