Friday, December 16, 2016

Waiting For Something.. To Happen pt. 2

This is pt. 2 of 2.  For part 1, go here.


The final words in my previous post are promises that God will bring the change His people need and most desire.  Those exact words from God, through the prophet Isaiah, would have created a sense of longing and yearning for the day when what’s promised would become real.  Focusing on the promise of the good that is coming is the source of great joy!  You’ve probably experienced joy in anticipating..

 + the delivery date for something you ordered online
+ the approach of a significant milestone you’ve worked hard to achieve
+ saving up for something you wanted to buy
+ hearing your unborn baby’s heartbeat for the first time
+ pulling into the driveway of your grandparent’s home as a child
+ waiting an eternity for Christmas morning to arrive

Those last two points held lots of joy for me. I remember the excitement and anticipation growing by the mile as we would travel the hour north to visit my grandmother. She was affectionately known as Grandma Mac, or just Mac to some. She was a strong, red-headed, independent woman who I not only called grandma, but I called her my friend. I looked up to her so much. She was always kind and gentle with me (although tough as nails!).. even when she was pulling my baby teeth out with needle nose pliers, or by a string on the back porch door. Most of the time we'd visit, I was welcomed into her home with the smell of cinnamon pin wheels or an apple pie, handmade from apples in her own orchard. There aren't many better things in life than grandmas and apple pies!

My memories of Christmas are equally significant. I was buzzing with excitement Christmas eve day as we drove to Grandma Mac's house to gather with our extended family. We'd spend the afternoon chatting, eating a meal together and then heading to Grandma's Methodist church where she had been a member for 65 years, serving as the treasurer. The service sitting with family in those hard, cold pewas an experience.  We heard the Christmas Story of Jesus' arrival on earth, sang carols, lit candles and greeted townsfolk.  Beautiful.  Quiet.  Comforting. 

Once we arrived back at Grandma's house the grandchildren would pass out gifts to everyone and each would take a turn opening a gift as others looked on. Before bed, Santa and Rudolph's snacks would go by the fireplace with a note. Her house was colder than I was used to at home, but once I was in bed, Grandma would pile on quilts and blankets til I was weighed down under a cold heap of fabric. Then she'd grab both of my shoulders and bounce me in the bed as she said good night. All was well with the world. And, of course, there were more presents under the tree in the morning!

Here is Mac's home from the air. Lots of memories were made here, for many, many years.

In the Gospel reading today we see both John the Baptist’s anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah, and the fulfillment itself in Jesus’ life.

“John the Baptist was in prison, but he heard about what the Christ was doing. So John sent some of his followers to Jesus. They asked him, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?”

Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind can see, the crippled can walk, and people with skin diseases are healed. The deaf can hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor. Those who do not stumble in their faith because of me are blessed.”
- Matthew 11:2-6, NCV

We know God is faithful because He’s followed through on His promises in the past.  So, we can have confidence that He’ll do the same for us now and in the days ahead.  That’s all good, but even though we may have joy anticipating the good that our God will bring, how do we handle the distance between now and then?  It’s hard enough waiting on it’s own, but our culture has primed us to find no satisfaction in the waiting.  We want the fruit from the tree before the tree has even been planted.

This comes into view in our relentless pursuit of possessions.  In ages past, if there was something expensive we wanted to buy, we would have had to work and save for a long time before we could finally acquire it.  Since much of our economy has centered around the use of credit, we buy what we want first, then we’re meant to work to pay it off afterward.  The problem?  Once we’ve purchased the object of our desire on credit, the motivation for paying it off flips on it’s head.  The anticipation that once led us to work hard and save has given way to the weight and fear of being chased to pay off what we bought.  Joy looked ahead, now frustration looks behind.  When we don't preserve certain experiences for just the right time, we miss out on joy in the waiting.

Today, the last word belongs to James.  James’ advice for how to live in the waiting room creates the best environment to birth a healthy Joy.

“Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord comes again.  See how farmers wait for their precious crops to grow. They wait patiently for fall and spring rains.  You, too, must be patient.  Don’t give up hope. The Lord will soon be here.  Brothers and sisters, stop complaining about each other, or you will be condemned.  Realize that the judge is standing at the door.
Brothers and sisters, follow the example of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  They were patient when they suffered unjustly.  We consider those who endure to be blessed.  You have heard about Job’s endurance.  You saw that the Lord ended Job’s suffering because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
- James 5:7-11, GW

Joy grows larger as we learn to wait patiently on Our Father’s perfect timing.  Like Hope and Peace, Joy is a gift from God.  We cannot will ourselves to have it, or generate it on our own.  The right environment must be created for it to come and rest in our souls.  Like putting out a bird feeder with just the right kind of seed.  Then you wait and watch, as it begins to grow!

"Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD."
- Psalm 27: 14,

Father God, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to draw us home to You.  Thank you for beginning the renewal of all things through Him, and continuing it by your Spirit in and through Your people.  Please help us to enter Advent with an appropriate sense of awe at who You are, and the expectation that You'll continue to show up for Your people as you did supremely in Jesus so many years ago.  May JOY take hold in our hearts!  We love You, Dad!

I'll end by sharing a song by Northern Irish artist, Foy Vance, that cause Joy to rise up in me.  Enjoy!

'Closed Hand Full of Friends' by Foy Vance

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Waiting For Something.. To Happen pt. 1

Ever heard of Advent?  We’re now in the third week of Advent within the Church Calendar.  Advent, in essence, is translated as ‘coming’.  It’s a direct reference to waiting.. waiting for something to happen.  In this case, Advent is a season of waiting on God.  We’re waiting for God’s promises - promises He made aeons ago- to come to fruition, to be fulfilled.  We wait just like those who waited millennia ago for the Savior to appear.  At Advent, we’re waiting with those who looked forward to Jesus’ birth so long ago, waiting for the One whom our hearts have longed for since we entered His world.  Advent is an annual celebration that’s a retelling of God’s great Story, a story of His love for His people, and His faithfulness to respond to our world’s great need for Him.

This season leading up to Christmas is a reminder to pray, work and wait.  Implicit within Advent is an invitation to wait on the LORD's answer to His people's cry for help.  But it's not just any kind of waiting.. certainly not waiting infused with frustration and anger, but a waiting that is hope-filled and expectant because God hears our prayers and acts to set things right.  Here's a video showing a woman from England waiting for a bus with style- and not with our an exuberant quality to it that's infectious to all (which is many by now) who have seen her!

One of the traditions of the Advent season is the lighting of the advent wreath.  The wreath is ringed by four candles which circles a solitary candle in the middle.  Each candle represents a theme of the season of Advent.  Three of the ringing candles are usually purple, one is pink.  We celebrate Hope, Peace, Joy and Love each week leading up to Christmas.

That first candle, is the candle of Hope.  The Bible has a lot to say about Hope.

“Let us hold firmly to the hope that we have confessed, because we can trust God to do what he promised.”      - Hebrews 10:23, NCV

How do we “hold firmly to.. hope?”  We put it into practice.  We practice Hope by living our lives according to the Hope we have in Christ.. the hope of being loved unconditionally, forgiven without limit, transformed into the one He created us to become.

That second candle, is the candle of Peace.  The Bible speaks often about Peace.

“Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”        - Philippians4:6-7, NCV

How do we know Peace?  Peace comes by nurturing a intimacy, a closeness, with your Father.  It settles in your soul as you learn to open your heart to Him and practice listening to His heart.  You welcome peace into your soul by bursting into exuberant thanks because you know Him, He knows you, and you know He’ll always come through for you.

The third candle, is the candle of Joy.  O' what a gift Joy is!  In today’s reading we catch a glimpse, a solid, tangible taste of what is always on the horizon for the people of God.

“the people the Lord has freed will return there.
They will enter Jerusalem with joy,
and their happiness will last forever.
Their gladness and joy will fill them completely,
and sorrow and sadness will go far away.”
- Isaiah 35:10, NCV

A Scottish musician I used to know, named Sammy Horner, would have said, "I'll have a pint of whatever they're having!" when he noticed someone else enjoying life.  I want some Joy!  So how do you and I experience this Joy that will fill us completely?  Now hear me- to get in on this Joy we must embrace both Hope and Peace together.  Hope without Peace is a cream filled donut with no cream.  It’s hollow and un satisfying.  Peace without Hope is a as good as using your brights in a winter whiteout, on a road trip without a map.  It’s only going to get you so far.  Joy is ours by welcoming ‘God with us’ which gives us Peace, AND ‘God for us’ which gives us Hope.

Today we lit the Joy candle, the pink one.  When Christmas arrives, we light the center white candle which reminds us of Jesus, the Light that shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.. it’s that pink candle, the candle of Joy that we’re celebrating today.  Why Joy?  Joy is ours because we wait in anticipation for our Father God to keep His promises.. just as He did long ago.  Just as He always does.

You might be thinking, ‘How can we have Joy in a world like ours?’  Hey, I understand.  It’s easy to come to that conclusion when we see so much evil - so much pain and suffering - out there.  Maybe we could just shut it off.  Shut off the tv, the computer, the phone so we don’t have to face it.  That might help - for a bit.  But what about the dark parts of our own soul?  Sooner or later we will face ourselves and the answer will be the same.  We need Jesus to heal the broken places, the fearful spaces, we need Him to dispel the darkness that only obeys the Light.  So we wait, in Hope and Peace because of His presence and power to effect change.  But what about Joy?  Joy is ours not because of what we see now, but because of what we see then.. in a time soon coming.

Earlier this morning we heard Isaiah describing that Day when the LORD would fulfill His promise to send a Savior to His people:

“Everyone will see the glory of the Lord and the splendor of our God.
Make the weak hands strong and the weak knees steady.
Say to people who are frightened,“Be strong. Don’t be afraid.
Look, your God will come, and he will punish your enemies.
He will make them pay for the wrongs they did, but he will save you.”
Then the blind people will see again, and the deaf will hear.
Crippled people will jump like deer, and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy. Water will flow in the desert, and streams will flow in the dry land.  The burning desert will have pools of water, and the dry ground will have springs.  Where wild dogs once lived,
grass and water plants will grow.”
- Isaiah 35:2-7, NCV


Visit again for Part Two to be released later this week.