Category Archives: Advent

Finding hope in a hopeless world


The world has always been falling apart. Well, at least since Genesis 3. But there are times when we are far more aware of just how busted up we are in this world. This is one of those times. Those of us who work in the social services get a front-row seat at seeing individual, family, community, and society level brokenness.

Frankly, this vantage point tempts me to become cynical, skeptical, and in despair. Listen in on some of the thoughts we Christian counselors might have: people don’t change; leaders serve themselves; God doesn’t care… Out of this experiences, counselors may find themselves becoming complacent, settling for palliative care only (vs. recovery), or worse, using clients to sate their own appetites.

So, where do you find hope in an otherwise hopeless world?

Cynicism and skepticism illustrate conclusions we have made about our world. file-nov-28-5-16-13-pmThey illustrate that we have stopped looking for other data. Consider instead these three activities as a reminder and cultivator of the hope available to us:

  1. Waiting and lamenting. I’ve written on this quite a bit over the years. This post was my most recent, but this one and this one may be of use as well. You might wonder whether lamenting leads to more cynicism. But notice that the goal is to actively wait on God for an answer. When we lament in front of God we talk to him about the state of our soul or the state of the world. Waiting requires that we prepare to listen to God’s heart on these same things.
  2. Waiting and looking. This is the season of Advent, of remembering the birth of Jesus, the messiah. †Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist had stopped looking for God to show up. Who can blame him, God hadn’t seemed to show up for a mere 400 years or so. It took being struck silent by an angelic messenger to wake him from his disbelief. Where are you no longer looking for God’s hand in your life? In the world? Look to your present. Ask your friends to tell you where they notice God’s activity. Look to your future, imagine yourself as a child waiting eagerly for Christmas morning. Be like that child and keep talking to God, “Is it Christmas yet?” Look even to the past. See what God has done in your life in the past and let that remind you that he is at work in your present and future. Read Hebrews 11 as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his people.
  3. Waiting and loving. While we wait, we are not passive! We move and act in love, even when it seems the good we do will not change the outcome. That loving may be acts of palliative care, or it may be an act of planting a dormant seed that one day springs to life and full bloom. This act of loving others grows out of Jeremiah’s lament (Lam 3:21f): because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. Therefore we recognize that our minuscule capacity to love, to care, even to call others to repentance are all signposts of God’s ongoing love for his people.

Is it crazy to hope in this world? Absolutely. But the signs of birth are around you if you look. Notice in Luke 1 how Zechariah sings of present-tense salvation and redemption, even though Jesus is merely in utero. How much more ought we to be able to hope as we live in the age of the Resurrection.†

†I got these ideas from a sermon preached by Marc Davis on 11/27/16.

 

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Why the Christmas story?


Why does Jesus enter the world as he does? His entry into the theodrama is both obscure and dramatic at the same time—obscure in that save but a few shepherds and angels no one witnessed or knew the significance of his first days. Yet his entry into the world could not be more dramatic and shocking. God is either a crazy, histrionic, attention-seeking God…or God wants us to see something he is willing to pull out the stops to ensure we pay attention.

His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

Truthfully, Jesus could have entered our world any way he wanted. He could have ridden an asteroid; he could have just appeared in the temple and shocked Zechariah out of his robes; at least he could have been born to royalty. But no, Jesus comes through a virgin teen girl from Galilee—about as nobody as you can get.

Impossibly dramatic. But there’s more drama to come.

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

This bit of Scripture is more unbelievable than a virgin birth. Mary should have been stoned to death. Joseph should have been the first to accuse in order to clear his family name from everlasting dishonor and shame. If he did not, he could have risked being stoned himself, because who would have believed him when he said, “it’s not my child”? Yet, he did not choose the path of his culture and even the path of the Law. Rather he chose first to be discreet and second to consider his dream to be from God. And if you think this is not dramatic enough, notice that Joseph not only got a quickie marriage to protect his wife but he also chose not to pursue certain marital privileges until after the birth of Jesus—more signs that God wants to show us something dramatic is taking place.

Impossibly dramatic. But wait, there is more to come.

Whether to escape local gossips or out of desire to comply with a command from a distant Roman emperor, Joseph decides to take pregnant Mary and travel about 100 hundred miles south to Bethlehem. There Jesus is born, not in the safe and warmer confines of a house but in some shelter designed for animals.

She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Laid in a trough. If you’ve ever been in an active barn…consider the smell! Impossibly dramatic.

Surely now, the story can follow a straight line. King Jesus is on earth and soon will take his rightful place, recognized by all. No, we are not quite there yet. A bit more drama is coming.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…”take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.”

Virgin birth, unusually protective fiancé, musty stable, and now we add to the story this: refugees fleeing in the middle of the night to former enslaving Egypt to avoid certain death. Can it get more dramatic? Frankly, it did. Imagine travelling on foot or donkey to Egypt from Bethlehem today, even with our helpful gadgets. It would be most dramatic, worthy of a best-seller!

So, why does Jesus enter the world like this? 

It seems to me that God is trying to tell us at least two things.

  1. My love for you is so deep that it requires a dramatic entry. I will arrange the stars, bring wise and simple to worship; cause the rich to part with their wealth, put a ruler (Herod) on notice, impregnate a virgin, and miracle above miracle, move a man to ignore the blight to his own name and to take a publicly tarnished woman as his wife. I, God, will not wait for you to come to me. I will move heaven and earth to pursue you.
  2. My love for you is so deep that it requires that I experience your weakness and struggle. You have a high priest who sympathizes with your suffering. I will know poverty; I will know rejection; I will know obscurity; I will know what it is to be a refugee. I will take on your pain and one day, I will extinguish it forever.

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