Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Advent Readings

I wrote the advent readings for the advent season at Richmond Town Methodist Church. Lighting advent candles is an old church tradition and brings to remembrance the waiting for, and the birth of, the Messiah. The first one - the Candle of Peace - was a collaboration with my husband (who ended up writing most of it). The rest are mine.

Candle of Peace

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women on whom his favor rests.”

Every year we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. There is excitement in the air! There’s shopping to do, gifts to wrap, Christmas carols to sing! Family, friends, laughter, and so much fun to be had! Yes, it is a time to celebrate. But stop for a moment and think…what are we celebrating?

Good news of great joy?
Peace on earth?

What are we celebrating?

If peace came to earth that night, where is it now? Is there peace for the child that will shiver on the street through December? Is there peace for the refugees of the Gujarat riots of 2002, who struggle through each day? And what of strife torn Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kashmir? Will the Adivasi woman who was stripped naked and beaten on the streets of Guwahati last week be at peace this Christmas? And what about us? As we sit here, are we at peace? What turmoil do we go through as we think of our own lives?

What is Christian peace? And is God at peace today?

By many measures, the world we live in is not much different from the world that Jesus stepped into two thousand years ago. Was God at peace when he allowed his son to begin a mission that would suffer the greatest violence? What about Jesus? Was he at peace as he wept for Lazarus, minutes before he brought him back to life? What about when he wept over Jerusalem, or drove the moneylenders out of the temple? Is he at peace now? What nature of peace might we understand the Triune God as enjoying?

Surely to not ask that question is to make certain we can never grasp what Jesus means when he simply tells his disciples, “My peace I give to you”.

“In me you have peace. In the world you have trouble,” John quotes Jesus as saying in 16:33 of his good news account.

Christmas marks the intervention of God into the human condition with a qualitatively different nature of peace. Not one that can exist only in the cessation of all violence, but a peace that infiltrates evil and vanquishes it with the quiet violence of complete assuredness.

“But be encouraged, I have overcome the world.”

Christian peace cannot be divested from an assurance of God’s victory. And God had always won. If the peace of Jesus is to be reckoned with, we are sure to find that Christian peace cannot be apathetic or passive. Nor can it be naive or doubtful. Always hopeful, it is surprisingly yet no stranger to extending itself in tears.

If Jesus can be believed, there is a day when shalom will come. The true peace that is so much more than the silence of guns. In that peace, the fundamental brokenness that moves us to forge guns is restored to wholeness. In Christmas, we are now invited to participate in the breaking of that new peace which is remaking the world from the inside out. But while all creation still groans, we like the Jesus whose peace we bear, are called to the glorious paradox of a tearstained hope… a weeping peace.

Let us then pray for a fresh understanding of God’s peace. Let us pray the Lord will bless us and keep us; make His face to shine upon us, be gracious unto us, and above all… give us his Peace.

Candle of Hope

Today we light the candle of hope. Advent brings with it a spirit of expectation, of longing, of preparation. It is the anticipation of a coming Messiah. Through Old Testament history, the people of Israel waited to be released from the oppression of wicked kings and self-centered religious leaders. Constantly, they were being led astray by false prophets. God had then kept silent. And the people of Israel hoped God would raise up a new king, who would show them how they could be God’s people. They longed for the return of God’s presence among them.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.
And ransom captive Israel.

God had revealed through His prophets that He would not leave His people without a Shepherd. He would not let their hope die. But the people expected an earthy King, with all the power and might they saw in the Roman emperors. God sent them a child, born in a cattle shed, whose only “Kingly” procession would be on a donkey. The people didn’t realize that God had revealed Himself in Christ.

Some, recognized God. Simeon knew he had seen the Lord’s salvation, Zechariah knew that salvation had come, and thirty years later, John the Baptist, proclaimed that the Lamb of God was standing among them. In a strange way, even Herod knew, and therefore ordered the slaughter of the children. Yes, Emmanuel had come. God is with us.

And so God is. Still, the earth is not fully redeemed and so we wait with expectation, with hope, we wait for God’s new work in history, the Second Advent. Christ’s coming in which He will reveal Himself to the world.

“Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people. But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. “

Our light has come. He is with us. We do not wait as the people of the Old Testament, as those who did not know. We wait as people who have heard the good news, experienced the Holy Spirit, and seen the salvation of our God. So we hope, with the full knowledge of the power of the resurrected Lord and Saviour. We also hope, knowing that God’s judgment will come.

As we will stand before the Son of Man in all his glory, who will separate the sheep from the goats, what will He say to us? Have we given the hungry something to eat? Have we given the thirsty something to drink? Have we accepted people we didn’t know? Have we given the naked clothes to wear? Have we taken care of the sick, and those in prison?

What will the King say to us?

With every great gift that the Lord has given us, he gives responsibility. The light He has given us, is not be hidden. It is to be shared. And so is the hope that we have received. Is there hope for the children on the street? Is there hope for the refugees in Gujarat? Is there hope for the thousands of children who are given rifles in their hands to shoot their own families, all for a war that they did not start? Is there hope for the old man who sits on the street corner in a ragged blanket, begging for a few rupees? Is there hope for this world, so full of hate, evil, death, and destruction?

Emmanuel is with us. Not only so we can be happy and safe, believing that God is with you and me, or this church. God is here for the world. And this candle of hope that we light today, must remind us that the light cannot remain within this sanctuary.
May we carry this light as we receive it now, to our homes, to our families and friends, to our neighbors, to the people who work for us, indeed to the entire world. For, God loved the world… and so sent His Son.

Candle of Joy

My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
He has looked with favour on His lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.

Mary rejoiced when Gabriel told her of the coming child. She sang a song of joy, grateful for the favour bestowed upon her. Did this young, Jewish girl, think of the repercussions of her pregnancy? Did she, even for a moment, think of what Joseph would say, of what people would think, of what would become of her when her family found out? Apparently, at least at the time of the announcement, she doesn't seem to worry. She considers herself blessed! We can only assume that having encountered a messenger from God, having being made a part if God's plan for Israel, Mary is so filled with joy that she does not think of earthly consequences at all! She praises God and her lips sing a song that can only come from her heart.

The shepherds were out in the fields, in the cold, watching their sheep. The angel tells them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people.” And the shepherds did. They were not rich men. They did not own prime property or capital. We don't know how much they must have struggled to care for their family. Yet, when they were given the news, they rejoiced and went to find the Messiah. What is it that makes people who seemingly have very little to be happy about, rejoice? What is it that fills people's lives with joy, even when things are not going too well?

The birth of the Christ child gave the world a chance to experience joy, even in the midst of trials. Think about it. Jesus was not born in the most comfortable of situations. The young man and woman who were given the responsibility to bring the baby into the world, had to resort to a cattle shed. No clean bedsheets for this baby. His birth also brought about the brutal murder of thousands of innocent children. Yet, God sends his message, “great joy for all people!”

So what is it that makes people, in difficult circumstances be joyful? The only explanation there seems to be – the presence of God. When mortals such as us, come into contact with the Almighty God, will there not be rejoicing? When we come to the understanding of His love, His peace, His awesome goodness, and the power of His might, won't we sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord?”

This joy is not simple. It is not easy to find. It is abundant joy in the midst of sadness, hardship, death, sorrow, grief, loss. It is not the heady feeling we get when we live in ignorance of reality. It is the profound understanding of knowing that Emmauel has come. God is with us. Yes! God is with us. And God brings us Joy!

As we light the candle of Joy, may the everlasting Joy that our Lord and Saviour gives us be ours, now and always. Amen.

Candle of Love

Candle of Love - Advent Reading 4

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This is the message of Christmas. This is why Jesus came. At the core of the Christmas message is really just one thing – love. At the core of Christianity is really just one thing – love.

Today we light the advent candle of love. As we do, let us pause for a moment to consider this love. This love that left heavenly realms to be born in a cattle shed. This love that gave up all power and might, to become a little child, helpless and needing care from humans. This love that chose to sit with those who had no home, eat with those who no one else would eat with, speak to those who no one bothered to speak to. Consider this great love that chose to become a sacrifice for creation that had scorned, ridiculed, and turned away from Him. Consider this love that came into the world as flesh, was hungry, was tired, wept, laughed, was loved, was hated, was cared for, was beaten, tortured, and died for you and me.

All of this for love.

And so Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another… by this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

It only seems right that He asks this of us, doesn’t it? But he really does ask in love as well. To understand this great God, we must understand His great love, because love is from God, and God is love. And to understand His love, we need to experience it, but we also need to give it. It really does work both ways. We learn to love, when we love; and when we love, we learn to love.

We must remember however, that this love of God is not a simple and easy love. It was not simple for Jesus, and it is not simple for us. Love is difficult. Love is sacrifice. Love is giving of our selves, for another. And remember, by another, He does mean the world, not just our friends and family. The comforting thing of course, is that we don’t have to battle this on our own. The Holy Spirit will enable us to love.

So as we light this candle of love today, let us make a commitment to obey God’s commandment – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The Christ Candle

The waiting is over! The Messiah has come! It is in His coming that our hope, peace, joy and love are full. As we light the Christ Candle, we affirm that God is with us. As we light the candle, we are actually saying that the God who made the heavens and the earth, and all the creatures of the earth, is with us! Pause for a moment and think of that really means… God with us! Let this affirmation not get lost with the many words that we hear and speak everyday. Let it not become another phrase that we use along with our many shouts of acclamation. Pause and take in this most blessed truth – God is with us!

For the Israelites in Jesus’ time to say “God is with us” would mean so much more than what it would mean for you and me today. For years the people of Israel were under slavery, were lied to, were oppressed. Imagine what it must mean for these people to say, “Emmanuel has come! God is with us!” They were saying that God was on their side!

Are you saying that now? Can you affirm that God is on your side? That He will never ever let you down – even through your failures, even when things are not going the way you planned, even through that loved one’s illness, through the difficulties of life, through the loneliness, through the pain, even through death? Can you say that God is with you?

And what message do we have for this world? What message can give the people on the street? What message can we give to those who will hear the sound of war, the sound of their children crying in fear, to the many who will be abused this very day? What message can we give to the children who will hear their parents fighting? What can we give to the child who will lay awake afraid of the dark? To the children who will dance on the streets and jump through hoops for a few rupees to feed their stomachs? What can we take to this world where people do not have water to drink, and food to eat, only because someone more powerful has taken it away from them? What message can we give to this nation, where wicked politicians are voted as leaders, even when the world has seen their atrocities? What message can we give to the world?

“God is with you”? Can we take that great, glad tiding to the people, for whom the Christ child came, and suffered and died? For the good news was for all people. God loved the world, and so sent His Son. Jesus came so we may have life, and have it abundantly.

As we light this candle, may the light of the Lord Jesus Christ shine in our lives, and through our lives, so this world will know, that Emmanuel has come!