Advent 2- Peace

“A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” Isaiah 40:3-4

What’s alive in you?

What’s alive in us collectively that we may not even realize is alive?

Peace

The holidays, even more so this year, are a time when it can be difficult to feel what is alive in us. We remember the past, we lament what is broken. Broken relationships, threats of war, marginalization of others, unmet expectations, and promises that never came to be become magnified during this time of year. Specifically this year, the eclipse of the light by the darkness seems more prevalent.

The ancient people of Jerusalem know these feelings. They had been conquered by the Babylonians, removed from their homeland. The blame game was strong. Some blamed God, others blamed another, and a few blamed themselves. Their is doubt, fear, and anxiety that they will never seen their homeland again. This is wilderness, where life is hard to sense.

Isaiah has great nerve. The spirit of the Lord speaks through the prophet and  has the nerve to speak words of peace, words of life. Take comfort, because the way of the Lord is being cleared for you at this very moment. In scripture, the wilderness is often where peace begins. It’s the place where transformation- personal and communal- begins. The way to God almost often takes one to the desert. Peace begins in the wilderness.

What if we lived each day during this Advent season not lamenting what is broken, but sensing what is alive in us? What if we lived knowing that a way, a way in which God’s light will be revealed anew. is coming?

What’s alive in you?

What’s alive in us?

 

Killing Baby Jesus

Today’s post is a guest post by Michael McCluskey. Michael always makes me think deeper about my own faith and  is one of my favorite conversation partners. He is a junior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and a member of Sandy Springs Christian Church in Atlanta.

Every year as we Disciples celebrate the Advent season, I recall a conversation I once overheard from a congregant as she asked our senior minister why we practice communion, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, during a season where Jesus is but a small child. She didn’t like that we were celebrating the death of the baby as we anticipated his birth. How could we kill an innocent baby?

Baby Jesus

Her concern made sense to me – why should we celebrate death in this joyful season of life? But we forget. We fall victim to our own blissful ignorance of the holiday season. We seek refuge during this season from all the strife and suffering in our lives – the Advent season is our break from the regularly scheduled pain of being a person in the world. We do all we can to preserve the innocence of the season as we cling to the innocence of Baby Jesus. Why would we celebrate the death of the baby? Why would we tarnish the joy of the Advent season?

We are quick to forget why we anticipate the Christ child. The Christ child who we know to be the Liberator, the Peace-maker, the Lamb. Immanuel came as a baby in a manger, but we know that the trough is not all this child is destined for. We know that this child, helpless and innocent lying in the manger, the son of refugees, the brown-skinned Palestinian Jew – he is our Savior. He was anointed to bring the kingdom of heaven to all the nations. This innocent child came to speak truth to power and defend the weak, the poor, and the unloved – those as weak and innocent as that baby lying in the manger.

This congregant wanted to shelter the Christ child from the pain of the world. She did not want to pervert his innocence with the cold light of truth that suffering and death exists in our world. She wanted to hold him in her arms so nothing could ever harm him. She wanted to turn away from the world and give this child the very best she could, just as any mother would. But she forgot that this child was destined for so much more. When we turn away from the cross during the season of Advent to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, that title becomes a platitude – frivolous and devoid of life. When we turn away from the sacrifice, Immanuel becomes a baby to a poor family lying in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Friends, this is no ordinary babe.

This child grew up and became a man. He turned the tables and disrupted familiar injustice. He boldly loved those whom society had forgotten. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and ushered in an era of peace-making where one day the Lamb might lie down the with Wolf. He stuck his hand over the hole of the asp and, while it bit him, he did this knowing that one day a child would be able to do the same and would not be harmed. He shouldered the ridicule of the complacent pious knowing that one day they too would be enlightened by the truth of God’s grace – that all are loved no matter what. He carried his cross up that hill knowing that he did so for the salvation of all of humankind – so that no longer would they have to do the same.

In this Christmas season, may we not be so quick to forget that the Christ child is to lead the calf, the young lion, and the fatling all together in harmonious peace. We are called to be peace-makers in our own lives – to seek justice for the broken and to love the abandoned and forgotten. We are called to hold children that are not our own in the same way that the woman wanted to hold baby Jesus. As the snow falls outside the window pane and a tree stands tall, adorned with Christmons and crowned with a golden star, we are called to look into the eyes of the stranger and offer them bread and cup no matter who they are. In this season of life, we remember not the death, but the triumphant resurrection of a babe lying in a manger.

3 Things You Can Do for Your Pastor at Christmas

The administrator at church got in the habit of clearing my calendar and marking me out during the second week of January. The first time it happened I asked her about it. She was smart enough to observe that I put so much into and ran so fast during the Advent season, that once the adrenaline stopped flowing my body would shut down. I was always sick during the second week of January.

Advent

As we enter the season of Advent that leads to Christmas, clergy know how important this season is in our spiritual lives. Leading up to Christmas, your pastors will be fully immersed in the life of the church and all that happens during the season. While your pastors are doing much for you, here are three easy things you can do for your pastors.

Be Kind, Don’t Criticize

When the tree lights don’t go on at the appropriate moment at your Hanging of the Green, or the Advent candles don’t have sufficient enough wick to light, your pastors are the first to notice. Trust me, anything you notice that seems out-of-place or didn’t go as expected, your pastor notices long before you did and it bothers them twice as much as it bothers you.  Clergy spend months planning a meaningful season that will make for a powerful journey to the manger for the congregation. When something doesn’t go as planned, its tough to take. After all, something is going to go wrong and when it does, your pastor needs words of encouragement and gratitude.

Remember That Your Pastor Has a Family

Family celebrations, stresses, and logistics are part of this time of year. Pastors are no different from anyone else. She is working on being a full participant in family gatherings and activities on top of the ministries of the church. They desire to be a fully present spouse during the season. He wants to spend time with kids or aging parents just as you do. When the final Christmas Eve service is finished, pastors are going home to help their spouse face the three most feared words in the English language: Some Assembly Required. Trust me, putting together a play kitchen at 1 a.m. isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Give your pastor space to take part in their family’s celebration. Know that they might be dealing with some of the same baggage around family issues that you are. Find ways to honor their commitment to family.

Give an Extra Financial Gift to your Pastor

An extra financial gift collected among the congregation makes a big difference for your pastor. Many congregations are generous when it comes to additional gifts. As we learn more about the slippery financial slope upon which many pastors sit, a gift like this becomes even more important. To make it “the gift that keeps on giving,” consider using the gift to add to their retirement account or college savings account. In a season in which we lift up great causes, remember that your pastor is a great cause.

Jesus Was Not Born So You Could Get a Good Deal on a Televsion

CupsKeep Christ in…Starbucks?

The war on Christmas has begun. More precisely, the war on the war on Christmas has begun. This is an annual tradition where some Christians decide that everyone and everything is conspiring together to do away with Christmas and anything having to do with the birth of Jesus all together.

The most recent affront was Starbucks (not a Christian company BTW, but one whose ethics align with Jesus in some ways) having the nerve to put out plain red cups for the season. They took off the snowflakes and other wintry accessories which apparently are symbols for the birth of Jesus.

Here’s the issue from my point of view. We do need to remember the “reason for the season” while also keeping in mind that Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection has very little to do with what we do to mark the holiday. Jesus was not born so that we may all get a good deal on a 40 inch TV and spend more than we can afford. My observation is that most people who are upset about the term “Happy Holidays” and the like are really upset about a loss of privilege. As our nation has grown more diverse, certain groups have lost privilege and influence and this does not sit well with them. So, a war breaks out against companies whose interest is gaining revenue and profit from previously mentioned diverse nation. If your customer base is broad, who wouldn’t work to speak to that broad base. After all, most retails companies capture 40-60% of their sales during this time of year. Yes, I’m looking at you, overly consumerist culture. The hysteria is pretty silly, don’t you think?

If we are serious about what Christmas means for our world, let’s have a serious conversation about it. If we really want to be outraged about something, let’s be outraged about the right things. How about we be outraged that we have the homeless, the hungry, people living on the margins because of discrimination, racism, an addiction to gun violence, etc ?Let’s be outraged about the right things if we are going to be serious about what Emmanuel- God with us- really means for not only our nation, but the world. What does that say about the faith if we are more outraged about what’s on a cup than we are about the suffering of God’s children?

So friends, how about we get over ourselves? Let’s drop the Christmas persecution myth and get on with the real work of Christmas.  Healing, wholeness, and life abundant for all God’s children. That’s the type of world that puts Christ in Christmas.