Flipping the switch: on becoming light this Advent

3335CDD9-5825-4509-B4E5-C4C66CECDE4BAdvent feels different this year, and not just because I actually started holiday shopping before December 22 for what seems like the first time ever.

Normally a season of quiet, wistful reflection for me, the time of waiting for the birth of a baby once reminded me of what I wished God would do for me in my infertile state. This year the infertility story isn’t a trigger or focus for me, and instead I’m more focused on God breaking into the world.

How does God slip into this dark, broken place?

As I read news stories, I feel overwhelmed. The world feels dark, and I find myself anticipating impending doom. Is anything good happening out there?

Plus, since we learned our cat has lung cancer, I spend days waiting and watching this cat’s every move, wondering when a coughing fit might be his last, or which cuddle nap will be my last with the warm fur ball.

I want the god who sweeps in to fix things. I want a snap your fingers, wave your wand instantaneous magic.

But, that is not what I got this year. This Advent I find myself hooked by Isaiah 61 and the parable of the talents (or the bags of gold or the three servants, all depending on your translation) in Matthew 25:14-30.

I read Matthew 25 back in November, and it lingered in my thoughts. Driving to work. Sitting at my desk. Sipping coffee at local cafes. Everywhere I went I meditated on it, whether I wanted to hear it or not. For weeks now, it simmered in my brain, bubbling and distilling.

I found myself troubled as I read the first time. I carry a Jekyll and Hyde image of God, and I hadn’t realized the duality of these pictures. I wait for God to kick me to the curb ruthlessly for reasons I don’t understand, and yet I’m also convinced that I’m loved and warmly welcomed. God wears two faces for me. What scares me perhaps the most is the thought of an arbitrary God.

And so, I stewed and stewed on this passage. Fearfully. Angrily. Nervously.

Light flickered. I want a god who magically fixes the world outside of me. In my timidity, I want to sit passively by waiting for God to act. I want the god who doesn’t expect too much from me. But, perhaps, none of those are actually true of God. Perhaps those are idols I created.

In the parable of the talents, the master distributes the money according the ability of each of the servants (Mt. 25:15). The first two act with faith in the one who invested in them. The third, gets scared of losing the little he was granted, and buries it (Mt. 25:24-25). In that time, burying valuables was a common way of protecting an investment. But the master was less interested in hedging bets, and more interested in those who acted with faith.

I wanted to be like the servant who successfully invests the greatest amount of money and is publicly praised, but in reality, I think I’m most often like the servant who buried the money. I’m scared of epic fails, and so I’d prefer to play it safe and hide.

What would change for me if I acted with faith, trusting God to bear fruit — instead of withholding in fear of making a mistake? What if I trusted God actually gave me gifts and talents he confidently thinks I can invest? What if I placed my faith in God, instead of resting on my ability (or inability, for that matter) to make things happen?

Because the truth is, I am not helpless or useless. Neither are you. We are flush with capability, you and I. The question is: whether you and I will place those gifts and talents in faithful service to Jesus.

The practice will vary for all of us; we all have different calls and vocations. And the beauty of seeing these work together astounds me these days as I watch my church community work together in living out their passions.

As God acts throughout the Bible, he acts through human hands. Paul. Deborah. Peter. Huldah. Isaiah.

Isaiah 61 reminds me, too: God acts through human hands. Isaiah proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Is. 61:1).” Isaiah speaks a word of hope and good news.

And this message is repeated by the incarnate Jesus as he proclaimed these words at the start of his public ministry in Luke 4. Jesus entrusted his followers with this same mission: to carry on the work of becoming good news for those to whom good news is a far-off, seemingly impossible thing.

This season instead of personal comfort, I find myself challenged in a different direction.

Instead of waiting for light to come to me, I wonder about glowing with the light of Christ for others. A switch in me has been flipped. I wonder what it means to become one who is good news to the downtrodden and hopeless? How does the overflow of who Jesus is to me spill over into the welcome I have for others?

In the darkness of this Advent instead of waiting for God to work magic outside of me, I find myself asking Jesus to transform me to be more like him.

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God’s Anger Brings Hope? Reflections on the Book of Isaiah

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When I read my Bible, I tend to ignore the prophets. Well, except for Jonah. I come back to that gem again and again. Jonah is not a children’s story — its real target is curmudgeonly adults like me.

I steer away from the prophets because, well, God’s rage scared me. So, imagine my surprise when I felt nudged toward reading Isaiah this Advent. When I’ve read Isaiah before, I narrowed my focus to the happy and hopeful sections, while forgetting hope is made more substantial by the presence of God’s anger and justice. I looked for the love and light, while glossing over the gory.

But, not this time. Isaiah interrupted my world this Advent. Continue reading

God’s in control?

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Advent. The season where we wait expectantly for Jesus to come. It’s a season of hope bubbling up in the darkness. We trust God is bigger than the things going bump in the night.

And here’s where the message of Advent and God’s sovereignty gives me pause.

For some, “God’s in control” is a sparkles and glitter concept. God is in control implies God’s going to work things out for you or me. Sunbeams. Kittens. Daisies. Easy-peasy. Continue reading

Desperate for Advent

Photo Wisdom From Luke

The Need for Advent

I need Advent this year. This year it’s beyond enjoyment. I need it. In years past, I approached Advent as a personal “God, fix me or help me (usually with infertility issues)” season. This year Advent pulls me to think of justice and hope in a systemic way, incorporating Church, U.S. government and culture. Continue reading

How Can I Keep From Singing?

121815 How Can I Keep From Singing

In other years, Advent marked my favorite part of the church calendar. All the anticipation and hope made me eager for Jesus. This year I’ve followed our Christmas preparation traditions, and the emotions and the “feels” of Advent have seemed empty.

The world seems especially violent this November and December; I know it is almost always violent, but somehow the weight of the evil seems much more pervasive. Maybe I’m just paying more attention rather than burying my head in the sand.

And as I sat through a choir concert last week with J and my mother-in-law, I found myself tearing up as I heard Robert Lowry’s hymn How Can I Keep from Singing at the close of the concert. The choir’s singing filled Orchestra Hall with hopeful, worshipful song. As they sang the chorus, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to the Rock I’m clinging,” I felt God’s warmth with me.

Even as life feels uncertain, even as I’m not sure how some things will shake out, I’m still hanging onto Jesus with a death grip.  Jesus is worthy of that trust, and I can be confident, though waves crash overhead and storms arise, Jesus won’t drop me either.

Though I’ve only heard the words and tune of the hymn once, they linger with me on repeat in my head. And in the repetition, joy and hope bubble up from some mysterious place. How can I keep from singing?