the new world breaking into the old

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

John 14:19

…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being!

2 Corinthians 5:17

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:1, 5a

I’m guessing at the moment that this promise Jesus gave to his disciples the eve of his crucifixion concerns his resurrection and appearances to his disciples, though given the context, it might somehow refer to them seeing him after his ascension through the eyes of faith by the Holy Spirit. At any rate, one thing is certain. The new world through Christ’s resurrection was breaking into the old.

This old world is beaten down, and again and again repeats many of the same tragedies, seemingly in death throes, but it seems like it survives to see a new day and again do the same. It seems pushed to the brink of extinction, at least for the human species, and at least largely from what we can tell, humans at fault. And given world history, even in recent times, why should we be surprised?

But God enters in Christ, into the old creation, and brings in something new, yes nothing less than a new creation. And somehow we’re participants in that, even in this old world. We certainly groan with all of creation, awaiting the redemption of all things when the old will be no more (Romans 8). But we also experience inwardly this new life destined to continue now and forever in God’s new creative work in Christ (2 Corinthians 4, etc).

Advent ends up being as human as it gets

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.

Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:7-14

We’re all too human. With that comes wonder, awe, beauty, and just plenty of blessing. But that’s accompanied with great difficulty, struggle, and many conundrums not to mention the unexpected problems and even tragedies which can happen. And we’re all mortal.

What if Advent was all about expecting and experiencing the supernatural in some kind of miraculous way breaking into our world and making everything A-OK? I think plenty of people might settle for that, maybe we all would, whatever works. But Advent and the beginning of its fulfillment which we celebrate at Christmas is as human as it gets. Its fulfillment comes in the birth of a baby boy, but with great promise.

This promise not only enters our world to be with us, which is magnificent enough, but even more, to be one of us, ultimately one with us. This is why it’s important to accept our full humanity and emphasize simply being human as in fully accepting all of that, and all the limitations it brings. It turns out that God in Christ is fully present in that and when it comes down to it, in nothing else, at least not in this promise.

That is how the Advent hope is answered, God humanizing divinity and divinizing humanity, maybe more than so to speak. But helpful for us since above everything else, as humans it would seem that we would benefit the most from human help that is of God, but just the same, human. And because of that, we have all the hope needed, all the hope in the world that no matter what, all will be well beginning in the present to be continued and finished when “the Human One,” Christ, returns.

Advent: hope for a broken, breaking world

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:13-14

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:13-14; KJV

Advent on the Christian church calendar is a season of hope, remembering the anticipation of Christ’s first coming as we long for his second coming when at long last this weary world rejoices.

Most all of us are tired, weary and worn, even as we enjoy the gifts and blessings of this life. But we long for more, much more, and for good reason, considering all the world’s ills. We desire that promised “peace on earth, good will toward men.” According to what’s considered a better textual reading, “peace among those whom he favors!”

Given the evil found all over the world, it seems sadly that the only way shalom, or peace is possible is through final judgment. Judgment comes from grace and precedes salvation. We have to be saved from something threatening or hanging over us, victimizing us and others, to be saved to something better, the full restoration of humanity and creation as God intends.

This is at the heart of the hope of Advent. We know the best that can be accomplished in this world can’t measure up to that. Though part of this Advent hope includes a willingness to try to find God’s light in this darkness to address issues such as war, famine and starvation, climate change, the disparity between the rich and the poor, etc. That is if we follow the concern and passion found in the Bible. Otherwise we might settle for a Platonic salvation in which heaven is what ultimately matters since this world is to be burned anyhow.

Instead we need to see that God’s care is for all creation, indeed that God loves all that God has made. And that followers of Christ along with the rest of humanity should work towards a better world. And that what we do now somehow in God’s will makes a difference that ends up being eternal since matter is just as much a part of the world to come as is spirit.

We who are followers of Christ bear witness to the hope promised, that the God who made all things in the first place, has promised to remake all things in Christ, which actually is beginning even now. Advent a wonderful season to reflect on that.

keeping your eye on Christ means what?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

We’re told in Hebrews to keep our eye on Christ as we run the race set before us. The thought quoted above is that Jesus is the pioneer as well as perfecter of faith, I think as much in setting us an example as in helping us in the way Christ opened. For many of us this amounts to our own spiritual growth and witness to others, and that pretty much sums it up. But considering the context of Hebrews 11 and the witnesses of faith there, of course culminated and we can say completed in Christ and Christ’s example for us, I think there’s much much more.

In the way of the cross, the way of love, we have much to do in what we’re supposed to be and what we actually are, yes, in this life. Often I hear and read the thought that we’re not to look at the things that are visible, but what is not seen (Paul) and that we’re to set our heart on heavenly things, not earthly things (again, Paul), as if all that matters is heaven someday for ourselves and everyone else, and this world, its problems and tragedies are secondary, and hardly worth considering, certainly not worth dwelling on in comparison to the big call. Many of you will recognize that given the passages from Paul, that’s a misreading of him.

I dare say that this flies in the face of the biblical witness, of God’s love and what that amounts to and means for us, and not the least- the callings we can find even perhaps beyond the humdrum job we feel stuck with, callings not only in but for this life. We need to be about finding God’s will and living in that will fully, a will that will be for the temporal as well as eternal good of others in the love of God and neighbor. And yes, definitely within that witness will be the sign and hope of a better world to come when at long last all conflict and war will cease and all people will flourish in community together as sisters and brothers, one family of God.

it will come

I will stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faithfulness.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves
and collect all peoples as their own.

Habakkuk 2:1-5

This prophetic, poetic book is poignant for our times. We too live in the midst of destructive, even self-destructive machinations on the part of nations as well as tribal allegiances in such nations. And in this, as well as in so much of the world’s history, God seems all but absent.

But as I was reminded recently in our church fellowship, we have hope as a discipline, and indeed like in the case of Habakkuk of old, that hope is given to us from God. Hope, as Paul tells us elsewhere (Romans 8) is not something we already possess, but rather something that we wait for. But somehow such hope sustains us.

All the while we continue in the struggle for what is good, just and true in the sphere of a sustained, responsible, whole love which in the end is for the very best for everyone and for all.

remaining “centered”

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace,
in peace because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Isaiah 26 (of course just as an imposed chapter division) is a passage of faith and travail, with justice proclaimed for the poor and needy. And toward the beginning of it is a passage often used as a “precious promise,” perhaps for a nation, but I take it that individuals can receive it as well, and especially together in community.

There is nothing more basic and important to me for remaining in what it is that God is about and doing in my life and even through it, then seeking to remain centered, so to speak. In the words of the above passage: of steadfast mind in trusting God, and because of that, kept by God in peace, peace. The Hebrew repeats the word transliterated shalom, for emphasis (hence translated “perfect peace” in some translations). The meaning is a peace that is more than inward tranquility. And far more than the absence of physical conflict, in its worst case, out and out war. It has to do with human flourishing, growing toward the being God intended for us in our creation, of course all through Christ in the new creation.

I long for inner, tranquil peace, regardless of what else happens in this transient life in which we’re called to follow Christ together through thick and thin, conundrums, perhaps even persecution and death itself. And we are promised something like that through petitionary prayers and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).

But make no mistake about it, we are in a struggle even while we trust in God. And what we experience of the shalom translated peace in the passage in Isaiah, is not complete in this present life, even as was the case when this was first written (and perhaps edited). We long for that finality now, something in “hope” which we look forward to.

In the meantime, we seek to trust in God, to have a steadfast mind in doing so, and to be kept in God’s blessing. A key for me in this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Something which seems very contingent, precarious, yet close at hand. Providing stability through the storms of life and helping us stay and get back on track. In and through Jesus.

faith and hope along with love

And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

When it’s all said and done, at least if I’m understanding 1 Corinthians 13 correctly along with certain other parts of Scripture, faith and hope and love seem to be the staples which hold our lives together through God’s grace in Christ. Another passage with something of that thought:

…since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

Yes, we must ask ourselves what love looks like in any and every given situation in our lives. But we’re going to have to continue to be engaged in our faith and through that have the hope which helps keep us going, yes, helps us continue to make love the priority.

This is challenging any day, and all the more so during the present time when there are unusual challenges to go along with the ongoing normal minor and major issues we all face. We might want to love and be committed to that. But that’s going to be all the more challenging if we are not applying faith to all of life, and therefore lacking in the perspective of hope which God wants for us. Faith means accepting God’s message to us in Christ, and hope is the result of embracing that message.

Faith, hope and love. We won’t have the real thing of any of them without the others. Faith doesn’t end there, but hope and love come from that. Something we need to keep in mind, in front of us. As we’re in Scripture, that will help. In and through Jesus.

our mothering God

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131; NRSVue

Probably the most important thing I learned in my first year of college is just what little I know. A world of knowledge was opened up to us, and what I thought I knew was set aside. In that kind of education, one not only sees how little they know, but that oftentimes what we think we know is flat out mistaken.

This psalm touches on that, but that’s not really the heart of it. It’s more about our relationship with God and life from that perspective. I’ve never been a mother, so I can’t speak firsthand here, but the relationship between God and each person is likened to a mother and child, in that culture a weaned child being between three to five years of age (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version). A child at that age wants to explore and learn, but they’re still quite dependent on their mother.

Childishness is spoken of in Scripture as a sign of immaturity, but childlikeness quite the opposite, a mark of maturity. Jesus said we must repent and become like children to enter into God’s kingdom. In that sense remaining a child.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned this, or maybe I should say not obviously so to me, though in indirect ways I’m becoming more that way. Just the sense of need for God correlates to this, even if we aren’t aware of enjoying and experiencing enough of that care.

Yes, it’s motherly care that God’s care is likened to here. But as the psalm tells us here, the child is to take it on themselves to calm down. Probably God is calming us down as well, since surely God does that for all of us as God’s children. But we often resist that, for whatever reasons. Instead we’re to let down our guard and let God. You might say in the well known if often misunderstood phrase: “Let God and let God.”

We are completely dependent on God for everything. Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that we truly understand nothing aright or well apart from God’s help? Do we really believe that God in God’s love will take care of us, or even that we’re actually in need of that care?

None of this means that we can be immature. In fact in this picture immaturity is a denial of this, and maturity an acceptance. A hard one for us to accept on our own. I’m having trouble with this right now. I want to unlearn so much and learn what God directly would like to teach me. I would like to experience so much more of God’s motherly care.

And we’re all in this together. Together we’re to put our hope in God in this way from now on and forever.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

torn from limb to limb (living in the real world)

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?

“All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.”

Job 7:1; 14:14b; NRSVue

Job had not only lost his children to disaster along with being devastated from head to toe, but he had no real human support. His wife had told him to curse God and die, and his friends’ promise in being with him seven days without a word turned into a correction which was nothing more to him than hollow, empty platitudes.

When one is beat up physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, you name it, we can easily add to that spiritually, because it’s easy to become despondent and potentially prey for more. Thankfully though that’s not the end of the story in Job, nor of our own story, or the world’s story.

But we have to be ready for such an experience, although really you can never be quite ready, if so at all. But at least when it comes it doesn’t have to take us completely by surprise.

God will help us in answer to prayer. Like in the case of Job, we might have to argue with God with a faith that doesn’t let go, but insists on God’s answer, God’s help.

Faith in such darkness and difficulty doesn’t put on a happy face and pretend all is good. Yet such faith also always looks insistently to the One who can and ultimately will intervene and is present before that day comes to help us all the way through. In and through Jesus.