Thoughts on Advent

This week my hubby and I started one of my favorite times of the year, the wonderful season of Advent!

This is our now fourth Christmas together (is that even possible?) and each year we have celebrated this beautiful and centering tradition in the lead up to the twenty-fifth. I have found that these last four Christmas’ have been the richest, most Christ-filled ones yet, due in large part to celebrating Advent.

Beautiful hand-carved soapstone made by a dear friend in Uganda

Beautiful hand-carved soapstone made by a dear friend in Uganda

We’ve read a few great books over the years, but this year we tried a different one that we have been so blessed by. It’s called¬†God with Us, and it’s a short daily devotional during the four weeks of Advent that is already touching our hearts and eliciting really meaningful family conversation. Yes, family being just the two of us…Bailey usually doesn’t have much to contribute ūüôā

There have been so many things this last week that we’ve pondered for the first time, or maybe just a glimpse at something familiar but in a different light. I wanted to share some thoughts from our reading tonight, and I figured the best way to do that was just to share those actual words.

Richard John Neuhaus shares thoughts from passages in Isaiah 30 and Matthew 9 and 10, and how the point of Christmas has always been and will always be about Emmanuel, God with us. He says it like this…

“Recall Anselm of Canterbury on how God is beyond our powers to conceive. Anselm’s accent is on the¬†transcendence of God. Christmas is about Emmanuel, God with us. The accent is on the¬†immanence of God. We cannot understand the miracle of the immanence unless we understand the glory of the transcendence. And the other way around.

‘In the poorest of the poor we see Jesus in distressed disguise.’ So said Mother Teresa as she and her nuns ministered to the abandoned babies and dying aged whom they gathered in from the streets of Calcutta.¬†Disguise is central to God’s way of dealing with us human beings. Not because God is playing games with us but because the God who is beyond our knowing makes himself known in the disguise of what we can know.

The Christian word for this is revelation, and the ultimate revelation came by incarnation.

Who would have thought that the baby nursing at Mary’s breast is, in truth, the Creator of heaven and earth? Who would have thought that the baby, now a young man, stretched in tortured death upon the cross is, in truth, the King of kings and Lord of lords? Yet some then, and millions upon millions since then, have thought exactly that. God is a master of disguises, in order that we might see.

God who is the fullness of Being infiltrated our world of beings in order that we might fully be.

Christmas is about incarnation, and incarnation is God’s becoming what he is not, in order that we might become what he is. Thus does God reveal himself.”

At the end there, he’s talking about the whole transcendence/immanence of God that he mentions at the beginning. He then goes on to talk about how those who say they love and worship Christ but have no use for the church really don’t have that option at all. “The church is the body of which Christ is the head. Head and body cannot be separated.” He says that Christ is with us and he speaks to us, in and through his church…”which means in and through the people who¬†are his church.”

And then this…

“Sometimes it is hard to recognize Christ in the people who are his church, as it is hard to recognize Christ in the poorest of the poor. In both cases, he appears ‘in distressed disguise.’ That is the way of incarnation that began at Christmas, the way of the transcendent revealed in the immanent, the way of love that stoops so low to lift so high.

Did you catch that?

Love that stoops so low to lift so high. It’s what Christ did from the Cradle to the Cross. Love stooping so very low to lift the lowly so very high. How high?

As high as a Child of God.

Isn’t that absolutely remarkable?

And what then is our response? It’s to respond in utter gratitude to the magnitude of the love that stooped down to us, by stooping down and lifting others up so high.¬†It’s to see, like Mother Teresa, Christ in the poorest of the poor.

In this season that can so quickly loose or attempt to fabricate the magic and wonderment of Christ come down, how are you preparing your heart to receive this blessed Child? How are you pondering in the quietness of your heart and in the loudness of your life the magnitude of Love stooped down to lift so high?

That lifted you high so that you could lift others high.

This Christmas and season of Advent, my prayer is that our hearts and lives would receive afresh or for the very first time the miraculous gift of Emmanuel, God with us.

 

 

What Faith is Made Of

It’s been several weeks now since Uganda. Five weeks, to be exact.

And time has worked in the way it knows best. Sharpening the mind’s eye and senses to the things that come as a result of the trip…the big picture things you’ve heard yourself say over and over again. Even while the things you thought you’d never forget seem to fade around the edges just a bit. Those shy smiles and the feel of soft, richly-colored skin and what it felt like to be hugged by a multitude of children all at once.

Singing the songs you sang there and looking through your pictures and remembering what it¬†felt¬†like there…those things help.

Now I just need that darkly-colored multitude to hug.

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These five weeks have brought into sharp focus a new layer of understanding on the topic of Faith. What it is, and what it’s really made of.

Faith.

The kind of the likes of Abraham who went without knowing not only what lay on the road ahead, but literally without knowing the road ahead. Not even knowing what road to even start down.

Yes he knew the promise and probably had his own vague notions of how it would all come to pass, but he didn’t know a single thing about how or when or even the first step to take.

“So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” (Genesis 12:4)

Just that, he went. He went!

And if you keep reading the story you know that he¬†certainly didn’t “go” perfectly, but the fact that he even set out is astonishing.

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These last five weeks have shown me Faith in a way I had not previously known. They’ve shown me that Faith is made up of steps just like Abraham took, going without knowing and definitely without seeing but trusting in the One who fully knows and fully sees.

It’s steps of obedience. Steps that open wide the doors for our Faithful God to prove Himself Faithful. It’s just starting out walking, so that He can just start with the steering of our lives.¬†I have seen this Faith. In my own last five weeks and those of my dear friends…

 

Faith that stands before a crowd of five or fifty-plus to be a voice for those who have none.

Faith that steps out with words and shares stories not their own.

Faith that creates nonprofits aiming to raise funds for the Ministries that are sharing Christ’s love.

Faith that leverages talents and abilities to pass on what their hearts are now heavy with.

Faith that goes back, continuing to GO BE LOVE.

Faith that uproots a family for a string of months to build a home with the suffering.

Faith that asks God to place the lonely in their family. (Psalm 68)

Faith that permanently uproots a family, obeying God’s call.

Faith that spends money differently and approaches Christmas differently.

Faith that shines brightly for all to see and rubs off on those around them.

 

Faith. That responds to the call without full knowing or full seeing. All of what Faith is really made of.

And can I say this, these steps of Faith have been met and totally trumped by the astonishing Faithfulness of God.¬†He has blown me away with His Everlasting Faithfulness as I’ve watched Him come through in my life and in the lives of so many others. ¬† Bringing in more money than you could count, answering year long prayers, confirming convictions, changing the lives of those around us, clarifying purpose, and all in incredibly perfect timing.

It’s sent me straight to the ground in utter wonder…You guys, Only God, Only God!

And so I ask and will continue to ask both you and myself.

What is your Faith made of?

Are you stepping out in obedience to do just that one next thing, allowing God to prove Himself Faithful? Or are you closing the doors tight to all that the Lord yearns to do in and through you, robbing yourself of life abundant and knowing Him as a Faithful God? (John 10)

Does your Faith consist of only doing so much or going so far so that you can hold the reigns and maintain control? Or are you living palms open to the God of the Universe in whose open hand your very life rests?

Will you and I, like Abraham, learn to step out in true Faith when the puzzle pieces aren’t crystal clear or lined up perfectly for the next move? Because that’s not Faith. And that’s never what Faith is about, never what Faith is made of.

Won’t you join me?

All of us, linking arms, and stepping out into the unknown finding a Savior and His love with us each and every step of the way.