Advent – December 21st, 2018

The stone the builders rejected
Has become the capstone
The Lord has done this
And it is marvelous in our eyes

Worst childhood memory? For me, one of them has to be gym class. I wasn’t athletic or coordinated, so it was miserable. That misery peaked into a nightmare when the class would start with this announcement from the teacher – “Ok kids, I’m going to pick team captains for kickball, and they’ll choose their teams.” I knew what this meant. I’d quickly scan the class for someone weaker and with less hand to eye coordination. Then, as the brutal selection began, I’d sit there and hope that at least I might get picked before one of the girls. You can imagine how that went.

Rejected stones are just that, broken leftovers on the job site, construction refuse that is worthless to the builders. You can usually tell a piece of junk when you see it – something probably oddly shaped or cracked, sitting thrown away on the dump truck pile. It’s a practical decision. One we’ve all made many times while cleaning out the garage. Is it useful? No. Valuable? No. Does it mean something special to you? No. Then off to the trash it goes.

Rejection is awful.  We all know a story or two where someone was rejected, perhaps in the football draft or in the applying to a particular school or job, and it was the wrong decision. After the initial rejection, that person goes on to break all the records and be someone truly amazing. For some reason we love these stories, perhaps because of the way they give us so much hope. Rejection is an Advent story.  Eternal creator comes to save His creation, he was treated as a discarded loser, and then that same loser turns around to save those who rejected Him – the sweet joy of heaven! That’s an eternal and unbeatable love right there, and it gets even better. It’s a story He loves to tell over and over in our lives. He is God, and He makes the choices. This is meant to show us what kinds of choices He makes, and He’s radically different than Junior High School kickball captains. As God, He had better reasons not to, and He had better folks to choose from, but in the end, I’m surprised by my joy – He picked me!

Advent – December 20th, 2018

What does this mean, to prepare His ways? John the Baptist is the prep for Jesus, we get that, but what does it mean to prepare folks? I’ve put aside some emergency stuff for an earthquake. They call it a “go bag” with all the survival basics you might need in an emergency. I don’t have a lot of confidence that I’m all that prepared, but it’s something. Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a map to his house out in the woods, where he had buckets of submerged rice in liquid nitrogen and stores upon stores of dried foods – so we could eat for years when society finally collapses. He was seriously worried, and his fear had driven him into a survival mania. There’s a lot of that going around.

But that’s not in Zechariah, not here, not in this Holy Spirit filled prayer for his son John. No, this is a preparation for something grand, victorious, and beautiful. It’s an expectation for God to act, to work a miracle of salvation for us. This isn’t passive! This is an active engagement with God’s promises and preparing our lives for those promises to come true. We must live like this, for when we are hovering over our future with expectant joy, this prepares us and everyone around us for His coming. We all participate in John the Baptist’s ministry this way, and through us, the gospel is “adventing” into San Francisco and into everyone we know and love. There’s a glow and energy that expectation creates – something you see in a child’s eyes on Christmas Eve. Their excitement is electric with imagination. The presents under the tree won’t even match the delicious expectation that’s been building, and it infects everyone.

Our hopes are greater, and our gifts are more magical and wonderful than any present ever wrapped. If we live in this sort of joyous anticipation, it will affect everyone around us. It changes how you make decisions and what you think is valuable. It orients you toward all of the blessings of God. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Zechariah hopes for a lot for his little boy. He doesn’t know the suffering and death that his son will face. But this is where the promises really cash in. They aren’t defeated by death or persecution or danger or hate. Jesus has come to bring His peace, forgiveness, and victory. These promises aren’t defeated by death or crazy politicians or human destruction…but they also don’t even run from them! This is how the gospel “preps” us! We live in new joy by the Spirit, just like Zechariah does. Lord prepare us, and send us to prepare a way for You and Your blessing into the lives of everyone we know and love.

Advent – December 19th, 2018

My wife posed a question to me one day. What’s worse, physical or emotional pain? I never really thought to compare them, but I think she’s dead on – emotional pain is worse. So I did some reading on it and discovered something fascinating. We only have one nerve network, our physical one. So when we’re experiencing personal emotional distress, the only way the body can experience it is through our physical nerves. So although the source of the pain may be different – instead of a stubbed toe it might be a critical word from someone – the net result is the same in our bodies. That makes a lot of sense. But emotional pain can’t be pinpointed as a toothache can, so it’s so much harder to understand or heal.

David is struggling with three areas of suffering. He’s broke, he’s been sinful, and he’s been betrayed. It’s a nasty trifecta of pain. Being poor is hard on the soul. It creates anxiety and a sense of helplessness that’s paralyzing. That’s why he begins his poem by blessing those who help the poor! His sin has also so damaged him. He needs healing and forgiveness in it. His brokenness itself is creating pain in his soul. And finally, he’s been hurt by a friend. That last one is very hard. We have all felt the ugly grief of betrayal.

I think this is why the apostles grabbed this poem as being about Jesus. Their advent comfort is here because Jesus felt all the pain of this world. Jesus was born poor. No amount of varnish can make an animal feed bin pretty. It’s awful. It’s a choice of the poorest of the poor, i.e., no choice at all. Did Jesus know the damage of sin? Yes, Jesus actually was sinless and “became sin” as Paul says in his letters. The damage of our souls was taken into His soul. Jesus was betrayed, betrayed by the person he “ate bread with” as it says in the poem. That eerie detail reminds you of that awkward moment at the Last Supper, when Judas dips his bread in the dish with Jesus. It must have gripped the apostles’ imagination to see this poem predict something that specific. More than that, it also gave them their deepest comfort in two ways. First, Jesus knows our pain and what it feels like. Put it this way: there’s a lot of “I know what you’re feeling” vibes coming from the throne of grace. But there’s a second part we don’t see, that the prophecy makes certain. If it was predicted, then God has planned it. As wild and out of control as life can feel, He does not let go. Advent means God works His love and grace and power in our greatest moments of pain and fear. Advent then offers us that hope and love in Jesus.

Praise Him!