Light in the darkness

Graphic from Floris United Methodist Church, Herndon, VA

There’s this guy walking down the street who suddenly falls into a deep hole he did not see coming. It’s dark in the hole and the walls are steep.

A psychiatrist happens by and the guy calls out, “Hey, Doc, can you help me out here?” The doctor writes a prescription for Prozac and throws it down the hole.

A priest comes by and the guy calls out, “Hey, Father, can you help me out here?” The priest writes out a prayer and tosses it down the hole.

Then the guy’s best friend comes by, sees his friend down in the hole, and immediately jumps in. “What did you do that for?” the guy says. “Now we’re both stuck!”

“Nah,” the friend says, “I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

:: :: ::

I love the way this story (retold by Scott Hoezee) describes my life. Sometimes things feel very dark, like I’m in a deep hole. I’ve felt this way when someone has died, when I’ve been stressed out, when the future looks uncertain. And that says nothing about the darkness in my life caused by sin – my own stupid mistakes as well as all the brokenness in the world that impacts my life. Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in a dark hole.

Even more, I love the way this story expresses the power in relationships. Things are never quite so sad, so strained, or so scary when there’s someone with me. And when things are going well for me, this story reminds me to be the friend for someone else who feels stuck somewhere.

Mostly though I love this story because it reminds me of how Jesus is the best friend who has come down to where I’m stuck. No matter what dark hole I find myself in, he knows what I’m experiencing and offers me a peace that passes understanding. More than that, he’s strong enough to fight the power of sin in my life. In fact, he’s been in the darkest, scariest hole ever: the grave. And he even knows the way out of there!

Much of the time I feel like I need to figure out a way to get up to God. Like I need to get his attention or impress him before he’ll notice me. The fact is God came down to me in the person of his Son, Jesus. That’s what Advent and Christmas are all about this month.

Jesus is the light of the world and of my life, bringing hope to the dark places. His is the light that shows the way and illuminates God’s love for me even when my love for him is shaky and unimpressive. And he is the friend who takes away my loneliness, forgives my sin, and even promises me eternal life.

You can’t find a better friend than that for the holidays and all year round.

These reflections appeared in last week’s Rock Valley Bee.

What to wear for Advent

As I make my way through this Advent season, a quote shared with me by my retired colleague Dale Vander Veen continues to echo in my mind and resonate in my soul…

Our God, you dressed yourself
in the tattered garments of our human nature,
that we might dress ourselves with
your divine ways.
Help us, therefore, to wear our human frailties
with the dignity and resolve
of those who are the earthly cradles
of the nature of God.

– from Rueben Job & Norman Shawchuck,
A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People

Slow us down, O Lord

I began the Advent season at Trinity CRC speaking about slowing Candle graphic found via Googledown, about not letting the busyness leading up to Christmas rob us from experiencing this season’s significance. Being in a hurry will quickly wreck things any time of the year, but that seems especially true these days. In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, John Ortberg writes about how relationships require love, and “love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don’t have” (p. 81).

After speaking on this, someone emailed me this prayer originally from a group called Education for Justice. Consider praying it with me these next few days as Christmas approaches…

Slow us down, O Lord, this Advent,
so we may understand the darkness we are in,
the darkness of fear that comes with wanting more,
and the fear of having less.
Grant us the light of transformation,
as we wait for your true abundance –
the love of the Incarnation,
a love that brings us true dignity and security,
a love that embraces all, that enriches all,
that calls us all to share justly and celebrate joyfully.

Moses’ Advent song

Advent candle graphic found via GoogleFor our Advent series this year at Trinity CRC, we’re using a resource from the latest issue of Reformed Worship titled “Enter the Songs.” It’s a series shaped by the four songs found in the Gospel of Luke that surround the Christmas story. We ran into a bit of trouble, though, when we decided that we’d like to look at Simeon’s song the Sunday after Christmas (not the Sunday before as the article in RW has it). Would we start our Advent series a week later? That seemed wrong. Could we find another song from elsewhere in the Bible? Probably…

Natalie (Trinity’s Worship Co-Coordinator) and I settled on Moses’ Song of the Sea together with the song sung by Miriam in Exodus 15. While I suspected I’d be able to connect it with the start of the new church season, I was happily surprised with how well it really did fit with Advent!

Here’s the message I preached yesterday connecting Moses’ song with Advent. Please let me know if you come up with more connections!

Advent and Lent: Paradoxical seasons

I’ve often felt similarities between Advent and Lent that go beyond liturgical colors (both make purple prominent). Both seasons lead up toAdvent candles a special holiday (holy day) in the church year, giving each a sense of expectancy. In different ways, each prompt to examine our hearts and lives in light of Jesus – specifically His arrival or His death.

The other day I read something by Jeff Munroe of Western Theological Seminary that highlighted even more similarities between the two seasons, as well as the paradoxes present in each. It deepened my appreciation for the current church season…

If you attend a liturgical church [this month], you will notice that the color of the paraments – including the stole the minister wears and any hanging adornments to the pulpit or Communion table – will be purple. It is the first Sunday of Advent, which marks the beginning of a new year on the church calendar, and purple is the color of Advent. While the world anticipates Christmas in red and green, the church uses purple, the same color used during the season of Lent.

Purple is the color of royalty, but it is also the color of penitence. Like Lent, Advent is a paradoxical season. We look forward to the birth of Jesus, but we also know that he was ultimately born to die. Salvation cannot happen without the birth of Jesus, but salvation actually happens through the death (and resurrection) of Jesus.

Just as Lent is paradoxical because it anticipates both the death and resurrection of Jesus, Advent is paradoxical because it anticipates both the birth and death of Jesus. Some have seen the cross foreshadowed in the wood of the manger and the linen shroud in the swaddling clothes. As with any birth there was blood, the essence of life, when Jesus was born. There would be blood again in the Garden of Gethsemane and finally on the cross at Calvary.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg (Powi) from Free Stock Photos.