Hi church! Today we conclude our Road to Advent series as tomorrow we begin our Advent message series and corresponding devotional series - Come Home for Christmas. We're really excited about this message series. We think it's going to feel relatable while still offering you the familiar and anticipated Advent experience. We hope you'll join us this Sunday at 10am and consider inviting a family member or friend to join you!
Part of the challenge of reading scripture is that we get to read it in hindsight. We know the ending before we even begin and we have the luxury of considering what we would do in that moment with the end in mind. But Jesus' ministry was a "messy" one with many turns and unexpected moments. It caused unease for the disciples, for those in power, and for his own family! This past week I've been challenging you to try to experience Advent as if it were your first one over. Be open to be moved by the stories that have grown familiar. Try to take part in the spiritual exercise of Lectio Divina of reading scripture or hearing the stories and imagining that you are present in the stories. Imagine what the scene feels like, how you feel in response to them, what emotions you might have, and what you would do in the moment without the hindsight "that it all works out in the end." Christmas season can be messy with a lot of moving parts and difficult dynamics. Jesus' arrival to a virgin birth was very much a messy experience for Mary, Joseph, and the people around. Having to return to Bethlehem for a census was a messy experience for a heavily pregnant Mary. How can the experiencing the scripture anew help you process the stress or sadness you might feel this holiday season? This is the way I'd like to close out this "Road to Advent" chapter. I hope you find it renewing.
Scripture to Read
It’s often said that we see our lives with perfect clarity as we look back at them: hindsight improves our vision and clarifies all that once was cloudy. This isn’t always as true of our spiritual journeys. Sometimes our place in time is actually a barrier to really getting close enough to truly feel it all. We naturally read the Bible retrospectively. We encounter our faith tradition in the rearview mirror of history, and as a result we approach it knowing how the story ends. This often leads us to sanitize the Gospels—to obscure the gritty, messy reality of those moments as they were experienced in real time. It actually squeezes out the surprise and the wonder and the unbelievable-ness of it all. We tend to over spiritualize the events being described, and this places a distance between them and us. We view the God-narrative as if from thirty thousand feet, safe in the abstract places of detached theology. There, Scripture is a movie we are passively watching rather than a true story we are participating in, and so we often miss the gravity of these moments and fail to experience them on visceral level, which is a shame. The greater time and emotional distance we get from the stories of Jesus, the smaller he actually becomes and the less wild and dangerous these stories feel.
But there is a beauty in trying to see these accounts from the ground level, to imagine how they looked and felt from the low places of people’s ordinary lives—people who didn’t know what we think we know from where we’re standing. When we do, we remember what is really going on here. We remember that this is the story of an olive-skinned baby, born amid the smell of damp straw and animal dung because no human-worthy welcome could be found; of a child of young Palestinian Jewish parents, desperately fleeing politically ordered genocide. It is the story of a poor, itinerant, street preaching rabbi; spending his days dining with the lepers and prostitutes, enlisting the doubters and the backsliders, and comforting the bleeding and the grieving. It is divinity coming low to inhabit humanity. It is God’s massive scale delivered in counterintuitive smallness. It is beautifully strange.
When we place our feet firmly in the dirt and dust of the everyday within the Gospel stories, we see Jesus getting low to meet us there. It reminds us that more often than upon the jubilant summit of the radiant mountaintop, the spiritual journey is spent in the low and shadow places. We are there in that beautiful lowness when we live humbly. We are there when we seek forgiveness. We are there in our grief and suffering. We are there when we kneel in reverent awe. We are there when we spend ourselves on behalf of someone else. When we place ourselves in these postures, our perspective changes, our attitude towards people shifts, and we become agents of love in a way that actually resembles Jesus. We perpetuate his character through our very lives. The season of Advent allows us to notice the posture we are living in; and invites us to step into the story again and to get our hands dirty. It is a space where we can walk together and get proximity to these stories again—to a place closer than religion can go.
When Jesus offers the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” he reminds us that the invitation as we walk the road of Advent, is not to escape this place to an elevated Heavenly sanctuary somewhere, it is to bring Heaven down. Immanuel means “God with us.” In other words, it is Jesus, getting low. This is really good news for us here on the ground.
Let’s head to the low places together.
Questions to Consider
When was the first time I heard the classic Advent stories?
What is my favorite church memory during the holiday season?
What feelings does Advent bring up? How has that changed over the years?
Praying the Hymns
Our prayer for today is inspired by hymn 474 - Lead Me, Lord. This cover is so wonderfully beautiful. Join me in song and spirit as we ask God to lead us into Advent this year.
Lead me, Lord, lead me in thy righteousness;
make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
that makest me dwell in safety.