Lamenting at Christmas?

I have found myself a bit more somber as of lately, and its been hard to know what to chalk it up to. Sure, 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. I think its more like a culmination of things, between the hard things I have watched our nation go through, the new (but not so new) things I am learning the more I delve into the pages of scripture, and the end-of-year calls for donations for just about every charity out there.

Generally I would say I am someone who can look at my immediate world and be happy that things are well. They are. I am in a great neighborhood, making new friends, and still have a job. I really have nothing I can complain about.

Yet I am in a season where the pain of the world seems more difficult to bear than usual. The slave trade is alive and well, where land is taken and people are forced to work for practically nothing. Sex trafficking, where young women and men are treated as propery and ravaged in a way no child should be. Refugees returning to war-torn places with nothing to sustain them, orphans who have nowhere to go, corruption and families across nations hungry, not even knowing when their next meal will come. (*see footnotes for ministries I support that tackle these very things in case you are looking for a place to help)

That being said, my heart is heavier right now, carrying the weight of the knowlege of all of this, and it has been for a while. I long for nothing, and what I have and can offer seems to barely make any dent of a difference. I long for things to change, for these stories I hear so often to be over. For bellies to be full, relationships restored and evil gone, for hope to rise and everything to be made right.

Not exactly the Christmas Spirit, I know.

But then again.. maybe it is, in a way. Maybe its a way to enter into the real desperation that was felt by the people that first witnessed the fullness of God take on flesh. The longing for deliverance, the longing for something to hope in, the cry for God to change the way things are.

When I can still my soul enough to remember…. I know that this longing for all things to be made right is not unique, for it is the same longing felt by every prophet in its day, every person on the pages in our scriptures, and by so many of us know who have had to endure our own pain, our own grief.. or who have watched it up-front-and-center in other countries.

What is your pain this season, your longing? Have you lost a loved one this year, that you never got to hug goodbye? Did you struggle in relationships or in marriage, did you watch a child leave home and not make choices that were good? Have you subsisted on little, having lost a job or on the brink of it even still? Did you make choices you are not proud of? Do you feel alone more than ever?

For this, Jesus comes. He knows the pain our world endures, for he walked its breadth and saw its hardship, its ugliness, its inability to heal itself….and he too wept over its pain. For even in the face of the darkness of humanity, the plan and purpose to breath life back into His creation cannot be stopped.

I read something this week that really struck me, given my musings about this lately. In his book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey was talking about how we tend to “santizie” our story of Christmas in a way, because we hardly ever talk about the slaughter that followed of all the boys under 2 in the region (p58). Somehow…I’m pretty sure those that live in dictator led countries and war-torn villages know what Mary and Joseph were living through a lot more than we do.

But Bailey goes on to point out that “If the Gospel can flourish in a world that produces the slaughter of the innocents and the cross, the Gospel can flourish anywhere” (p59-60).

In some way, then, there is a place for lament this time of year, if we will choose, to enter into the shared pain of all that is still not what it will be. To confess our weakness, our inability to fix things at our own hand, and to receive anew the MERCY of the one who can. To receive Jesus in a new way, as a good king, whose heart yearns for all to be made right. To trust that he is still building his kingdom, and to let our hearts find hope in this truth.

So I close this post with a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Rise in our hearts and remind us that you are in our midst, and you are with our brothers and sisters across the globe who fight for justice and mercy, who long for your peace and who share your love with their world as well. Make us one. Pour out your love and your presence on hungry souls this year, Lord, and let us work for your kingdom now, offering what you have given us to offer, even as we look forward to the day when all is made right.

Ministries I referenced earlier

International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org/

Preemptive Love: https://preemptivelove.org/

New Life for Haiti: https://www.newlifeforhaiti.org/

Redemption of the past

So today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this morning the pastor was reading over the first chapter in Matthew – which, if you have read it – is a geneology of the dads (and a few moms that are mentioned) in the line of Jesus. I suspect some of us have always skipped over this part because…. well.. unless you want to take the time to research them all, it doesn’t seem to be of all that great importance.

Oh, but they are.

You see, Matthew doesn’t start with humanity’s origin. Instead, he starts with the promise given to Abraham, and traces the geneology all the way from that first promise to the birth of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham (then named Abram) and essentially told him to pack up and go to a new land, sight unseen. If he would do that, God promised a long family line that would ultimately be a blessing to all of humanity. So with the list of names, Matthew is setting the stage, telling his readers that everything in his narrative is what it looked like when God started unfolding his promise.

I have always thought it interesting (and good!) that Matthew mentions a few moms in the geneology as well…. although if you look into them, their stories are hard to swallow. Tamar conceived due to incest (her own pursuit, but that is another story)…Rahab was a non-Israelite and a prostitute, Ruth was a non-Israelite and a widow, and Bathsheba was seduced into committing adultery.

Lest you think these women were called out because of their shameful conceptions or because they were foreigners, let’s not forget that many of the men in the list also had skeletons in their closet. One sacrified his son to another god, one committed murder to hide his adulterous affair. Some followed God and his ways, but many did not. Some, due to their own desire and quest for personal gain, directly disobeyed things God told them not to do, and both they and their nation suffered as a result. Not exactly a stellar lineup.

When I stop to think of the stories of these women that often get shoved under the rug, it’s painful to sit in the reality of their experiences, especially when I look at them through 21st century eyes. I know there are many women today that have lived these same stories, and so I tread carefully here, not wanting to bring pain or mishandle what I am saying. Please forgive me if these words step on hard places, that is not my intent.

I believe these stories are in the bible to, with careful eyes, see the sin committed against Tamar and Bathsheba, see what was and what was not done after the transgression, and to know that God was NEVER ok with the things that happened. There should have been justice for them. I cannot imagine how painful these stories are to read for women whose stories read the same in our day.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew called them out specifically to elevate them, wiping away their cultural/historical shame by showing that even their lives and their personal pain played a role in bringing about God’s promised Messiah. It’s like his version of saying “you shall no longer be called……” —- “Now I call you blessed!”

The fact that Ruth and Rahab are also in this lineage stands out primarily because Israelites were told to not intermarry with the cultures around them, lest they begin to worship other gods. Yet these two women recognized that Yaheh, the God of the Israelites, was unique – and they chose him, thus becoming followers of Yahweh by faith.

Why do I bring this all up?

I’m not trying to offer some trite “all things happen for a reason” theology, nor am I trying to answer why God allows some things and not others. We live in a very broken world where we hurt each other, and hurt begets hurt, and without a change of heart, a change from the inside.. nothing will ever be different. We need healing, we need hope, and that is exactly what Christmas and the advent season should remind us of.

I share this to remind you that no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter your story, your lack or abundance of personal pain, no matter what you have gone through, there is very real way that you, when you cling to the God of Israel found in Jesus, play a role in bringing about his redemption to the world in our day and time.

Your life is a witness that joy is possible after the deepest, darkest pain. That there is life after something that could have left you dead inside. That choices you made or were made for you do not have the last word – just like in sending Jesus, God declared that the power and kingdom of man would not have the last word.

My prayer for you in these coming days before Christmas is that in your heart you can bow before the One who came in the flesh, to walk in our brokenness, and let him whisper to your soul… “I am light, I am your healer, and I will redeem all that is broken to bring you back to life”

Blessings my friends!

Me and Advent

I have been doing a lot of thinking this time of year, specifically paying attention to sermons on Advent. Admittedly, I have never really been one to focus on the meaning of Advent before… yet this year is different. This year, the lessons of Advent are speaking to me more than I have ever heard them before.

Maybe its because this year, I am constantly comparing to December last year.

Last year this time, I was dreading conversations. I was carrying secret shame, shame that my marriage was over. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, it seemed, and relief was nowhere in sight. I was carrying the weight of the pain we would cause our girls, the fractured family that we would become, fearful of what my life was going to look like and yet throwing my hope onto the One that said He was our anchor beyond the veil. Crying out to Jesus in a way I never had before. Last year, advent wasn’t even mentioned. But it was not lost on me that for the first time in my life, I understood the story of Mary with a whole new set of eyes.

This year… this year I am choosing joy, and I am living my life out honestly. I can look back at all the Lord has done to bring healing in my life, and I can see the new things He is starting to do that I cannot yet see in their fullness. This year, I am paying attention to Advent because I must, because in some way, I know the Lord is teaching me something new… and it’s good.

The first week of Advent I heard about waiting. Now, I know officially the first week represents hope, but that’s not what Brian Zahnd focused out in his message the first week. Maybe he took it in a different direction because hope is ultimately about waiting for something, right? In the case of Israel, it meant waiting for the Messiah. In our case, he pointed out, it means waiting for God to move. Not waiting on an event or occurrence, which is often what we really are waiting for (if this or that happens, THEN I will ….). No. Waiting on God. Because, as Brian pointed out, when God comes, something is going to happen. We may not know what, but something will happen, and it will be good. This year, there are a few things I am waiting on – one of which I clearly have known God has to move, the other I realize I was looking for an outcome. The first week of Advent has reminded me to shift my gaze, and to not give up waiting. I needed to hear that more than I know.

The second week of Advent is about Love. Yet at a church I visited last Sunday, the pastor spoke of both hope and joy. Hope of the Messiah, a story that Elizabeth and Mary both became a part of because God was moving in His time, in His way. Yet joy – because although neither of them quite understood what God was doing, they were willing to walk out the change in direction of their lives and circumstance. When they saw the grace of what God was doing in each other’s lives, THEN their story made sense. THEN they could see some of what God was doing – but it only made sense when the pieces were put together. As the pastor said…when they both saw the grace over each other’s lives, it made them ask “what IS God doing????” This year, I can honestly stand back and ask the same. I am keenly aware that his ways are not mine, that his thoughts are not mine, and that there is greater mystery than ever in following him. For someone who likes to know what is going on and for whom planning is a default… this requires constant trust. Trust that something is going on, something I cannot see and cannot touch… and something that may still take years to unfold.

So as we stand here, just a few days away from Christmas, I invite you to take a step back and ask yourself: Where in my own life do I need to wait on God, not wait on circumstances to change? Where can I shift my focus so that I am not anxious about how things will play out, but I look with eager anticipation to seeing how God moves on my behalf? And where can you step back and look at things and wonder… what is going on? How is what I see now going to result in greater things in the future?

Merry Christmas, my friends! May the light Jesus came to bring brighten your world this year, and may His peace, peace that says we WILL be ok in His hands, give you hope.

Tama