Sunday, November 30, 2008

Arise

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

                        Isaiah 60.1

Running on Promises

Advent is the season of expectation when Christians anticipate the Nativity celebration. Expectancy is exciting. When we focus on a set event—Christmas, birthdays, vacations, and so on—the build-up significantly contributes to its overall joy and pleasure. What if everything worked this way, if all of our progress and struggles started here and ended there, if all of life’s phases came with advent calendars drawing closer to the Big Day? Our most grueling stretches would gain hope and stamina; even the long, dry patches would spring to life. We’d certainly be spared the anxieties that brought David to his knees, praying, “How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6.3), or Job’s listlessness: “All the days of my hard service I will wait for my release to come.” (Job 14.14)

Alas, few of life’s stages are calendar driven. Uncertainty of when they’ll end keeps us on edge about how and where they’ll end and what comes next. The calendar holds none of these answers, either. Yet knowing we’re closer to finding them helps tremendously. Without time’s push and pull, we lean on God’s promises for motivation and confidence. Searches for promises we need, however, should start at 2 Corinthians 1.20: “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” Running on promises is a three-part endeavor. God says, “I promise;” Jesus tells us, “He will;” and we say, “He did!”

Glory’s Rising

Without question, Israel ran (and still runs) on promises more than any nation in history. One would think after calling it His chosen people, God could have been more forthcoming about His timetable for Israel. In some cases, He was. But just as often, He simply vowed to do something great so Israel could recognize it as His handiwork. This is especially true of Isaiah’s prophecies, which teem with undated spectacular Messianic promises. What’s so interesting about this is that Isaiah served Israel during a very shaky era, when definitive endpoints would have been greatly appreciated. Through crisis after crisis, God keeps promising to send a saviorand urges Israel to be ready when he appears. But He doesn’t say when. Often He underscores the urgency by shifting tenses from future to present: “Arise, shine,” He says in Isaiah 60.1, “for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Although Israel sees nothing but endless dark days ahead, God says, “Get up! It’s happening. Glory’s rising all around you!” He asks Israel to apply advent mentality to an indefinite time frame. What God’s doing now will prove so extraordinary when He’s finished, the anticipation and excitement building up to it shouldn’t be missed.

Something’s Happening

It need not be said that running on promises involves faith. Active faith and passive faith, however, work differently and generate different benefits. It’s less about choice than it is about emphasis, because they operate best hand-in-hand. Active faith knows something’s happening, while passive faith trusts it will. As we move through open-ended periods, we need both. We toggle between them according to our immediate circumstances and capacity to believe. When we’re stronger, more assured, we activate faith. Paul describes Abraham’s faith as active, saying he believed in a God Who “calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4.17) Knowing by faith God saw what was happening allowed Abraham to see it happening, too. But active faith takes a lot out of us and when we haven’t the clarity and stamina to know, we fall back on trust. We take a break, like David in Psalm 57.1: “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” If active or passive, faith supports advent mentality. Something’s happening now and we build expectancy for the moment it comes. God is speaking to our situation as though it’s resolved. The disaster is passing.

Advent causes our hearts to glow with hope and belief. Yet beyond the warm-and-fuzzies we relish, it provides a unique chance to rehearse thoughts and impulses for use in unspecified periods. It teaches us to pull our mindset from the doldrums of waiting and reposition it in expectancy. After Paul writes of his sufferings to Timothy, he shifts into a triumphant advent declaration: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1.12) Journeys across badlands will go much smoother and quicker if we learn to say with assurance, “Arise, shine! God’s glory is rising on us. Something’s happening!”

Arise, shine--God's glory is rising on you. Something's happening!

(Tomorrow: Performance)

Personal Postscript: Re-Runs

I’m out of the country until midweek, and rather than fall behind due to time constraints, I’ll rerun previously published posts tomorrow and Tuesday. While some of you have read them, they’ll be new to others. I believe both bear revisiting during this time of year. I apologize for this—it’s a first for Straight-Friendly—but I trust you’ll understand. And I hope you’ll enjoy and profit from them, whether it’s the first you’ve seen of them or your second time around. 

When you pray, please remember to ask God’s protection for Walt and me as we travel. See you on Wednesday!

2 comments:

afeatheradrift said...

I keep reading all these lovely posts about Advent and surely they are having a positive effect on me. Although I have great difficulty with winter, I am determined to keep my mind focused on the anticipation and alertness required to see God in everyday things, continually. Thanks for another inspiring post.

Tim said...

Hi, Sherry! Winter can be agonizing. For me it's not so much the cold and snow as it is the gray, the late sunrises and early nightfalls. Perhaps that's why this scripture speaks to me so loudly.

There are moments when I have to shake myself out of looking at how it seems and remind myself what's really happening. While I'm seeing the absence of sun and color and light, God's looking at the beginning of a new spring, fresh growth, amazing beauty, and long-awaited breakthroughs. And while I can't hear a thing but a whistling wind and the rustling of bare branches, in my heart I must hear Him speaking to those things that are not (yet) as though they were!

Possibly the best thing about winter is that it's something we all go through and endure. (I was going to say "together" here; but our friends Down Under, in South America, India, and Africa, are basking in summer sun right now!) While those of us on "the North Side" of the Equator wait for nature to reawaken and light to return to its fullness, I'm grateful we're able to hang through this time together, to keep one another encouraged.

Sherry, my dear sister, at those moments when winter closes in, listen closely and you'll hear an excited whisper telling you, "Your light's come! Glory's rising!" That's the voice you want to go with...

Be blessed always--and particularly through this season!

Tim