Saturday, December 22, 2012


He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God… and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5.4-5)

Apocalypse Now

So the Mayan apocalypse of 12/21/12 has gone the way of all end-of-the-world predictions. The planet is still spinning. We’re still alive and kicking. It’s business as usual. For most of us, it’s no surprise. We knew not to put any credence into this latest far-fetched scenario. And we know, sooner or later, a new one will surface. Someone will forecast yet another space-time anomaly that portends global doom. We’ll chuckle at that, too, and when it turns out to be a bust, we’ll chuckle at the next one and the one after that.

Although we scoff at doomsday predictions, our laughter reveals something we should seriously consider. Poking fun at apocalyptic notions exorcises our anxieties about them. Something inside us—something we can’t quite reach and disarm—insists the whole thing could come crashing down around us at any moment. (It only took one meteor to wipe out the dinosaurs.) And somewhat perversely, I think we find a degree of comfort in the possibility that All Of This might suddenly end with a big bang. Keeping the planet alive and peaceful is hard work. The constant toil and conflicts of everyday life wear us out. And I suspect a few of us may have been disappointed that 12/21 came and went uneventfully. Apocalypse now is the weary soul’s way out.

Prophetic Vision

In Advent’s steady ascent to the manger, a very specific sort of weariness sets in. We can’t sing hopeful hymns and recite promises of salvation without registering how greatly we need hope and saving. Our world is in a sorry state that trickles down into our everyday lives. With so much of what affects us beyond our control—nearly all of it headed the wrong way—it’s no wonder that we greet apocalyptic panic with cordial ambivalence. But the prophets constantly remind us the antidote for weariness isn’t looking for a cosmic cataclysm that will sweep away all of our troubles. We combat weariness by placing our trust in God’s creative power to make something new. As the light of Christmas dawn breaks through Advent’s night, Scripture beckons us to embrace prophetic vision that looks beyond human deficiencies to see a God of limitless possibilities. War and violence are precursors to peace. Injustice and hatred set the stage for mercy and love. Despair delivers hope. Sorrow gives way to joy. Christ’s birth heralds the birth of all that is good and right in us. Lest weariness overtake us, the Nativity enables us to know that nothing is impossible for God.

This God of infinite possibilities can only be found in our darkness and chaos. It is from there that God speaks and works wonders. It is in the despair of night that prophetic vision sharpens its focus and sees what God is actually doing. Sunday’s prophetic text (Micah 5.2-5) calls to us from a world shrouded in hopelessness, discord, and looming defeat. Assyrian invaders have trampled the northern half of the Jewish kingdom. Pagan cults have infiltrated the nation’s faith life and the erosion of belief is evidenced in the corruption of civic and religious leaders. Apocalyptic doom is on the up-rise. But Micah sees light breaking through the chaos and darkness. “This is not the end,” he declares. “It’s the beginning.” He compares this season of violence and injustice to childbirth, urging the people to push ahead. There is no time for weariness. A Savior is coming. “He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth, and he shall be the one of peace,” he promises. (Micah 5.4-5) A New Order will rise out of the nation’s wearying confusion, oppression, and self-destructiveness.

The Newborn King

In the coming days, we will sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” And in that song we should exercise prophetic vision that sees Christ for all that Christ is. The lowliness of Jesus’s birth is wreathed in majesty—not of the pompous, ceremonial kind, but of certain power and authority that makes all things possible. Our Savior, Who chose to live among us as one of us, is the One of Peace. God comes to us not as a tyrant placing undue demands on us, but as a gentle Shepherd, Who watches over us and feeds us. God reaches us in our darkness and chaos, because that’s where God’s infinite possibilities reside.

May this Christmas overflow with prophetic insight that illuminates the majestic hope, joy, love, and peace that is born to us and lives in us. May we exchange our weariness with the world for the invigorating glory of our newborn King.

God’s infinite possibilities reside in our darkness and chaos.

Postscript: “Come Darkness, Come Light”

A couple of years ago, I put together a little video to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lovely ballad, “Come Darkness, Come Light.” I’ve posted it before. But I’m reprising it as my Christmas prayer for all of us. Have a joyous celebration!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Still Waiting

It is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, Who will answer. (Psalm 38.15)

With so few days to go—and so much to get done in those few days—Advent’s charm wears thin. The waiting metaphor is likely to be greeted with a curt “I get it.” The poetry of deep nights and lowering cold and the bright star hung high in the sky grows redundant. The hymns of hope and expectation start feeling a little desperate: how many Sundays can we sing invitations to a Newborn? The carols—early arrivers, one and all—have already got tinny and hollow sounding.


What little time we have for pondering gets bargained away. A winter storm screws up travel. A sold-out gadget sparks hours of searching to find it elsewhere. Late-breaking additions to the guest list unleash a flurry of adjustments, reworking everything from sleeping arrangements to cookie quantities.


We think we have no more time left to wait, even though we really have no choice. And somewhere in our final bursts of energy and to-do-list panic we have to reckon with that. We’re still waiting. We will be kept waiting until the Child arrives. Nothing we can do about it. We can play with the schedule every which way till Tuesday, but it won’t be Christmas until Christ gets here. We wait, not on a date—but for a Savior, Who will come to us at the appointed time and not one moment sooner. In Advent, there is no “almost there.” It’s about getting to where “there” is—to the place where Christ is born in us anew and afresh. Everything up to that point is, well, waiting.


In The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, John Bell prays:

You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, Who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you… for the waiting time.

So to honor Him
When we come

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not Meant for Insiders

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2.8)

God’s angel sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem—the legendary City of David—to deliver the Christ Child to the world. And then, from the looks of it, the angel forgets to alert anyone in David’s town that their Savior is born. How is that? Surely there are much-admired Bethlehemers (or is it Bethlehamians?) who should be on God’s guest list. Surely someone in the village is praying and waiting and watching for the promised Redeemer.

But no. In what would become a constant theme in Christ’s life and ministry, God beckons outsiders to witness the ultimate miracle of grace. Angels find shepherds in the region—near enough to summon, but far enough away to see God’s work for what it means for all people, rather than what it might indicate for insiders, if insider status qualified one to sit manger-side. This God made flesh is, and will always be, full of surprises—one of the most befuddling of which is God’s unpredictable election of the least likely candidates for the most crucial jobs. A teenaged couple from Nazareth, a village so low on the “Best Places to Live in Palestine” list that people dismiss it as nowhere anything good can came from. An anonymous stable owner—not a renowned priest, politician, or hotelier. And a night crew of shepherds who just happen to be nearby.

Indeed, the few “insiders” found in the Christ Child’s story are almost comically out of touch with what God is up to. Herod can’t figure out what’s going on. His counselors are no better. Apparently no one of notable power and prestige in Bethlehem is any wiser than the Jerusalem set. Jesus sneaks in under the radar—arrives without “insider” notice and fanfare—and instead, God chooses outsiders to welcome the Babe. They are all close enough, alert enough, willing enough to experience and believe this lavish display of grace bundled in rags and resting in a hay bed. But not one of them is “inside.” Not one of them has any credibility with the religious and political establishment. Not one of them plans to make a career out of what they’ve discovered. They’re simply open to believe and share what God has chosen them to see, hear, and touch. They are now inside something so great that they will forever be identified with it.

So stay close to Bethlehem. Be alert to what’s taking shape there. Be willing to experience and believe—to see, to hear, to touch. This is not meant for insiders. It’s for everyone who will take God’s Good News to heart.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Only Child

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued My faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31.3)

St. Augustine famously said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” As we enter Advent’s final week, it’s important to realize the overwhelming joy and grace and compassion that we rejoice in on Christmas Day would be offered if only one of us was lost to God. That’s why Jesus’s redemption parables always point to a single loss—one lost heir, one lost coin, one lost lamb. So Christmas is made for you, Christmas is made for me. We share it as equals and individuals, not as a mass of faceless people clamoring for God’s group hug. Each of us is God's only child.

The love of Christmas cannot be measured, because it isn’t a one-size-fits-all gift. It comes to adorn our lives in ways unique to each of us. Take a moment this week to breathe in the cool, sweet air of being God’s only child. Come to the Christmas table expecting to find all you need and more than you could ever wish for. Hold the Babe’s tiny hand in your own; feel the unending surge of love that God has provided just for you. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” the Creator sings. “Therefore I have continued My faithfulness to you.”

Monday, December 17, 2012


God has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4.18)

While facing execution for his anti-Nazi activism, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

It’s a compelling metaphor, that’s for sure. When we consider the things that hold us captive, the fears and doubts that box us in, the worries that wrap heavy chains around our hearts, our need for a Savior becomes all too real. We can’t rescue ourselves, regardless what the self-help gurus want us to believe. We haven’t the ransom to pay for our liberty. We haven’t the superpower to disintegrate thick walls that encase us, to kick down the door and release faith that wholly relies on God’s unfettered grace.

In Luke 4.18, Jesus tells us He came to release us from captivity, to restore our sight, and free us from burdens that weigh us down. As we rehearse the story of the Babe’s arrival, waiting, hoping, let us watch expectantly for the opening of our prisons. Unhealthy attitudes, habits, and behaviors that have held us far too long will hold us no more. Fears and anxieties that overshadow us will be lifted. The door will open. We will see Christ. We will accept the invitation to live in Christ and make room for Christ to live us. We will be free.