God is at work in human history even if his ways are confusing—this is one lesson of Advent.
The prophet Isaiah said that God, who had made a covenant with Israel, was at work even though the nation had sinned and would enter exile. He who had created the heavens and earth, and gave breath to people, would bring forth his Servant: “My servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1-5). Continue reading Advent: A Promise of Light and Freedom →
Back in the early 1990s, when I began serving as a youth and young adult minister, a young woman from the congregation told me that she was dreading the approaching Christmas season. All the glitter, all the songs of joy and peace, all the smiling faces—she just couldn’t get into it. “I hate Christmas,” she said. Continue reading When Christmas Feels Like a Barren Desert→
How shall we think of war as we pray for peace this Advent season? However we do, let’s be careful not to glorify war.
Peace negotiators strive in Yemen, parts of Syria are reduced to rubble, and South Sudan suffers a civil war. Meanwhile, Canadians recently recalled the First World War, a conflict of a century ago with lingering effects. In many parts of Europe, Asia, North America, and elsewhere, the legacy of World War Two remains just below the surface. The effects of the Korean War continue.
Canadian veterans of peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan suffer and show it in various ways. For some it means PTSD, broken families, addiction, homelessness, or suicide. “War is hell,” said William T. Sherman, a general in the Union army during the American Civil War. Hell isn’t what we want to see on the earth (Matt. 6:10).
War takes a horrible physical, mental, and spiritual toll on soldiers and civilians; we know this. And yet it can still be more than we realize. William P. Mahedy, a Roman Catholic chaplain who served in Vietnam and then became an Episcopal priest, said, “A great many Vietnam veterans have become religious agnostics or are now hostile to religion because they took seriously what they learned in Bible classes or in the parochial schools about killing.”
Combat shattered their worldview, he said. “For great numbers of veterans, duty in Vietnam was a journey into spiritual darkness—the very darkest night of the soul.” The average age of Vietnam veterans was just over 19, Mahedy says.
Christ came into the world to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:16-17). He came to restore humanity, reconcile us to himself and each other through the Cross (Eph. 2:11-22), and heal the planet (Rom. 8:18-22).
Because of Christ let’s be careful how we think about war. While our views might vary, let’s not glorify war. People need to hear about and follow Jesus, and for that they need to be alive.
During this Advent season filled with wars, famines, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other unnatural and natural disasters, we can be grateful for the presence and efforts of the worldwide Christian Church in word and deed—the light of Christ (Matt. 5:12-17).
We can give thanks for Presbyterians in Syria, Copts in Egypt, Lutherans in Finland, Methodists in England, Anglicans in South Africa, Roman Catholics in the U.S., Eastern Orthodox in Russia, Baptists in the Czech Republic, Anabaptists in the Netherlands, Pentecostals in Canada—and the list goes on. The Christian Church ultimately forms a single presence in many countries of the world. We can thank the Lord that his ministries are multiplied.
Yes, each part of the Church is more conscious of what it is doing and less aware of the work done by other parts of the Church. However, the Church worldwide has evangelism, relief, development, and justice activities in needy places by word and deed. For the wider Church and its work, we can give thanks.
Consider, for instance, Pastor Ibrahim Nseir and the Presbyterian congregation he serves in war-torn Aleppo, Syria; they provide hope amid the rubble, as Emily Loewen of MCC at times reminds us.
The light of Christ shines in many places and the darkness will not overcome it (Matt. 5:14-16; John 1:5; 1 John 1:8).
The original coming of Christ made angels, shepherds, and Magi rejoice. It also made people weep as baby boys were slaughtered in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18). Advent, then and now, can be a time of confusion and grief.
“To some people, the approaching Christmas season spells loneliness, darkness, even pain,” Pastor Irma Janzen wrote 15 years ago. “They don’t look forward to it. It can be the most difficult season of the year” (What if Christmas isn’t Merry? Dec. 4, 2002, The Messenger).
“Some people in our congregations get overtired because they are too busy. Others overspend and feel guilty,” Irma said. She wrote that “commercialism and media make much out of Christmas,” while Christmas reminds some people how relationships have broken down. These are words to hear.
Family gatherings at Christmas reveal tensions, weaknesses as well as strengths, in how members relate to each other. Such gatherings amid strained relationships are mixed times of joy, stress, and grief. In the midst of this, Christ’s grace and the Church are much needed.
How do the actions of the Church and the sermons you hear at Christmas speak to your grief and strained relationships? How do they miss them?
O Lord, Christmas creates tension for us. We are sometimes hurt and confused. Help us to find your grace. Help us to feel and know that we are not alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
How adventurous will our churches be this Advent season? It might surprise you! Look around.
It’s fitting that Advent be a season of adventure. Advent recalls a time when the Greatest Adventurer came among us to share our human life; the Son of God became also a human being. Advent also looks ahead to His return.
Christ’s first coming was a wondrous event that involved risk and daring. The effects of Christ’s coming carry on, touching the lives of billions of people. And, true to the cliché, the best is yet to come.
Christians can take comfort in the great truths of which we are reminded. This is God’s world. The Son of God has come as our Saviour. Jesus lived, died, and rose for our reconciliation. He calls us together to follow Him. He is the Hope of the world and its history. By grace our lives have meaning, forgiveness, and an eternal future.
So how are our congregations responding? In Canada, from B.C. to southern Ontario, they are reaching out in creative ways. New congregations are being formed, younger churches are being strengthened, and established churches are changing.
Want more proof of adventure? Look at a world map and consider that the EMC supports nearly 100 cross-cultural workers working in many ministries in roughly 24 countries in about 60 different language groups.
Together we proclaim the One greater than our frailties and failures: Christ the Lord. Why do we do this? Because we rejoice in Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). Come, join our celebration! Join the adventure.
Most people either flat out avoid reading the genealogy of Matthew at the beginning of his gospel, or they approach it like they would cod liver oil—nose held and eyes half closed. Besides the many names that are difficult for most of us to pronounce, the long list of names seems boring and unrelated to the birth of Christ. “I’ll do anything, Lord, but please don’t make me read the genealogies!” most of us would say.
Yet as regularly as Christmas rolls around, I believe we should hear the voice of the Lord say to us, “If you want to follow me, you must read the genealogies.”
A genealogy tells us who we are. It tells us what kind of family we are considering getting ourselves involved with. A genealogy gives us our bearings.
In this season of Advent and Christmas, Matthew 1 challenges us: if you enter this Advent family, here is who you are, who you will be, and what you can expect. Christ’s genealogy can remind us of four truths that, if we take the time to discover them, can enrich our lives this season.
We need to remember that we are part of the Advent family line because of someone else. This family line goes all the way back to Abraham and Sarah, who courageously broke away from one family line (the Chaldean line of Ur) to start another line. Isaac then had the opportunity to enter because of Abraham and Sarah. Rebekah had the opportunity through Jacob, and Jacob and Rachel had it through them in turn.
I’m a part of this Advent line because a former house burglar named Greg shared the marvelous story of his new Advent family with me. Now a whole new branch of the Tices has become part of the Matthean genealogy, as my children have responded to Christ through my witness.
We need to remember that our lives will be full of the challenge to walk by faith into the unknown. Many of the members of this Advent family are like Abraham, the first name in the genealogy. Abraham was called out of Ur—our of his comfort zone, out of his family’s surroundings and culture. What was Abraham called to? “To a place I will show you,” says Gen. 12:1. In other words, not only were Abraham and Sarah called away from the familiar, but were given no highly detailed road map describing every twist and turn to their new destination.
Faith is the absolutely non-negotiable human action necessary for the divine action of God to be regularly at work within us and through us. Being in this Advent line means we will allow God to direct us, often through the unknown.
We need to remember to expect the unexpected. Four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. Listing women in a Jewish genealogy is not the usual practice. What women they are! They are not the great matriarchs of Israel’s history—like Sarah, or Rebekah, or Esther. Rather, they’re women like Rahab, who had been a prostitute of evil Jericho.
Out of the shame of Rahab’s past, God saw a woman who, unlike the others of Jericho, finally recognized the true God. Rahab was the only one who said, “For the Lord your God is he who is God in heaven above as on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:11). The red cord—a sign of her own sin and defilement (and, of course, of the seedy men who used to climb up it)—now became a sign of her salvation.
In addition, every one of the four women listed here in a Jewish line were Gentiles: Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites, Ruth was a Moabite, and Bathsheba a Hittite. This family line overcomes some of the great prejudices of Far Eastern history!
Joining this Advent family means expecting the unexpected and having the unexpected asked of you.
We need to remember that our lives are kept by a promise-keeping God. This family line—just from Abraham to Jesus alone—is some 2,000 years old.
Through tens of thousands of challenges, God fights to keep this family together and intact. By Matthew 1:12—just before Jeconiah, at the time of the Babylonian exile—there was just one surviving possibility to keep the Davidic line alive. The only possibility rested with Zedekiah (2 Kings 24) and he was in exile with his eyes put out. Yet God worked things out.
The genealogy that we often avoid reading can remind us of the family line God is creating. It can remind us of our place within it and our commitment to invite others to join the family.
Bob Tice, DMin, is pastor of RiverRock Church in “core-city” Buffalo, New York.He is also an adjunct professor with Northeastern Seminary (Rochester) teaching the course Theology of the City. This article, reprinted with permission, was first published in the Gospel Herald (Dec. 23, 1997) when he was Mennonite Board of Missions urban ministry director, pastor of Westward Church of the Living Word (Buffalo), and adjunct professor in Houghton College’s pastoral and church ministries program.
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