Sunday, December 29, 2013

seeking

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:7-11)


The contrast is pretty striking.  But, in all honestly, I'm not sure I would have seen it if I wasn't shown it at church this morning.  On the one hand you have the Magi, the three wise men who came from the east and followed the star, until it came to rest over the place where the child (Jesus) was.  We are not told much about them: where they were specifically from, how many miles they had traveled, or how long it had taken them.  But we can well imagine that it had been a long and grueling journey.  Some scholars estimate that the three travelers had ventured as many as 800 miles in search of the new born King, which could've taken in excess of 80 days.  If nothing else, these guys were serious about seeking. 

King Herod, on the other hand, lived about six miles from Bethlehem.  And even though he was so close to the place where the God of the universe had just entered into His creation, he was unwilling to go see it for himself.  In fact, Herod told the Magi to go and search, and, if they found anything, to come back and let him know about it.  He wasn't about to go through all the trouble of seeking God on his own.  "Let someone else do the work, and then let them tell me what they find." he must've figured. 

Unfortunately, that attitude still seems to live on to this day, because true seeking requires a lot of us, especially when we are talking about seeking God.  In fact, it requires all of us.  There is no half way.  There is no letting someone else do the work and then telling us what they have found.  It is impossible to seek God second hand.  Someone else cannot do it for us.  We must go.  We must embark on the journey, no matter what the length, regardless of what the cost.  We must be like the wise men, rather than like King Herod.  We must be willing to seek Him, for only then will we be totally and completely captured by the object of our seeking--Jesus.  Only then will we rejoice exceedingly and be filled with great joy.  Only then will we fall down and worship him, opening our treasures to him and offering him all that we have and all that we are.  As the prophet Jeremiah so appropriately reminds us; "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord..." (Jeremiah 29:13-14). 




O my God, teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, or find you unless you show yourself to me.  Let me seek you in my desire, and desire you in my seeking.  Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.  (St. Anselm of Canterbury)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

following the star

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

     “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
         are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
      for from you shall come a ruler
         who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
 
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)
 
 
Will there be a star, O Lord, for me to follow this day?  One that will lead me to the place where you have been born within my heart, or within my world, waiting for me to bow and worship, and open my treasures to you?  Give me eyes to see.  Give me courage to follow.  And give me grace to discover where, and how, you have been born once again this day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

venite


Come to us, Holy and Infinite God; be for us a Reality small enough to be grasped and yet great enough to be adored; expand our small hearts to make room for your unlimited love and reign in all human hearts as the Prince of Peace. (Advent with Evelyn Underhill)



Sunday, December 22, 2013

low estate

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 
                                              ~Luke 1:46-55
 
 
Magnificat.  It is a Latin word which means [My soul] magnifies.  It is also the name by which this prayer of Mary has been known through the ages.  It is truly one of the great prayers of all time.  It is the prayer of an innocent and obedient young girl who decided to say yes to God, even in the most ridiculous, challenging, and overwhelming of circumstances.  It is a prayer of trust.  It is a prayer of surrender.  But most of all it is a prayer of total openness.  It is a prayer that reveals a heart that is held wide open to whatever God might desire, and to however he might choose to show up.  It is a prayer that literally says, Come, Lord Jesus!  Come to us, come among us, come be born in us.  It is a prayer of invitation.  And if we too desire God to be born in us this day, and this season, maybe it is a prayer we should pay attention to as well.  Because for God to be born in us there seems a certain posture that is required.  It seems that God has a preference for the lowly, the vulnerable, and the small.  It is in those kinds of places that he seems most likely to be born.  Just look at the prayer: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  And then a little later: he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.  The word used here for humble comes from the root tapeinos which means "to make low."  Somehow Mary's low estate provided the perfect heart (womb) for God to be born in.  Somehow there was room in that kind of heart, room that is typically taken up in those of us that are full of ourselves.  Taken up with our pride, and our ambition, and our reputation.  It seems that the proud, the rulers, and the rich have a difficult time making space within them for this to birth to occur.  Therefore, may we never become too big, or too high, or too occupied to miss what (and how) Jesus wants to come to us this season; how he wants to be born in us.  May we pray this incredible prayer, both in word and in spirit, with Mary, that our hearts might be open and prepared to receive him, whenever and however he comes.
 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

forgetting

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)


Most often in the scriptures it seems like we are called upon to remember, and rightly so.  We are called upon to remember how God has moved and how he has worked on our behalf.  We are called upon to remember how he has provided for our needs and how he has guided our paths over the course of our lifetime, as well as that of our ancestors.  We are called upon to remember how he has protected us from our enemies, defended us from peril, and fought for us when we were too weak, or powerless, or exhausted to fight for ourselves.  Remembering is a very good thing.

But, interestingly enough, in this instance we are actually called upon to forget.  Forgetting, it seems, is also a significant part of the spiritual journey.  Especially when we are being called upon to forget one thing, in order that God can begin to do a new thing.  Because somehow not forgetting the former things actually keeps us from being able to perceive the new thing that is being born within us or among us.  But how are we to know when we are to do one versus the other?  What does it mean to forget the former things?  And what things are we really talking about here?

Maybe what God is really trying to get at in this passage is the idea that, at times, we have the tendency to hold onto the old at the expense of the new.  And when I say old, I am not just referring to the old in a negative sense, I am also referring to old in a more positive way.  We seem to have the tendency to think that just because God acted in one particular way, at a particular time and place, that he will always act in just that way.  We tend to expect and demand, and even try to determine, how and where and when God will show up in our current story.  The problem with that is it keeps us from being open to the new thing God seems to be birthing within and among us. 

If we hold too tightly to the way things "always have been," or to the ways that God always has come thus far, we shut ourselves off to the new thing that he is trying to do.  Therefore, we must forget.  But forgetting the former things does not mean forgetting what God has done, maybe it means only forgetting the way in which he has done them.  We should not come to expect, or demand, that he always do things in that particular way from here on out.  In that sense don't dwell on the past might actually mean don't live in the past.  Do not limit your vision for, or your openness to, what God might be up to and how he might be up to it.  Don't always expect that he will show up exactly the same way as he did before, or in exactly the same form.  If you do that, you will likely miss the new that he is trying to bring about. 

The season of Advent is that time where we are encouraged to always be ready for however and wherever and whenever God might come.  Because he will come.  A friend of mine reminded me this week that, "We come into Advent this year different than we did the last.  We are different people, in a different place, with a different set of circumstances."  A lot of water has passed under our bridge since we last came to the season of watching and waiting.  So, if we are different people, wouldn't it make sense that God would want to come to us in a new and different way?  A way that addresses the time and the place and the season we now find ourselves living in?  Therefore, we must not stubbornly cling to our old ways and demands and expectations, but we must be open to receiving this new thing that we, thus far, have not perceived.  In some way, we must become a blank page, waiting to be filled.  The problem is that being a blank page is vulnerable and uncomfortable.  Thus, we have a tendency to fill our pages at any and every opportunity.  Therefore, during this season, it might actually take some emptying before we are able to perceive, and then receive, this new thing.  That's where the forgetting comes in.  It could be that the story of the nativity has grown so familiar to us that we have forgotten that one of the essential elements of the story in the first place is that God came in a way and a form and a place that no one expected.  Should we expect that this Advent and Christmas will be any different? 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

the coming of the light

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)


I've been thinking a lot about darkness and light the past few days.  In fact, I have been becoming more keenly aware of the darkness that lives within me.  Most often it takes the form of fear and insecurity, anxiety and depression.  It can take me right down into the pit of despair.  I mean, how in the world do you fight such a beast?  It is so deep at times that it actually seems like a part of my DNA, and when it takes hold of me it seems almost impossible to overcome its grip, much less consider the possibility of eliminating it completely.  That can leave me in a very helpless place. 

I think that is one of the reasons I like Advent so much, it is a season of hope.  Advent promises that it is actually into the midst of my darkness that the light will come.  I do not have to eliminate the darkness within me--which would seem an impossible task--all I have to do is simply wait and watch for the coming of the Light.  He will come, and when he does the darkness will not be able to overcome Him.  So shine on me, O Light.  Come into my darkness and illumine my night with your life and love and peace.  Come, O Light of God!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

waking

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about! (Romans 13:11-14 The Message)




“Our spiritual life depends on his perpetual coming to us, far more than on our going to him. Every time a channel is made for him he comes; every time our hearts are open to him he enters, bringing a fresh gift of his very life, and on that life we depend. We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.”

 
                                                                                        –Evelyn Underhill



Help me, Holy God, to bring life under your control with a plan and pattern that reminds me of your presence and makes me more responsive to your will. (Advent with Evelyn Underhill)