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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month.  I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...

Friday, December 22, 2023

an advent journey

                                                       The Game

Years ago, some friends and I had committed to work a weekend at a Young Life camp in western North Carolina.  The weekend, however, also was the time when Tennessee was supposed to play Miami in the 1986 Sugar Bowl.  Miami was ranked second in the nation and was a significant favorite to win, but we still wanted to watch the game, nonetheless, holding out hope that Tennessee might be able to pull off the upset. 

Being the year 1986, coupled with the fact that there was no television reception at the camp, our only option was to ask a friend in Asheville to tape the game for us and drive the tape up to camp after it was over, which he gladly agreed to do. 

After our responsibilities for the evening were finished, we headed up to the room and eagerly awaited the arrival of the tape.  At about 1:00 AM our friend finally showed up and handed us the tape only saying the words, “Don’t stop watching.”  He knew we did not want to know who won the game before we watched it, but also didn’t want us to get so discouraged at some point that we might fail to watch all the way to the end.

The game started out just like everyone predicted.  Miami took the opening kickoff and drove straight down the field in dominant fashion, scoring on a touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Michael Irvin.  It looked like we were in for a long night, but we held out hope due to the words of our friend who had seen how the game ended. 

Needless to say, we watched the game to the very end and were delighted as Tennessee dominated the rest of the game in route to a 35-7 victory.  But I always wondered whether we would have kept watching if our friend hadn’t given us that glimmer of hope.
That’s what the season of Advent is all about: A loving and powerful God, who knew how the story ended, telling his people to watch and wait in hope and not lose heart, regardless of how bad things might look at the moment.  Jesus was coming. 

                                                          The Season

It has been a long, hard, heavy Advent season for me this year; a season that has left my soul and my spirit with a definite limp.  I cannot remember a time when I have been so aware of my flaws and my failures, my frailty and my feebleness, my inadequacy and my brokenness, my vulnerability and my sin.  It has not been fun, but it has been transforming.  God’s Spirit has been incredibly active and wonderfully present within me: speaking and showing, revealing and stirring, growing and forming, molding and changing me more into the man he dreamt me to be.  And while it hasn’t been easy or pleasant, it has been beautiful.  God did what God does—he showed up in the midst of my mess.  The highlight of which was a dream I had a couple of weeks ago. 

                                                            The Dream

I was in a home.  A warm and comfortable home that was very familiar to me, but not my own.  In this home lived a family: a father, a son, and a daughter.  They were very familiar to me as well, and I felt welcomed there, peaceful and safe and loved.  As I walked around in the house, I noticed a stairwell leading up to the door of an attic room.  I wondered what was up there but passed by and continued to walk around.  Eventually, I passed the stairwell again and stopped to gaze up at the door at the top of the stairs.  A desire arose deep within me to know what was behind that door, almost like it was offering me some kind of secret invitation.  So, I decided to venture up the steps and see what was there.  As I ascended the staircase, I noticed the daughter behind me, at the bottom of the stairs, smiling.  I turned and asked her what was behind the door and if it was her room, but she just kept smiling.

I opened the door and stepped into the most beautiful room I had ever seen.  There was a fire in the fireplace, a beautiful sitting area, and even a prayer space with candles, kneelers, and a wooden cross at the center.  The walls were lined with bookcases full of books that were just begging to be read.  The room was so bright and so spacious, with big windows and a high ceiling, so that light came streaming in from every direction.  And as I walked around and took in the beauty, I said to myself, “This is the most perfect room I’ve ever seen.”

That’s when I noticed the family standing in the doorway.  They were all beaming with joy.  That’s when I realized that they had built this room for me and were just waiting for me to notice the stairwell and the door, so that I would be curious enough to climb the stairs and see what they had made for me.

As I woke, all the sadness and heaviness were gone.  Instead, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and joy and contentment. 

                                                            The Passage

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Immediately after I woke up from the dream, this passage came to mind and has been my constant companion in the days and weeks since.  Jesus did not want me to continue to live with a troubled heart, but with a trusting heart.  He wanted me to know that even though things were hard and heavy and sad right now, he was right in the middle of it doing something good and beautiful.  I just needed to learn to trust him.

Trouble has an interesting quality about it.  If we dwell on it, it will consume us.  But trust has the same quality.  It all depends on what we focus on.  If we focus on our troubles, then that’s all we can think about.  Things become dark and hopeless and bleak.  But if we focus on the God who is loving and powerful and trustworthy, he will be the one that consumes our minds and hearts instead.  It all comes down to what we will allow to consume us—our troubles or our God.  We can either be filled with guilt and shame, or with circumstances and worries, or hurt and pain, or doubt and despair, or we can be consumed with the life and love of God.  Jesus wants so much more for us than a troubled heart.

                                                            The Proposal

In John 14, Jesus knew what the disciples were facing in the days ahead and wanted to offer them (and us) words of life and hope: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Believe it or not, these were the very words uttered at a Jewish marriage proposal in the days of Jesus.  Marriages were arranged in those days, but the future bride and groom did have a choice.  If the groom-to-be wanted to marry his intended bride, he would come to her and offer her a cup of wine.  It was his way of saying, “I choose you.”  And if the bride-to-be accepted the proposal, she drank the wine, thereby saying, “And I choose you.” 

Then the future groom would go back to his father’s house and start building a room onto that house for he and his future bride to live.  Once the work was done, the father of the groom would give his approval and then the groom would head back to his betrothed’s house and bring her back to his father’s house to start the wedding feast. 

The disciples would have fully understood the intimacy and the passion and the hope and the surety of all that Jesus was communicating.  They would have recognized those very words as his proposal to them.  And that one day he would, indeed, return and take them back to a wedding feast.  Jesus wanted to leave no doubt in their minds about the depth and breadth and passion of his love, or that one day he would return to take them to be with him forever.

That’s what Advent is all about: a hopeful, eager anticipation, even in the face of trials and troubles.  An admonition to not let the troubles of this world, or of our own hearts, consume us, but to wait in expectation for our groom to come for us, his bride, and take us back to the place he has prepared for us, so that we might be with him in ecstatic, joyful, loving union forever and ever.

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