I remember the darkest week of my life. I remember how much it sucked. I remember the pain, the failure, the emptiness, the mountain that was in front of me. I remember a pastor/coworker sitting across from me at a coffee shop. I remember when he told me that essentially, that it would get better.
I know what he was trying to do. I know what he meant. And it made me mad. I didn’t need to be told it would eventually get better, that at some point, I would look back and it wouldn’t be like this. Any logical person who has been around any level of pain and loss knows that eventually you move on, that you learn to heal, learn to cope, learn how to move forward.
In the moment, we don’t need to hear that. We need hope yes, but as Christians for far too long we have tried to move people to the solution, to the future, to the point where the story makes sense. We want to point people to the part of the story where we can look back and see God’s hand through it all, almost like he was carrying us on some beach all along.
The honest truth is that if we were to skip to the solution, we would miss the journey. We need to be better at living in the tension of the in between, in between the Cross and the Empty Tomb, in between the pain and the resolution, that it is natural to just not know.
Good Friday and the Saturday between Easter always make me think of the disciples. Always about their thoughts and fears. What it was like to walk away from Golgotha, having watched their best friend and leader, everything they had actually lived for, beaten and brutally murdered. I wonder if the thunder and the ground shaking shook their dreams that night, if they even slept at all. I wonder if the sky darkening haunted their vision. I wonder what they said to each other, if they were able to eat anything. I wonder if they said anything, sitting in the upper room. I wonder if they just wept until they fell asleep or if they sat stoically.
What I do know is that not one of them pointed out that it would get better. None of them rushed to remember that Jesus said this would happen. None of them eased the tension. Sometimes life feels like the Saturday. And that’s okay. Because we do have hope. We do know that there is a moment that will change everything, that the tomb will be found empty, that Jesus would conquer death.
Yes, Sunday is coming, but if we rush to Sunday we miss Friday. We miss Saturday. And when we push people past the pain and tension of life, it is possible to miss the miracle and hope and joy found in the Sundays of our lives.
It’s okay to live in tension, and as Christians, we should be doing this better than anyone. This Good Friday, this silent Saturday, live in the tension, and when we are able to truly navigate this tension, we can help move each other to healing, to hope, and to the truth that it has all been conquered. Because Sunday is coming, and it is okay to wait in the knowledge that right now, it is not here yet.
I haven’t been blogging lately for a myriad of reasons, but this time around lack of content (the usual suspect) or time (constantly second place in the contest of why not blog) have nothing to do with it. In fact, I have numerous drafts just waiting to be published that will probably just stay drafts. The issue I am having with blogging, coupled with social media, and really, a lot of conversations lately, is I keep wondering what have you heard from me.
What have you heard from me? Was it what I thought was a hilarious joke – or more likely a joke I thought was funny but in reality was more just empty words? Maybe you heard a sarcastic remark that I meant to be endearing, but came across as harsh. Maybe you heard me share something a little more lasting, a little true, but no matter what I’ve wanted to communicate, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what you hear from me.
We live in a time where you can say anything. You don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to provide context, you can merely just say whatever you want, and allow the court of public opinion to be the judge. And really, if you refuse to acknowledge the court of public opinion, it seems as if there are fewer and fewer consequences. This “lack of consequences” seems to allow people to share whatever they want, say whatever harmful, inflammatory, or at best, thoughtless thing they want to say. And it’s getting old. Its weary to watch people saying whatever merely in an attempt to build a platform, or use their platform recklessly.
So I have been thinking of what I sound like.
And I am afraid that far too often it’s a clanging symbol. An obnoxious crash in the midst of an attempt at a harmony. And I wonder if I have forgotten what I am fighting for, what I sound like.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Cor:13:1-3
The passage reminds us that when we put ourselves and our selfish motives to be heard or to express our opinions over others, we completely miss the point. And I don’t want to miss the point. I don’t want to be a crash when I can be a fill. I don’t want to make noise for the sake of myself. If my role is to play a cymbal, then I want it to be a the right moment, for the perfect accompaniment, a layer in the midst of a bigger song.
What do you sound like? It’s probably a good question for all of us to ask.
“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people, for unto you a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord!”
Immanuel, God with us, is here. The waiting, the preparing, the longing, the pain, the struggle, the journey, the stable, all of it fades away as we encounter a holy God in the form of a small, vulnerable baby, wrapped in a swaddling clothes, placed in a manger by a virgin mother and a protective father.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
- John 1:14-17
The beauty of it all is that God came here for the rescue of all. He made himself known in the form of a baby, who became a child, who became a carpenter, who became a rabbi, who became our sin, who conquered death. And it all started in this cry of a baby entering the world, changing everything, and we can never be the same having experienced the grace and truth that is Jesus Christ.
As I think through Advent, and the hope, peace, joy, and love of the birth of Jesus Christ, there is no better description than “grace upon grace.” Christmas is heaps of grace poured over the gift of grace we have already received, and will receive. And the beauty of Christmas is that it is not the end of the story. We know how it will play out, how it will lead to the cross, where once again, we will experience Christ pouring out grace upon grace out of perfect love.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
- John 15:13
Today and each day, may you encounter the love that has been shown to you, may it fill you with hope to go into a world longing for peace and experience joy that can only come from the love of Jesus Christ. This Christmas, may you experience grace upon grace.
Last night, 6 adults and two small children piled into my sister-in-law’s car and we set out on an adventure to see the Christmas lights. There is this place in Nashville where you drive through this display set to music, which you turn your radio dial to during the drive. It was pretty awesome as an adult, but it was even more fun to watch the kid’s faces as they experienced it. Our oldest niece was just locked in, staring out the window, not talking too much. The one-year old on her mom’s lap was bouncing to the music and giggling, her face reflected in the light.
As we drove through the lights in the massive line of cars, the adults ooh-ing and aww-ing just as much as the kids, I was reminded about how pervasive light is, how compelling it is. People are willing to give money, sit through awkward music, and wait in traffic, but when all is said and done, the only thing talked about was the lights.
The night of Jesus birth, the three wise men were driven by the light of the star. When the angels appeared to the shepherds, the sky was filled with light. Light had come to the world in the form of a baby born in a dark stable, as the ultimate demonstration of love.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
- Matthew 5:14-16
Christmas is a reminder that we have a part to play in the story. That while Jesus came to earth to restore our relationship with the Father, that he left us with the opportunity to love like he did, letting our light shine and point back to the source of that light. Jesus was born human parents, in the dark of night, and lived out how love looks, a love that is willing to sacrifice it’s own life for the sake of others, for my sake. And that changes everything. He lived as a light that was so compelling, that it still draws people from miles, to put up with inconveniences, all for just a blurry glimpse of this Jesus, and when we experience it, it’s all we can talk about.
The love that we experience through Jesus compels us to love patiently, kindly, without boasting or envy, without arrogance or rudeness, not insisting on our own way, not rejoicing in wrongs, but in the truth. Love bears all things, just as Jesus did as he moved toward the cross. As we worship, as we surround ourselves with friends and family, may we love well, bearing all things, just as that perfect baby would do for us.
Christmas is close. The air is thick with anticipation, as each step has a little more meaning to children, to adults making last minute arrangements, and to families coming together. The roads are full of individuals excited to make it to their destinations, eagerly awaiting their traditions that add a little more meaning and make it feel like Christmas. There is a quickened pace to everything that is happening, a longing for this Christmas to be special.
But the truth is, it’s difficult to make any Christmas special. With anticipation comes expectations that might not be met, with family comes history, with last minute details comes stress, with gifts come disappointment, with travel comes a pure, unadulterated rage for anyone else ever given a driver’s license. That last one might be a bit of an overstatement, but there are moments we all have wondered how “that person” was able to qualify to operate a moving vehicle around innocent people.
And in the middle of all this, this longing exists. We long for restoration and peace in our families, for our gifts to fill something that is missing, for joy and tradition to fill us with significance. All these moments, with each moment of tension, each unmet expectation, even each gift that is loved, they all drive us to be reminded what true fulfillment looks like… fulfillment that came as a baby, born to a virgin, for the hope of the world to show us love.
“When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of in the scroll of the book.’”
“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
– Hebrews 10:5-7, 10
Jesus entered the world because no matter what traditions, no matter what law, no matter what we put into place would ever be able to make us clean, to fill that longing. “When Christ came into the world” reminds us that there was purpose behind every moment, every encounter – a purpose driven by a complete love.
And so we are remember that behind the hope, the source of peace and the experience of joy is love. Love put on our humanity so that we could be made whole, and the quickened pace, the air thick with expectation reminds us that the coming of Jesus was an act of love from a God who would do anything and has done everything for us and that he is coming again. May we know deeply that love in a new way today and may we demonstrate that love to all those we encounter.
“Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
Few phrases give me such hope as “your joy will be complete.” It sounds so… full, and in a season where we are trying to find joy in our everyday, there is this knowledge that our joy will always be lacking something, that it will always be temporary or fleeting. I love that Jesus uses the analogy of a woman giving birth, of the agony and pain of the process disappears because of the joy of bringing a child into the world.
I especially love that Jesus used this analogy because of the season we are in. In the midst of 400 years of not hearing from God, in a time when God’s people were mourning their lives as the world rejoiced around them, their mourning turned to joy in the form of a baby, in the form of a woman giving birth to a son, who would answer everything and who would restore joy through a life of grace, peace and forgiveness.
Today, may your joy be restored, may we remember that though we wait, though we mourn, there will come a time when our joy will be made complete. So be it.
This morning, in a moment of honesty (and a little bit of laziness), I told God that I’m tired of writing about Advent. I have hit a wall, 4 days from Christmas. I feel like I have been reading/praying/saying the same thing for weeks now. As I sat down to pray this morning, I didn’t feel inspired, nor moved by the narrative.
And that broke my heart. In my own selfishness, I lost my anticipation. I lost my wonder, I lost some of my gratitude. And the whole point of all of this has been to remind me daily just how important this story is, to remind me that I am alive in Christ, that in the midst of a season that can cause people to feel forgotten, to feel disappointed and downtrodden, that causes people to just feel done, that there is hope and joy and peace and love in the midst of all of this and there always has been.
We are soaked in the grace of a story and a plan that has been in place for thousands of years, the story that prophets yearned to tell of a coming King who would change everything. And no matter how discouraged or tired or ____________ we feel, that the truth of this season is still very real and makes a difference.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses.”
- Micah 5:2-5
I have gotten tired after several weeks of walking through this story, and I started wondering, I wonder how the people of Bethlehem felt with every child born, if with every birth they let their hopes up only to be let down eventually, to the point where they stopped caring at all about the prophesy spoken over them, to the point where the would ignore a pregnant woman and her husband arriving in town, not bothering to offer them a room, causing them to move to the stable. I wonder how long it took for them to lose the joy of the promise of the coming salvation.
I am reminded so much more today to find my joy in a God who has literally had this salvage plan in place from the beginning, “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times,” and though I’m distracted by everything around me to the point where I find myself jaded, I will rejoice. I will praise God in these moments of distraction and waning strength, because unto us a child is born, and he is Immanuel and there is such deep joy that resonates from a God who would leave heaven to be with us.
Come, Lord Jesus.