Advent-the Promise, the Here and Now and the Not Yet

30 11 2016

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I don’t normally participate in Black Friday. I don’t request the day off work. This year I couldn’t have joined in the Black Friday foray even had I wanted to. I like a bargain as well as anyone, but for me the lure of discounts can’t seem to trump dealing with my anxiety in crowds.  The rancor and distress that can go along with such shopping events is a big reminder of how we are both saints and sinners at the same time- we know God is with us and that we should be thankful for all He has done for us, but oh, how we like a bargain.  We want more kitsch and stuff we really don’t need.  We have that desire to one-up this or that relative, or to get that one must-have item at a discount price. Where did that come from?

Since when was it about who has the best or the most stuff? Or about who can buy the best or the most stuff?

The apostle Paul said, the greatest of these is love.  He didn’t mention stuff. Not even the Play Station or the new car (and being an automotive person I can really get excited about cars) or any stuff.  His emphasis was on love.

I have to admit I am terribly cynical about love, both in its baser definitions (oh, I love mustard, for example, or the more nebulous substitution of the word love to refer to physical lust) and its higher ones. This year my husband of 21 years died.  I can’t say his death was a tragedy. He had been very ill for a long time and for him death was an end to suffering. In all honesty, it was an end to a lot of my own suffering as well.  I can’t say that we had a happy marriage.  He was an alcoholic and was deeply troubled in many ways that I could not remedy or repair.  He lived his life in the “not yet.” In many ways we all do because we are all surrounded by sin and death and injustice and all the junk that is part of the human condition.

Yet we learn from Scripture that God is love. (1 John 4:8).  What do I do with that?

I can’t say that I have a clue what love really is other than what we learn from Scripture:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends- John 15:13 (NRSV)

In a lot of ways I am also mired in the “not yet” of the human condition.  As I was saying about the Black Friday hustle earlier in this post, there was no way I could have participated, because I spent that day letting go of Lilo, one of my beloved dogs. She was over 14 years old and was ill and failing at the point where interventions would have been painful and likely ineffective.

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The short lifespan of dogs is seemingly unfair, especially when I consider that the love of dogs may be the closest we come to unconditional love this side of heaven.  In this passing I am made painfully aware that I’m still living in the “not yet” world.  But I was also reminded that I am living in the world of God’s promise, and that Emmanuel, God with us, is here and living and grieving and struggling with us in the “not yet” world.

I am infinitely thankful that I had a friend who was able to be with me – and to help me with the necessary physical tasks- through Lilo’s passing.  Not everyone would be willing or able to help deal with such a situation, and as much as I value my independence I could not have done the necessary things alone.  I am thankful for him and to God that he could be there for me in a time of great need.

It seems that God puts people in the right places to hold each other up, to keep hope alive, and to affirm the promise that He is with us, even in the “not yet.”

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.- Isaiah 9:6-7 (NRSV)

In my lifetime I have been deeply blessed as well as deeply wounded.  As I have started on a new and very different chapter of life, by God’s grace I am finding healing.  I am finding ways to pass on the blessings.  I am learning to hold on to the promise of Emmanuel, even in this “not yet” world.

 





Matthew 16:21-23 To Suffer and Die

19 03 2013

 

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“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”  Matthew 16:21-23 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

How is your mind’s focal point reflected in your attitude toward suffering and death?

I don’t think anyone (other than  masochists) looks forward to suffering or dying.  Even when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that God would take the cup from Him.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.'” Matthew 26:38 (NRSV)

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If Jesus, the Son of God, was so distressed by the prospect of His own bodily suffering and death that He sweat blood, then how are we ordinary, weak, fallible people supposed to take it?

(As Jesus was anguished in the garden of Gethsemane)

“Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.  In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.'”  Luke 22:43-46 (NRSV)

This isn’t the reaction of a guy heading off to summer camp.  This is unspeakable terror.  Given what would happen to Jesus as He suffered and died, His reaction was more than understandable.  He knew exactly what He was walking into.

The fact is that those of us who follow Christ will also follow Him (in varying degrees and manners) into suffering and bodily death.  While one need not be a Christian to either suffer or die, for the Christian there is a purpose in suffering (even when we don’t understand it) and there is hope beyond death.

The key to that purpose is in what Jesus says in Matthew 26:38: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’

That’s the very same conundrum we face when we pray the Lord’s prayer: “thy will, (not my will) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I don’t know what God’s purpose is in either suffering or death.  I have to wonder why suffering is necessary at all.  Is it merely to build people’s endurance and character? There should be an easier way to do that.  If suffering is meant to build human endurance and character, why do animals suffer?  Is it part of the curse brought on as the punishment for original sin?

And what about physical death?  If God’s all about this Kingdom business, why not start now and forgo the preliminaries?

The only answer that even begins to make sense to me is God’s answer to Job. (see Job 40-41) In synopsis, God is saying to Job, who are you to question Me?  Where was Job when God created the universe?  Where were we when God brought animals to life?

Doubt is part of faith.  When we question God, He does answer us, just not always in the manner and timing that we expect, which is exactly the point.  God is God, we are not.  He is the One Who did the creating.  He is the One Who brings that mysterious process of life together in the secret depths as the psalmist tells us:  “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Psalm 139:15-16 (NRSV)  

He is the One Who keeps that slight electrical charge that causes one’s heart to beat going.

It is His prerogative as to when to turn off the switch, because He is the One Who turned it on to begin with.