Tag Archives: first sunday of advent

How TO wait during hard times [First Sunday of Advent, part 5]

7 Dec

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

In this series of posts on the Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we’ve been learning how to wait during hard times.  In the previous post about the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, we heard from Jesus how NOT to wait.  Now we continue in that passage, and Jesus teaches the proper way to wait.

We can summarize Jesus’ teaching as: watch out in prayer.  When we are struggling with pain, anxiety, and God seems far away, and our world seems to be crumbling around us, Jesus says our response should be watchful prayer.  Jesus mentions two requests we should pray for: escape and stand.  The word “escape” is not to be understood as fleeing or running away, but as avoidance.  It is okay to pray, “God please don’t let me go through this.”  Jesus himself prayed that very thing before he went to the cross! God might say, “Ok…I will take that away.”  But God might not.  He didn’t take the cross away from Jesus.  This is when the second prayer request is so important. Stand.  And in particular Jesus says, “stand before the Son of Man,” which is him.  What he is referring to is that we are praying for strength to stand in the midst of trial and pain, to stand in such a way that we remain faithful to Jesus. 

When we are going through hard times, our response should be pray.  Pray for the difficulty to be taken away, but if it is not taken away, pray that God will strengthen us to remain faithful.

Here we can look to Jesus as our model.  Constantly we see him, especially in the Gospel of Luke, getting away for prayer. In Matthew 6 he tells us to go into our closet and pray.  That’s what Jesus did.  It might not have been a literal closet for Jesus, but it had the same effect when he went all by himself on a mountain to be alone with God. I don’t have a prayer closet, but I do like to find a quiet room in the church.  Often I walk into the dark sanctuary, sit in the front and pray.  Sometimes like Brother Lawrence, I pray while washing dishes, seeking to have a conversation with God all day like Lawrence did.

We need to learn to get away from our phones, from TV, from the internet, from people, and spend time sitting in God’s presence. 

I know waiting can be so hard.  But the one place we will find the strength to watch for Jesus and be faithful for his return is the place of sitting in his presence.  It might be while you are driving, and you turn off the radio or the podcast, and you just talk with God and listen for him.  It might be while you are exercising, and you remove the headphones from your ears, turn off the music and listen.  Or maybe you keep the headphones in and listen to music that helps you pray!   Or maybe an app that guides you into listening to God.  It might be in the quietness of the morning before people awake, or after they have gone to bed.  It might be on lunch break in the park, in your car, in the bathroom.  As we saw in Deuteronomy 18, God says that we need to learn to listen to Jesus. 

When we listen, when we bask in his presence, we find strength to remain faithful, even in the dark times, even in the waiting.

Watch, and pray, the days are coming.  Maybe for some of you, the days are here.  You are living through pain right now.  Maybe for some of you those days are coming.  What is your practice of prayer?  Do you need to increase the time you spend in prayer?  Do you need to spend time working on the quality of your prayer? 

Anthony Bloom, in his book Beginning to Pray, gave an illustration that really hit home with me.  He said, consider your relationship with your spouse or significant other or maybe even a close friend.  What would that relationship be like if the sum total of your communication with that person was you going up to them for five minutes each day, pulling out a list of stuff you want them to do, running down the list, and saying, “Great talk.  Please do all that for me.  Talk with you tomorrow.”  The next day, you do the same talk again.  Sometimes you skip days, thinking very little of it, but when you resume talking to that person, it is more of the same, your five minute wish list.  And that’s it.  How would that relationship go?  It would fail very fast. 

When I was on sabbatical, and I was learning about listening to God, that story really convicted me.  I started practicing listening prayer.  But I will tell you that since I have been back from sabbatical, with the busyness of life, it is so easy to think, I don’t have time for listening to God.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 21 that nothing is more important.  Right before he was about to encounter the most momentous event of his life, which was his crucifixion, you’d think he would be taking every last second to teach his disciples, to help prepare them for what was coming, give them tools to succeed. But he doesn’t.  Instead he prays.  At the moment of crisis Jesus is praying.

How can we be a people of prayer?  Are you in a moment of crisis?  Are you praying, listening for the voice of God, basking in his presence?  If this resonates with you, but you are not sure where to begin, I recommend that you read Bloom’s book, and another one called Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird.  Study those books.  Then find your closet, watch and pray.

The surprising value of repentance [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 2]

4 Dec

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

I don’t like to be in the wrong.  It feels terrible.  When my wife points out something I did wrong, inwardly I immediately start thinking of ways to respond to justify my actions.  Sound familiar?  Today we learn about the right way to handle it when we are confronted about being wrong. 

In part 1 of this series on the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we learned that there is hope in dark times.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, life was grim in the city of Jerusalem, as the armies of Babylon held the city in siege, slowly choking it to death.  We read in Jeremiah 33 of the prophecy of a new day, of hope for a savior to come from David’s line.  And in Luke 1, about 600 years later, we read about a poor peasant girl, Mary, astounded at the news from an angel that she was going to have a son who will be on the throne of David!  And he would have a kingdom that will never end.  What does it mean?

To get some perspective, let’s turn to the second reading: Psalm 25:1-10.

With all this talk of David, it is quite fitting to read a Psalm written by King David himself, talking about repentance for sins, trust in God, and a plea to God to teach David God’s ways.  This is a psalm that shows us David’s honesty and humility.  David is aware of his own sins, and he calls out to God for repentance. He wants God to act in mercy.

The attitudes and actions that David describes are ones that the king and people in Jeremiah’s day should have been practicing but didn’t.  God is rightly very upset with his people in Jeremiah’s day because they turned away from him.  But look how David describes God: “Truth…great mercy and love…you are good, O Lord…Good and upright…all the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

David, like Jeremiah, had plenty of times in his life when he could look around and feel like his world was falling apart.  Read the life of David sometime in the biblical books of 1st and 2nd Samuel.  It’s basically a historical thriller. David knew well what it was like to have his life threatened.  And many times in his poetry, what we call psalms, David writes things like “Where are you God?  Why are you taking so long to rescue me?”  And yet here is David reminding the people of who God is.  David went through so much hardship in his life he could have easily turned bitter toward God, but in Psalm 25 we see David calling us to dwell on God’s love and mercy and faithfulness.

Therefore David tells the people to hope in God, to be humble, to obey.  With this kind of teaching, and with an example like David leading them, you’d think that his descendants would follow David’s lead, so there would be a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem for a long, long time. 

But even David’s own son Solomon turned away, in part.  Right after Solomon, the nation had a civil war and split in two, north and south.  The kings in the north, which became known as the Kingdom of Israel with a new capital city, almost to a man turned away from God.  The kings in the south, which became known as the Kingdom of Judah, which was the tribe David was from, still ruled from the capital of Jerusalem where the temple was.  Those kings were a mixed bag, some good, some bad.  But by Jeremiah’s time, there had been a string of evil kings in the south, kings who turned away from God. God, through his prophets like Jeremiah, tried to call them to repentance, but they still turned away.

So David’s reminder in Psalm 25 was needed badly then, and we need it today too.  We need repentance, to turn to God.  Do you need to repent of anything?  Ask God’s Spirit to examine you, to see if there is anything you need to confess to him or to others.  Advent is about preparing ourselves spiritually for the coming of the King, being ready for his return, and God calls to being the readying process through the act of repentance.  Take some time to repent to God, and ask him for the strength to obey him, just as David teaches in Psalm 25.

And perhaps that’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind in our third reading, which we will look at in the next post.

There is hope in dark times! [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 1]

3 Dec

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

For Advent 2019, Faith Church will be following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each Sunday we’ll look at how the four readings tie together thematically, all supporting the goals of the season of Advent.  Thus we are pausing our series on Deuteronomy.  We’ll return to that after the New Year 2019.  Why does Faith Church observe Advent?  This post explains our thought. And this post from the Deuteronomy series refers to it as well.

In this series of posts we start by meeting a guy who was living in a very dark time.  It was one of those difficult phases of life that most of us know by personal experience, times when you can look all around you and seriously question whether God is real, or if he is able to keep his promises.  You look around you and you wonder, “Why? Lord,Why?” 

I was talking to someone this week who was going through a difficult and painful time in their career, and they said that very thing, “Why is this happening to me?” At times like this, it can seems like there is no hope.

Maybe you’ve been there.  The worst is when the difficulty and the pain carry on and seem like they are not going away anytime soon.  As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  And in the waiting game,you can be very tempted to have dark thoughts.  

So let’s meet Jeremiah.  He was in one of those dark times. Turn with me to Jeremiah 33:14-16.

To get a sense of the backstory of this passage, look back at Jeremiah 32 where we learn that Jeremiah is prophesying at the very end of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (which was the southern kingdom of Israel).  The scene takes place in the capital of Judah, the famous city of Jerusalem.  A powerful enemy force of the superpower nation of Babylon has built siege works around the city walls, and they are starving the people.  It’s only a matter of time until the city gives up, and all is lost. 

So Jeremiah, directed by the Lord, buys his cousin’s field, as a prophetic sign. Kinda weird, right? At that moment when Babylon’s armies are surrounding the city, God wants Jeremiah to buy a field? The people inside the city walls, Jeremiah’s friends and family would have been thinking, “Jeremiah, what in the world are you doing?  This is a ridiculous time to buy anything.  We’re all going to die!” But God had a reason for Jeremiah to buy the field, and he sure got their attention.

God’s message was that, though things look dire now, one day people will buy and sell property in the land again.  Through Jeremiah, God says that Israel has turned its back on him, and so he is allowing Babylon to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth as punishment for Israel’s sins.  But one day in the future, there will be restoration.  And that promise of restoration is what we read about in Jeremiah chapter 33. 

Specifically looking at 33:14-16, we see the words, “The days are coming!” What days?  The days when God will fulfill the gracious promise he made to his people.  Look at verses 15 and 16.  There we read of the promise of a new king.  He uses the image of a branch sprouting from David’s line.  The famous second king of Israel, David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.”  Long before Jeremiah’s time, 400 or so years earlier, David ruled the land, and God promised David that, if his descendants followed the way of the Lord, David would always have someone from his royal line on the throne of Israel.  Well, as Jeremiah looked around the city, he knew the 400 year streak of having a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem was nearly over.  The kings had turned away from God, and thus God allowed Babylon to capture them.  And that is what eventually happened soon after this passage.  Jerusalem was destroyed, and never again was a Davidic king on the throne. 

But here in Jeremiah 33 we have a new hope, a prophecy of a new Davidic king who will come, who will do what is right and just in the land.  A new day is coming, declares the Lord, a new David! And who might that be?

We find out about 600 years later,when God sends an angel to a humble unknown peasant girl.  In Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel appears suddenly to a young lady named Mary in the Northern Israelite town of Nazareth,and the angel says Mary is highly favored, that the Lord is with her.  Mary’s life is about to change forever.  The angel tells her in Luke 1:31 that she is going to bear a child, and that child will be great, the Son of the Most High, and get this, God will give Mary’s son the throne of his father David,and her son will rule over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  Imagine Mary hearing that! 

Mary knew that she was of the line of David, but 600 years had gone by.  That would be like a descendant of George Washington in our day saying, “George Washington is my great, great, great,great, great, grandfather.”  The lineage is interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So there’s Mary, knowing that David is her great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. But what is God talking about?  She’s going to have a son who will be on the throne of David?  And he will have a kingdom that will never end?  What does it mean? To get some perspective, we’ll need to turn to the second reading of the day, and we do that in the next post.