November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
Many times, the beginning of a story tells you what to expect from the rest of the story. The Gospel of Mark starts with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). According to Mark, this is the first thing we should know about Jesus. He is the euangelizō, the Good News. He will continue what we already know about God, namely that in the midst of devastation and despair, of hopelessness and anxiety, God shows up with the good news of newness. It is not accidental that this proclamation of the Good News at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel is situated in the wilderness where the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to meet John the Baptist (1:5). Karoline Lewis writes about this verse, “The opening of Mark’s Gospel reminds us of the decentering of God’s good news which is found on the edge…of everything. Goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be. We find ourselves not in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem but outside of her city walls, in the margins, on the sidelines. The good news of God brings hope to those who find themselves in the peripheries of our world, but it also belongs there. God’s good news of grace announces God’s presence on the fringe, God’s love that goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be, and God’s promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us.” During this Advent, we are preparing ourselves for this Good News about our own lives, but also prepare the way for others to hear this Good News.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
Preparation is a prominent Advent theme. Advent is “a voice calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God… And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it” (Isaiah 40:3,5). Preparation is about the way in which a people who celebrate the first coming of the Lord (Incarnation) wait for the second coming of the Lord. How do we prepare for Jesus in this Advent season? At the very least, by recognizing that our preparations take place in the desert of everyday life. This is not a season of denying the realities that come with the dryness and barrenness of “all men (who) are like grass (that) withers” or “like flowers (that) fall” (40:6-8). It is a season of embracing the power of God’s coming in the midst of these desert circumstances. Because, embedded in His coming is the promise of “the word of God (that) stands for ever” and the security of His faithful presence: “Here is your God!” (40:8-9). Our preparation shifts the focus to God and the everlasting hope that comes with the anticipation of His coming.
November 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Psalm 80 is a prayer with the repetitive refrain, “Restore us, O God, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (80:3, 7, 19). Even though the prayer comes from within circumstances during which it felt like the Lord has “made them drink tears by the bowlful” (80:5), the poet still remembers the times when the Shepherd led His flock (80:1). Therefore, despite the situation of tears, he expects the Lord to awaken his might and to come and save them any time now (80:2). The poet knows God will yet again restore what is broken in this world. God’s restorative justice is always preceded with God’s disappointment and anger about what is wrong in and around us, but if God’s anger comes up against the prayers of God’s people, then there is always a chance that His anger will change into the restorative action of His mercy (80:4). What do you think are all the things that disappoint God today, and how do you pray for that? During this Advent season, may God’s peace come to us as a gift in the midst of our brokenness!
November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
For many the next month represents a sentimental and romantic season that softens the harshness of life with the momentary coziness of Christmas trees and lights, and the warmth of family and gifts. That, of course, is not only far removed from the real circumstances around the birth of Jesus, but also contrary the real meaning of God entering the messiness of our lives through the incarnation in the birth of his Son. Moreover, it is also far removed from the real meaning of the Advent season during which we celebrate Jesus’ birth as a people who anticipate and expect His next coming. Mark 13:24-37 gives us the real not so sentimental and romantic picture of this season. It is a picture of a risky season with a darkening sun, dimming moon light, falling stars, and shaken realities (13:24). And therefore, it is a season that should teach us to “be on guard” and to “be alert” (13:33)! It is supposed to make us more watchful (13:37), because “if he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping” (13:36). We live in risky times, and waiting on Jesus’ second coming is risky business. How can you and I prepare ourselves better for His coming by spending this Advent season learning the habits of being on the alert for God in our midst?
November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
We enter a week that marks the beginning of a new church year. The season of Advent is a season of celebrating the unexpected. The annual celebration of Jesus’ birth – especially given the commercialization of Christmas – may not count as an unexpected thing to us anymore, but it certainly was during the time of Jesus’ birth. Not because the prophets did not predict the coming of the Messiah, but because he came in such an unexpected way. During Jesus’ entire life and ministry on earth did people find it difficult to identify and associate Jesus with the Messiah. He was the ultimate example of what the prophet Isaiah calls the ability of God to do “awesome things that we did not expect” (64:3). Isaiah 64:1-9 proclaims that we are the clay in God’s hands, and that God is the potter who finds it possible to save us despite the fact that we deserve destruction because of our sins. God always come to make possible what is humanly impossible. That is why we still celebrate Jesus first coming as a people who expect the unexpected, namely God’s continuous intervention until Jesus comes a second time. Will this Advent season teach you how to patiently wait on the Lord with anticipation that He always shows up in our future with the ability to do the unexpected in our midst?
November 17, 2011 § 1 Comment
Ephesians 1:15-23 is a prayer of thanksgiving. The thanksgiving goes to God for faith and love (1:15-16). However, thanksgiving is more than simply celebrating what is true about the past and the present. It includes the future. When we thank God, we express our trust in God that He will continue to be as faithful and trustworthy as has always been the case. That is why the prayer of thanksgiving transforms into a prayer of hope. It is a prayer for the Spirit of wisdom (1:17) “in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…” (1:18). How will we spend this coming Thanksgiving? Will it only be a break in the routine of work so that we can have a day off to spend with family and friends? Or will it be a day of focusing on God as the Giver of all good things? Moreover, will it be a day of hope during which we will have the opportunity to surrender our concerns and anxieties about the future so that the God of hope can give us peace and security based on His trustworthiness? Blessed Thanksgiving!
November 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
One of my favorite “call to worship” songs: “Come, Now Is The Time To Worship”. Psalm 95 functions as such a call to worship. The invitation is put out twice (in verses 1 and 6). First, the general invitation of “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord…” (95:1). And later, a repeat of the invitation to a worship posture of “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker…” (95:6). Every time the reason for the invitation to worship is given: “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods” (95:3); and again, “for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (95:7). We have to be constantly invited into living a life of worship, because (as the last four verses of the psalm remind us) we have a tendency to forget that God created us and sustains us. In all kinds of subtle ways, we often doubt that God is “the great King above all gods”. The reference to how that happened in the life of Israel (95:8-11) is also a reminder of how that happened in the history of our own lives. Therefore, yet again today, “Come, now is the time to worship… now is the time to give your heart… Come, just as you are to worship… just as you are before your God”