The Joyful Wait of Glory

Our journey through Advent is nearly at its end. Tomorrow is the 4th Sunday of Advent and already Christmas Eve! The light has grown, both with the warm Advent candlelight and the incremental lengthening days. There is still darkness all around, but yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 

How are you feeling right now? Excited? Hopeful? Warm? Stressed out? Anxious? Lonely? The holidays bring in their wake a mix of emotions. It seems there is always too much of something, and far too little of another thing.  And beyond the holiday cheer,  a heaviness hangs in the air.

We are cynical enough that we expect political corruption in our leaders, but we wonder how far it all goes. We worry about taxes, environmental destruction, systemic discrimination, and policies that break up immigrant families (to deter illegal crossings). We are sickened by the constant barrage of sexual assault news. Closer to home, we hurt when we feel disconnected and distant from the ones we love. We feel the sting of rejection when the ones we thought loved us don’t really love us the way we long. We feel the trauma of past wounds. We worry about making ends meet, our deteriorating health, and about our kids’ emotional intelligence and social development. All of this makes us feel heavy.

The promise of joy seems like an end to the heaviness. We long for the day which will be only light and warmth. Then, we will glory in the incredible lightness of being. 

Hebrews 12:1-2 is a familiar passage promising us strength for the journey:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus is our exemplar. Like Him, we may cast aside every hindrance in pursuit of what is ahead. Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith, endured the cross for the joy set before Him.  He was glorified for it. He sits now at God’s right hand.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Weight of Glory. The name is clever but redundant. In Hebrew, the word for glory, כָּבוֹד, means just that: weight and heaviness. Certainly, it has the connotation of honor and praise, presences, radiance and all of that, but underneath these lofty notions is substance and consequence. God and Jesus are forces to be reckoned with.

We see the weight of glory illustrated in 1 Samuel 4 when the ark of God is captured. When Eli heard that ark was captured, he collapsed and died under his own weight, that is his own glory (1 Sam 4:18). His daughter-in-law named her son Ichabod because the glory of the Lord departed Israel (the weight of God no longer rested on the Ark’s mercy seat, 1 Sam 4:21). Too much weight had been given to leaders and strategy (and even the magic ark), Israel did not give to YHWH his proper due. They did not follow God wholeheartedly, they gave weight to these other things. With the weight of God departed, the ark was taken away (V. Philips Long first alerted me to this weighty wordplay in Samuel).

The Joy of the Lord we await is not weightlessness. We await the day when all the stuff we face, will have their proper weight. Anxieties, worries, wounds will not weigh us down the way they do now. We won’t be heavy laden with past guilt, present danger, or our anxiety about our future. We will no longer be burdened by sin or tangled in the bramble. We will finally give weight to what matters most.

We will see the Lord exalted, high and lifted up, the train of his robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1).  God’s glory will be revealed. And all the struggle and the pain, the scorning and shame, will no longer matter on the day when Christ comes again to reign. It will be worth the wait when we see the substantial, powerful, radiant and weighty, Glory of God. For the joy set before us, we joyfully await the glory.

E is for Endurance (an alphabet for penitents)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2

Energy may get you start, endurance is how you finish.

As I write this, we are one week into Lent, so we’re still near the start of our journey. If you made a commitment to fast in any way, or to a new discipline, you’ve likely started to bristle. A shift in habits is hard, especially if we intentionally have laid aside our go-to comforts (i.e. coffee, chocolate, sweets, etc). We are on a journey we didn’t train for. Our inner voice screams, “turn back.”

My wife and I are going vegan for Lent. Part of our this is our desire to use this sacred season to think about systems of injustice. Food systems are one of those places where injustice rears its head. While much of the world subsists on less than $2.00 a day, in America food is big bucks (except for the farmer). And you don’t have to look too hard at the meat and dairy industries to see evidence of cruelty: chickens smashed together in cages, the routine killing of dairy calves, and the slaughter of animals. All this is to say nothing of the environmental impact of factory farms—the resources burned to make the American diet possible and waste it generates. I do not plan to be vegan for life. The six weeks of Lent is as much as I am able to commit, but as I journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, I want to be cognizant of the ways my ordinary habits are complicit in systems of injustice. This is not an easy task for me. I love eggs for breakfast and a good cheese. I  woke up last Thursday dreaming of ice cream. I  already miss pizza (as a father-of-four, it is a regular part of my diet). We’ve eaten well thus far, but it is

The six weeks of Lent is as much as I am able to commit, but as I journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, I want to be cognizant of the ways my ordinary habits are complicit in systems of injustice. This is not an easy task for me. I love eggs for breakfast and a good cheese. I  woke up last Thursday dreaming of ice cream. I  already miss pizza (as a father-of-four, it is a regular part of my diet). We’ve eaten well thus far, but it is a major shift and difficult.

How do we overcome the desire to quit?  As an intermittent runner, I know I can push a distance by slowing my pace so I can push through the pain. Willpower and resolve can help you for some distances. With a Lenten fast, that might be all you need to endure. It is only six weeks; however, the journey with Jesus is not a six-week commitment but a lifetime of following. When our resolve fails, the author of Hebrews gives us a better strategy. We endure because of two things: a great cloud of witnesses and because our eyes are fixed on Jesus.

 The great cloud is our back-up. The pilgrims’ path is well worn by others who journeyed with Jesus through the season. They have shown us what it means to persist in faith. They are a network of support (not just the historic faithful, but the ones we know). They are a system of accountability, helping us fulfill our commitment.

Jesus—the pioneer and perfector (author and finisher)—is the one that makes running the race possible, and the one we are running toward. He is both our example and our ever-present help in times of trouble. We blazed the trail ahead and guides our steps. He carries us when strength fails. He helps us run for prize-communion with God.

If your steps falter, find strength in community and lean into Jesus. If a great cloud of witnesses and the Son of God got your back, you totally got this.

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