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.

Heaven Come Down

Waiting with hope is hard work. There are so many things that make us want to give up and despair. Politicians care more about pressing their agenda (or stopping the opposition!) then they do about the poor, the vulnerable, the widowed, the alien and orphaned. Our world has been rocked by earthquakes, high winds & wildfires. Terror, war and the threat of war loom large on the global scene. We worry more now, than we have in decades, about the threat of Nuclear warfare.

Women and men have braved the trauma of reliving hidden pain, sharing stories of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, only to be accused of telling convenient lies designed to discredit honorable men. The others, the silence-breakers we believe, have caused powerful men to topple from their thrones. We are disillusioned. Some wonder is every man secretly like this? 

Our world, our leader, celebrities, are not at all what we wish they were. We aren’t either. Every one of us is broken and capable of hurting others. Alexsander Solzhenitsyn’s comment in the Gulag Archipelago proves true:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. . . . even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an unuprooted small corner of evil.

The Apostle Paul was more holy than most of us but he could still say,” For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).  Nobody measures up, not even ourselves. And it isn’t just with theological ideas like sin and evil, none of us is what we wish we wereThere are things I want to do, risks I think would be worth taking, songs I want my life to sing. But If I’m honest, sometimes I am just too hurt and afraid to do anything great. Feeling stuck, it is easy for us to resign to despair. 

Our Advent hope is this: Jesus is coming. And that is no small thing. 

Our hope is not in presidents, prime ministers, bureaucrats, big government, corporate tax-breaks or trickle down economics. Our hope is not based on systems, structures, and institutions (our participation in these, at its best, manages the harm). Our hope is not in good people having access to the guns, or gun control, a strong police force or the justice system. Our hope is not Hollywood. Our hope is not in social security, or our Roth IRA. Our hope is not in the Paris Agreement and equitable Fair-Trade, as good as these may be. Our hope is not a strong military or good foreign policy. Our hope is not winning so much you get tired of winning. Hope is not appointed as a Supreme Court Justice. Our hope is not just learning to listen to the better angels of our nature. Our hope is not self-actualization.

Advent Hope is the coming of Jesus. We are notoriously bad at saving ourselves.

My favorite contemporary Christian Advent song is the Robbie Seay Band’s Heaven Come Done (Sing a Song of Hope).The lyrics exude confidence in God’s goodness, his love, his presence and the way Jesus enables new creation:

All things bright and beautiful You are
All things wise and wonderful You are
In my darkest night You brighten up the skies
A song will rise

I will sing a song of hope, sing along
God of heaven come down, heaven come down
Just to know that You are near is enough
God of heaven come down, heaven come down, yeah

All the things new, I can start again
Creator God, calling me Your friend
Sing praise, my soul to the Maker of the skies
A song will rise

I will sing a song of hope, sing along
God of heaven come down, heaven come down
Just to know that You are near is enough
God of heaven come down, heaven come down

Oh, sing a song of hope, sing along
God of heaven come down, heaven come down
Just to know You and be loved is enough
God of heaven come down, heaven come down

The song celebrates. Though the world is not what it should be, Jesus is coming. This is our song of hope. God of heaven come down.

Artist Credit: Fons Heijnsbroek, Hope, Acrylic, 1988, Wikimedia Commons.


Singing Hope in a Long Wait.

One of my favorite Advent songs is the Taizé song, Wait for the Lord, from the ecumenical Taizé community in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France. It is a short, meditative call to wait drawn from Psalm 27:14:

Wait for the Lord,
whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord:
keep watch, take heart!

As a worship leader, I once suggested this as a response song for the congregation to sing after the lighting of the Advent wreath each Sunday in Advent. I got some push back. Some of my fellow worship leaders thought the minor key sounded too sad. They wanted more celebration, having mentally already moved on to Christmas, and anyway who wants to be sad in church?

Beyond our inability to make space for lament in contemporary worship, the song presents another difficulty. We are exhorted to wait for the Lord whose day is near. Near? Really? Because if you look at the state of things in the world, the coming of the King still seems a far way off. It seems like everywhere you look you find deceit, division, abuse and assault. We cry come Lord Jesus but live through days where our rich people are violent; and all the people are liars (Micah 6:12). There doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

Do you believe Jesus is coming back and when he does he will set the world to rights? How we answer this question will determine how well we keep watch and wait.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” If waiting for Jesus is like waiting for Godot—a fruitless exercise with no hope on the horizon—then to hold out hope is to torture our souls. If we believe Jesus will come and fulfill our deepest longings than we can bear up under almost anything. Delayed gratification only works if the awaited One proves true.

But do we have the mental space and spiritual imagination to believe in the promised One? Too often, we settle for lesser goods, our hopeful imagination only takes us as far as what presents are under the Christmas tree. Our commodified Christmases, invariably disappoint. The sweater unravels, the toys break, our iPhone overheats.  We are haunted by ghosts of Christmas past: petty disappointments, bruised feelings and broken relationships. Do we dare hope another world is possible? Can we yet hope

Wait for the Lord, his day is near. Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart. 


Celebrating Advent Like a Boss: a book (p)review

Advent is just around the corner and I can’t wait to. . .wait. If you are like me, Ordinary Time felt a little less sacred than normal this year, with the election season overshadowing the liturgical calendar. Its over now but I feel anxious and icky. I pray: even so, come Lord Jesus. 

all-creation-waitsAdvent is the season of waiting for Jesus’ coming. We remember the hopes of the Hebrew prophets, the events leading up to Christ’s nativity. We cry for light to come and shine in our own darkness(es). While the wider culture rushes to Christmas with a consumerist frenzy, the wisdom of the Christian tradition has always said wait.

I’m a father of four, always on the hunt for resources which help my family enter into and appreciate their Christian heritage. We’ve picked up advent calendars with cheap chocolate from the grocery store and Jesus-y ones with printed manger scenes and bible verses behind each door from the Christian bookstore. Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings was birthed as her personal family advent calendar, more than twenty years ago from a similar desire to help her kids enter into this season:

Advent, to the Church Fathers, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray—all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath the fear of the dark, to know what Jesus called ” the one thing necessary” : that there is One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning.

This is Christian tradition at its best, moving in step with creation. When the sun’s light and heat wane, the natural world lets lushness fall away. It strips down. All energy is directed to the essentials that ensure survival. Engaging in Advent’s stripping practices—fasting, giving away, praying—we tune into the rhythms humming in the cells of all creatures living in the northern hemisphere. We tune into our own essential rhythms (introduction, xi-xii).

Boss’s eldest child was a toddler and she was pregnant with her second. She made an advent calendar for her family, not with Bible verses and scenes, but with creatures intimately aware of what it means to wait, to hope, and to long. She made a calendar that was “less about Christ’s human birth and more about the need for that birth” (xii). The animals stand in as metaphors and teachers, showing us what it means to wait.

This book is an elaboration of her family’s advent calendar (with some new creatures thrown in), published here with the beautiful illustrations of David G. Klein. There is a painted turtle,  a muskrat, a black bear, birds,a porcupine, a skunk, lake trout and more. Each creature, in their own way says: The dark is not an end, but a door. This is the way the new beginning comes (xiii). The creatures walk us through Dec. 1 to 24th. Jesus, the Christ comes on Christmas Day.

The words and images of this book are simply stunning and I look forward to delving into this with the family during the coming season. Watch the book trailer below to taste and see what sort of Advent reader this is. I give it five stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest (p)review.

All Creation Waits Book Trailer from Hailey Jansson on Vimeo.

What are We Waiting For?

Advent. The season of waiting. But what are we waiting for? If my ten-month-old could talk, he could tell you. Every evening as  he fights sleep my only recourse is to sing the Taize song Wait For The Lord until his eyelids grow heavy and sleep comes:

Wait for the Lord, Whose day is near;

Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart.

When you are waiting for something wonderful then your waiting is full of anticipation and hope. If we are waiting for something awful–punishment, destruction, doom–then time drags and our hearts fill with dread.

In Christ’s first advent, Jesus came to fulfill the hopes of Israel. Those who knew how to read the signs or were let in on God’s secret through dreams, visions, and angelic visitations, anticipated the coming of Jesus, excited  Yahweh’s salvation was at hand.

Sometimes when we talk about Christ’s second Advent, our words are twinged more with dread than hope. We imagine Jesus coming home after a long day at the office, bringing down the hammer on his children for their behavior while he was a way (“Just wait until your Father gets home!”). But Jesus’ return is our only hope. It means God hasn’t left us to our own devices

Recently Presidential hopeful Ben Carson sat down with Washington Post ben_carsoncolumnist Sally Quinn to talk about his faith and candidacy.  Carson is a Seven Day Adventist, so has a particular theological viewpoint about End Times, the afterlife and Christ’s return. One particular soundbite bothered me. The good doctor told Quinn his beliefs about the apocalypse won’t influence his presidency. Really? You believe Jesus is coming back and  bringing his Kingdom in fullness and it won’t affect your presidency? That is a sad statement  but not totally fair to what Carson actually believes.   He also says he strives to live his life like Jesus is coming back tomorrow, which I think implies that his view of the ‘apocalypse’ has a positive impact on what kind of president Carson would be.

Rightly so. The values and priorities of Christ’s coming kingdom should impact our life now, if Christ’s kingdom is our hope, if we are hoping for the peace of Christ, for the cessation of war, for all sorrow, sadness and suffering to cease, if we are anticipating a New Heaven and New Earth where human beings are reconciled to one another across ethnic, cultural and socio-economic lines , where the poor are cared for and creation is stewarded well, if this is our hope, we will act like it.

We live into what we anticipate. 

Here is some of what we are waiting for:

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:3-4)

And this:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1–5 (NIV)

If this is what we are waiting for than everything about life now ought to be different. Waiting isn’t a passive endeavor. It is living towards our final hope. A hope which encompasses God’s renewal and restoration–“I am making everything new!”

If Jesus return is not a source of hope, but dread than we might as well just bide our time and enjoy ourselves while we still have a chance.

Our view of the apocalypse influences how we act as presidents, parents, children, neighbors, soldiers, activists, executives, cashiers, musicians, artists and software engineers. It influences everything. If it doesn’t, we don’t really believe it anyway.

Jesus is coming back. What are you waiting for? 



The Waiting Begins Again

adventweek1It is the third day of Advent. This Sunday was one of the few Sundays I missed  attending church.  I wasn’t liturgically called into our season of waiting. Instead I spent my Sunday waiting in traffic and counting down miles of Interstate as my family and I made our trek home from seeing family and friends in Maryland.

Our time in the car wasn’t entirely profane. Sarah and I read our Advent devotionals and scripture out loud on our drive. It gave us a brief respite from the monotonous nature of modern travel, with its scenery cropped back and nothing left to look at except a steady stream of billboards and Cracker Barrels.  It was time out of time–time to reflect on what it means to wait for God’s coming. The gospels called us back to the story of Jesus the Incarnate One; the prophets reminded us of His final coming when all will be set right.

Yesterday  I went to my community garden plot and checked the progress there. A few seedlings pushed their way to the surface in my absence, spinach and pea plants poking through the earth. My other plants were healthy and growing. Other places I lived, my garden would be dormant right now (perhaps a woody kale plant hanging on through the frost). My metaphorical frame for the season has changed. Instead of leafless deciduous trees and frozen ground, I have a garden striving toward full potential–life and fruitfulness and world of green. In either case, the point is the same: all of creation groans, and we ourselves, the first fruits of the Spirit, as we eagerly await our full adoption a God’s children and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23).

There is a telos (a goal or end) for the story we find ourselves in. We all wait to see our destination on life’s road, to see our own gardens teeming. But this season is more than waiting for our arrival and full potentiality. It is about waiting for the coming of the Lord. Two thousand years ago God came near in Jesus Christ and changed the trajectory of human history. For now we wait. Christ has died, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again. 

There have been predictions of the end being nigh, false prophets spouting off the day and hour of Christ’s return.  Jesus is coming soon. Maybe. But with certainty I can say, “Jesus is coming sooner.” We don’t know with certainty when we will  reach home, when God breaks in, and creation reaches its end. We do know it is one day closer than yesterday. Jesus is coming sooner. 

To me this is the joy and invitation of Advent. We remember Jesus first coming and we remind ourselves to live like He is coming back, because He is.This mean care for those around us, nurturing of our relationships,  welcoming others into God’s hospitality and loving one another well.  Take some time to listen for creation’s groan as we long for Christ’s coming and our true home.

God there is so many things that drive us to distraction. Some them are seasonal: Christmas shopping, holiday traffic, the hustle and bustle. Some are personal:  family struggles, vocational crises, broken relationships,  hopes deferred and deep disappointments.  Some of them corporate: Injustice, War, Terror, Poverty, and Apathy for the Vulnerable. We cry, “how long O Lord?”  We remember your coming and we long for your coming again–your second Advent. When all sorrow and suffering will cease. Amen




Still Waiting After All these Weeks: further thoughts on Advent before we’re done

It is past the third Sunday of Advent and our waiting and longing is swallowed up by shopping, concerts & pageants, Cranberry Bliss bars & Peppermint mochas, baking, decorating, and holiday parties. These are all great, but it is challenging to ‘wait for the Lord’ in this season of distraction!. I reflected in an earlier post on how entering into ‘waiting’ is to be dissatisfied with the status quo, to long for something better. But what can be better than ‘the most wonderful time of the year?!?” I know Christmas time can be depressing, but I get excited each year and I want each Christmas to be special and memorable. I get caught up in whirlwind and you probably do too.

When the first Christmas happened it was sudden. An angel appears to a teenage girl and calls her ‘highly favored.’ She is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and, as a virgin, becomes pregnant with Jesus–God of the universe come in human flesh. From the time of Gabriel’s angelic visitation to Jesus’ birth in a barn, Mary waits, the way all women wait for their baby to come. But the Christmas story are not what Israel was waiting for. God becoming human was so wonderful and surprising that nobody was waiting for that! They were waiting for Israel’s redemption and restoration and the full return from exile. The Israelites longed to be free from the Romans (the last in a long line of pagan-overlords). The first Advent was as much about surprise as waiting.

So why do we institutionalize waiting? Eschatology is a difficult subject to untangle but part of our Advent waiting is about Christ’s return–His second Advent. If anyone tells you that they know exactly what Jesus’ return is going to look like because they read it in the Bible, beware. They are going to sell you a series of novels or make movies which are a pain in the left-behind to watch. We know Jesus is coming back and we hope and long for the Day, but the details remain a mystery, locked in the apocalyptic language of Revelation. The second Advent also carries the same element of surprise as the first. And we wait. . . .

One way to understand waiting is ‘cultivated attentiveness.’ When you wait, in the Christian sense, you are looking for where God’s Kingdom will break in. You watch. You read the ‘signs.’ You listen.

Part of my regular morning routine is showering (maybe yours too?).My bathroom is far enough away from our water heater that when I turn the hot water on, it takes a couple minutes for the water temperature to change from icy cold to warm. I have gotten in the habit of turning the water on and waiting before I climb into the shower. I sense when the hot water comes in. Whatever it is that happens, maybe a slight change in density when the water hits the tile, I hear. And that is when I climb into the shower. If you were to give me an audio recording of a cold shower or a hot shower, I am sure I couldn’t tell you the difference, but because I have learned to pay attention in my daily routine I know when the change occurs.

I think this is part of what it means for us to wait. We pay attention and listen for what God is doing. We look for where the Kingdom is breaking in and people are experiencing freedom. As we pay attention to God, we sense imperceptible shifts. We see the ways Jesus comes to us. We sense a change and know that God is on the move. I am so grateful for this season. I love the music, the Christmas cheer, time with family and friends. But my prayer is that as we wait we will also cultivate an attentive longing for more of Christ’s presence and reign in our hearts! May we long all the more for his return!