Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928
Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning. Read more
A few scraps and fragments after a morning spent at the seniors home…
A woman sits, staring vacantly at the television in front of her. I look at the TV. It is a road report, outlining the wintry conditions that we might expect on this or that Alberta road. I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities contained in the image of this woman sitting, alone, watching the road report. She will likely never travel a winter road again… Read more
As I write these words, my kids and my wife are putting the finishing touches on the Christmas decorations around the house. There are giggles and lights, there is colour and warmth on a brutally cold day. There are happy sounds. And the happy sounds make me happy, too.
But it’s impossible for my thoughts not to drift in darker directions, too, even amidst the giggles and the lights. For whatever reason, this has been a need-filled fall season. So many people struggling. So many people limping along from crisis to crisis. So many people desperate for love, for acceptance, for belonging. So many people for whom God’s peace and God’s plan seem utterly hidden. So many people needing so much help. The need is always there, I know. But for whatever reason, it has felt more acute this fall. Read more
A few years ago, when I was taking my first steps in my present role as pastor, a church member timidly approached me sometime around mid-December with a question: “I know it’s Advent, and Advent is about waiting, but would you be OK if we sang some Christmas carols during the Sundays before December 25?” The question was probably more pragmatic than theological. Our church doesn’t have a Christmas day service, and the Sunday between Christmas and New Years is usually among the most lightly attended of the year. There simply weren’t as many opportunities to sing these dearly loved songs as some people would like!
It’s a strange thing that, as followers of Jesus, we are dwellers in a story.
Religion is often conceived and described as ideology or a philosophy or an ethical system that provides answers to deep questions about the meaning of life and the nature of salvation. But as Christians, we are not given a generic, universal set of principles or techniques or transcendent truths or ethical absolutes by which to live.
We are, rather, thrust into a story—and a grubby, disheveled story, at that. Read more
Advent is not about arrival.
Advent is about waiting in hope.
Advent is about prayer for the coming Kingdom.
Advent is about saying,
often with trembling lip,
and with tear-filled eyes,
Come soon, Lord Jesus, come soon.
Brian Walsh, Advent Pain, Aching Hope
I sit in a sterile hospital room with a dear old saint who will be spending this Christmas where nobody wants to spend Christmas. Outside is a gloriously clear, crisp, winter day full of snow and lights and pre-Christmas goodness. Inside, there are bare, yellowing walls, cracked ceilings, cheap, generic pictures on the wall. We speak of what the doctors say, of what the next steps will be, about what is going on at church, about who has visited and who will be coming. We speak of what her kids are doing for Christmas. Read more
I think that the main problem with our world right now is that there’s just not enough spirituality.
I had gone to a local café to get out of the office and try to get some reading done, but I quite literally couldn’t help but overhear the preceding assessment/diagnosis of the plight of the planet and its inhabitants taking place at the table beside me. It was a couple of university students, if their meticulously dishevelled and painstakingly ironic appearances were anything to go by. The more enthusiastic of the two—the one doing most of the talking—had evidently taken a few introductory philosophy and religious studies courses, judging by the peppering of his discourse with references to Gandhi, Jesus, Plato, and the Bhagavad Gita (not to mention a reference to that most estimable of Zen masters, Phil Jackson). The other young man seemed more interested in the Shakespeare he was trying to read, but he seemed content enough to allow the spiritual wisdom to pour forth unabated from his friend. Read more
This morning I sat in a dark hospital room with someone I love who is in a dark place. Months upon months of crushing, debilitating, body and soul-sucking migraines. Often she can barely open her eyes. The smallest shaft of light makes her skull feel like it will explode; the most innocuous of everyday sounds assaults her ears like the trumpets of Armageddon. She spends day upon day of groping around in a morphine-tinged fog. My heart aches for what she is going through. I pray for her often. Read more
We are halfway through Advent, and I’ll confess to occasionally feeling just a little bit restless and uninspired. The same texts from Isaiah and the gospels that we rehearse every year. The same rituals and routines, the same hopes and promises voiced, the same baby in the same manger with the same cast of characters. The same hymns and readings. Over and over again. Consequently, I was delighted to come across Ben Myers’ post today called “Forty Things I Like About Christianity” over at Faith and Theology. It was a lovely reminder of the beauty of this faith, this God, this story that we are a part of.
And it inspired me to scrawl out my own list. This list is by no means exhaustive. These are just some of the things that came to mind this morning. Feel free to add to the list!
(I’m not as smart or sophisticated as Ben Myers so I stopped at thirty :).)
Here in southern Alberta, we find ourselves in the grip of quite the blizzard. It’s been snowing for about a day and a half and there’s more on the way. With the wind chill factored in, it’s -26 degrees out there. My wife and I woke up early today to check on the status of the roads and the schools and to peer curiously out our window. Surely no one would try to get out today, would they?! Well, it’s 8:30 am, and we have already pushed/shovelled out two neighbours who were determined to head out into the wintry wonderland, despite all the warnings to stay home and wait out the storm. Not everyone can wait, it seems. Read more
Jesus stands at the door knocking. In total reality, he comes in the form of a beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbour, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us. Do you want to close the door or open it?
It may strike us as strange to see Christ in such a near face, but he said it, and those who withdraw from the serious reality of the Advent message cannot talk of the coming of Christ in their heart, either…
Christ is knocking. It’s still not Christmas, but it’s also still not the last great Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: “See, I am making all things new.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger
A meeting cancellation last night left me with the delightful predicament of how to fill a few an unexpected few free hours. Option A was parking myself on the couch and watching a hockey game, but that space was, lamentably, already occupied by my wife and daughter who were engrossed in a movie. So, naturally, I decided to pick up a book by David Bentley Hart 🙂 (I’ve written before about the delights and challenges of reading Hart before here). The Experience of God is not quite the test of one’s vocabulary (and the blow to one’s pride) as some of Hart’s other works, but it’s still not exactly the shallow end of the pool. Read more
It’s Monday morning, the kids are back in school, my Christmas flu finally seems to have released me from its miserable grip. A New Year has begun, and life is back to normal. A couple of miscellaneous topics and ideas for a Monday morning, then. These have very little to do with one another other than that they have been collecting dust either in my brain or in my “drafts” folder over the past little while. If this comes across as a rambling mess, or a series of incoherent rants, well, I blame on the accumulation of weeks worth of flu medication which has undoubtedly scrambled my brain. Read more
A busy Christmas Eve is complete. Bundling up with the kids for skating on the pond, a lovely candlelight service at church, a delightful evening full of games and goodies with family, friends, the kids safely tucked into bed, the last presents put under the tree… And now, all is silent as I sit beside the Christmas tree, staring out into the bone chilling early morning darkness, processing a full day indeed. Read more
It is December 21, 2012; four days from the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. The forecast calls for bitter cold and snow, so we may just have a white Christmas this year after a mostly brown and warm December. The malls are teeming with chaotic life and ravenous spending (I survived my one and only foray into the temple to consumerism with the kids last night!). The end of the madness draws nigh. I know this to be so because, aside from the aforementioned evidence, I have also reached my customary level of perplexed irritation at being asked the tired old question, “So, are you ready for Christmas?” Read more
The story of Christmas is little more than one enormous fiction. So I was grimly informed by an essay from a while back that I chanced upon today. Emmanuel, “God with us,” the “humble king” and all that—just pleasant illusions that we entertain ourselves with each year on our naively hopeful and recklessly irresponsible way to the mall to anesthetize our miserable selves with shopping and candy. Read more
My daily prayers throughout the Advent season thus far have been guided by the second volume of Take Our Moments and Our Days, which runs from Advent through to Pentecost. One of the readings for Morning Prayer today was a familiar one from the Gospel of Luke: Read more
I was reading a book recently—I don’t remember exactly when—when, after reading a particular paragraph, I closed the book in irritated frustration. “I’ve read about a hundred paragraphs just like that one,” I thought. I had the same experience on my morning walk today, listening to a sermon. I heard the preacher breathlessly declaring the wondrous significance of some Greek word and what it meant for us today, and thought to myself, “I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard something like that before and it contributes precisely nothing to my understanding of this text.” So many words—in print or out loud—saying the same old things, again and again and again…