Thursday, December 15, 2011


It's been a particularly tough day, one when I've felt sort of forgotten. 

{Thank goodness for friends and wine and Christmas movies and cheer!}

After all the jolliness of an impromptu Christmas celebration at my house, I am sitting here with the Advent readings and a cup of tea.  The Psalmist is reminding me that "the LORD loves righteousness and justice," and that His plans "stand firm forever" (Psalm 33:5, 11).  Such sweet truth as I sometimes question what, really, is going on in the world, in my life.

Perhaps even more fitting after the day I've just had is Alistair Begg's sermon excerpt in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.  I've already read it once today, but it is hitting me in fuller measure tonight.  Reflecting on some of my favorite verses from Philippians 2--according to scholars and theologians the world over, some of the richest theology ever written--he writes about the incarnation and what it tells us about the nature of God the Giver:

In other words, instead of holding onto his own uninterrupted glory, he chose to set it aside... 
Jesus did not approach the incarnation asking, "what's in it for me, what do I get out of it?"
In coming to earth, he said, "I don't matter."
Jesus, you're going to be laid in a manger.
"It doesn't matter."
Jesus, you will have nowhere to lay your head.
  "It doesn't matter."
Jesus, you will be an outcast and a stranger.
"It doesn't matter."
Jesus, they will nail you to a cross, and your followers will all desert you.
And Jesus said, "That's okay."
This is what it means, he "made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."
I'm reminded for the hundredth time that those of us who want to be identified with him will experience these same feelings of being deserted, made an outcast, misunderstood. 

Not that my tiny little troubles hold a candle to the disgrace he bore. 

Still, it's beautiful in some small way to find that my story is his story, that on these days of feeling small, I can look to his example.  That in Christmas, he provides a resource for me to lay aside entitlement and say with him "I don't matter."  

May we become nothing this Christmas!

He must become greater, I must become less.
-John the Baptist (John 3:30)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

we will cast our stones at him

The gospel Scripture for tonight's Advent reading is John 8:1-11,  Church tradition disputes whether the story was part of the original manuscript, but it made its way into the Cannon--and it sure sounds like something my Jesus would do.

The people are gathered around Jesus as he is teaching in the temple courts, when in march the pious religious leaders with a woman caught in adultery.  Looking for a way to accuse Jesus, they demand an answer: "Do we stone her as Moses said?  Do we give this woman the justice she deserves?"

Quietly, Jesus begins to write in the sand.  Scripture doesn't tell us what he is writing, but we can imagine what he is thinking: that he will be accused--for us.  That his body will be broken instead of hers, instead of mine.  That he will die even for the self-righteous ones, those religious folk who care more about looking good than loving God.  We will cast our stones at him.

Jesus dares them to stone her--but only if they are without sin themselves.  With this challenge, he shuts up the hypocrites.

He knows he is the only one worthy to cast a stone; he is the only one without sin.  And he will not do it.  He will not condemn her.

Tonight, at our area high school WHY Groups, students discussed the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4.  For one student in particular, the discussion raised some heady questions about the nature of sin.  "How much is too much to sin?  And why does it matter anyway if they're just little sins?  If Jesus was tempted too, does he really blame us for giving into temptation sometimes?"  (Man, I just love the ones who ask questions!)

This passage from John can raise some similar concerns for us.  "Why does Jesus let her off so easy?  And how does he really know she will leave her life of sin as he directs her?" the legalist in each of us might venture to ask.

The point, my friends, is grace.  Because of the Incarnation and the Cross, you and I have been "let off" too.

He has silenced our accusers. 

He has taken the beating we deserved.

He has wiped the slate clean.

And grace never leaves us where we are, but calls us instead to leave our old lives behind.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that brought us peace,
    and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he opened not his mouth.
Isaiah 53:4-7

Sunday, December 4, 2011

let there be light

Today I discovered my new favorite Christmas song of. all. time.  Buy the song on iTunes and/or check out these lyrics by Ross Byrd of High Street Hymns (in Charlottesville!):

One Winter's Night
If only that which is assumed could ever be redeemed
Then come to us within a womb; be born and wash out feet
And not our feet alone we pray but everything we know
That thou O Love would come and stay and all our sorrows go

Yet thou will not be welcomed here, still Love please come and be
Our refuge, wipe away our tears though we will murder thee
But darkness only turns to day if You become the night
And we on You our darkness lay that it be swallowed in light

The gods we trusted and became will find no solace here
Beside his creatures low and lame the Son of God appears
A thousand years of "progress" past, a million hearts beguiled
Now Love alone will reign and last within one little child

O Love, make a way, come find us
Search the darkness, light the way, come and guide us Home
Oh the sunrise burns the night away
Find us, find us
Blessed One, born today, come and find us
Search the darkness, light the way, come and guide us Home
One winter's night begins eternal summer morn
If only You are born

Those words have ruined me for cheesy Christmas music.  Beautiful.  I listened to this song on repeat yesterday--no less than 25 times--and then found myself in tears throughout the day

when the single woman on a TV drama underwent in vitro while a sick little boy lay in a hospital bed without parents

when a friend told me about a marriage that is failing

when I read about women who are still enslaved in brothels

And it just struck me again and again how much we need this LIGHT that has come!

to dispel our darkness...

 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

to come and find us..
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. 
Psalm 139:11-12

to put His light in us...
“I will keep you and will make you
   to be a covenant for the people
   and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
   to free captives from prison
   and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."
Isaiah 42:6-7

You are the light of the world.
Matthew 5:18

The power of the Incarnation is that in Jesus, the Kingdom of Light breaks in and dispels the darkness of broken humanity. 

As Simon Tugwell has put it, "He has followed us into our own darkness."

In Jesus, we have hope that things will not always be as they are, that as C.S. Lewis so masterfully wrote, it will not be "always winter and never Christmas."  That all things will be set right when this Heavenly King returns, once and for all.  That all of our longing is stirring up anticipation for Him.  That the light of the Son continues to shine in us, His Church, even as we wait.

"One winter's night begins eternal summer morn, if only You are born"--what a thought!
You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.
Psalm 18:28