I don’t know about you, but my personal new beginnings often come with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. Depending on the situation, that energy can last for days, weeks, or even months. But eventually, usually, inertia takes over and the sheer weight of life’s expectations begins to slow the bus. Sometimes this comes with a sense of regret or guilt, and the inner voice saying, “What was I thinking?” That’s not happening to me now, but I’m telling you because I think confession is an important spiritual practice for me, and for us in community together. I need your help.
We certainly should confess our sins, “what we have done and what we have left undone.” That’s not this. This is confessing brokenness that is chronic (and therefore far more serious than any particular act). I know enough about human nature to be sure I’m not alone in this. Some things are easier to do yourself than to recruit and train others to do with or instead of you (at least in the short term). Sometimes business limits the ability to properly and adequately recruit and train others (and sometimes it’s just procrastination). Sometimes the excitement can cause you to run ahead of the team, going too far too fast and not bringing everyone else along, much less allowing them to exercise their leadership gifts and articulate their dreams.
I want to do everything, and I want to do it yesterday! There is so much wonderful opportunity laid out before us, for deeper relationships, richer spiritual experiences, and transformed lives, homes and communities. The Holy Spirit is dancing all around us like a whirling dervish, and also moving almost imperceptibly like a gentle breeze. God has big dreams for us. And God has small dreams for us. God is among us with a holy urgency because this work matters. Lives are at stake. And, God is unfathomably patient with us, the human experiment and specifically with the church, the Christian experiment. Why if the stakes are so high would God be so patient, and why would God choose to work through us, who are so easily distracted by shiny things and so easily drawn to our own small concerns away from Kingdom concerns?
I have no idea. But the Christmas story tells us explicitly that is exactly what God has done. God’s plan to save the world revolves around the birth of a baby to a poor young couple who quickly become immigrants traveling in strange lands. It is all so fragile. This baby grew up and recruited a misfit band of 12 – including fishermen, accountants, and would be armed revolutionaries. He made them brothers, along with the sisters who were there by their sides, and said, “Go, live so that more people will follow me and live as I have taught you.” (Matthew 28) And through this the promise to Abraham and Sarah will be fulfilled: “I will bless you to be a blessing. In fact, through you all the world will be blessed!” (Genesis 12)
All of this is to say that I need and want us to work together as a team. If I appear to be moving too fast, I invite you to ask me about what I hear God saying and enter into prayerful dialogue with me.
We have so much wonderful stuff to do – so much life-giving ministry – and it starts with the dreams that God has placed in your hearts and minds. I’m looking forward to continuing building relationships with you. And together, discovering how God will bless us to be a blessing!a
If we look around us, on line, in the TV news, on the radio, or in our communities, there can be lots of cause for discouragement. Depending on where we look and the lens through which we view the world, we see poverty, oppression, war, neglect, racism, illness, addiction, loneliness, irresponsibility, and death. It can be a bleak and even overwhelming picture. And some might harken back to a better time, a simpler time. But it was only better and simpler for some, and on the whole there is greater health and prosperity and peace today than at any time in history. We are not in a globe-consuming war of bombs and guns and gas. There is not a plague sweeping the planet and consuming upwards of half the population.
Even so, we have much work to do. God’s work. God’s dream of a peaceful garden that we see reflected in Genesis 1-3 and again in Revelation 20-21, and it appears repeatedly throughout scripture, as in Isaiah 11 and 35. We who follow Jesus pray as he taught us “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven…” We pray that God will indeed restore the earth to this idyllic dream. And God’s response to this prayer? A baby.
“Behold the young woman will conceive and bear a son, and you will call him Immanuel” (which means “God is with us.”) ~ Isaiah 7:14
All of God’s hopes and God’s energy and power are invested in this plan – a baby, born to poor parents in an out-of-the-way part of the world.
Yet “he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.“
~ Isaiah 9:6
And if the idea of bringing about redemption and peace for the world through a baby weren’t enough, this good news and this work are then entrusted to a rag-tag band of students, of disciples. And we are the 60th plus generation of these followers. This work is now entrusted to us. So look around, notice and really see all the difficult things in your life and in the world. Then recognize that all the power necessary to transform this life is invested within the incarnate Christ, the baby born in Bethlehem. And when we truly follow him, truly walk in The Way, and think, speak and act in ways that bring about justice and righteousness, then the promises will be fulfilled:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian." ~ Isaiah 9:2-4
All this is the hope of a child. You can see it in every child who is born – limitless promise and possibility of life created in God’s image for God’s glory. As we look at the world this Advent and Christmas season, let us look with expectation and wonder. Let us look with the hope of a child.