Pastor's Blog

The 2nd Week of Advent: Humility

Entering into the second week of Advent, we focus on the theme of Humility.

These are the words from Luke 2.1-7

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Consider …

Three years ago this past July 22, on a gold easel was placed for display outside of Buckingham Palace, this announcement was displayed to a watching world: “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4:24pm today. Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well.” This official announcement of the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis Windsor was not exactly breaking news. The press had been camped around St. Mary’s hospital, waiting. Satellite trucks were ready to go live all around the world.

At his birth young Prince George, third in line to the British throne, was already worth, according to Forbes, anywhere from 500 million to a billion dollars. It’s safe to say young Prince George did not spend his first night on this earth sleeping in a feed trough.

I hope Prince George will live a blessed and useful life to the glory of God. I only recount the announcement of his birth to offer a contrast. What is it? The contrast between anticipated glory and actual humility.

Prince George’s birth is a modern example of worldly royalty. Had he been born in an earlier less democratic era (or culture) Prince George’s birth announcement might have mobilized armies, provoked sacrifice, realigned the fate of nations.  As it was, a gold easel announcement for display as a press release is a considerable come down. But, after all, we are living in fabled modernity. 

Jesus – God the Son – entered the world in extremely humble circumstances. His earthly parents were not even middle class. Today we would consider them among the working poor. They were not lettered. The family they formed would be looked down upon, even among their own social peers. If you are so poor even the poor think less of you then you are poor and powerless indeed. This was the family Jesus – God the Son – entered by choice. These were his people.

But there was a birth announcement.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

This announcement lit the night sky, temporarily drawing back eternity’s curtain and revealing the normally unseen glory of heaven. This was an announcement of world-changing significance. But to whom was this announcement made? To Larry the shepherd. And his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.

The Nativity was an event of humility. What Jesus did in eternity when He “considered equality with God not a thing to be grasped” became earthly and temporal when he “was born in the likeness of men.” But it is important to remember Jesus was not born in the likeness of powerful or influential men. Jesus was born low. He had no form or majesty to attract others to him.

If you want to spend (waste) your time trying to imagine what Jesus might have looked like then do the following. Go to an inner city “mission” or “health clinic. Look there for some young mother with a greasy, weathered face holding a runny-nosed infant while she waits for free public health care. That “not-the-years-but-the-miles” glaze on the mother’s face – that’s Mary. That baby with the crusted nose - that's Jesus. 

God chooses to dwell with the lowly.

He chooses what is weak in the world; He chooses what is low and despised in the world. He chooses to bless the one who stands in the shadows of the temple and beats his breast, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” He chooses to touch the outcast leper. He chooses to defend the woman caught in adultery and dragged through the streets. He chooses to see and to praise the poor widow who gives her all, and out of her own poverty. He chooses the laborer with callouses on his hands.

God chooses to dwell with the lowly.

And he didn’t start choosing to dwell with the lowly when he got out of graduate school and thought it might be a good idea, now, to become incarnational. He came into the world dwelling with the lowly. From the very beginning and all through his life, Jesus intentionally avoided choosing the powerful, the movers and shakers, the influencers; those people he might could leverage, at some later date, to his advantage.

He chose to dwell with the lowly, all the way to the cross. At his crucifixion he had one piece of clothing and that was taken away from him. Talk about humiliation! The standard Roman crucifixion practice was to crucify the person utterly naked. The Jews of Jesus’ day allowed for a loin cloth, not out of deference to the person being crucified, or stoned, but out of modesty for anyone looking. Either way, naked or with the concession of a loin cloth, Jesus was crucified utterly humiliated, exposed, brought low, even to the death, even to the grave.

God chose to dwell with the lowly. This means you and this means me. In all of our angst and our insecurities and our feelings of inadequacy and our fears of being found out we need remember the humility of his birth and of his death.

He chose humility because, dear one, He chose you.

Posted by Tim Alexander with

Lesson from the 1st week of Advent: WAITING

Do you like to wait? I don’t like to wait.

Timex, the watch company, as a part of a larger market study, asked people how long they would wait in a variety of circumstances before they would take action. For example, if we’re stopped at a traffic light and the light changes from red to green, and the car ahead of us does not go: how long will we wait before we honk? 13 seconds.

We’ll wait 26 seconds in a movie theater before we turn around and tell the talking people to be quiet.

  • 13 minutes for a table at a restaurant
  • 20 minutes for the last person to show up for Thanksgiving dinner before we dig in.

Frankly, I think Timex was being generous. I wasn’t a part of that study. I would blow their results. 13 minutes for table at a restaurant? This is not happening. 20 minutes for the last person to show up before Thanksgiving meal that my wife lovingly prepared? No, no, no. Be lucky to have food left on the table if you show up 20 minutes late.

This is who I am. This is “carnal”, “worldly” Tim. No doubt about it. I live on the other side of “wait.” I like, “be early.” As in, if you show up early, then you’re on time. But if you just show up on time, then you’re late. And if you show up late, if you make other people wait on you, then don’t even bother.

Wait?

Now, it ought to go without saying, but, since I’ve already started down this path, I’ll just keep on walking. This part of me that I’ve just described - my impatience - is, well, arrogant. It’s not a strength on my part. It’s a weakness. It’s not a virtue. It’s a flaw. It’s a bad part of who I am. I know it is. It’s not attractive. It’s pushy and it’s rude.

And, really, this impatient part of me is tailor made for the observance of Advent. Because Advent is all about waiting; all about preparing.

Go back to Scripture. Abraham, the father of the faith had to wait for Issac, the child of the Promise. Moses had to wait 40 years in the desert before he went back to Egypt. He waited 40 more years leading the people in the desert. Because of his own frustration, even then he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land. And David … waited … for years … before he was crowned King over all Israel.

The list is long. People who waited on the purposes of God. Some people went to their graves – actually, a lot of people – still waiting for the purposes of God to come to completion.

The prophets who anticipated Christ, like Isaiah, certainly waited. But they never gave up hope. As much as they waited, and as frustrated as they might have grown over time in their waiting, they never did come to that breaking point where they said, “God, I demand you do right now whatever it is you’re going to do, and do it where I can see it and understand it. And if you don’t do that, God, now, right now, then, we’re through. I’m done with you.”

They held on. They waited.

This first week of Advent is all about waiting.

Three reflections:

First, waiting upon God forces us to confront our own inner restlessness. Why is it; what is it about me – you may ask yourself – that balks at waiting; that resists waiting; that only feels a sense of contentment if or when events are happening? What is it about me that struggles to “be still and know that I am God,” as the Psalmist wrote.

Second, waiting can teach us a valuable lesson, if we’ll let it. What is it? I am not the center of the universe. Not all lights are green. Not all tables open up at our arrival. Not everyone can, will or should adjust themselves to my schedule. At any given moment over the next week, over 330 million Americans will neither know nor care what’s next on my calendar. What is it about me that makes me think it’s appropriate, or legitimate, to expect everyone to adjust to me?

Finally: third reflection. How can I turn waiting into hope? Into joy? I can answer with other questions.  

  • Do I believe God is faithful?
  • Do I believe God can be trusted?
  • Do I believe God’s purposes for me are for good?

It seems to me this first week of Advent can be used – if we choose to do it – as a time of personal reflection. I hope we all choose to do this.

God promised through the prophets to send a Savior, a Redeemer, the Messiah, Immanuel. All of those prophets laid down to rest never having seen the promised One. But they trusted God. They believed God. They believed God was faithful. They waited.

And Christ came.

Posted by Tim Alexander with

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