Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Mighty God: The Greatest Christmas Gift

This morning, as I was up early reading, Kaleb woke up and came and cuddled with me. It is Christmas Eve and since this is only his second Christmas in the US in his seven years of life he does not always understand the unspoken signs that Christmas has arrived since they are so different from what we have in Tanzania. So we started talking about Christmas Eve, Christmas day, what we are celebrating, why we give gifts, etc. It is one of those quiet moments that I value so much with my children when I get to share without the constant background noise that seems to invade the life of a family of five.

Mostly Kaleb and I talked about why we give gifts and what gift to us does Christmas represent which is the most important gift of all. Today I want to look at the amazing gift we receive on Christmas by reflecting on the second title bestowed on Christ through the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-7, Mighty God. Feel free to check out my reflections on Wonderful Councilor here. Walter Brueggemann focuses in on two major points with this name. The first is that the term Mighty refers to military might so that Jesus is being recognized as the Lord of Hosts or as the prince over the forces of the heavenly realm. The second point is that Jesus is a carrier of the divine. It was an understanding in the nation of Israel that the king was the connection point between the people and God, and therefore was a carrier of the divine. Jesus works to take this a step further in that he is not just a connection between the people and God, but by being divine himself, he carriers the spirit of life inside of himself and brings it as a gift to all people through his birth.

Psalm 103:3-5 talks about what this new gift of life is like. Jesus comes to forgive, heal, redeem, satisfy our desires with good things, and crown us with love and compassion (emphasis added). Jesus, as the carrier of the divine, brings us these gifts on Christmas. Does this match up with the gifts that we normally feel like we are getting on Christmas?

When I was a youth director I would take the youth Christmas shopping a few Saturdays before Christmas with the goal of having some fun and giving the youth a chance to buy Christmas presents for their families. We certainly had fun, but I am not sure how many presents were purchased for their family members J. It was a crazy time of the year to be at the mall because at that time of year the mall was full of hurried, harassed, harried people trying to get ready for Christmas, trying to get ready for a life giving Christ by finding the perfect thing for others.

We do this too often. We are trying to buy our way into this life we have been promised by the birth of a Mighty God onto earth, when it will never be possible. I have enjoyed over the last several years the shift I have seen towards experiences over things, but I don’t think we are quite there yet because the focus is still on a fulfilment by something temporary, just as the Israelites made the mistake of trying to find security in an earthly king who would one day pass away.

I hope that we can focus even for a few moments this year on receiving the gift of a Mighty God, the gift of a life giver, and reimagine what responding to that gift should look like by thinking of how we can…
·      Give of ourselves to others
·      Give ourselves a break (let’s stop being afraid of missing out)
·      Give ourselves in worship* to God

How can we give life to others in a variety of ways so that this world can be filled with life as God intended it to be instead of the death of morals, death of community, death of individuals who have been overwhelmed by lack of connection, death of authenticity and honest living, death of caring for those outside of our tribe? The list of precious things dying could go on and on, but today we get to receive a gift of life as a Mighty God is born as a new baby. And that is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

*Christmas time in Tanzania is always marked, not by giving so many things, but by spending time in worship (often all day on Christmas day or multiple days around Christmas). I miss that sometimes.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Wonderful Councilor: How Jesus calls us to reimagine the Christmas Season

I am using Walter Brueggemann's Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study this advent season as a different way to move through the Advent Season. This is especially helpful since we won't be at one consistent church this Advent Season which makes it hard to keep a consistent theme or teaching throughout this time of year.

The book is focused on Isaiah 9:2-7 and the four names that were used in that passage. These names, while originally meant for a different king have come to focus on what type of Messiah or King that Jesus will be. The first one is Wonderful Councilor. 

What Walter Brueggemann focuses on in his introduction of this first name is that many of us, when we hear the title of Christ being announced, that Jesus is being called a “wonderful counselor” but in reality the name is “wonderful councilor.” Jesus is not being called to listen to people and give advice, instead he is being announced as the new government administrator who is responsible for bringing about a new government.

As Christians we acknowledge that Advent, or the Christmas season, is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. What the first of Jesus’ titles in Isaiah 9 is reminding us of is that the Christmas season is not about the beginning and ending of feelings of good cheer, but rather the beginning of something more. This idea of the Christmas spirit being all year round is common and a commonly echoed wish in many of our lives during Christmas time. So many good things happen around Christmas like food and clothing drives, donations for various causes, volunteering at various non-profits, and a focus on gift-giving to others. It is a time of the year known for transforming scrooges into generous benefactors and for reminding us what is truly important, such as families and relationships.

Jesus however, came to implement a new kingdom, not simply a slightly more generous season of giving. His title as councilor ushers in a new government with new policies, programs, and values. The transfer of administrations often means new government employees, campaign promises to fulfill, and voters to satisfy. The difference this time is that the agenda is not being set by a human hand, but God’s own hand.

The point however, is that this is a season of preparation for permanent change, not simply as a nice sentimental suggestion, but as a requirement. Therefore, we need to seriously think about how to move from the charity of the moment, towards a new way of living. Moving from soup kitchens to removing food deserts and reducing homelessness. Moving from dropping coins in a budget to dropping consumerism as a way of life with is actually leading to the death of our planet, economy, and family relationships. Move from volunteering in a great cause to building relationships with vulnerable or oppressed populations, relationships which will inform our lives and living year around.

We need to make this change as Christians, not just if we want to, as if Jesus’ title was “Wonderful Counselor” and he had made these suggestions to us while in a little office with a leather couch, but remembering that Jesus’ title is Wonderful Councilor and he is coming to institute a new way of life for all people.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Advent Anticipations

There is a saying that you should “prepare for the unexpected.” This is similar to the Boy Scout motto that I heard over and over again growing up in Boy Scouts, ‘be prepared.’ Which to be honest sounds great when you are younger but at some point begs some pretty important questions.
·      What are you preparing for?
·      How do you know what to prepare for?
·      How do you stay constantly prepared for the unknown?

Obviously we can prepare for many eventual outcomes in our lives and should, but consciously or unconsciously we still have to make decisions about what we are preparing for, what is it that we are anticipating coming?

Advent is all about anticipating and preparing for the birth of Christ, but if it is only preparing for the birth of a child, born into poverty in a manger who we can now oooo and aww over then our preparations are going to fall well short of what they should be. We will not actually be prepared for the significant shift that Jesus’ birth and life heralded in the earthly and cosmic realms.

Therefore let us anticipate and prepare for the WONDERFUL COUNSELOR, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, and PRINCE OF PEACE that Isaiah proclaims. Let us prepare for the anointed one, the messiah, who came to lead us into a new life. Let us anticipate the personal, communal, political, spiritual, and socio-economic changes that Christ’s birth signify during this Christmas Season.

There will be more coming about each of these names and what they signify about our preparations during advent that I will post over the next four weeks.

Update: This material is inspired by reading through Walter Brueggemann's Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study which I am doing for myself this advent season.