Advent

Living the Word: Weeping and Waiting

Bychykhin Olexandr / Shutterstock

Bychykhin Olexandr / Shutterstock 

ADVENT IS QUICKLY APPROACHING as Pentecost draws to a close. The sweeping, turbulent flow of the Spirit’s work in the church slows down. These weeks are marked by attention to widows, pain, and relationships, and to the up-close, daily grind of life. We zoom in. No sweeping theological treatises here, except those that alert us that Jesus’ second coming embodies all that the world needs to be made right and whole. Pastoral care is the emphasis now. Brush off the dust from your toolbox of “reflective listening,” “productive questions,” and “fogging.” This means no sharp dichotomies between what we do in worship and what we do throughout the week. Pastoral. Prophetic. Administrative. These will need to be one hat, as they always should be.

Scripture reminds us these weeks that our preaching ought always to be about care, about counsel, about presence. Why? Because, after all, we preach to people, not aliens. The goal of preaching is incarnation—the kind that enters the world through a teenage, unwed, poor woman’s womb, into a pig trough with animals and outdoor smells. The church’s message will need to be no less earthy, involved, reaching the ground of people’s actual lives. We’ll need to speak to all of the contradiction, heartache, and tears along with the opportunities, transitions, and celebrations in folks’ lives. I pray that our messages take on flesh. O come, O come, Emmanuel!

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Harry Potter and the Advent Devotional

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But perhaps the reason why the darkness cannot understand or overcome the Light is because it will not and cannot imagine reducing itself or condescend to be like its enemy in order to overcome it. Scripture describes an adversary who wanted to be like God, but doesn’t seem to understand that God’s very nature is “gentle and humble and heart.” The nature of darkness is not a generous one. It doesn’t offer light or heat or allow other things to grow. It isolates.

Patience Is Love's Cradle

For the longest time, I was convinced that Paul the evangelist totally whiffed on one of his most beautiful passages: the one where he emphasizes that love is what really matters, and then lists some of its defining traits. He starts out by saying that love is … patient.

Really?

He goes on to list other traits, such as kindness. He also says what it’s not: rude, selfish, snobbish, brooding, quick to give up on someone. And it’s all really good stuff, written with such grace. But I’ve always had a difficult time with that first word.

Patient. Love is patient.

Holy Refugees

Syrian refugee family in Croatia, Sept. 17.

Syrian refugee family in Croatia, Sept. 17. Photoman29 / Shutterstock.com

If Donald Trump had been Pharaoh of Egypt, the Holy Family never would have escaped from Herod’s persecution. Jews would have been prohibited from entering the country. Christmas features the story of a family from the Middle East leaving a homeland in fear and seeking refuge is a foreign land, just as millions do today.

If you visit Egypt and its ancient Coptic Church, you’ll see images of the Holy Family everywhere: Joseph, Mary — always on a donkey — and the infant Jesus. They are moving, wandering. You’ll find pictures of them passing by the pyramids. Egyptian Christians treasure this story for theirs is the land that offered welcome and hospitality to the Son of God when he was a refugee.

'Dad, Why Can’t We Just Kill The Bad Guys?'

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For the first week of Advent, my wife Amy preached about hope. She pointed out that having hope doesn’t mean necessarily that we see a way out of suffering. It does, however, give us a reason to try to keep working through it. We have to believe there’s another side to it. Another possibility. The potential for a new reality.

And that reality will never, ever be realized by responding to violence with more violence. It may make us feel better in the moment. It may seem to offer short-term relief. But ultimately, it makes everyone that participates become a little bit of what they hate. And the cycle continues.

Which story will we choose to try to live into?

What Are We Waiting For?

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I wonder if God calls us to celebrate waiting because the lie we’re all most susceptible to is that if we just get what we want, we’ll be ok. When this is our mentality, we actually forget to live. We become so future-oriented that we can ignore the presence of God in our midst and the signs of the Divine work in this world. We can miss out on the good things he provides daily, hourly.

 

Advent: It's the End of the World As We Know It

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If this is your first Advent, or if it has been awhile, let me catch you up. Advent is the season of expectant waiting before Christmas. It’s a time to wake up, slow down, sit still, listen, and wait. A kind of expected, engaged waiting, with one another. And the first Sunday of Advent  —  celebrated on the four Sundays before Christmas  —  always starts with apocalyptic end-of-world scenarios.

Again, an odd way to start. But I think there is wisdom in it. The ancients saw fit to remind us of the harried, violent world into which the Christ child was born. Which, if we are honest, is also like the world in which we find ourselves.

Violence, brokenness, and heartache can take many forms. Each of us experience the heartache of recent weeks. Maybe it was a year-long affair; or Paris; or a lost job; or mass gun violence; or depression; or Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Ill.; or Garret Swasey in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Holy Family Arrives at the Border

Prazis / Shutterstock

Prazis / Shutterstock

THE FAMILIES arriving at the Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, all come with one thing in common—a high sense of hope and faith in God. Much like the Holy Family, these families were forced to flee because they feared for the lives of their children.

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley began a humanitarian crisis-relief program in the summer of 2014 to respond to the influx of immigrants crossing the border who didn’t have a place to rest. Many are fleeing the violence in Central America. In El Salvador, for example, the murder rate has more than doubled since 2012 and soon will pass that of Honduras, which has the highest murder rate per capita in the world.

With the help of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and hundreds of volunteers, we were able to open a place of safety for refugees before they continue on their journey. For these holy families, it is the love for their children that moves them to face all possible dangers by traveling north.

In the biblical story, St. Joseph was a “just man” and faithful. He was forewarned of Herod’s imperial violence and fled the country to protect his wife and infant son. At our center the fathers are also men of profound dedication and attentiveness to the needs of their families.

One young dad had left his home in Central America with his pregnant wife and their two little girls. His wife gave birth in Mexico. As they prepared to cross the Rio Grande into the U.S., he and the baby became separated from his wife and two daughters. He lost them. When he and the 1-month-old baby arrived at our center, he had no idea if his wife and two little girls were alive or if he would ever see them again.

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