Advent Week 2 -The Promise of a King

In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel announces the divinely-appointed births of two world-changing babies. First he tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Next he tells Mary that she will give birth to the King, the long-awaited Messiah.

Zechariah and Mary both respond with a question.

Zechariah: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary: “How will this be…?”

Similar, but subtly different. Zechariah’s question carries doubt, whereas Mary asks for clarification: This will be, but how?, she might have said.

Too often, my questions sound more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Doubt first, trust later.

To both Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…” That might just mean they had a darned good reason to be afraid! I wish I were more like Mary, meek, humble, accepting. But God made me in a different, fierier furnace and, as much as I love Him, I’m stubborn and seem to need to wrestle with Him first. I’m also a big scaredy cat. Most days I am content to be a spectator, to cheer others on from the sidelines. I don’t crave fast-paced action. I like comfort.

I’m pretty convinced, however, that God doesn’t intend for our lives to be too comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we rely on ourselves; discomfort pushes us into God’s arms. Five years ago God shook up my comfort: He gave our family the opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving break mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

I love to travel, but travel and mission trips are not synonymous. Previous mission trips had convinced me that some of us get to send money, pray, and cheer others on. I felt fine with that role. Until God called me.

Do not be afraid? Right!

I thought money would be a deal-breaker. God provided.

I like to be well-prepared, but mission trips don’t work that way. “Flexibility” is key. Unfortunately, I rediscovered that when I’m stressed I can be a cranky control freak.

But the overriding fear was: How could I be a participant and a parent? Teen would be fine–he craves adventure–but Tween is a homebody, content in his pj’s and his own company for days on end. At the time he was 7 years old, and he didn’t even like easy vacations.

God and I had an ongoing conversation about all this for months. One early morning, after sleeplessly tossing through the night, I told Guy I couldn’t do it. I had time to go for a walk by myself and started to pray, when God cut me off. He said: “Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (from Joshua 1:9). I don’t typically think in Bible verses, so I recognized this verse in my head as God’s word to me. I could go to the DR because God would be with me.

I told God I wouldn’t be the obstacle, however, I was open to God throwing up obstacles. He leveled them. I thought we might miss the passport deadline. Instead, we got two appointments in one day on the very day we called, early enough that we didn’t need to expedite, and then the passports arrived in one week.

Another time I tried to duck out the back gate of a team work day. I didn’t feel like good company and I didn’t know how to help. But our team leader just happened to be in the driveway, looking for me. I burst into tears. Talk about humiliating, but God turned it into an opportunity to provide the support I needed to once again say yes to the trip and to God.

I pleaded, “Hey, God, you’ve got the wrong person! I have all sorts of excuses why this just won’t work for me. Do you want to think this through and get back to me? I’m sure there’s plenty I can do for you right here…” And still, God was patient. He got me there in the end, with a powerful sense of His presence and encouragement along the way.

John Ortberg wrote, “The antidote to fear is the presence of God. In him we are courageous.”

The evening of our first full day in the DR I jotted some notes in my journal. I started with “Where I’ve seen God so far…” The list isn’t short! It includes things like
*an unexpected nap
*meeting the child we’ve sponsored for years face-to-face in his home
*and one of my all-time favorite worship experiences: Tween’s little body wasn’t feeling great after the long trip, so we sat outside church. The congregation sang in Spanish, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” He recognized the song, so we sang along in English. Those words—open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you—echoed what I had asked people to pray for me, that I would see God.dr-nikaury

All those prayers worked, because Tween and I had the best trip! Young as he was, he saw himself as an important member of the team. During our meetings we shared SMOGs, “small moments of grace.” God’s grace was everywhere, and we took time to notice and celebrate it together. Tween shared at least one SMOG at every meeting.

Another of my fears: would I be able to do anything worthwhile? To make myself laugh and keep a good attitude, I pretended my tasks were challenges on The Amazing Race. I helped sort the 2,000 pounds of donations our team brought with us; weighed and measured kids at Anija (school); led Christmas craft projects; and peeled countless potatoes and apples for 2 huge Thanksgiving meals.dr-thxgiving

More importantly, I shared coffee and conversation with house mothers at The Ark (orphanage); played and laughed and hugged lots of new friends; and shared conversation and worship with teammates. The goal on The Amazing Race is to be the first team across the finish line and win $1 million dollars. My goal was to see God and serve Him in whatever way He asked. I’m pretty sure I won.

God doesn’t always call you to something you’re good at, but simply to something you can do. I didn’t expect to be good at something, so I simply made myself available. That was enough. We heard repeatedly that God doesn’t care about how much or little you have; He cares about your heart. The Big Question is always the same: Do I trust God?

This trip changed me, and it changed our family. Both kids made friends and did their jobs. They grew in faith and even encouraged each other. We each saw one another with new eyes as we served together. This trip gave us the courage and preparation to spend 10 weeks of Guy’s sabbatical in Costa Rica. We were prepared for crazy motorcycle drivers, humidity and bugs, and having to think so hard to understand the language. We were ready to look for and share SMOGs, to see God everywhere.dr-friends

Do not be afraid… If you believe our good God has set an open door before you, then you should walk through it. Saying yes makes it easier to say yes again. The opposite is also true: saying no makes it easier to say no again—and, honestly, that scares me more than saying yes.

One week five years ago still has significant impact on my willingness to trust God. I may keep arguing with Him along the way, and yet I can’t wait to see what else He has in store!

Week 2 – The Promise of a King
December 4-10

Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Read: In old age Elizabeth miraculously conceived her promised joy, her son John. The angel Gabriel delivered a similar promise to her young cousin Mary: she, too, will miraculously conceive a baby. But whereas John will prepare the way, Mary’s baby Jesus will be the everlasting King, the Son of God. With Mary, we trust the promise because no word from God will ever fail.

Pray: We are the Lord’s servants. May your word to us be fulfilled. We wait and pray in the name of Jesus our coming King, Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 31:8 How can God’s presence comfort you in discouragement?
Tuesday Psalm 5:1-3 What difference does it make that your King hears your cries and requests?
Wednesday Matthew 6:9-10 What might God’s kingdom look like on earth today?
Thursday Hebrews 1:1-3 How do you learn to hear the Son’s voice?
Friday 2 Timothy 3:16-17 What has God said to you through His Word recently?
Saturday 1 John 5:20 What does it mean to you to have eternal life with the Son of God?

 

Advent Week 1 -The Promise of Joy

road

No matter how far in advance I begin preparing for Advent–and as church Communication Director, that can be much farther in advance than you’d think–the first Sunday of Advent always strikes me as a bit of a surprise.

End-August through end-November are my professional busy season, reflecting on the past year as I compile the annual report and projecting forward as we plan for Advent and the new year. Personally, I lose track of the chronological calendar; I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving, wait, Thanksgiving is over…? I need Advent to locate me in time again.

More than Christmastime, when we decorate and bake and celebrate, I need Advent to rouse my slumbering soul, to reawaken my wonder. I need Advent to remind me to expect God to show up in unexpected ways.

I need Advent to hear God’s promise of joy.

This morning the church was beautifully decorated with Christmas trees sparkling with gold and silver ornaments and twinkling white lights. This morning our friends processed to the chancel and, as a family, read from Luke 1 and led us in prayer as they lit the first candle of Advent.

This morning we made a baptismal pledge to help a young family raise their son in faith. His parents grew up side-by-side in this church; his grandparents on both sides are stalwart members; this sweet boy is named for his grandfathers–John, his maternal grandfather, and Wellwood, his paternal grandfather (Woody). His parents are Eric and Liz.

Pastor handed Eric a microphone and invited him to read a Scripture. He read the verse painted above his son’s crib, Luke 1:13-14:

13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth…

This baby John receiving the sacrament of baptism, his mother is named Elizabeth. His great-grandmother Elizabeth also gave birth to a John, his grandfather for whom he is named. And way back when, God unexpectedly showed up to grant the joy of answered long-prayed prayers by another Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist.

The story of which just happened to be today’s Scripture text.

God shows up in wonder. We may wait for a long journey; we may struggle in the waiting; we may be righteous and still a little bit sad; we may–we do!–need God to show up in unexpected ways. God is good. God is faithful. God promises joy, the joy of His presence no matter whether the circumstances incline us to happiness. I need Advent to remind me to open my eyes to God’s presence, God’s wonder, God’s joy.

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Week 1 – The Promise of Joy
November 27-December 3

 Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the promise of joy.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Read: Zechariah and Elizabeth grew old in righteousness but childlessness had stolen their joy. When they least expected it, the angel Gabriel delivered God’s promise of joy: Elizabeth would bear a son! Their long-prayed prayers would be answered at last. John would be a joy and delight to his parents and cause many to rejoice as he prepared people for the Lord.

Pray: Dear God, we eagerly anticipate your joy as you prepare our hearts for your Son. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Joshua 23:14 What promises has God fulfilled for you?
Tuesday 1 Chronicles 16:8-11 What wonderful acts has God done? Rejoice!
Wednesday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Thursday Isaiah 12:2-4 What difference does trusting God make in your daily life?
Friday 2 Peter 3:9 When has it felt like the Lord was slow in keeping His promise? What hope does this verse offer?
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?