Entries tagged with “Jesus”.

It is getting darker earlier each day here at this old house. Winter solstice is coming! Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkness of this time of year corresponds so well with the themes of darkness and growing light in Advent.  Isaiah 9: 2 is one of those great Advent readings:

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

On my walk this morning, I was thinking of the stories I inhabit. Some of them are from my life; some are ones others have shared with me. Some are recent; others go back decades. I find that the stories I ruminate the most over are the ones that don’t feel finished in my mind. There seems to be an unanswered question or an unsettling encounter that was never resolved. Those are the stories that deeply carve ruts in my mind and heart.

Today, I was thinking also about the Story of Advent into Christmas. Tomorrow in worship, we will hear of John the Baptist and his time in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. John was Jesus’s cousin, older by about six months. There is some evidence that John was part of the Zealot community in Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. This community was like a monastic hermitage, where people, in this case Jewish men, went to live in the wilderness to avoid the “corruption” of the Temple worship system. (There really is nothing new under the sun, is there?)

Scholars who have excavated Qumran note its close location to the traditional site on the Jordan River, in modern day Jordan, where John was baptizing. (There are some very ancient steps at the site which may be the ones Jesus walked down into the water to be baptized by his cousin as they date from that era.) Some have even postulated that Jesus was part of that Zealot community because of his association with his cousin, John. All speculation, certainly, but from what the scholars know of the Qumran community’s lifestyle, John and even Jesus could have been there, either as members or visitors.

We know so little of the story of Jesus’s growing up years, with the exception of one incident when he was 12 (see Luke 2: 41-52). It is as if someone ripped out the middle of a great novel! We get the beginning, a paragraph in the middle and then the ending, which is still being written today in each of our lives. This Story isn’t over yet and is being written by all people in all times and places in history. What difference does this Story make to the stories I reflect on during my walks? To the story of my life? How does the story of my life fit into this greater Story of God’s work in the world?

Advent seeks to help us answer those questions. One of the things the Western Church has neglected to some degree, at least compared to the Eastern Orthodox Church’s emphasis on it, is the Incarnation of Jesus and what it means in our daily lives. Jesus coming in the flesh, entering time and geography, having a human story to live while he temporarily laid aside living in the eternal Story from which he was begotten of the Father, must make a functional impact on my life or Christmas is nothing more than a really good Hallmark movie.

If Jesus took on human flesh, then John 3: 16 makes sense (For God so loved the world). If we insist on keeping Jesus as a “super human” who never needed to sleep or go to the bathroom, John 3:16 has nothing practical to say to us. However, if the material world was worth redeeming from its fallen, not worthless, state,  such that Jesus came and inhabited the world as fully human while remaining fully God (a mystery indeed) then the way I live in my body and care for the earth make a difference. If God thinks those things are important, then they need to be important to his followers as well.

As I am feeling the weight of the commercial holiday season (even without a TV forcing it on me even more!) and trying to balance all my regular work commitments with additional fun activities, I need to know this greater Story in my flesh. I need to understand that all that I am doing or trying to do between now and January 6th has a reason behind it, that it is more than a hyped-up family time. I need worship more than ever in these weeks ahead to remind me that the Story we tell in these days gives meaning to my small story and the stories of all people.

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased in flesh with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.




The Third of Sunday of Lent this year will see a troubling Gospel that basically asks the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people. Jesus infers that there are forces outside of a “cause and effect” relationship in the world that are bigger than the question itself.

We want to live in a cause and effect universe: if I am “good,” nice things will happen to me. Yet other places in Scripture, namely the Psalms, point out that the wicked often seem to thrive while the righteous struggle.

Another problem we have to wrestle with is, what does it mean to be “good”? Most of us assume that we fall into that category if we haven’t murdered anyone and we pay our taxes on time. Yet, all of us live with very gray areas in our lives, areas where we aren’t really all that good, if we are honest with ourselves. Then if we add in Jesus’ definition as hating someone being analogous to murdering them and looking at someone with lust in our hearts being similar to actually committing adultery with them, then we all start to squirm.

Also, definitions of “righteous” have been deemed too narrow or stuffy in modern times. It isn’t something many of us aspire to, deep down. Sex before marriage isn’t even on the radar screen of discussion in many Christian circles. “Following our hearts” is assumed to be the same as “listening to God.” And while there is some truth to that, in Scripture we find Paul on a road to Damascus following his passion to keep his Jewish faith “pure.” We all know how that story ends. His passion is thrown off a horse and his heart is given a complete turning inside out and upside down. That does not offer much comfort for our hearts being the final authority in our lives.

We so desperately want a “cause and effect” universe because in that kind of world, we are in control. If we act in “good” ways, we will be rewarded and if we do bad things, we will get our just desserts. Or more accurately, others who act badly in our definition of bad will get their true reward.

The Good News of Jesus Christ says that goodness is only found in surrendering our ideas of control to God. Through submission to God, peace and joy come to us. We do not like to hear that message. We want to be in charge and yet still reap great rewards.

That is where we continue to hit a wall, a wall named God. God stands against our sin and our idolatry. He loves us and invites us to participate in the goodness of his Kingdom but he will not budge or cave in to our mini temper tantrums about “having it our way.” He will allow us to have it our way but the results will also be in our hands.

And this leads us back to the question of “why do bad things happen to good people.” First of all, no one on the planet is completely good. All of us are an alloy of mixed motives, at best. Secondly, we are sometimes victims of other’s outright badness or misguided attempts at goodness. We simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a situation for which we will not find a comforting answer or tidy resolution. We are in this world and things happen because God has given everyone on the planet free will. We are all using that free will in different ways and for different reasons.

And then there is Jesus. He really was good because he was also God and look what happened to him! If this is what the world does to the only perfect person who ever walked it, why should we be immune from problems?

Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. That is the way of life. Our job is to do all we can to not be a bad thing to another person, to be the best we can for others and for creation. There are mysteries in the universe that will never be solved. This is one of them. Let us live in joy, trusting that in God, all things can and will be redeemed. Everything.



This is a link to a post I wrote on healing in the Church today. I hope you find it useful.