Friday, December 16, 2005

Advent: Learning to Receive

In Watch for the Light, William Willimon questions our ability to receive. He thinks that we are much more comfortable in the role of giving. He notes that the first thing we often do when given a gift is to want to give a gift in return...not necessarily out of love or kindness but...

We don't want to be indebted. The gift seems to lay a claim upon us... By giving us a gift, the person has power over us.

We to prefer to think of ourselves as givers - powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.

But in the story of Christmas, God has given to us in a way that we can never return payment and we don't know how to handle that. Again, Willimon says...

It's tough to be on the receiving end of love. God's or anybody else's... "Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace, " wrote John Wesley a long time ago.

This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn't need, which transform us into people we don't necessarily want to be.

This last quote is the most profound for me. Because we are so ingrained in our way of thinking and not in tune with God, his actions often seem foreign and even inappropriate, so we often reject them out right - barely giving them any consideration. (Hasn't this happened even in the Christmas story itself?)

This Advent I encourage you to receive the gift that God wants to give you - not the one that you think you need. What is it that he's been trying to give you (think character qualities or relationships) that you have resisted because that's just "not you". It's in receiving that gift and becoming the person he wants you to be that you will find peace and fulfillment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Advent: A Call for Revolution

John Yoder gives us a totally different look at Advent. He notes in Mary's song in Luke (after hearing that she'll give birth to Jesus) that this is not a song of a sweet maiden but...

...of Maccabees (the Jewish revolutionaries): it speaks of dethroning the mighty and exalting the lowly, of filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty. Mary's praise to God is a revolutionary battle cry.

He goes on to say that every revolutionary thinks that "the system" is corrupt and needs overthrowing - and that's what the "gospel" is - a call to revolt - a call to do away with the old and to bring in the new. In defining the word "gospel" or (evangelion in Greek) he says...

Originally it is not a religious or a personal term, it is news which impinges upon the fate of the community. [The gospel or] "Good news" is the report brought by a runner to a Greek city, that a distant battle has been won, preserving their freedom; or that a son has been born to the king, assuring a generation of political stability. "Gospel" is good news having seriously to do with the people's welfare.

What a great take on a word that we have allowed to grow boring and mundane. The good news of Jesus' birth isn't meant to make us warm and fuzzy but to stir us to action- casting off the old system of selfishness and pride and working to build a new community of sacrificial love and good works. Yoder closes by saying...

The need is not for consolation or acceptance but for a new order in which men may live together in love. In his time, therefore, as in ours, the question of revolution, the judgment of God upon the present order and the imminent promise of another one, is the language in which the gospel must speak. What most people mean by revolution, the answer they want, is not the gospel; but the gospel, if it be authentic, must so speak as to answer the question of revolution. This Jesus did.