The Second Thursday of Advent
December 8, 2011
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices. (Psalm 37:3-7)
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Revelation 8:17a)
When people get together, there is drama. Whether it is nations, congresses, cities, neighborhoods, or families, something inevitably happens to cause division, strife, and orneriness. Give us the space to be together, to delight in one another’s company, to share a common life or mission, and we’ll pick a fight before the day is over.
When I was a kid we had Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some distant relatives. I was out in their front yard throwing a football to myself when a family—a young couple with two kids—burst out of the house next door and raced to their car, an older man at their heels. Once the people were in the car, the older man went to the driver’s window and punched the younger man in the face several times. As the driver pulled the car forward to leave, the other man kicked out the rear side window, shattering glass all over the kids in the back seat. I was told that, later in the day, the man doing the punching and kicking went to the home of this family with a shotgun and tried unsuccessfully to shoot the other man.
It appears that the argument was about telling other people’s kids to behave. Now that’s worth a killing.
Churches are like extended families (and sometimes like small cities), and some of the dynamics of strife emerge there, more often than we’d like to see. There are numerous denominations here in the US that are splitting apart in angry division. Some individual churches are attacking other groups of Christians vehemently. Still others attack the world at large, insisting that God hates the people that they hate.
It’s not possible to characterize the church as one thing, since it is so diverse and complex. Nevertheless, it might not be far off the mark to say that things are a mess.
When the rest of the world sees what we’re up to–since our more divisive and goofy antics are the ones that make the popular headlines—I don’t think they typically see a church that trusts in the Lord and does good (even though there are churches that do that) or one that waits patiently for the Lord and doesn’t fret (although there are churches that do that as well). We tend to be just as frantic and fractured as the rest of the world, and that’s what imprints the popular mind. It imprints us as well.
In the season of Advent we reflect on Jesus’ birth–his coming into the world. The world into which he was born was messy, and ours is no better. In Advent we also anticipate Jesus’ return to us. I wonder what kind of church he’ll find, in all its diversity and complexity, when that happens? If he returned today, what would he see?
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
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