Does God notice us? In the grand scheme of the world, do our lives even matter? What do we do when we find everything in our life seems to be on shaky ground?
Like the past couple of posts, this one focuses on a Christmas song… Only we don’t know the tune, so we can’t sing along and I can’t post a YouTube of it. The song is known on some playlists as The Magnificat and it belongs to Mary. She writes it after her world is turned upside-down; an angel has just told her she will give birth to the son of God. She is an unwed virgin; what will people think? Elizabeth, who also finds herself unexpectedly pregnant credits Mary’s faith and Mary’s response is poetic.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
“He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” God notices us.
Sometimes, reflecting on one’s own life feels so… selfish. So narcissistic. And don’t get me wrong, in this age of updating facebook statuses and seeking to get noticed not just on campus but on twitter, narcissism has never been easier to attain. But I admit that lately I’ve been thinking about my own life a lot and sometimes I wonder where the line of navel-gazing is. When does introspection become unhealthy for the introspector and those in his or her life? I think a recent sermon by Dave Rohrer (12/4/11) provided some clarity on this point.
As Dave dissected the Magnificat, he pointed out that God notices. The details of our lives are important to God and worthy of thought and effort. This is Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” God is paying attention. At the same time, God is issuing us an invitation to be part of the greater story — God’s story. Mary goes on to say, “The Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.” She sings of God’s mercy to her. She tells the story of what he has done in previous generations and finishes with God’s mercy that extends from Abraham to … Mary herself. She realizes she is part of something bigger. God has invited her to His story.
I think this is the key for us when we find ourselves in deep introspection, contemplating our own lives. The impetus behind it ought to be a desire to see how our lives fit into God’s story. So that when we focus on our own pain and struggles, we might hope in God — that He can heal and redeem and restore. Of course, this redemption doesn’t always happen in our timing, but the idea is that we can see our struggles in the light of God’s hope. When we ask if God is even noticing, we can be reminded that not only has He noticed us, but He has entered in to our struggle through the very birth of Jesus.
Advent (and the Magnificat in particular) are invitations — reminders to keep watching, waiting, looking for what God is doing. Which means I can lament the past and the pain in my life, but I can also rejoice that God not only notices and cares about the pain, but wants to heal and redeem, bringing the hope I need that my story — an important story — is one small part of something much bigger God is doing in the world.
You are mindful of our state. Right now.
Help us to value our story and the details of our lives the same way You do, but to write that story in the bigger context of Your Word & Your story.
Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant
I’ve recently been reminded (and, quite honestly, wonder-struck) by the moment-to-moment nature of relationship, including the relationship into which God has invited us with Himself. Faithfulness is an action verb, and a choice we make continually – not just once. An oft-heard comparison of our relationship with God is the marriage analogy because it is another covenant relationship, wherein each person has a choice to make. In a sermon I heard recently (11/20/11), former pastor at UPC, Bruce Larson was quoted as saying, “Nobody gets married by saying, ‘I agree.’ Or ‘How true.'” Instead, it requires, “I do.” Covenant relationship is a choice and an action, not a mental ascension.
Christmas carols and hymns are one of the gifts of Advent. Yearly audible reminders of the season. Until recently, though, I have struggled a bit with one of the mainstays of December, “O Come All Ye Faithful.” That is because when I start to sing that song – which opens with the title line – I ask myself, “Is that me? Am I faithful? Am I faithful enough to even sing this song?” The answer is without fail, “Sometimes,” which can make me feel unworthy to be singing a song about faithfulness. But, I’ve started to change my perspective on this song recently. Instead of seeing it as an invitation to the faithful, I now sing and hear it as an invitation to be faithful. It’s not a call to the most pious among us to take their rightful place next to the God incarnate. It’s an invitation to all of us to be faithful by simply coming, beholding, adoring, God – who came to us as a baby.
It’s what I like to call the present progressive nature of faith. Present progressive is a verb tense that – much like its name indicates – indicates action now. “I am writing” means something altogether different from “I write.” The former requires intentionality in the present moment that the latter does not. I see “O Come All Ye Faithful” in a similar vein. Regardless of my past faithfulness, I can right now choose to look for God. The actions the song invites us into — behold, adore, come, sing, greet, give glory — are actions that invite us to simply gaze upon the wonder of the gift God gave us in Jesus. Those actions are in and of themselves acts of faithfulness.
Let’s commit ourselves to faithfulness today, looking for what God is doing all around us. Praise God because in this covenant relationship, He has already chosen us and now the choice is ours; whether we have been faithful most of our life or we have never chosen to behold God before, the invitation is there.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:8-20
Like the shepherds, help us to seek You today.
Help us to gaze upon You – who You are and what You have done in our lives & then to join the angels praising You.
With Mary, we want to ponder the wonder of who You are in our hearts, allowing it to transform who we are.
Allow us to be faithful today to You, who are faithful always.
Remind us of Your presence with us, that we might be faithful to simply behold You.
Give us the courage to say, “I do,” now and in each moment.
Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant
When I think about waiting, what usually comes to mind is the woman at the end of the Mervyn’s ad. “Open, open, open…” I can’t think about anything else! And I suppose, that is kind of the point when we talk about Advent being a season of waiting. When we anticipate something happening, we tend to see everything through a lens of waiting for the big moment. Of course, this can cause us problems when it comes to failing to live in the present… (How often have you said this year, “If I can only get to the weekend?”) But this is not a post about that. This is about waiting for
something someone who has already come; which means even as we anticipate His coming, we can experience it today as well.
“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” -Isaiah 7:14
This time of year, Christmas music is ubiquitous. One of my favorite songs of the season is O Come, O Come Emmanuel, because it sums up the experience of Advent — the waiting, the watching, the anticipating on the front end, but also a reminder of who we are waiting for: Emmanuel. God is with us. This means we are anticipating a miracle — a miracle that will ransom us. Think about that word for a minute. Ransom is paid to gain the release of someone who is imprisoned. In order to appreciate the miracle of Christmas, we have to recognize our state on our own. Without Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, we are prisoners. We are captive to our own sin and the sin of the world, but God comes to be with us — to “put on skin,” that we might be set free.
6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 42:6-7
As we live into Advent, let’s remember not only Who we wait for – God With Us – but our need for His coming. The sin in us and in the world doesn’t cease to exist upon Jesus’ arrival, but we are no longer captive to it. This is why we rejoice in Emmanuel. God is with us now – even while we wait for Christmas to come and even while we wait for Him to come again.
Keep our eyes open and show us how You are with us, even in our messy lives. As we study for finals, interact with friends and family, travel, and wait… Remind us of Your presence behind, before, and beside us in each activity. Thank You for Your Spirit that goes with us today, and thank You for Your son, who came that we may be able to choose abundant life in relationship with You.
Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant
If I had looked up the word, “Advent” as a child, I probably would have expected to see “a type of calendar that counts down to Christmas (AKA gift time!)” … But now, the season that precedes Christmas is more than a type of calendar to me. It is a time of waiting, watching, hoping, and anticipating God coming to earth in human skin.
It’s funny to anticipate something you know is coming because it really has already come. And yet we can’t wait to see it happen again. The cyclical nature of the calendar – the very idea that we celebrate the same holiday and season every ~365.25 days is a gift of grace.
I need the reminder. Anything I’m told once, or learn once, I forget. But if there is something to bring it to mind a few times subsequently, it begins to nestle its way into my brain. In fact, there are a few things in there I do not think I could get out if I wanted to and tried. Unfortunately, one of those things is too many digits of pi. 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939 are woven in there tightly because of a challenge in high school. (At least I am assured of always being able to calculate the circumference of a circle… So there’s that.) Fortunately, also lodged in my mind is the first passage of scripture I ever memorized, Psalm 4. Sometimes when I am trying to recall something completely unrelated – my grocery needs for example – what pops into my brain instead is, “Answer me when I call to You, oh my righteous God.” I don’t know why it’s stored in the same part of the brain as the recipe I need to remember, but it’s there, ready when I need it. Regardless of what it is – useless trivia or scripture, sports statistics or your friends’ favorite colors – most of us only remember something when we are able to put that which we remember to use multiple times, whether in our own minds or socially.
Advent is a gift. It comes around every year and it stays for 4 weeks, reminding us: We are waiting for something. We are incomplete. But fulfillment is coming. Let’s incline our ears to hear and prepare our eyes to see where God already is working in our world, that we might know our need for Jesus to come and understand the gift we were given in His coming.
We’ll be using this space for the next 2 weeks to reflect on Advent – not as a countdown to Christmas, but as a season to celebrate in and of itself… We invite you to read and reflect on what it means to wait for something and anticipate a gift which You already know is coming. How is this annual reminder of the gift God has already given a gift to you?
Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant