...holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony...
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus, a holy act that inaugurates a movement on the part of God to make new the very nature of faithful human beings. With that newness comes a new set of clothes so to speak.
In this passage Paul presents a vivid portrait of what it looks like to live as someone clothed entirely in Christ. It’s a picture both of us as individuals, as well as what it means to be a part of a community where Christ is all and in all.
Many of us unwrapped some new clothes yesterday.New pants and shirts, and perhaps some new styles to try. I got a couple of gifts like that - including this sweater. This is not my typical style I would choose for myself, but I love it. It’s warm, comfortable, and I think it looks good on me. But if I wore this around the neighborhood, would anyone even notice it was a new look for me?
A material change doesn’t really leave a lasting impression. But Paul isn’t telling us to put on a new sweater or slacks. Instead he’s reminding us to make an inward change, to put on Christ’s heart and wear his love out in the world. Paul uses this metaphor of wearing new clothes as marking our new life in Christ.One that sets out a way of life that avoids vices and upholds virtues.
I don’t have a clue what kind of sweaters Jesus got as gifts, but the Bible gives us plenty of views into his inward appearance that certainly got people’s attention. Looking at this list of virtues, it's impossible not to see Jesus as the one modeling them. But he isn’t just walking the runway for us to admire this new style. He’s out there, wearing his best, so we will mimic and mirror him. Jesus wears God’s righteousness to set an example on how we, his followers, should follow him.
Think about all the stories where Jesus hears the cries of the people and has compassion on them. He meets them in their pain and suffering, healing the sick and lame, and casting out the demons. He feeds the hungry, gives sight to the blind, and even raises the dead. If we want to live into Christ, to wear his heart, then we must make his way of compassion our way.
Just as Jesus showed kindness to everyone – especially to the ones who were being unjustly treated – so too must we be kind. The same is true about wearing his humility and patience, because once we get to know Jesus, our old ways no longer fit anymore. If we are going to be Christ followers, then we must not only walk in his footsteps but we must do so by wearing his sandals and carrying his staff.
watch the message here, just be kind and know there are some technical glitches.
Paul instructed the new church in Colossi to be intentionally focused on living virtuously, to set one’s mind on the way of Christ and not the way of the world.
When I see this list, I can’t help but wonder “am I capable of living up to these virtuous characteristics?” Where would I even begin?
As I thought about this question, that old cliché “What Would Jesus Do?” kept popping up in my head. It might not be fashionable anymore to wear those WWJD bracelets, but the message is still relevant for us today just as it was when Paul wrote this letter. It’s like he’s saying “Just look at what Jesus has done for you, and go and do that for others.”
Because Jesus has shown you compassion, you ought to be compassionate. If Jesus has forgiven you for what you have done (or left undone) then go and be liberal with your forgiveness. Go and be the blessing that Jesus is to you.
Just as he bears our burdens, we must also bear the burdens of those who are struggling. If someone you know is in need, do what Jesus did and help them. Don’t leave a person hanging or stranded because God through Christ has not left you stranded.
There’s a common practice in Alaska where you pick up a hitchhiker when you see one. No matter what. As dangerous as that might be, in a vast wilderness like Alaska, it’s possible you might be the only person who drives past them. The locals there do this because they know that there could come a day when they are that person who needs help.
If you ask me, this is what Jesus meant when he said love God and love your neighbor. For you never know when you might need a helping hand or forgiveness. Some call this Karma. But I call it being Christ like.
We might not be the best dressed, so to speak, but when we live in imitation of Christ, when we wear his clothes out into the world…we too become a part of God’s blessing to others like he was.
This works in every aspect of life. Do you want to live in a peaceful world? Then go and be the peace of Christ in the world. If you want a harmonious relationship with your co-workers then be the one who initiates harmony. Like Gandhi taught, go and be the change you want to see happen in your life, and in your community.
Imagine if we all loved like Christ loved us. No one would go to bed hungry. Children could live and go to school free from the fear of getting bullied or shot by a classmate. Or think about this - if every follower of Jesus Christ actually did what he did COVID could be eliminated because people would put the health and safety of the community above their own personal complaints.
Refusing to get vaccinated because of some political posture is the antithesis of clothing yourself in Christ like love. Right dress is not a matter of individual piety or political preference. It’s a matter of how we relate to one another in Christ. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are all relational virtues that mark how we think and behave toward one another in the community.
The Church is called the Body of Christ for a reason. We are a part of him. His heart is our heart. His hands are our hands. As his body we are the visible presence of his glory here in Ananmesa. Together, in this sacred space, we bear the responsibility to wear his love like we wear our own skin.
Perhaps this is what it means to have his word dwell in us. To have the love of Christ be who we are on the inside and out, so that we can live in perfect harmony with ourselves and one another.
Jesus calls us out into that space between us and them, and to fill it with God’s glory. Thus Paul writes, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Do everything in the name of Jesus. More than mere instructions, Paul is inviting us to take inventory of the things we do on a daily basis and then ask ourselves, would this be a blessing on someone’s life? If you don’t know how to answer that, then look to Jesus, who by living out God’s righteousness, sets the example for us to mirror.
When we chose the name Anamesa, we did so because it reminds us that God comes to meet us in all those spaces that are in between us. We want to build a community space of faith that knows in its heart that God is with us and among us. And knowing that God is among us, we set our intentions to act accordingly.
We want to be a community that believes when we show compassion to someone, we are showing it to Christ. When we are kind to someone, we are being kind to Christ. When we are able to be humble, meek, and patient, bearing one another’s burdens, we are doing also to him. Just as God has blessed the world through Christ Jesus, so too has God blessed us so that we, like Jesus, would become a blessing upon the world.
Therefore, go out into the world and “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful.”
Let your heart sing and rejoice, knowing all that you do, you do in Christ name, bringing glory to God whose one size fits all kind of love wears well on anyone who chooses to put it on.
The first comes from Luke 2:1-7.
If you grew up in the church, then this story is a familiar one. It is our claim to fame. The infamous birth story of Jesus that marks the end of our Advent wait.
The story continues out in the fields with a heavenly announcement made to some lowly shepherds – an angelic proclamation of God’s promise has finally been fulfilled! The Messiah has come, bringing good news to the poor and weak. God has heard the cries and has sent a savior. A new king has been born. One who will reign with justice and bring peace on earth.
Of course, if you read the rest of Luke’s gospel, you’ll see that not everyone sees this as good news. Unlikely political and religious alliances will be formed to stop this child from living into his destiny. There’s more to the Christmas story than just a baby sleeping in a manger. Wrapped inside that swaddling cloth is an enigma sent to disrupt the world as we know it. For that, Mary’s child will die.
Our second reading comes from Luke 23:44-49; 24:1-5
Jesus’ death was a shock to his followers. A massive disruption to their cause to say the least. We are lucky enough to know Christ’s death is not the end of the story. But they don’t know that God is still at work. They don’t realize that Christmas and Easter are one in the same groundbreaking and earth-shattering action of God who has come to us, to redeem and restore us. Two events, yet one gift.
Like life and death, you can’t accept one without facing the reality of the other. I know, this isn’t the usual nativity story we are used to hearing this time of year. The kind we interrupt with carols and children dressed up like animals forgetting their lines. But under the glitter and sparkly productions, it’s easy to forget that Christmas makes Easter possible.
We gather together, in this space of Anamesa, not just to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Or to recall his death. We gather to remember his resurrection. The culmination of God’s great gift given to the world.
As a father, I like to wonder what God was feeling seeing this helpless and vulnerable newborn baby? Did God cry, like I did when I met my three kids for the first time? When my first child was born, I really lost it. Not because I was scared or nervous, I was. I stood there weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, because for the first time in my life I really felt, and truly understood, unconditional love. So I can imagine God shed some wonderful tears of joy meeting this baby. In fact, I like to think God cries tears of joy when each one of us is born.
But as I stood there in that hospital room, life all of a sudden got very real. Given the fact we didn’t know the gender of our baby until she was born, the immense joy I was feeling all of a sudden was disrupted by the realization that she’s going to date! Then this fear that something bad could happen to this precious life overwhelmed me. When they finally handed me the baby, I held onto her and never wanted to let her go.
Again, I imagine God, who knows what the world is capable of, embraces us with a love that is so fierce and intense that it’s impossible to let us go. It’s safe to assume that God’s tears of joy are also mingled tears of sorrow – knowing what this small and fragile child will eventually endure to be the gift he was called to be. A gift that is greater than life itself.
In order for the world to be reclaimed and redeem and restored, this child must die. Christmas makes Easter not only possible, but also inevitable.
While the first Christmas present was placed in a manger, our Easter present was placed in a grave. Only when we go to open that gift, we don’t find socks and sweaters. We don’t even find a baby or a body of any kind. Instead, we only find an empty tomb.
That is the real gift of Christ, who emptied himself on the cross as a wonderful act of unconditional love making it possible for us to be redeemed, restored and renewed in our full fellowship with God. So, you see, the whole story of the Incarnation is not so much that God came to be with us, but that in Christ, we can be with God – always and forever. Just as Christmas makes Easter inevitable. Easter makes Christmas meaningful. Two separate presents, but one gift.
The gift is Christ, who calls us to walk with him into the sacred and holy space between the crib and the cross. When we walk with Christ, we are walking with God. When we walk with God there will always be peace around us, joy within us, and love and hope illuminating the way. Thanks to Christ, the darkness of the world is overpowered.
Thus, we light the Christ candle last, to reminds us of the true light that God brought into this world. A light to guide our way out of the shadows of evil that are all around us. A light to illuminate through us to help others navigate their way back to God’s steadfast and unconditional love. The closer we walk with Jesus in this light, the more we become like him.
While this gives us reason to celebrate tonight, it is not good news to everyone. The more we mirror Christ and reflect his light, the more of a threat we become to the world, whose only weapon is death. Christmas is our reminder that in the incarnate Christ, God interrupts the world. And God continues to move and disrupt through the Easter resurrection so that death is no longer a threat. It has lost its sting.
Just as God moves … so shall we…together in the space between. And so I send you out into the world tonight, illuminating the way of Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, the light of the world, given to us. God’s greatest disruption. God’s greatest gift.
The One we can open every day and still be surprised by what we find. Everything. And nothing. Two presents but one great gift.
There used to be a time when waiting was fun because it caused something in us to grow with excitement with each given day. But somewhere along the way that sense of anticipation was replaced with the thrill of instant gratification.
We don’t like to wait anymore. Businesses like Amazon and Netflix and DoorDash make a lot of money to give us what we want when we want it. If anything good has come from the pandemic, it’s forced us to slow down and wait. We wait for our test results. Wait for vaccines or boosters. Wait for orders that are waiting for the supply chain to get back up and running. In a lot of ways, COVID has helped me take the time to appreciate what I have, and what I’m waiting for.
As we enter our fourth and final week of Advent, our time of waiting for the Christ child is coming to a close. We’ve marked our time by lighting a different candle each week to remind us of what we are waiting for – the light of hope, love, and joy. Today, we light the candle of peace to remind us of God’s peace that comes to us in the Christ child.
Bathed in the glowing light of Advent, may we always remember the words of Eugene Peterson who wrote, “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. The longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”
A perfect segue to our reading for today from Luke 1:39-55.
I remember the day I learned that I was going to be a father. To be honest, that’s all I really remember. It was in the day. You'll have to ask Kathleen to fill in the rest of the details. However, I can remember the pregnancy. Ten long, painful months of nausea, aches and pains, emotional instability, and constant irritability! And that was just me! Again, you have to ask Kathleen what she went through.
While I have plenty of experience in sympathetic pregnancy, I still don’t have a clue about what women go through to bring a life into the world. Having witnessed it three times now, I can say, with great confidence, that peace doesn’t aptly describe the process.
There’s no peace when you’re nauseous every morning. Or when your body is constantly shifting and reshaping. There’s no peace when you can’t sleep because your body temperature is running amuck, and your hormones are out of whack. And there’s nothing peaceful about having a little human inside you kicking with the power of a professional MMA fighter.
Pregnancy brings hope, and love and joy into your life. But peace? Well, that’s debatable.
So why then do we get a very pregnant Mary on the Sunday we light the peace candle? It’s hard for me to imagine she’s feeling free from worry or enjoying a relaxed and tranquil state of mind. Her pregnancy was controversial to say the least.
To this day, people struggle to make sense of this mystery. A virgin birth seems just as likely as the Stork in “Dumbo” who struggles to deliver a baby elephant to his mother …on a moving train, …in the rain, …while drunk.
Advent gives us time to wait. A time for us to look beyond the science and mystery of the Incarnation…and to tune our ear to a song that sings of God’s perfect shalom that grows and swells inside this insignificant and favored child.
Before we speak of Mary, let’s take a quick look at the Hebrew word Shalom, which is often translated as peace. This is no ordinary, run of the mill feeling, or a wish for happiness. It’s the kind of peace that the Apostle Paul perfectly penned as one that "surpasses all understanding."
The simplest way to describe shalom is as “possessing complete wholeness in every part of your being.” It’s like a state of fullness and perfection that causes you to overflow with joy from the inside out. Biblically speaking this joy that shalom brings comes from reconciling with God - from making peace with God’s unconditional love. And that’s where Jesus comes in. He is our hope for this kind of salvation.
When we wait for the Christ child, we are waiting for the one who brings us back to God to be made well and complete – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and of course spiritually. Through Christ we have complete shalom. When we place our heart in his, we can enter Anamesa, that the space between,
with the wholeness of God’s perfect peace overflowing upon the world.
We all need God’s perfect peace, including a very pregnant Mary. She is a poor underage girl, who is unintentionally pregnant. On top of that she lives in a time of great poverty, in a land that has been occupied by foreign invaders. As as child, and especially as a female, she had no rights. No say so over her body. Or even who she would wed.
It’s safe to say, all was not right in her world. Now she is going to have a baby. How blessed is she?
Yet, despite all her circumstances, God found favor in her; choosing her to become Theotokos, or “God bearer.”
But she was not the only whom God favored in this Advent story. Luke gives us two women. Two cousins in fact. One is too young to have babies, and the other too old. And in both...no man was necessary for this to happen. Here are two people who by all accounts were counted worthless by society and yet have their wombs honored and blessed by God’s presence. It shouldn't surprise us the scripture breaks into song.
Their sons will usher in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that the prophets all predicted would be one of peace not war. And not just the kind of peace that favors one person or one country over another. But God’s perfect shalom. Protruding from her belly is the good news, the glad tidings of joy. God is coming. Peace will be restored and reign forever more. And Mary can’t help but rejoice!
Mary sings not just because there’s new life in her. She sings because God is giving new life to the world. She sings because she has been redeemed and made right with God. Her song is the song of Christ, the royal savior the prophets promised; the one who hears our cries, bears our infirmities and brings everlasting life.
In singing of God’s mercy and strength, Mary’s song becomes the anthem of hope for the poor and downtrodden. It is a ballad of God’s love made manifest for those whose hearts are broken or scared by abuse and anger.
Mary’s song is the song of Christ. A song of victory. A song of revolution. A song of radical inclusion and grace-filled forgiveness. It is a song of praise and worship that exalts the reign of God for every ear to hear and every mouth to sing.
Her song is our song too. Just as God did with Mary, God does through us. We all possess the seed of the Holy Spirit in us, because we are all called to carry God’s love into the world.
You see, the incarnation wasn’t a one time event. While Christmas comes once a year, Christ comes every day.
Through us, God’s ultimate and perfected love burst into the world in the many the ways we love and care for one another. Especially those who are unable to love and care for themselves. In us, God triumphantly breaks through the birth canal, takes his first breath and begins to turn the world upside down until there is no more war, poverty, or sin.
Like the prayer of St. Francis who sang, “Lord, make a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love.” God is calling us to give birth to Christ here in Anamesa, in that space between life and death. Discovering the greater mystery of Christ in himself and others, Francis realized that what began in Mary, continued to grow through him just as it continues through you and me.
Mary’s blessing from God is our blessing too. Her call is our call. Her baby is our baby. Her song, is our song. But who among us will join in this holy choir?
Who among us will answer the call to be God’s mother?
Who will carry the peace of Christ, God’s perfect shalom, in their womb?
Will it be you?
As we enter the space between today and tomorrow, God is moving and growing and wiggling and kicking within us. No more can a belly contain a baby forever, neither can we hold back Christ’s redemptive joy that is growing in us. God’s shalom is meant to be shared. How blessed are we to have been favored by God to be bearers of this good news?
As you leave here today, may you do so carrying the light of hope, love, joy and peace with you into Anamesa. In every space you go, may Christ spring from your belly, like a song sung from your hearts. Meister Eckhart taught us, “We are all called to be God's mother, because God needs to be born every day.”
Just as God did the impossible in the wombs of these two unlikely women, so too is God able to make complete and total peace possible through us.
With the light of Christ shining through us, fear and darkness leave us; our hope and love collide with joy; and peace fills the Earth.
As we move closer and closer towards the Christmas birth, let us gather together - singing and dancing - like a teenager whom God has honored and blessed.
or the King is here! “O Come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!" Amen, Amen
I’ll admit the last two years have made it hard to find that feeling. I’m sure a lot of us can identify with Charlie Brown, especially around this time of year. Despite Christmas being a joyful time around the world, it also causes a lot of people to feel more joyless than ever. The best they can do is hide away and avoid others until the holidays are over.
When Charlie Brown can’t shake that despondent feeling, his friend Lucy suggests that he directs the neighborhood Christmas play in the hope to get him into the spirit. Things only go south from there. No one listens to Charlie or follows his direction. And when he buys a scrappy, tiny Christmas tree for the centerpiece of the play, everyone, including his beloved dog Snoopy, ridicule and laugh at him for his choice.
Just as poor Charlie hits rock bottom, the spotlight finds Linus again who gives a wonderful speech about the true meaning of Christmas. What I love about this scene is that Linus quotes the gospel of Luke. It is the hearing of the word of God that inspires the children to decorate the tree as a Christmas gift to Charlie Brown, which of course allows our hopeless hero to find his joy again.
The closer we get to Christmas, the easier it is to feel like Charlie Brown. The little joy we can muster is often overshadowed by the stress and pressure to be happy. Or worse, everything is going well in your life and then something unexpected happens that robs you of your joy. We have been given God’s Word to help us through such challenging times.
Read: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Do not worry about anything.” It’s painfully obvious Paul that never had to scramble to find last minute gifts. Or begged God to reorder the postal service so they arrive on time! You don’t have to be skeptic to think Paul is hopelessly naïve or overly optimistic. Who in their right mind can rejoice all the time? Especially given the times we are in today?
As far as we know, Paul never suffered through a global pandemic, or was ever evicted from his home, or lost a child to a fentanyl overdose. But we do know that this particular letter was written from a jail cell, where Paul had no idea if he was going to live or die.
Despite his circumstances, Paul still found a way to ‘rejoice.’ He could do this because he knew what God could do and what God is always doing – bringing hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, and yes, joy to the joyless. That’s what these Advent candles are here to remind us of as we wait for the One whom God sends to set it all in motion.
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I have a friend who has battled with depression most of her life. Yet in her darkest moments, she somehow always found a way to rejoice. She told me, “We all have a choice to feel joy or not. God is our guide, not fate or some circumstance.”
Paul gave up all that he had to follow Christ because he knew that in Christ, God has given the world hope. Through Christ, God has given the world eternal love. Therefore, Paul can rejoice with Christ because God is reordering the human heart from the inside out. As my friend pointed out, “Paul does not say he is happy.” I think many of us get confused believing that because we follow Jesus we are to be happy at all times.
In our overly materialistic world, joy and rejoicing are often synonymous with happiness and celebration – which probably explains why so many of us get anxious this time of year. But here’s the thing. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Like my friend reminded me, “Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. As long as we have God’s Spirit in us, we always have joy. But it doesn’t mean we’ll always be happy.”
The world wants us to believe that our pursuit of happiness will lead to joy. Coca-Cola has spent billions to make their product synonymous with happiness. After all, “Have a coke and smile” used to be their tagline. But here’s the thing. Happiness is conditional. As long as I have a coke I’m happy. But that feeling goes away once the bottle is empty.
Pursuing happiness often proves to be a fruitless endeavor; Drugs, work, exercise, material wealth, and even religion…merely offer temporary happiness at best. Only God can offer endless, eternal joy. Like hope and love, God’s joy is not conditional. It’s a gift given freely to anyone who wants it.
While accepting this gift doesn’t stop the depression in my friend, it does allow her to find reasons to rejoice. Like Paul, she knows what God is capable of doing, because she has seen what God has done through the Christ child. In Christ and through Christ and with Christ, the Spirit of God gives her hope, love and joy.
The same is true for us today.
When Christ is in us, we too will always have a reason to rejoice. For our joy is not based on ‘if’ God loves us...but ‘because’ God loves us. And Jesus Christ is the proof of how far God is willing to go to do this. When we welcome Christ into our hearts, we ignite God’s promise hope and steadfast love within us – illuminating a deep sense of joy that can never be stolen or taken away.
Which takes us to another one of my favorite Christmas movies from my childhood.
Based on the story by Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, is about a tiny-hearted curmudgeon who lives in a cave above the land of Whoville. From his craggy hole, the Grinch looks down on the cheery Whos with disgust. This sentiment only gets worse during the Christmas season. Fed up with their merriment, the Grinch decides to dress up like Santa Claus and steal their Christmas joy.
Yet, after his mission is complete, the Grinch is surprised to see that robbing The Whos of all their material goods didn’t change a thing. The people still had joy in their hearts. They still had hope and love that kept them rejoicing because nothing of real value was taken away.
In witnessing their joy, the Grinch has a literal change of heart. Not only is it transformed but it triples in size! He discovers, joy is not found in material things. Instead, it comes from within a heart that God has reordered from the inside out.
Henri Nouwen writes, “I realize that the only way for us to stay well in the midst of the mini world is to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being.”
We often forget that the Christ child has already come. It is already here, within us all. Like The Whos realize, that Christ light in us can never be taken away or snuffed out. Once we discover the joy of Christ within us, we can’t help but truly rejoice in the Lord always.
And so here’s what I want you to leave with today - especially if you are feeling like Charlie Brown or the Grinch. To all of us who are struggling to find joy in your life right now, listen carefully to these words that were part of a friend’s Facebook post this week.
He wrote, “While you and I search our hearts for some joyous feeling despite illness and death all around us, the Savior's birth offers tangible evidence that sorrow and sadness will not have the final word! As sure as Christ was born, God will lead His people to eternal joy.”
This is not a quote from a classic movie, but it is part of a timeless story. A story of God Incarnate who breaks through the darkness to shine light who comes into our harden hearts to us to redeem us and restore us, and who bring us home rejoicing.
The reason we can rejoice when life gets us down happens because God never lets us down. Instead God lifts us up and empowers us to move into that space between today and tomorrow - to fearlessly share our hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, and joy to the joyless. Let us go into Anamesa so that the world can see the Christ child in us and through us. And together with Christ may they join us and rejoice.
Based on an original sermon Joy: Whenever We Need It (December 16, 2018)
Bliss, Don - Facebook post on Thursday, December 9, 2021
Nouwen, Henri J. M. You are the Beloved. (Convergent, 2017).
God’s steadfast love does not change. It is today for us what it has always been throughout all of time. God did not come to be with us to condemn us or cause us to perish. In Christ, God came to be with us, to love us where we are.
“How shall we return to be with our Lord” then? A good place to start might be by letting go of those things you believe are keeping you away from being loved by God. Every day is a good time to take inventory of what you need and don’t need to be in a right relationship with our Lord. What then are you holding on to? Where in your life is your back turned towards rather than away from God?
Advent is a time of active waiting, a time to be with our Lord. As we move through the various spaces and places of Anamesa, we work together to uphold the love of God in all that we do. When our hands are full of God’s love, we don’t have the room to carry those burdens.
In his final run of the contest, Mike did the unimaginable. With enough speed under his wheels, he shot up into the heavens. And hung in the air as if gravity no longer existed. Grabbing his board under his feet, he flipped his body upside down. As he was turning, Mike added a 540-degree rotation before landing on his wheels with effortless perfection.
With that one move, Mike easily won the contest. Today, he is considered a pioneer in modern skateboarding. His signature trick, the McTwist, changed the world of skateboarding - moving us into what we now know as extreme sports.
That’s what pioneers do. They change the world. And move us forward into those spaces we have only dreamed about. The world needs pioneers because they push our boundaries outward, which transforms the world as they move.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who we could call pioneers. For example, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Today’s reading from Luke, tells us this about him.
John the Baptist was a pioneer who broke the mold. Part rebel, part unpredictable wild man, John defied the status quo. He shattered the barriers of religion and ritual, paving the way for the coming of the Christ. With wild eyes and tangled hair, John the Baptist is, as the late Rachel Held Evens described as “The guy you’d avoid bumping into in the Walmart parking lot.”
The son of a temple priest, John was a good Jewish boy who followed his father’s footsteps. But eventually he would abandon the temple for the wilderness; living only on what God provided, wild honey and locusts. He also gave up the ceremonial purification pools in exchange for the wild, flowing waters of the Jordan.
According to the bible, it was in those waters, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He moved us forward by reorienting our hearts back to God. More than a voice crying out in the wilderness, John the Baptist was a pioneer, ushering in the advent of a new relationship between God and humanity.
Like a skater launching into the air, John knew the walls and rituals of the Temple could no longer contain God’s movement. He knew everything was about to change. God was on the move. And is coming to us with such an intense and relentless love that nothing, no mountain, or ritual, requirement, or law, could obstruct the way. No matter when or where we are, “Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.”
As we wait, we light the second Advent candle, the love candle, which reminds us that God’s love is not only coming to us, but that it is always with us, and all arounds us.
I know I talk about God’s love a lot. But I do so because we need to hear it repeatedly.
We need to be reminded every day that God loves us no matter what. I always say this because some of us have never heard that before. And many of us still believe we are not worthy enough or good enough for God to love. Some of us have been hurt by love in the past and don’t trust it enough to open their hearts to God.
So let me paraphrase another guy named John, who reminds us that God loves you and me and the whole world so much that God was willing to become one of us, to live among us, and to even shed blood and die for us. The only reason we’re given for this action is so the world, and everything in it, would know God’s salvation.
This candle reminds us that Christmas is like Easter in that it is the same groundbreaking and earth-shattering action of God who is constantly moving to redeem and restore us.
Just the same, Advent and Lent are similar in that they are both times of waiting and purification, a time of renewal and preparation to receive God’s love. Repent, return to God’s heart where you belong. No matter who you are or where you are, because of what God has done through Christ Jesus, “Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.”
We need to hear this every day. And we need to believe it if we are going to be it, live it, and share it in every way. As followers of Christ, this is what we are called to do - to be the visible presence of God’s love.
But before we can do that, before we can truly share God’s love with others, we must first explore those places within ourselves to see if there are mountains, crooked paths, or other obstacles in the way of accepting God’s great gift. I know how hard this can be.
Introspection of one’s heart is dangerous work. There might be things we don’t want to face, things we’ve buried deep within for one reason or another. Or you might find something that you’ve been holding onto or relying on, instead of holding onto or relying on God.
The word repent also comes with its own set of baggage, it can bring up old pains and cause us to feel ashamed. I used to runaway from it because it was always used on me in a negative way. But as Henri Nouwen wrote, “the more I come in touch with my past, the more I come in touch with what is to come.”
I think John calls us to repent…not to shame us or make us feel bad about what we’ve done. But to show us what God is doing. John is calling us to take inventory of our wrongdoings and let go of our sinful ways so that we can be prepared to move with God and do things God’s way. And that way is love. A love, that through Christ, has broken into the world and pierced our hardened hearts.
Through the incarnate Christ, God’s love welcomes us, and cares for us. It saves us and sets us free. And the Spirit of this love empowers us and moves us forward into the great unknown to those spaces between where love is so desperately needed.
When we love like Jesus loved, we are able to love the way God first loved us. Fearlessly. Relentlessly. And boldly.
As the Advent candles flicker, we are reminded that God is with us, always moving, always present. We have hope and love because God is not someone who was or will be. But God is the One who is, and who will always be here with us, always loving us whether we know it or not.
Now here’s one last thing that bears repeating. While Advent is a time of waiting it’s not a time to be sitting idly by. God has given us unconditional love so we can go out into that sacred space of life, and give our love way, unconditionally. As you move with God in the space between today and tomorrow, may you go with the confidence of knowing God’s love is in you.
This is how we become more trusting, more loving, more faithful to one another. This is how we can forgive without shame, because we have been forgiven too. This is how we can care for the needs of others without needing anything in return because God gives us all that we need. This is how we can do what seems like the impossible or foolish to the world because, like Mother Theresa once said, “It is not I loving them, but God through me.”
When God moves and loves through us, nothing can stop us from soaring to new heights or blazing new trails. Through Christ, we have already been given all that we need to live godly lives; to be pioneers who change the way others act and react in the world.
Advent is not just a time to wait for Christ to come again, it’s a time to actively participate in the reason he came in the first place. So “Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.”
As we move in this space of time between today and tomorrow, what will people see from us? Will we be the presence of God’s love to the voices crying out in the wilderness? Will we be a people who live with a faith that can move mountains and straighten crooked paths?
Will we be the ones who prepare the way for Christ to come again through us in the same manner he has prepare a way for us to come back to where we belong? Into the loving arms of God’s faithful heart.
The only way we will find out, is to try it out by moving together in that space between in love as love.
This has elements from a previous message posted around this time in 2015.
Anderson, T. Denise. "Living by the Word." Christian Century 132, no. 24 (Nov 2015).
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett and Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. (Nashville: Nelson, 2015).
Nouwen, Henri J.M. You Are The Beloved. (San Francisco: Convergent, 2017).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”