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in Advent

ADVENT: DAY 6

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“What does it matter?  Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.  It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.  I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.  Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.”—Philippians 1:18-26

 

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.  

 

Living is Christ and dying is gain.

 

Living is Christ.

 

Living.

 

 

This is one of Paul’s greatest lines, for me only second to, “Anyone who is in Christ…new creation.”  On the surface it seems quite simple.  Paul has reached a point in his life at which he is welcoming death, for he has the assurance that death would lead him to eternal joy.  Yet, he knows that life is the better option.  For, living is Christ.

 

And there is where the complexity hits.  Living is Christ.  What in the world does that mean?  Paul later says that he desires to depart because then he will be with Christ.  But why desire that if living is itself Christ?  

 

It is clear in the latter case that Paul has a deep desire to be in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of YHWH.  He was probably one of only a few people living at the time of his writing who had actually seen Jesus, when the scales fell from his eyes.  He thus knew his face, his expression, his emanating peace.

 

For so many others at the time, though, and for so many of us who have not had mystical experiences, the true image of Jesus is unknown.  I think what Paul was getting at, then, was sharing the profound truth that life itself is Christ.  Again, what in the world does that mean?

 

The Greek from which “Christ” comes means “anointed.”  Jesus received this name because he was the anointed of God—anointed a king as in the days of old with King Saul and following.  The actual act of anointing involved pouring oil over the person’s head.  For Jesus this physical act occurred when the woman whom the disciples rebuked poured expensive oil on his head.  She knew the truth of who he was and what his existence meant to the world.

 

So, if life itself is Christ, then we must think of our lives as carrying that same anointment.  We should not equate ourselves with Jesus in the sense of being an entity of the Triune God.  We should, however, think of ourselves as having the same mission as Jesus.  Jesus’s kingship entailed leading a revolution, starting communities of radical equality and interdependence, prioritizing the poor in work and leisure, reorienting the relationship of the people to God, saving life, sharing meals, telling stories, making people realize that they indeed are loved and that they indeed deserve life.  At various points in our lives we all come to understand the following.

 

Living is beautiful.

Living is hard.

Living is precarious.

Living is dependent.

Living is joyful.

Living is sorrowful.

Living is sacrifice.

Living is not guaranteed.

Living is precious.

Living is a gift.

Living is anointed.

 

Living is Christ.

 

We do not have the physical image of Jesus, no matter how many pictures we have seen of a white man with long hair and piercing eyes.  What we do have is the image of Christ in each other.  We have the image of the profundity of life, the very essence of God.  Let us look for that image in each other and live into that image ourselves this season.

Posted December 4, 2015

 

in Advent

ADVENT: DAY 5

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

“‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”—Luke 1:76-80

 

And so the Holy Spirit filled Zechariah, father of John the Baptist.  His mouth, which had been miraculously closed up was miraculously opened up.  He prophesied about the coming savior, but he also prophesied about his own son.  It is this son, so intimately tied to Jesus throughout his entire life, who inspires this reflection.

 

One of today’s other readings comes from Malachi, the very last book in our Hebrew Bible.  Malachi’s final words are, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).  Then, as the angel of the Lord declared to John’s father, “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).

 

It was John, son of Elizabeth, who received the mantle of Elijah.  It was John, son of Elizabeth, who fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi.  It was John, son of Elizabeth, who prepared the way of the Lord.  Who better is there to teach about Advent than John—the prophet, the fulfiller of prophecy, the preparer of the Way?

 

Over the past three months I have been learning the sacred principle and necessity of interdependence.  I have had to rely fully on people in Zambia and at home to support me.  I have experienced a deepening of relationships to extents that I never imagined possible.  Distance from home has created challenges for me that have in turn made me to value the people from home all the more.  The amazing welcome I have received here has made me to continue to expand my idea of family.  I am imbibing and absorbing the Zulu principle of umuntu—a person is a person because of people, or I am because you are.  Our existence, our life, our thriving are all dependent on the existence, the life, the thriving of others and indeed of all humanity.  Most people here in Zambia live into that principle daily, practicing radical hospitality and care, viewing family as inclusive of anyone even tangentially touching one’s biological family, and sharing resources whenever humanly possible.

 

I bring up umuntu because the more I read about John the Baptist and Jesus, the more I see how intricately their lives were weaved around each other.  I have come to the conclusion that they were so dependent upon each other that they could not thrive without each other.

 

Indeed, the nativity story of Luke is really presented as a double nativity.  Two births are foretold by angels of the Lord.  Both births are miraculous.  There is a mere six months between the two conceptions.  Both are heralded with prophecies from a parent.  

 

From the beginning, John and Jesus are in relationship with each other.  When a newly pregnant Mary visits a six-months pregnant Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s child leaps with joy.  From that point forward their lives are narrated in parallel and intersecting ways.  We know nothing of their lives from childhood to around the age of thirty.  Then, they both enter the scene at the same time with their public ministries.  John comes out of the wilderness and begins to prepare the way for Jesus with baptisms.  Jesus receives one of these baptisms and immediately goes out into the wilderness from which John came.  Thus began the ministry of Jesus upon which our faith, our very lives stand.  Then, although they are fulfilling their ministries in different places and with different disciples, they check up on each other’s progress and wellbeing.  They refer to each other’s lives and mantles as examples.  In short, they remind each other of who they are and what they must do.  Then, they are both arrested and executed by officials of the Empire for daring to challenge the authority of the powerful.  They were so connected to each other that some people even believed Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected after his death.

 

Just like any other human, Jesus needed other humans to survive.  We see it in his love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  We see it in his partnership with the disciples.  More than anyone else, though, we see it in his deep-rooted bond with John.  They respected each other and trusted each other enough to do their own thing to bring about the Kin-dom, with each stream of ministry being absolutely essential.  Yet, I am sure they maintained a life-giving spiritual connection even in physical absence.  It is this life-giving spiritual connection between people that is at the heart of umuntu, and it is this type of connection that I am coming to understand in my own physical absence from the places I call home.  

 

It is not recorded, but if Jesus openly wept at the death of Lazarus, I can only imagine the magnitude of his grief at the loss of John.  In Luke, in the same chapter that we learn about John’s death we see the narration of the transfiguration.  Moses and Elijah stand on the mountain with Jesus, preparing him for his journey to Jerusalem and his “departure.”  I am sure that Jesus was once again seeing John in that encounter, as John and Elijah are forever bound together.  I am sure that Jesus was once again ready to move forward with what he had to do, because he had the assurance that his way was prepared by the other human to which he was most connected.

 

As we do our own preparing for the coming of Jesus this Advent, may we honor those connections that give us life.  May we strengthen those connections.  May we truly understand that we are because others are.  For, this is the way of the Kin-dom.

Posted December 3, 2015

 

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8