Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Child in Weakness Born

I wrote the following  for  The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

BrianWren, probably the greatest living hymn writer (some of his hymns are in The Chalice Hymnal which we use for worship), writes in one of his hymns the following lines:

When pain and terror strike by chance, with causes unexplained,
when God seems absent or asleep, and evil unrestrained,
we crave an all-controlling force ready to rule and warn,
but find, far-shadowed by a cross, a child in weakness born.
I can’t think of any better words to reflect upon as we begin this Advent season together. 

This past Sunday I preached on Mark 13 and pointed out what I felt was most important about these strange apocalyptic verses: Jesus’ exhortation for us to keep awake and stay alert to the presence of God in our midst.  Unlike many interpreters who understand all of this passage to be about the end times, I side with those who view much of this chapter as referring to Jesus’ first coming among humans.  Understood this way and within the context of the Gospel of Mark’s narrative, Jesus is urging his listeners to be awake and alert to God’s activity NOT in some non-specific future but right here and now.  So, I urged those present in worship to “keep awake” and “stay alert” this Advent.

In an effort to foster wakefulness and alertness, I offer a few moments from my week where I have seen God at work in the midst of my own life.   

This week the presence of God came in the form of a puppy—as in, we have a new puppy at the Peeples’ home.  We adopted him this weekend from the animal shelter.  We’ve had a vacancy at our house left by our faithful 16 year-old Jack Russell Terrier Buddy, who died in July.  Buddy’s age meant that he would rather lay on the carpet than chase our boys around, but he was patient with Julian’s and Jameson’s overzealous efforts to love him.  Our other dog, 11 year-old Jack Russell Terrier Katy, was a rescue when we got her years ago and she is not particularly social nor in any way tolerant of boys who wish to play with her.  So, we’ve had two boys with a lot of love to give a pet (and two parents as well) and no one to receive that love.  

 When the boys met the 8 month-old Jack Russel mix Snuggles at the shelter (that’s right, Snuggles, the boys named him—I would have preferred Joe or Flash or Triumph but was outvoted) and he crawled in each of their laps to gratefully receive their attention, something clicked and a hole was filled.  We still get sad thinking about Buddy, but the sadness has been joined by the joy of having Snuggles (I’m still getting used to the name though).

Sure, it is perhaps too easy to see the divine in the love between boys and their new puppy, but I’ve been touched this week in ways that go beyond any kind of “awww. . . ain’t it cute” schmaltzy thing.  I’ve been reminded that each of us was created to receive and give love.  We are not complete with only one and not the other.  As God makes room in our lives for others, we carry out something essentially sacred with one another. 

Snuggles is fragile, in the way of puppies, and it’s been fun to watch the boys take care of him and learn to be careful with something so fragile.  Our boys get less and less fragile day by day—wasn’t it just yesterday I held them as infants and worried I would break these fragile miracles?  Now they are growing and learning to take care of others—a puppy, each other, perhaps one day their parents.  There is joy in the giving and receiving of love—a joy mixed with fear over being vulnerable enough to receive the care of another.

By preparing ourselves for Christmas, we are readying ourselves to contemplate anew the God who came to us in the Christ-child—helpless and in need of human caregivers.  What does it mean that the God of the universe came not as an all-controlling force ready to rule and warn” but rather far-shadowed by a cross, a child in weakness born?”  Perhaps God felt that there was something greater to be gained for us humans trough offering us the chance to give and receive love than through only experiencing domination and control.  Does not the vulnerability of God point us toward the value of being vulnerable with one another?  May you give and receive love this Advent season.

Grace and Peace,

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