Advent 2013: In the Fullness of Time


My life used to be much fuller. I worked two full-time jobs. I had two teenage daughters. I was a wife. I tried to keep house. For a while we also added foster children to that mix.

Life was busy. Full of things. Broad, but not deep. My motto might have been, “so much to do, so little time.” That is if I had stopped long enough to consider a motto.

Life has swiftly moved on. My daughters are now mothers–both over thirty. The movement has been a journey and a process. In the process, I have slowed down. And as a result, life is richer. I find moments to be treasure-worthy. It’s not all good, but it’s good.

Earlier in my life, when I read the Christmas story and came upon the phrase: in the fullness of time, I took it to mean full in the sense of crammed to the brim–and I lived my life accordingly.

I was wrong.

The phrase means: when the time was right, or ripe.

I don’t fully understand what made that time “right” in God’s eyes. What I do know is in my own life, God is never early nor late. I may want him to come sooner, do something sooner. change things now–but I have come to trust two things completely: if things don’t happen on my time table, then God is still working things out; and he is absolutely trustworthy.

When things come together we often say the time was right. We are often in the right spot at the right time–or not. It’s the right time to get married, to have a child, to buy a car. The stars align. The market is favorable. We can identify physical markers and emotional leanings–so why would we be surprised when God says, “It’s time.”

And that’s how we are invited into this Advent season. However full or empty our world seems, it’s just right for God to work. With the same child-like excitement that builds toward opening Christmas presents, let’s anticipate the gift God has for us.

Ponderings

I’m sorry.

I have been writing.

Well, rewriting, anyway.

Right after the bombing and goings on in Boston, I wrote a response to some of the hate-filled things that I saw coming from people of faith…my faith. As a person who has been forgiven much, and one whose life has been characterized by peace-making, I was deeply troubled.
God seemed to be holding me to the thoughts because I kept coming back to the themes of love and brotherly kindness, grace and forgiveness—but even with that I just didn’t feel the release to post. It was as if it needed to percolate a little while longer.

Then this week in Cleveland three young women, who have been missing a decade or more, were found and freed. All of the newscasts on every channel have been totally dedicated to covering every detail over and over and over. As with Boston, it didn’t really matter if the news was new, it seemed to be necessary to repeat it.

One of the things I quickly noticed that the coverage in Cleveland had with the news coverage of the Boston disaster was a question that was being asked often and loudly: how could this happen? Why? I began to lift my voice and found myself asking the question the prophet Habakkuk asked as well: How long, Lord? How long will you allow evil to get the upper hand?

I wish I had an answer. God was pretty clear with Habakkuk that he wasn’t going to like the answer because in Habakkuk’s case things got much worse. God allowed the Babylonians to sweep in and take the Hebrew children captive. I can’t image that message preached very well.
Recently, while translating Ephesians from the Greek with a friend, we found ourselves in a discussion about predestination. Not a place I usually like to go, because I don’t get it. On the one hand there is abundant scriptural evidence for the lavish love of God, demonstrated in grace and mercy. But there is also the story of Job, the painful experience of Naomi, the unfair treatment of Joseph’s brothers, and all the misery Paul endured while trying to grow the church of Christ. History is full of examples of persecution—some of it even coming at the hands of the Church!
I do not understand why God allows his followers to suffer. I don’t know why, if God is all knowing (and I believe he is), he wouldn’t stop someone from committing destructive acts against another person. I realize that I often learn lessons best when they are hard, when they cost me. Hard lessons don’t seem to be solved by easy answers. I’ve found in most cases the tough questions continue to hang out there defying any answer at all.

This is as close to pessimism as I come. Because when I get this close I immediately turn the other way. I’m not foolish enough to belief that it’s going to go away just because I chose not to dwell on it. Realistically, though, I know that there is very little I will ever do to rid the world of evil. That being said there are still things I can and must do:

1. I will forgive. No one has ever gained anything good by harboring an unforgiving spirit. It is a poison that kills the one who carries it. Jesus was pretty clear that with the same portion we forgive others, we will be forgiven. I choose to be extravagant because I know how much I need.

2. I will pray for my enemies. I will not allow hate to percolate in my heart. I will lift them before the throne of grace.

3. I will thank God for all the circumstances in my life. Nowhere does it state in scripture that I will understand why things happen. Faith doesn’t exempt me from suffering. Both Peter and Paul are pretty clear that there is a measure of worthiness involved when we suffer. James takes it one step further by instructing the believers to count it all joy when trials enter into their lives.

4. I will hold onto my “nevertheless” faith. When the three Hebrew servants faced the fiery furnace, they were clear with the king that their faith was still strong, and even if God did not save them from the fire, nevertheless they would hold strong. Habakkuk put it this way:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
And there are no grapes on the vines;
Even though the olive crop fails,
And the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
And the cattle barns are empty,
YET I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength! (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)

That’s a pretty bleak picture. It’s a pretty clear “no matter what” coming from the prophet.

Jesus was looking for that same faith in his disciples. At the very end of his time with them before the crucifixion, he looked at them and said: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)

Peace will not be found in this world. It only brings turmoil and trouble. Real peace can only be found in Jesus and the knowledge that he invites to a life that will go beyond this world.

I don’t feel like I solved any great mystery here. I’m still troubled by the quick judging and slow forgiving. But I feel more grounded. I am reminded what I need to hold onto, and what I am to let go—to give to God. And perhaps that will be enough. For now…it is.

Wondering and Wandering: Silence

“Silence is the way to make solitude a reality. The Desert Fathers praise silence as the safest way to God. ‘I have often repented of having spoken,’ Arsenius said, ‘but never of having remained silent.’ One day Archbishop Theophilus came to the desert to visit Abba Pambo. But Abba Pambo did not speak to him. When the brethren finally said to Pamo, ‘Father, say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified,’ he replied: ‘If he is not edified by my slience, he will not be edified by my speech.'” From The Way of the Heart by Henri J.M. Nouwen

As I have occasionally pointed out, I am an ESFP with ADD. I think out loud. I come from a loud family. I raised a loud family. My grandchildren, especially the red-haired-wonder-child (RHWC). My dogs are very loud. They bark at everyone that walks by (and a lot do) and all the squirrels that tease them from the trees (I would hate to see what happened if one of them fell into the dog pen). I worked in a factory where it was constant noise.

Oddly, over the past four years I have found great peace in the silence I find in my day job. No tv. No radio. The only sound is my occasional chime to remind me to play a game of Words with Friends. The little lady I stay with turns her hearing aids off so there’s not even much conversation when she ventures out of her room. And I’m really quite okay with that.

The RHWC is a boy–all boy. Long ago, hub and I decided that boys just have to make noise: sounds just have to come from little boys. Noise for noise sake. It reminds me of how Jesus described the way that the pagans just babble on when they pray. I don’t find any need to talk to hear myself talk–I just think out loud when I’m in conversation. Somewhere along the line I lost my need to talk.

The nice thing about that is that it makes lots of room to listen. To hear what others are saying…or not. To hear what God is saying…or not. I wonder how noisy it was in the stable…perhaps that why Mary sat quietly and pondered all these things in her heart.

Writing this just sent me to the bookshelf…I pulled out my copy of Oats “Nurturing Silence in A Noisy Heart.” More to come…

Wondering and Wandering to Christmas: Shhhhhh…

I will probably never be accused of being quiet. It was one of the things that really bothered my dad. He was always telling me to turn down my volume. He made a point to remind me to be quieter whenever I went out or to someone’s home. I laugh loud. I talk loud. I am just loud. So it was really hard for me to grasp what Paul was saying to the Thessalonians: 11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life (4:11, NLT). In terms of Myers-Briggs, I’m an ESFP. I have ADD. So I’m an extrovert, who thinks out loud, and acts impulsively. How am I supposed to live a quiet life?

Just as shalom, peace, is not merely the absence of conflict, quiet is more than just the absence of noise. In a small but insightful book, “Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart”, Dr. Wayne Oates points out that the noise of daily life can keep one from listening to, and attending to, the whispers which are truly important. Ken Gire picks up on the same theme in his book on the reflective life: “The reflective life is a life that is attentive, receptive, and responsive to what God is doing in us and around us (p. 11, The Reflective Life).”

Keeping those thoughts in mind, I can begin to believe that a quiet life is achievable for even me. It also reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the Christmas story. Having just delivered the baby Jesus, laying in a stable surrounded by shepherds, being serenaded by angels, Mary held it all as treasure and pondered them in her heart. Mary demonstrated the reflective and quiet life. Will we be attentive and reflective or busy and noisy? The quiet life awaits.