Tag Archives: Advent

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Burn. Again.

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I [John the Baptist] am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the One coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…He will gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:10-12).

Weary and controlling after Thanksgiving (why do joyful occasions make me a jerk?), I extended my misery to Annette and hurt her. Badly. To an outsider, my sin may not have been a felony, but it was one of those flashpoint sins that bound up a host of smaller historic ones; together, they effectively bludgeoned Annette.

At Mass that morning, I brought my sin into the light and heard the invitation that Leanne Payne gave us continuously (out of the mouth of a C.S. Lewis character): ‘Die before you die; there is no chance after that.’ In choosing to lay down my sin and destroy it at the foot of His Cross (‘please God, may it be so this time…’), I perceived with the eyes of my heart a fire raging around me, licking up the mess. God in Christ came with fiery love to destroy the sin that destroys through me.

Advent, like Lent, holds up a mirror to the spiritual monsters we can be—on one hand, earnest and devout; on the other, blackening eyes with limbs we thought were amputated long ago. All this requires is that we look intently and beyond our own selfish rationales in order to behold the hurting eyes of another and finally, the blazing love of God in Christ who awaits our fleshly offering.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls the religious to repentance, rather than the more obviously disordered. Ouch. Annette and I now attend polite religious gatherings defined by worship that is choreographed, carefully. Our prayers tend more toward ‘us’ the privileged interceding for ‘them’, the unfortunates. That gets ‘us’ safely off the hook and frees us to retain our reserve; it frees us from the flames.

In truth, most of us are deeply divided souls and our religious devotion may well tempt us to hide those divides for both the sake of convenience and appearance. In muted tones, mid-week, we hear of crippled marriages, the beloved son’s suicide, the ex-married and ex-middle class Mom who works weekends to eat.

This Advent I pray for the Cross to expose our Pharisaic mixtures and to provoke us into the flames, together, in this one body. I pray that simple songs might set our hearts aflame with His blazing love, that powerful preaching might convict us with signs and wonders following, that the Holy Meal endowed with the Spirit’s power might deliver us from demons, sear our flesh, and unite what’s left with God’s best for our broken lives.

Maybe John is asking us to lay down our linen blazers and tiny crosses around our fine necks; maybe he’s asking us to put our entire selves on the chopping block and to sob over the lies we told and the divided lives we lived. Maybe he’s asking us to forego social graces, to run boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:14-16) and get messy, stripped and naked, so that at last we might say we only want Jesus and that only He can clothe us (Rom. 13:14) with what we need to live undivided, grateful lives.

Maybe then we the Church would not have to worry so much about ‘how to reach the lost.’ They would hear the sobs and see the beeline straight to the altar and would fall face down with us. Together with all the saints, we might cry out for mercy amid the roaring blaze of Love from which none will escape.

‘On that day, the Gentiles will seek out the root of Jesse, for His dwelling shall be glorious’ (IS. 11:10).

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Ignite. Again.

‘Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake!’(Matt. 24:41, 42)

Advent asks us to burn again, to start over, to be born again AGAIN as we await Jesus’ birth. No Hallmark movie this, no happy ending—dull and drowsy ‘Christians’ who do not recognize Him now won’t know Him when He returns.

I would rather prepare now than be left behind. Advent gives us four weeks to get ready. That has little to do with buying gifts and partying with friends. It’s about examining our hearts and how 2016 may well have made us worse, not better.

One gauge for me is how I and others respond to the ‘evolving’ understanding of gender and sexuality today. I just read about a ‘Christian’ blogger—Glennon Doyle Melton–hooking up happily and to the acclaim of thousands (if virtual ‘likes’ count)—with soccer star Abby Wambach who proudly hailed her ‘gay marriage’ to another woman at 2015’s World Cup victory by smooching her ‘spouse’ for the world to see in the glow of the US Supreme Court decision, an iconic union that soon fell apart when Abby disintegrated from drug and alcohol abuse.

Melton left husband for newly available Abby, an infatuation lived loudly before Melton’s kids. (‘We grant adults any kind of sexual liberty they want and insist that children take whatever these adults want to give them.’ Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse) The virtual world lauds these selfish, unstable women as ‘courageous.’

Many women like Melton who profess faith and frustration with men will follow her lead into a sexually fluid, ‘gender-does-not-matter-but-love-does’ mindset. What say you? Is your mind changing in regards to God’s clear mandate (Gen. 1, 2; Matt: 19; Eph. 5) for sexual unions? Are you ‘evolving’?

Wake up. Light the fire again. How else will you be able to hold out the Word of Life for a generation of women morphing into little boys and guys into glamour queens? Do you want them to be left behind? Do you want to be left behind?

Fr. Alfred Delp: ‘Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken into renouncing the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams by which we build ourselves imaginary worlds…Being shattered, being awakened—only with these is life made capable of Advent.’

‘The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber…the night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us act decently, as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in lust and sexual immorality, not in rivalry and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.’ (Romans 13: 11-14)

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Expecting More, Together Andrew Comiskey Advent

Expecting More, Together

A young man who repented as a teen from ‘gay’ identification, Nate is growing into his masculinity as Jesus grows within him. I have the privilege of summoning what I see in this progressively robust man of God. Nothing brings me greater joy.

It is easy. Nate says ‘yes’ to Jesus and Jesus guides him into getting what he needs. You like me are called to confirm that growth in the lives of our fellow Christians. In the Spirit of John the Baptist, we can see Jesus growing in others, and speak out the truth of His Real Presence in their lives. That is the essence of Christian community. And its first and most beautiful expression lies in our fourth Advent reading—the visitation of newly pregnant Mary with her cousin Elizabeth (LK 1:39-45).

As soon as Mary sees Elizabeth, the latter, now ripe with John the Baptist, is stirred up by the fiery prophet within who jumps for joy (v.44) to welcome the Christ growing in Mary. Even the fetal John makes straight the way of the Lord! He cannot help it; Jesus is in his midst and even a womb cannot contain him from summoning the prenatal Creator and Redeemer of all.

Elizabeth follows the lead of her precocious son but fulfills a different yet equally important task: to encourage Mary with a Spirit-inspired prophecy. We can infer that a 14-year-old who just discovered that she had been impregnated by God might need a little solidarity (understatement duly noted).

Mary ‘hastens’ to Elizabeth because she needs her. The Mother of God knew somehow that the new life growing in her cousin would summon the new life growing in her. ‘Blessed are you, Mary, for you have believed what the Lord said to you would be fulfilled’ (v.45). Elizabeth nails it: ‘You are not crazy Mary; you are and will be forever blessed. God is growing in you and I honor your faith!’

Each of us needs that encouragement from wiser ones who like us have walked in faith against a cruel, unbelieving culture. Elizabeth had been barren and socially scorned; Mary could have been stoned for her mysterious pregnancy. They knew God alone had masterminded the divine gifts growing within them. Their bond of faith was profound and essential for the fulfillment of that faith.

Similarly, we whom Jesus leads out of any barren, shameful land need fellow pilgrims. We need the holy-wrinkled who have endured the desert longer. Jesus in our fellow humanity is stronger than Jesus in our own hearts. Why else do we go to church? Sorry, I do not go just to find my Head. I go to find His body. I need another to see and summon the Christ growing in me.

And I have the mutual privilege of summoning Jesus in my brother or sister. Nothing grants me greater joy than looking for the one in whom Jesus waits to be summoned behind a veil of sin or sadness. To be filled with the Spirit of John the Baptist or Elizabeth, my spirit leaping so I just have to say why ‘you’ are such a beautiful gift to this church…that is my joy.

We all hold promises in our hearts that need to be dusted off and reconfirmed in our believing communities. Go ahead. Be a prophet. Summon the divine life seated next to you at church. ‘Blessed are you who believe that what God has said to you would be fulfilled’(LK 1:45)!

Please Read The Desert Stream 2015 Year End Newsletter

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Shaken, Waking Up

Advent starts with a bang this year if Jesus’ words in Sunday’s Gospel reading are true. Luke 21: 25-36 describes the terrifying world-scape into which He will enter, not as a helpless babe but as Almighty Judge separating the faithful from frauds. Season’s grievings!

History unwinds like a ticking bomb: explosions in a Parisian concert hall, a Mali hotel, and a Russian-bound jet over Egypt contract like excruciating birth pains. Brussels shuts down as innocents are subject to a kind of martial law as authorities search for the fearless few who now hold the world captive to terror. We are united in fear. Disempowered people invoke murderous demons (Rev. 9:21) in an effort to captivate the world by the threat of random massacres. Nothing new under the sun: Jesus said that ‘People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world’ (LK 21:26).

On one hand, it all seems far away from our insulated roost in Kansas City. But the spirit of murder increases here too, just as arbitrarily and perhaps sourced in the same theme of disempowered people grasping at demonic exaltation. Not long ago, I rode my bike home for lunch through a pleasant street of small condos, mostly inhabited by the elderly. An hour later in broad daylight, a man broke into two units and brutally murdered 5 persons.

I say this not to frighten but to alert you this Advent. Where does our security lie, in false prophecies of peace or in the peace that can only come through Jesus Christ who promises not a harmonious world but Himself? Alfred Delp, a German priest who contested Hitler and was executed, wrote this before his martyrdom: ‘There is perhaps nothing we need today than to be genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; where it is unstable and has no foundation we need to know this too and to endure it…Advent is a time when we need to be shaken. The necessary condition for Advent’s fulfillment is the renunciation of presumptuous attitudes and dreams through which we build imaginary worlds…Being shattered, being awakened—only with these is life made capable of Advent.’

Jesus alerts us that the darkening world-scape can weigh us down ‘with everyday anxieties’ (LK 21:35). He also notes that our response to such fear may well be drugging ourselves with ‘carousing and drunkenness’ (v.35). Friends, might we who love the Holy One not fall prey to deadening ourselves with foolish diversions but rather seek Him first as our foundation then prayerfully help secure others in Christ? Let us heed Jesus’ command this season ‘to always be on the watch—vigilant—and pray that we might have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent so that we can stand before the Son of Man’ (v. 36).

Our Advent begins with preparing for Jesus’ second coming. We might begin by identifying and renouncing the illusions we employ to ward off fear. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and so establish our lives on the only foundation that will withstand the shaking to come.

‘When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your hands because your redemption is near’ (LK 21:28).

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Advent 2: Comfort and Conviction

‘Comfort, comfort my people…in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord!’ (IS 40)

The fires of Advent convict us even as they warm us. His light blazes in our darkness, and we, no matter how dull and unresponsive, cannot quench its flames (JN 1:5). How grateful I am for the fire that exposes sin in order to consume it.

Isaiah grants us a glimpse of the fullness of Emmanuel’s love. He promises a double dose of comfort in exchange for our sins then rouses us to wax prophetic and raze everything that stands in the way of His Presence, His holy blaze. How nervy of Isaiah! He fuses the image of a tender Father restoring the sin-weary with the blazing Baptist who tears down mountains and raises valleys to make a way for God. Jesus is that Good Shepherd (40: 1-11). He leads us gently into a baptism of fire (MK 1:8) in order to burn off all that resists love in our lives. He comes to dwell with us, to make us as expansive and generous as He is.

Comfort and conviction express well the tension I feel during Advent. That Jesus came in history and we as the Church give a whole month to reflect on His entry can be the stuff dreams are made of: each of us, no matter how devout, remember the kindness of Christmas. Of course our own histories, safely edited by time, can lull us into a false peace. Advent gives us no such break. These four weeks are as much about fond recollections of the manger as they are about His second coming, which will be as violent and conclusive as His first entry was hidden and humble. Advent proclaims at once: Rejoice, He has come; repent, He is coming. Are you ready?

Lulled into a false peace, a friend of mine woke up a bit when I told him that Advent was all about repentance. He thought it was about a party-hearty countdown to Christmas, complete with a pop-open calendar…‘It’s about preparing your heart for Him, now and when He returns.’

Thinking myself quite noble, I drove home from the encounter and noticed an African-American woman walking alone on the side of the road in 18 degree weather. The Spirit prompted me: ‘Turn around and give her a ride.’ My spirit refused to be discomforted. Later that day, Annette expressed some need for me and I stiffened, quietly resenting a new obstacle in my course.

‘Thank You God for revealing what resists love. As we confess our sins, purge our hearts and console us with almighty mercy. Make us as expansive and generous as You are. May we welcome You and others more fully this Advent.’

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