(Advent)ures Day 15: Samba Incarnation

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And now for something hot off the presses: this thought comes from a Christmas letter I received today from the lovely McGeown’s in Belfast.  They’re a delightful family and they shared such wisdom in this final paragraph of their (hilariously witty) letter.  (Be it known that this Presbyterian loves to dance!)

The puritans had a lot of good points, I’m sure, but I think they really missed the point when they banned Christmas, even if it was often used as an excuse for excess, then as now. Still, some things deserve to be celebrated. Presbyterians have always struggled a bit with celebration. We are a little uncertain about rejoicing, which always seems a rather extrovert thing to do, a bit like dancing. Our self-consciousness reserve holds us back from anything approaching the flamboyant. And yet God’s coming to us, to be with us in all our struggles, surely deserves some exuberance. The response to incarnation should have more of the samba beat about it than the dirge. The needs of a suffering world don’t go away but we are called to remind ourselves that the burden is not ours alone to bear. Christ stands with us. That’s what we celebrate in Christmas. So let your hair down!

(Advent)ures Day 10: (Un)carnation

Why, yes, that is a lot of parenthesis in that blog title!  I don’t do things (half)way.

Today’s Advent thought is also my contribution to an ongoing writing collaboration from #Unco14.  The theme for December is (Un)Carnation, and you can read other posts at the UncoSynchro blog.

When I began musing about this invented word uncarnation, naturally this image came to mind:

carnation

Yes, my friends, we’re going to spend the month of December denouncing the white bread of the flower world: carnations.  They’re not terribly swoon-worthy, are they?  Down with those bland blooms!

Actually, at risk of disappointing all of you carnation cursers out there, this post shall veer in a slightly different direction.  We’re going to think instead of uncarnation as the inverse of incarnation.  We’ll need to first look at incarnation, a word used often to describe the Advent of God through Jesus Christ into this messy, scattered world.  Literally meaning, “in flesh,” this word embodies the answer to the question posed by that great theologian Joan Osborne: “What if God was one of us?”

I’m reminded of the very first sermon I preached in seminary.  I preached on John 1, about the Word-made-flesh.  Or as the Message so helpfully paraphrases it:

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That sermon began with the unfortunate opener: “Rene Day-cart-ay said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ ”  (Descartes should, of course, be pronounced “Day-cart.”)  I went on to expound upon the exegetical rational behind God’s logos (word, thought, inner will of the mind) made flesh in Jesus Christ.  This sermon was well-founded.  It was painstakingly crafted and thoughtfully relevant.  And it was boring.  You could have called it the carnation of sermons.

Ah, well, you have to start somewhere.  There is, however, a kernel of truth to glean from that dull diatribe of mine.  I asked the question: “What does it look like when our thoughts and words take on flesh and blood?”

Jesus looks like God’s thoughts and words fleshed out: that is incarnation.

But when we only speak of this Christ moving into the neighborhood (no matter how carefully crafted those words may be), and never show what this reality looks like with our own bodies and through the body of Christ we call the Church, that is uncarnation.

Uncarnation is the Word that’s never made flesh.  The word that is just like so many words thrown around in our society:

“I’m sorry.”

“I love you.”

“How are you?”

“Peace be with you.”

When our words are only words, and we don’t allow the God who stirred the dry bones in Ezekiel to gather bone to bone and sinew to sinew and enfleshed that great multitude with God’s very breath, we may as well take down the Christmas tree, leave the Advent wreath dark and cold and go shopping, buying our worth in the eyes of those we say we love.  If words don’t take on flesh, there is no incarnation.  There is only uncarnation: a world in which we deny our flesh-and-blood-made-in-God’s-image-ness.  A world where our bodies don’t matter and, in fact, get in the way of the spirituality of our souls.  Where there is uncarnation, we don’t have to put feeling, never mind vulnerability, behind our words.  Flesh is to be feared.  What matters is that we get the words right, as if life is all one big rehearsed play in proving our cleverness.

But, no matter how uncarnational we may be, especially this time of year when we push our bodies past the point of exhaustion and tell them to keep up, God isn’t.  God does take on flesh and blood — in Jesus Christ, yes, but also in the kid waiting for the bus in the cold and in the grandmother with dementia who still has stories to share, muddled though they may be.  We can deny our bodies and the bodies of other human beings, but Christ will always keep coming, confronting our uncarnational patterns with the vulnerability of a homeless child born to an unwed teenage mom.  And if we shed our uncarnational, word-weary ways this season, we might just catch a glimpse of this Word-made-flesh, playfully piecing together this world by placing hands in hands and arms in arms until we see that Love is always meant to be embodied.

(Advent)ures Day 9: When God Breaks In

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A Prayer by John Birch:

Into the daily cycle of our lives
when all seems well
with us and with the world,
when our yoke is easy
and the burden light,
You break in
and scatter our complacency

Into the daily cycle of our lives
when we are comfortable
and at our ease,
when the fire is lit
but eyes are closed,
You break in
and challenge our dependency

You break into
our daily prayers,
humble hearts,
lay souls bare,
You break in,
You break in

You break in
when defences are down,
with an Angel’s shout
or the quietest sound,
You break in
You break in

And we change
and all things change
when you break in.

(Advent)ures Day 8: When Angels Answer

Today, partly because I’m a wee bit worn out after a delightfully full Sunday, and partly because so much of my energy and spirit went into it this week, I invite you to read my sermon as our little daily devotional.  I’ve been preaching in character as the angel Gabriel, first speaking to Daniel, then we’ll move on to his message for Elizabeth and, finally, Mary.  You can read today’s offering on my pastor’s blog here:

http://cameronpresbyterian.blogspot.com/…/the-messenger-gab…

Here’s a snippet:

“People often assume that we angels spend all day lollygagging on fluffy white clouds playing golden harps in heaven. Please! Don’t you know God is intimately connected with events on this earth? Don’t you know God sends us messengers right into those places of desolation and fear? We don’t have time to sit on clouds playing harps. Because we’ve heard people crying out…and we are answering.”

(Advent)ures Day 7: Mystics and Mochas

Apex, NC tree lighting with Heather & Fifi.

Apex, NC tree lighting with Heather & Fifi.

Last night, I enjoyed the small-town charm of Apex for the Christmas tree lighting with my friend Heather, who lives there.  Naturally, after those festivities, we headed to her favorite coffee shop.  She mentioned that a new friend Fernando might be there.  He was.  Fernando is difficult to describe, beyond his cap-topped-curls, smiling eyes of one about fifty or so, and slight Latino accent.  I suppose I would call him a mystic, or perhaps a prophet.  He is a deeply spiritual person, who doles out that spiritual wisdom with great abandon, something most of us are skeptical of this day and age.  But he’s not selling anything.  He’s not forcing his ideas on anyone.  He’s not asking for money or power.  He’s telling people they are loved by God, that they are a masterpiece, and that God is doing great things through them, that they can change their reality by changing their perception of it.  As close as I can tell (as one who is admittedly uncomfortable by such an approach), he is naming the truth of God as he sees it.  But all of that truth-telling is done with a sincerity and love that makes you feel like you’ve just somehow, in this easily-overlooked diminutive man, seen God.

He shared a prayer with me, printed out in bold font with Bible verses to correspond with each part.  Again, picking out Bible verses to use them standing alone (and not in context) isn’t really my style.  But it’s Fernando’s style, and so I can appreciate it.  I share his prayer with you today:

I AM THE LIGHT THAT GOD SHINES THROUGH.

GOD AND I ARE ONE NOT TWO.

GOD NEEDS ME WHERE AND AS I AM.

I NEED NOT DOUBT, NOT FEAR, NOR PLAN.

IF I BUT BE RELAXED AND FREE,

GOD WILL WORK HIS PLAN OF LOVE THROUGH ME.

AMEN!!! (his exclamation marks)

John 8:12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 9:5  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

1 Corinthians 6:17  Whoever unites themselves with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Matthew 21:21  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but you can also say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”

Isaiah 41:13  For I am the LORD your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

Proverbs 16:1-3  We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer.  Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.

Matthew 11:29-30  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Thank God for mystics like Fernando, who tell us their understanding of the truth regardless of how they might be perceived, and who are a tangible and loving reminder of God’s presence.

(Advent)ures: Day 6

Today, I share a painting by Matt Whitney (nice surname, fella).  He created this piece five years ago as part of an ongoing Advent art project at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle.  What an incredible idea!  You can read some of his thoughts behind the piece and see its Advent progression here.

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“Yesterday, Today, Forever” by Matt Whitney