Advent 2021.14 – “Welcome Home”

First and foremost, advent is about time. It’s a season, a process of days and nights where we prepare our hearts and lives for the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah.

But this morning I found myself thinking of Advent as a metaphorical place as well, and to the degree that Jesus’ arrival on earth really represents an arrival of God’s Kingdom, it kinda makes sense.

Though the Kingdom is not a physical place, so to speak (the Kingdom comes through the person, teachings and actions of Jesus), the image of a place sometimes helps me.

So let’s think about Advent as a place… A place (like the Kingdom) of hope, or peace, of love, of kindness and compassion.

And a place of “Something New.”

And this place comes every 365 days because, well, I need a repetition of newness, because the “Old” (meaning, the way the world always seems to work) has a pull on me. So I need this reoccurring Advent to help me jettison the baggage I tend to accumulate over the year, and also to help me keep practicing living in, or “putting on”, this newness.

Advent reminds me that, as much good and beauty there is in the this world—and Im trying to get better at finding and recognizing it—there is still another place that calls to me and beckons me.

Like a home.

This place is not really “heaven”. Again, let’s call it what Jesus calls it: “The Kingdom.”

So there is this Kingdom, this place where Jesus Messiah rules and reigns for God, in love and compassion, in “Shalom.”

That Kingdom is the place that I believe that ultimately I’m fit for, though I’m still preparing myself for it.

Every once in a while, I get a taste of this new place, and when I do it feels like coming home in the best possible way.

The new place says, “Rest”

… It says, “You are loved just as you are,

It says, “Come in and sit down and tell me everything”

It says, “All is well and all will be well” (Or in more contemporary and groovy terms, “Don’t worry about a thing, cuz everything little thing is gonna be alright..”)

It’s a place of connection, of roundedness, of laughter and celebration, and as I said, I have tasted it. The taste seldom lasts that long, but …

*I have been there. *

But the strangest thing happens.

Even though I recognize this place as “home,” and my soul truly does find significant rest there, I also tend to leave it.

By my own choice.

Because ironically—paradoxically—while I am drawn to it and I hunger for it, there’s a part of me that feels uncomfortable there, and so I choose to leave and go back to “old places” that I unfortunately tend to know a little better.

Places of performance, of comparison, of jealousy and envy, of doubt, of resentment… of pain.

This is an odd thing.

So… This Advent comes around once a year to remind me of the New Place, and to give me an opportunity, once again, to practice living in the New Place—the Kingdom.

To imagine it. To reignite my understanding and vision of what life in the New Place could be.

To also think about what holds me back, or draws me back to the old place, and to practice (again, that word) leaving behind all of the things, beliefs, and values that are no longer necessary in the New Place.

It’s not that these things, beliefs, and values are all “bad”, much less “evil.” It’s just that they are not needed in The Kingdom.

What a celebration! What a reality!

Living in this New Place; living in God’s Kingdom, NOW. A gift: We get to try on the Kingdom of God, now.

(And all this without physically dying.)

Living into a new reality. With new values, new understandings, new behaviors.

So this Advent, let me say, “Welcome Home.”


Advent 2021.13 – The Necessity of a Baby

A friend of mine was telling me a story of a time he was at a conference, and he heard a preacher/speaker say that if Jesus came through the door right then that everyone one in the room would immediately fall to their knees, overcome with his might and majesty.

Just a couple days ago I was listening to the last episode of the podcast series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” and I heard Mark Driscoll say something similar. Referring to an image of Jesus out of Revelation (an interpretation that I’d probably disagree with), Driscoll remarked that beating Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman troops before his execution was “the last beating he would ever take,” and that when Jesus came back (again from an image in the book of Revelation), he’d be like a bad-ass, avenging angel.


For a long time, I probably thought and believed the same way. I read the same passages in Revelation, and had similar reactions. There was a part of me that struggled to reconcile Jesus as the very presence of God on earth with the suffering, the meekness, the weakness that he seemed to willing embrace in the gospels.

(He displayed extraordinary courage, faith, and conviction as well, but that’s another story for another day.)

But I realize now that my ideas about God, Jesus, and in particular ”power and strength” were clouded by a limited understanding.

For me, I’ve come to understand that, actually, to be God is to be willing to empty yourself, to be weak.

Maybe to be “strong,” in a Biblical sense is to be unafraid of weakness.

Saint Paul writes about this idea in Philippians, when he says that precisely because Jesus was God, he did not consider himself equal to God.

If Jesus would have been less than God, he would have grasped at a human conception of “God,” including power, strength, might (and probably a strong tendency to “smite enemies”).

But that’s not who Jesus is. And it’s not who God is.

And, by God’s definition, it’s not what power is.

What’s the point?

First, the point is that if Jesus walked into a room that you were in, I’m not sure you’d fall over, struck by laser beam lights.

(Actually, you it’s entirely possible you would not even notice that he walked in.)

But if you did notice him, you’d probably be aware of how much space he made for people. How he was unafraid of letting others talk.

Because power like this is utterly unafraid of what I call “weakness.”

Second, the point is that, in light of all of this, how could God not choose to show up on earth in all of the vulnerability of a human baby, utterly dependent on his mother for food and nourishment, needing others for his protection.

Makes me think.

Advent 2021.12 – This Advent Will Not Fix Me

As much as I’ve enjoyed writing (and thanks to all of you who have encouraged me), I need to remember that this Advent will not fix me.

I can think of Advent as a tool, something that is useful for me, but the in and of itself the tool will not fix me.

I can read my Advent devotional, and go on and on about the church calendar, and better Bible interpretation, and better theology…

But none of that will fix me.

I can pick up all the tools of spiritual transformation, but if my heart is not willingly surrendered, they won’t work, at least that much.

Before all the tools, I have to acknowledge—as deeply as I can, on a soul-level—that there is no way that I can fix myself.

Though I pick up the tools, I must remember that it is God’s Spirit that fixes me, shapes me, molds me.

There is a tremendous humility in that, and I have to come back to it over and over and over again.

Advent 2021.11 – It’s God’s Advent, Too

Reminder: The plain meaning of “advent” is “a beginning,” and to that end the season of advent means “the beginning of the church year,” a time when (traditionally, anyway) the church spends time in reflection and anticipation of the coming of Jesus in to the world.

But I think in this sense this season is God’s advent too, meaning that coming of Jesus into the world marks the beginning of God’s coming-into-the-world through Jesus. It’s the beginning of this particular part of God’s rescue plan for the world.

(BTW, after the Garden of Eden, the plan for the rescue of the world actually starts in Genesis 12, with the call of Abram. Jesus’ arrival may actually be better understood as the culmination of this plan, and not a “brand new” plan.)

So the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of God’s plan to rescue the world through the work of a human being who is 100% human and 100% god (we call that the “Incarnation,” and it’s probably one of the most important theological distinctions of our faith, IMO).


The beginning of the plan is marked by a baby born to young, scared, refugee parents.

It’s the beginning.

And then the plan goes on—the boy Jesus grows up, learns and is educated within the Jewish system of education.

Jesus learns to be a good, faithful Jew.

The plan goes on—Jesus becomes a disciple of John the Baptizer, learning from him and continuing to grow in faith and wisdom and understanding, until at around age 30 he submits himself to John’s baptism.

The plan goes on… Jesus starts teaching, very much like a Jewish rabbi of his age. He gets a following up in the north of Palestine, in Galilee, around his home.

People respond to his teaching, which is about how to live a life that is wholeheartedly sold out to God and His kingdom.

The plan goes on… Over a few years, Jesus confronts the religious establishment, mostly over the role of the Temple in religious life, and keeping kosher, and just who gets to participate in the Kingdom.

Somewhere along the way, Jesus starts to tell his followers that his ministry is going to end up with him dying at the hands of the religious leaders and the Roman occupying force. He tells them also that his death is going to be a “ransom” for people. (Which means that (a) this death is going to set people free, and—following logically—(b) people are in bondage/slavery

This confrontation culminates in a week in Jerusalem, where he eventually angers the religious leaders so much that they conspire to have him executed by the Roman occupation.

Jesus remains faithful to his mission on earth, even through torture and death, and is crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Three days later he is vindicated by God and resurrected in his body, after which he further teaches his disciples, until he eventually takes his place with God and the Holy Spirit.

Okay… there’s obviously more details to the plan, but that’s at least a broad brush stroke.

But here’s my point: the plan does not start with the empty tomb.

The plan does not with Jesus’ death on the Cross.

The plan does not start at Gethsemane.

The plan doesn’t even start with the miracles Jesus performs, or the Sermon on the Mount.

The plan STARTS with the birth.

And my thinking is, if all of this is God’s plan, then the whole plan matters.

YES the resurrection; YES, the Cross, but also YES the birth, the teaching, the miracles, the growing up, the education, the learning, and so on and so on.

So much of my life I’ve behaved as if the only thing that really mattered in Jesus’ life was, well, his death.

Later I started to include the resurrection, but it’s only recently that I’ve had to come to the conclusion that the life—the miracles, the ministry, the teaching, ALL OF IT—has to matter just as much as the death and resurrection.

As I’ve heard a theologian say, “As I Christian, I could tell you why Jesus had to die, but am I able to tell someone just why Jesus had to live?

(much less be born in a manger)

Advent gives an opportunity to pause and think about THE WAY in which God shows up on earth.

What does it mean for the Creator to choose a birth like this?

Thinking about that question has brought a richness to my faith; maybe it can do the same for someone else.

But the answers do not always come easily, but usually they come … with a certain amount of quiet humility, away from the crowds, and with a certain amount of faith.

Kinda just like how God comes to earth.

Advent 2021.10 – Something New (That Happens Every Year)

So much of life seems like a cycle of unhealth. Violence begets violence; polarization begets polarization; resentments cause more resentments.

The wheel goes round and round, nothing really seems to change, and things to disintegrate and descend.

As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.”

Only one thing seems to interrupt the cycle and bring a halt to the “begets and begots”…

… and that thing is grace.

Only grace—“unmerited favor”—seems to be able to press pause on the disintegration, the desire for revenge, the resentments that fester in our hearts.

As Bono wrote, “Grace… she travels outside of karma.”

And it’s my belief that God—this Great Mystery, this Great Love—is essentially a god of grace.

God’s core posture towards the world is one of unmerited favor; a sense of “I am for you.”

Grace didn’t begin with Jesus; grace began with God. Jesus was merely the fullest human expression of grace that the world has seen.

Grace in human skin; a language we could understand.

So today, may this advent be a reminder of a god of grace, and of His son Jesus, and of the gift of His Spirit in us.

Something new to interrupt our sad tendencies as humans.

A reminder every year.

Advent 2021.9 – A Political Advent

“They’re getting a little too political.” This is one of the catchphrases that people use whenever a church starts talking about something that makes them uncomfortable.

The idea behind it is that “the gospel” is somehow free from politics, dealing only with spiritual or “religious” matters.

Unfortunately a gospel that is “only spiritual” would have been pretty unrecognizable to Jesus (and most of his contemporaries).

“The gospel is always political; it’s never partisan. I remember hearing this in seminary, and instantly resonating with it. To be “political” has nothing to do with being a republican or democrat. Being political has everything to do with how we choose to live together in society.

(Pssst: Like it or not, we live together, in a society. We need each other.)

The gospel is not just about going to heaven when we die; it’s about how we choose to live now, as citizens of heaven.

It’s a political gospel.

And, to the degree that advent is about reflecting on the love, peace, hope, and compassion of Jesus, advent is political.

(Though again, just in case it needs to be said: It’s not partisan.)

Advent, and our gospel as well, should have a practical, tangible impact on the way I live in the world, the way I treat others that I come into contact with. (Whether I vote the same as them or not, whether I look the same as them or not, and so on and so on.)

Advent 2021.8 – Advent Practices

Let’s face it: despite what Advent is supposed to be—a season of reflection and preparation—it’s still quite easy to get caught up in the wider culture’s expression of Christmas (not Advent), which can include frenetic shopping and calendars filled up with parties, meetings, and (shocking I know) church events.

It’s fair to say that, as much as we wish we were centered and at peace during this season, we often experience anxiety, frustration, and sadness.

As a bit of a spiritual discipline, I started re-reading The Book of Joy, which is a remarkable book that documents a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, where they explore, well, the topic of joy. As someone who struggles with being joyful, I find the book simultaneously challenging and immensely helpful. Not only does author Douglas Abrams record the dialogue between these two spiritual leaders, he also talks about the psychology of joy, and also how to take steps towards experiencing more joy in life.

Abrams refers to the work of psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, who suggests that we have a lot more control over our experience of happiness (or joy) than we’d like to believe. Three factors (or, maybe we could say, ”disciplines”) have a tangible affect on our happiness. They are, “our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

I might say it this way:

This Advent, if you’d like to make some progress in experiencing happiness and/or joy, maybe practice three things:

  1. Practice framing your situation in positive terms;
  2. Practice gratitude (write them down!); and
  3. Practice kindness and generosity.

I’m reminded that there’s so much about the season (read: life) that I cannot control. But I can control my response to it.

Not easy, but simple.

Advent 2021.7 – Everyday Advent

Richard Rohr (amongst others, I’m sure) wrote that Jesus never asked us to worship him, but he did ask us to follow him.

For me, the challenge of Advent is not about a Sunday celebration, or remembrance, but it’s about a daily, constant returning to following this Jesus, and trying to live in the Kingdom of God, under the rule and reign of the Messiah, leveraging the power of the Spirit as best I can so that God can live more of His life in and through me.

Each morning, I wake up and surrender my life—my goals, my agenda, my hopes—to this Trinity, this Relationship.

But personally this surrender gets more difficult as the day goes on. I find that I subtly take back some power, and start to desire my own way.

For me the results of this little rebellion include…

… anxiety
… a short temper
… pride
… lethargy (thanks Enneagram 9)

Now, your results may vary.

But I feel like life has taught me that for the most part we humans are not meant to be gods, to handle that level of responsibility. Whenever I aspire to it, well I learn—once again—why it’s not meant to be this way.

So today, Advent is a great reminder that I’m not meant to be ultimately in charge of my life. To be human is to embrace limitation.

And that is okay.

Today I will try to return to the idea of surrender and submission to a Power Greater Than Me.

Advent 2021.6 – Red Pill

Sometimes I feel like engaging in the reality of Advent (and, for that matter, the church calendar) is like taking the proverbial “red pill”.

The more deeply I consider the implications, the more difficult it is to relate to what passes for Christmas, not only in the larger culture, but in the church itself.

Traditionally, Advent is a season of reflection and quiet preparation, not Black Friday sales, gaudy decorations, or exuberant displays of a triumphant arrival of a conquering, militant king.

After all, according to the Biblical narrative, the first “preparation time” involved a young, pregnant woman and a man who was not (yet) her husband, and who were desperately searching for a safe place to have a very real, a very human, a very fragile baby.

(Last time I checked, infants are still pretty fragile things.)

Sometimes, for me Advent puts me out of step with the people around me, Christian or not.

Even Sundays can seem oddly “out of season” for me.

Pro Tip Again: Did you know that “Advent songs” do NOT equal “Christmas songs”?

Advent songs are songs of longing, yearning, reflections on WHY we might need a Savior in the first place. They are full of hope, but they are not necessarily full of joy (yet).

Christmas (also a “season,” by the way) songs reflect the consummation of Advent, the fulfillment of the hope, the promises.

But for some reason, we (meaning a lot of my Christian tribe) do not want to linger in longing, or hope, or reflection. Instead, we rush to the fulfillment, to the party, to the celebration.

(Though, again, the “celebration” in the Biblical narrative feels a lot different than most of what I see in my world. I wonder if Joseph and Mary—or even Jesus himself—would recognize our celebrations.)

But a few years ago, I took the “red pill,” because I wanted a rhythm to my life, and my year, and what I found in the liturgical year—the rhythms, the guidance, the natural “ups and downs” of repentance, celebration, peace, and reflection—gave a healthy shape to my life.

So I do the best I can, finding my Advent where I can.

Faith, spirituality, advent, advent 2021,

Advent 2021.5 – Time to Get Started

One thing that I like about Advent is that it actually marks the beginning of the calendar of the church.

Time is an important thing. Some say it’s the most prized currency (along with our attention) of the age.

Culturally, we are arriving at the end of the year.

Spiritually, this is our beginning. Our start.

And I live in this “in-between” space, with culture on one hand and my spiritual life on the other.

So as I watch things wind down and prepare for the marking of another year, I am also starting a journey of Spirit. Advent, to Epiphany, to Lent, to Pentecost, and on and on.

For me, this spiritual journey, this different rhythm is important.

I am not simply a child of this culture. I am a child of the Church, born of Spirit.

This Advent, as a marker of “beginning” I decided to start another one year Bible reading plan.

(I just completed a two-year cycle of lectionary readings, which took me through most of the Bible in two years, and also repeating the Psalms roughly every month or so. This year, I’m again using the “M’Cheyne Plan”, which will take me through all of the Old Testament once, and the Psalms and all of the New Testament twice.)

So instead of starting my reading plan on Jan 1, I began it on November 28.

Pro Tip: It’s not too late to start something for yourself.