Tag Archives: Advent

Zoe 2013: Here With Us

If you grew up in Churches of Christ, chances are you haven’t heard much about Advent before. But for over a thousand years Christians have observed a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

For the upcoming Zoe conference this weekend, Jeff Childers and I sat down to talk about what Advent means and why it matters. If you are interested in digging deeper into this for your churches go to the Zoe website. Jeff made four separate videos talking about why Advent matters,  or, if you can come, to the Zoe Conference this weekend to learn even more.

Here are some highlights from hearing Jeff Childers talk about Advent:

  • Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.
  • In order to understand Advent, it helps to understand the ancient Christian Calendar. Christians have had for thousands of years certain ways of thinking about time and space, and Advent is one of the ways that we can understand the way that the whole world revolves around Jesus.
  • Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts. And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow. And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone.

Jesus is coming to the world.

He does every year.

Something Is Missing #3: The End of The World

End of the World pictureSo tomorrow is the day that the world is supposed to end. For over a thousand years, the Mayans have scheduled every day on their calendar.

And today is the last one.

I remember the first time I heard about this passive-aggressive prediction. It was eerie and freaky, and I totally believed it. I had all these images from the movies I’ve seen about the end of the world flash through my mind. There were volcanoes and lava or earthquakes and asteroids (there’s always an asteroid isn’t there?), and then finally at the last minute Will Smith comes in and saves the world.

Those are the images we’ve been handed for how to think about the end of the world.

And I think they’re wrong.

So it’s Christmas time. And for a lot of us that means shopping and parties and eggnog. But if you’re afraid of the end of the world tomorrow, than I think Christmas can really bless you today. Another word for the Christmas season is Advent. And Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different, for there to be no more cancer, or school shootings. It’s a hope for the world to be made new.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And Christmas reminds us that this something is really a someone.

I’m preaching this Sunday on a text from 1st Peter that has really captured my imagination the past few weeks. I rarely blog about what I’m about to preach on, but since enough people think that the end of the world just might happen tomorrow, I wanted to share a word of hope that might bless you this Christmas.

When Jesus first met Peter, he was a rough-around-the-edges fisherman. He was impulsive. He was a racist, he was a self-promoting, fearful bigot. In other words, he was a human. And Jesus found Peter, trained him and taught him for years. Peter betrayed, annoyed, and refused Jesus. And Jesus just kept pushing into Peter’s life. Jesus forgives again and again, he piles grace upon grace for Peter.

But when Jesus’ life comes to it’s most critical moment, when Jesus is headed to the cross, and needs a friend the most, Peter doesn’t show up for Jesus. And so after Jesus dies, Peter goes back to fishing. Then Jesus is raised from the dead, he shows up to all the disciples, and Peter just keeps on fishing. Because Peter now knows that he is a total failure.

But at least he knows how to fish.

Now up until this point, the Prodigal Son was just a story that Jesus had told. But in John 21 it’s a story that Jesus acts out. Jesus runs to Peter. Jesus hasn’t given up on him. And it’s here that Peter learns that no failure is too big for Jesus to overcome. Continue reading Something Is Missing #3: The End of The World

Christmas in Connecticut: Touching the Pain of the World

When the original Christmas story happened, three magi, or magicians came to help tell the story. Which is interesting, because the Israelites disdained magicians. They were evil and wrong, but God used them in ways that no one could have predicted.

And so in that spirit, I’d like you to watch the above video.

Whatever you think about Stephen Colbert, I think you should watch this clip. It was from this past Thursday night episode of the Colbert Report, Stephen is interviewing the Catholic Nun Simone Campbell…and it’s incredible.

For those of you who don’t know Stephen Colbert is actually a devout Catholic who teaches Sunday school every week at his local church. I know the character he plays can be incredibly offensive and off-putting, but he’s speaking the very specific language of satire, and satire is not for everyone.

But I don’t want to defend Mr. Colbert here, I just want to show you (in case you missed it) what aired on the cable network of Comedy Central this last week, the day before the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. This Sister is pushing against the modern conceptions of American Christmas and trying to reframe what the real Christmas story means.

And if you don’t watch the video, here is what I want you to hear her say, “Christmas is touching the pain of the world, experiencing it as real…and then choosing to have hope.”

That’s what Christmas was.

That’s what Christmas is.

So for our brothers and sisters in Connecticut trying to explain this evil to their children.

To the husband holding his wife’s hand as she slips away into the age to come.

To the senior saint who’s sitting at at a table for one this Christmas eve.

To the woman in the Sudan who prays for someone to send her children food.

Christmas doesn’t turn a blind eye to you.

Jesus entered the world in a time when Herod was committing genocide on children. Christmas doesn’t skip this tragedy, or any tragedy, it runs into it.

Christmas calls Christians everywhere to touch the pain of the world, experience it as real, and then to hope.

Or in the words of Mrs. Campbell, “Jesus invites you to the manger.”

Something is Missing #2: Black Friday

YouTube Preview Image

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you,  I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

Each year we hear about people being killed by the stampede as Wal-Mart opens their doors for the waiting masses. And I think it’s important to remember that unlike stampedes in other parts of the world, these are all people who aren’t rushing for food for their starving children. We don’t really need anything…except more. Continue reading Something is Missing #2: Black Friday

Something is Missing #1: The War Of Christmas

Today I want to start a series for the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. We are in a season that Christians have, for over a thousand years, called “Advent.” And I’d like to start this Advent series with a blog about war.

I’m obviously way too sentimental.

I don’t know what my favorite Christmas tradition is. Maybe it’s putting up the tree with the family, or maybe it’s reading the Christmas stories to the kids at bedtime. But I know what it’s not. Every year, around this time almost like clockwork, we start hearing the pundits on television talking about the war on Christmas. It’s normally about how some nativity scene in some city was forced to move away from a public park next door to some land owned by a church.

And we call that war.

I’m tired of culture wars in general, but I’m specifically tired of this piece of it. And not for the reasons you might think. Sometimes the ways that Jesus followers get involved in the public sphere hurt the reputation of Churches. I don’t think that’s true here. I just think it hurts the Churches.

I think it hurts Christmas.

Because if we think that moving our nativity scenes is the equivalent of war, then we should go back and read the Christmas story. Do you remember why Mary has the child in a stable? Remember why God has to send some coded message to some wise men with stars? It’s because Herod, the King of the day, heard the rumors of a this new baby king, and as the sitting ruler, he didn’t like Christmas either. So he tricks some wise men to go fetch Jesus for him so that he might “worship” the baby. And when the wise men see Jesus, when they realize that God is doing something through this little baby, they sneak off and never return to Herod. And when the sitting King realizes this, we finally understand what he meant by “worship.”

Herod commits infanticide on hundreds or thousands of baby boys.

That’s what a war on Christmas looks like.

The Christmas story starts off with a first century Hitler on the throne. Who’s so afraid of losing his political power that he’s willing to wipe out an entire generation of Jewish boys just to kill one of them. Joseph and Mary and Jesus all have to flee the country, Joseph goes from this devout Jewish man, to Jack Bauer overnight.

And Herod does this all, not because he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he does it, because he does understand Christmas.

Did you know that right now, all over the world there are people who gather together in secret to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just by gathering together they are breaking the law, and it’s not because the national governments of the places they live in don’t understand Christmas, it’s because they do! Christmas is the arrival of a King, and if you are a political leader or king of any stripe then Christmas is going to be hard to accept.

Because the truth is that there isn’t so much a war on Christmas as there is the War of Christmas.  Continue reading Something is Missing #1: The War Of Christmas

The Glory of God

This is my final post for this year. Thanks for all the conversation in 2011, I look forward to more in 2012 (at least until the world ends).

This picture is one of the graffiti prophet Banksy’s newest. It’s called “Shop till you drop” and they have no idea how he did it. But I sure am glad he did.

So earlier today I went to the mall with our two kids, Eden and Samuel, to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Three days before Christmas, and I was there without Leslie and two kids under the age of 4. We were a train wreck. It’s in moments like this that you realize just how much you need your spouse.

I forgot to bring diapers, bibs, water cups, strollers, basically every single thing that human children need, I forgot. It got so bad that at one point, we were at lunch at the mall Pizza place, and I overheard the woman sitting at the table next to us say, “And that’s why I will never have children.”

I’m not kidding.

There are so many levels of irony about the way we celebrate the Christmas story. God gives up everything to be among us, and we have made greed synonymous with celebrating his sacrifice. God comes in subtle unassuming ways, and we have all but turned Christmas into one big Macy’s day parade.

Now I’m all for Christmas parades and lights and celebrations, and I actually think that Christmas can help form the people of God in ways that help us learn how, and what, to celebrate. But it is possible in the middle of all the glitter to lose sight of exactly what Christmas reveals about God. Continue reading The Glory of God

The Tears of Christmas

It’s been one of those weeks. The kind that come along every now and then in life, where creation seems to be screaming more than groaning.

This week, a child with Leukemia who we’ve prayed and fasted for, has taken a turn for the worse. A friend and co-worker at Highland just had his mother pass away, and for reasons that I am not ready to go into today, Leslie and I spent a good part of this week in a hospital room, grieving our own personal stuff. It’s was just us and the sounds of an occasional intercom and much waiting.

As a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of times in Hospitals, and a few of those times it was due to something personal, sometimes those are great joys and sometimes they are not. This time was not.

I’ve referenced over the past couple of weeks that USA Today said that, on some level, a fourth of Americans battle with depression around Christmas time. It’s when our American expectations for a happy life are amped up and we find the discrepancy between the ideal and the real. So we think about lost dreams and hopes, what our lives could have been, and then we look in the mirror and realize what they have become.

Or maybe it’s for more than that. Maybe this is the first (or fifteenth) Christmas without her. And that inside joke that you always shared together, just isn’t possible any longer. And that table that you’ve shared for a lifetime of celebrations now has an empty chair.

On the front cover of a National newspaper a couple of weeks ago, there was a letter to Santa written by a 10 year old boy. But this letter wasn’t for the latest PSP games, or a new bike. It was for his dad to get a job. The article went on to say that this year more than any other there will be present-less families because there are job-less parents.

I was talking with someone a few days ago about some of the personal stuff that I am going through right now, and as I talked I had this profound realization that perhaps this isn’t actually that bad of timing. If the Jesus story is true, than Christmas is actually the best time to suffer. Sure it might be more difficult because all of the lights and smiles seem to ignore your pain. But the one who we are actually celebrating is the one who knows what Christmas means the best.

God enters the mess. Continue reading The Tears of Christmas

Treasuring in the Heart

Last week was a tough one at Highland, we had several reports of people contracting or losing battles with cancer. There were heart disease and car accidents and all at what is supposed to be for many, the most joyful time of the year. Yesterday I heard the news that one of my favorite women at Highland had passed away after a quick battle in the Hospital. After talking to her husband, I had the same thought that I have almost every time I hear that death has claimed someone else that loved and lived well. Death, no matter how natural the causes, is always unnatural.

On the Christmas tree in the Storment living room, we have your standard ornaments of Candy Canes and Glass bulbs, Ceramic ginger-bread and half-tangled Christmas lights. But the ornament that means the most to me each year is the Scottie Pippen collectible Christmas ornament. But in order to understand that one, you have to know something else first.

When I was growing up in Benton Arkansas, Richard lived a few houses down the street from me. He was home schooled, we played everyday together, were on the same teams, participated in the same extra-curricular activities, and basically lived the same lives. Richard was closer than a brother to me. When he went to the hospital for Juvenile Diabetes in his early teens, I went to visit him everyday.

Every year after Christmas presents were opened, I always made the same phone call. It was to Richard, we would compare the loot that we brought in from Jesus’ birthday. And the house we would play at for the rest of the week depended on who wound up getting the better haul. When I would come home from college, or later from Richland Hills for the Christmas Holiday, Richard and I would always hang out. It always felt like we never missed a beat.  Continue reading Treasuring in the Heart

Here With Us

So if you are in Abilene, please share this post with your friends before this coming Sunday, December 4th. Highland is hosting a Christmas Celebration at the Paramount Theater at 7 PM for free. It will have instrumental and a cappella moments of worship, bluegrass, slam poetry, preaching and more.

Brandon Scott Thomas has done a great job of getting together some of the most talented people at Highland and Abilene to bless the community. The goal is for Highland to give classic Christian moments back to the community. We want as many people (especially those who are not connected to a church)  to be blessed by the Christmas season as possible. So with that in mind…Here’s a bit of a preview.

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In  Tijuana, Mexico is  one of the worst prisons in the world. It’s filled with some of Mexico’s most notorious and violent criminals. These men have murdered, raped and beaten people in their lives, but when Mother Antonio comes around they melt. They are known to reach through the bars shouting for her to please come visit them today. To the guards and warden they are some of them most violent and dangerous men alive, but when Mother Antonio comes around they turn into family.

Mother Antonio wasn’t always a Catholic nun, in another lifetime she was a Beverly Hills Socialite. She had seven children and she had been twice divorced. A John 4 moment if you ever saw one, It wasn’t until her children was grown that she decided that her calling was to go into prison ministry…and that’s exactly what she did. When her last child moved away for school, Mary Clarke changed into the Catholic nun Mother Antonio and moved to Tijuana, and the rest is history.  Continue reading Here With Us

A New World

There is something about this time of year that has always fascinated me. It seems like no matter what we struggled with in December there is a chance that we can be free of it in January. It’s a fresh start. So we make resolutions, and we break them. But here’s one that I hope Jesus followers can make and keep for this year.

For the longest time, holiness was a buzz word in Christian circles. And rightfully so. It is, after all, what God calls us to be; different, strange. But what is disappointing to me is the definitions that “holiness” has taken on. We started to talk like holiness meant withdrawal, to not be engaged with the world. And that’s a shame, especially since we just celebrated Christmas, the time when Jesus showed what it looks like for God to enter into our mess.

And so maybe it’s fortunate that New Years  follows so closely to Advent. The time when Jesus enters into our world, In a season where most people are deciding to get in shape, or learn something new… Maybe this could point us toward a better resolution. Continue reading A New World