Speaking God’s Language: An Advent Reflection

b_tdfgfugwa-murray-campbellBy Joe LaGuardia

One of my childhood dreams was to speak a different language and adventure across Europe like one of those old spy or action heroes I watched on television.  My favorite was Indiana Jones, who spoke many languages and read hieroglyphics, many found in his father’s journal, enabling him to foresee traps and dangers along the way.

Others I know have had similar dreams.  Some imagined that they were heroes from one of those old Zane Grey novels, able to speak the native tongue of Cherokees across the west in order to defeat maniacal villains bent on greed and blood lust.

I am personally fond of the late Atlanta writer, Lewis Grizzard, who said that sometimes our actions speak louder than words.  He recalls a time when he was delayed in an airplane on the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport tarmac.  When he looked out of his little port window, he saw a Delta mechanic starring quizzically at his plane, scratching his head with a wrench.

In high school, my childhood dreams quickly faded as I realized I didn’t have a knack for languages.  I almost failed Italian.  Twice.  And I am full-blooded Italian.

Some people are good at learning new languages, some are not.  What I do know is that Advent is the season when we come together as a church and learn an entirely different language altogether: God’s language, the language of time.

The New Testament uses two Greek words for “time”.  One is chronos, where we get the word chronometer, which points to human, linear time — the passing of hours and days, minutes and seconds.

The second word is Kairos, which points to time that transcends the linear passing of hours.  It is the time of divinity, so to speak, where Trinity and spirit exist apart from what we know of as human beings.

It is larger than any calendar, it is cosmic and entails the entire fabric of creation, the heavens and the earth, and who we are as God’s people.

In Romans 13, Paul stated that we believers know what time—what Kairos—it is because we speak God’s language of time: one laden with hope and joy, anticipation rather than anxiety, one in which we know that our life is not our own.

It is kairos caught up in the larger drama of God’s redemption found in scriptures of old, and finding its fullest reach in the person of Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to our chronos, our span of life, in order to die and rise again, to bend time towards justice by giving us all the gift of overcoming time too, to taste none other than eternal life.

Do we speak that kind of language?  Do we know what time it is?

The world seems so anxious about time.   Some want more of it; others have too much of it.  We are anxious about those things that create a sense of urgency in our life.  Other times, we foretell the “end of the world,”perhaps with the election of a new president or the advent of a new millennium.

People who face their fragility and the extent of their time on earth plunge into despair, the acute recognition that death is around the corner.  That is the type of language the world speaks; it falls short on hope and the promise of eternal communion in the presence of God.

When Paul tells us that we know what time it is, that we are to live as people not anxious about time, we are awakened to our liberty in Christ, to have an understanding that transcends 24 hours and 7 days a week.

‘Tis the season to move beyond the seasons.

God’s language also celebrates at least three “times” in our life:

  • The time to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, born to a virgin long ago in a far off place of Galilee which up to that point only provided the world with peasants rather than a prince of peace, King of kings.
  • A time to celebrate God’s in-breaking in our life today as we witness Christ born anew in our hearts, and also allowing us to be born unto God. To be able to birth the hope and love of Christ in world that only knows the pain of birth pangs.
  • A time to anticipate the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, His Second Coming when he will judge the living and the dead, unfurl the great scroll of the book of life, and then grant us new, imperishable bodies in which we live in God’s new heaven and new earth, where tempest waters are as still as glass, where lion and lamb slumber together, and where children play with the likes of asps and vipers.

It is in Advent when we experience Jesus as our hero, one who teaches us a new language and speaks God’s kairos, a hero that puts to rest the anxiety we all feel when worrying about what tomorrow might bring.

It is about what is “now”, and salvation in Christ’s ultimate judgement and redemption that is the “not-yet”.

And in that tension of “now-and-not-yet,” we find hope to love deeply, worship richly, and live our life by walking to the beat and time signature of a different drum.

For many, time represents what one poet calls the “long unrest.”  But for us who live into Advent and celebrate Christ’s birth and life, we allow that long unrest to turn into wakeful celebration.  We may not know French or Russian, but we know what time it is!

In Him the long unrest is soothed and stilled; in Him our hearts are filled.”

Amen.

 

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Wildflower diversity reflects Kingdom diversity

ButtonweedBUTTONWEED
Diodia virginiana

By Orrin Morris

The diversity of the wildflower kingdom is minor compared to the diversity of humanity. Every individual is unique although he or she dwells within a family, a community and a culture.

The issue we face is learning to live together in an increasingly crowded world that can instantly communicate information. That information may be accurate or erroneous, helpful or destructive, loving or hateful.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, world population increases about 77 million in 12 months. In only one year, it increases more than the total population of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas combined.

The highest form of worship is the expression of gratitude for God’s creativity, for His love, and His grace that redeems us from sin. Not only did Jesus teach us to love God completely but He commanded us “to love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39).

The wildflower for today depicts that important truth, that is, righteousness is both vertical, to God, and horizontal, to our neighbor.

Buttonweed is found in shallow ditches, low moist areas on a flat lawn and along the banks of streams. It grows along the ground, often nestled under lawn-grass like Bermuda and fescue. Sometimes the light pinkish-green stem will rise a few inches and even branch out. As the stem moves laterally, the leaves are positioned at right angles in clusters, as illustrated.

The flowers have four petals with two stigmas that extend beyond the petals. They are very long compared to the 2/3-inch bloom. Contrary to most wildflowers, there are only two to four stamens and they barely rise above the petals. Thus, fertilization depends greatly on wandering insects.

The flowers appear where the leaves join the stem. The leaves are generally horizontal and appear in pairs on opposite sides. From these leaf axils the tubular flower rises as pictured in the inset.

The buttonweed’s other distinguishing feature is the seed case that gives the plant its name. Note in the sketch the light green buds where the blooms used to be. These are the seed cases or fruit produced by the plant. These “buttons” are useless except to the survival of the species.

Buttonweed begins blooming in late May and continues until the first frost, unless an extended dry spell kills the plant. Finally, it is not known for any medicinal purpose but is a good example of the diversity of the wildflower kingdom.

May we learn to live and act in such a way that peace and harmony will overcome the chaos that divides us locally and across the world.

On the Lord’s Prayer (3/3)

daily-bread-550x320Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  Today’s article is the last of three.  (Find the first article here and the second article here.)

The first article noted that Jesus’ prayer finds a home squarely in Jewish liturgy of the first century.  It is not unlike other rabbinic prayers of old, but it does stand out in its emphasis on God’s kingdom.  Those who read Jesus’ prayer cannot fail to notice that God’s coming kingdom will not just affect Israel, but all creation.

Six petitions make up the Lord’s Prayer.  The first three petitions focus on God.  This week we look at the next three petitions, which focus on kingdom living.

The first of those petitions is the request for “our daily bread.”  Although bread may seem mundane, it is a profoundly symbolic request.

Bread invokes the daily manna that God gave Israel shortly after God rescued them from the death-grip of Egypt.  If God provided for Israel in the wilderness, then you God will provide for one’s daily needs as they suffer under the oppression of the Roman government (often cited as the “new Egypt” in ancient Jewish literature).

Rome promised everyone “bread and circuses” based on a political notion that the more you entertained and satisfied the people, the more compliant and docile they would be.   Rome, which had a false sense of “pax Romana,” or “Roman peace,” could not provide the real nourishment that only God provides.

A request for bread, therefore, was political as much as it was pragmatic.   I can’t help but think that Jesus and his disciples had Isaiah 25 in mind when they prayed this prayer: A day will come when God returns to earth, gathers all people to Zion, and throws a great banquet for those who are redeemed.  This banquet was so important in the life of Jesus’ community, Jesus acted it out the day before he was executed.

The next petition is that of receiving and giving forgiveness.  I heard it once said that it is hard to receive what we have not given.  If we expect God to forgive us, then we need to practice forgiveness of others–even our enemies.

And just as bread invoked God’s leadership in every area of a disciple’s life, so too does forgiveness point to a political reality in which war, violence, and militarism are abandoned for an agenda of reconciliation and God’s justice.

We may not feel it at the time, but when we forgive and receive forgiveness, we are choosing to live into God’s power and Spirit.  If you are compelled to seek revenge on someone who has wronged or hurt you, but you don’t act on it, it is not a sign of weakness.  Quite the contrary.

This is the overarching theme of the book of Revelation.  God’s community, pitted in a place of persecution and weakness was actually in a position of power and God’s providence because they–unlike their enemies and oppressors–had the power to forgive and anticipate God’s justice.  God never asked Christ’s disciples to take up arms even to defend themselves, but to trust in the Lord and follow the way of peace-making.

The last petition asks God to keep us from temptation.  Many people think that this verse implies that God is the one who tempts us.  According to the book of James, that is not true (James 1:12-14).

God does not tempt us, but we can ask God to help us avoid those places in which we are most vulnerable.   Even Jesus, as perfect as he was, was tempted.

One of the goals of praying for this petition is to realize that we must do our part in staying away from temptation.  Scholar A. J. Disasa asks, “How can we ask for protection while remaining blind to the temptation that we willfully invite?”*

The Lord’s Prayer, as we have stated in previous articles, is comforting but full of challenge and conviction.  It is concerned as much about sin as it is about God’s provision and grace.

The final words of the prayer return to God.   It is a doxological affirmation in God’s power and glory forever.  God’s holiness provided the bookends for the Lord’s Prayer, and it should serve as bookends for all that we do, for it is God’s kingdom, not our own, that we must seek in every aspect of our life.

 

*”Matthew 6:7-14,” in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Volume 1; Louisville: John Knox Press, 2013, p. 124.