Saturday, December 20, 2008

These Advent Days by Brett McCracken

It’s a cold December night, less than a week from Christmas. The third Friday of Advent, to be exact. In two days, I’m going home. Home to Kansas for the holidays.

This is a season that swings from joy to sadness rather quickly and unexpectedly, but I’m on the joy side of it these days. I’ve been seeing depressing movies like they’re going out of style, reading depressing books, and watching the news (more depressing than usual it seems). But in spite of my best efforts to wallow in midwinter moodiness, I’ve been overwhelmed with happiness and cheer. Overwhelmed to the point of tears (of joy).

Joy to the world. The Lord is come. Let every heart prepare him room.

It’s a joy, I think, of recognizing the smallness of oneself, while at the same time noticing the ways in which God seems to pay attention to you. That’s when the joy weighs heaviest, when we see that it has absolutely nothing to do with what we’ve done, but everything to do with who we are. That is: who God is making us and shaping us to be.

This realization typically happens around this time of year for me, when I survey the year, write my little Christmas update letter (yeah, I still do that), and think about what I’ve done, who I’ve met, where I’ve gone, etc. As I was driving into L.A. last night for a Christmas party with some church friends, I had one of those “wow, I have been so blessed,” moments when all the faces of the people I’d shared my year with came parading into my head, not in a random montage of unrelated images, but in a sort of kaleidoscope of linkage and interconnectedness. It was one of those moments when I could vaguely, powerfully glimpse a little of the divine orchestration that is at work behind all of this mad, beautiful mess.

Because I do believe that this is the case. I’m convinced that this all makes sense—my part in it, your part in it, the fires and snow and cherry pies. It makes sense on a level of sense-making that is only graspable in the way that the universe is graspable through telescopes. We can see parts of it, and in that we can infer the greatness of the whole and feel the surrogate wonder.

So it was in my car, driving on the 10 through downtown L.A., listening to my “80s heroin shoegazer” Christmas mix. I was overwhelmed by the realization that so much was so clearly happening for a reason. My job, my house, my friends, my car, the things I hear and say, write and read, fear and love… It all fits into the stories and people and places that precede it. It is all very messy and imperfect and frequently painful, but it ultimately isn’t about me or my comfort.

As a Christian, I believe that I am part of God’s church—that is, his extension of himself (via the Holy Spirit) on earth, a mission-minded body of humans that are the hands and feet of a much larger force, working in and for the world. I also believe that this happens largely in spite of ourselves, and that left to our own devices we would probably just constantly be f-ing things up.

God sent Jesus to earth to start something new. And start something new he did. But the new world that began with baby Jesus in a manger is now a world that a wider body of mortals is asked to participate in, to develop more fully and to expand, looking towards the time when all will be redeemed, made right, and reconciled. It will be God who brings this about. Only he can make things as they should be. But he asks his people—the church—to live in such a way that aspires to and expects this glory.

And in that, we sometimes see glimpses of things we can barely understand. We taste the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5). I think we all can experience this. I think it’s what I’ve been experiencing these Advent days.

This is a really good Advent post. It can be found at

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sunday December 21, 2008

This Sunday, December 21, is the final Sunday in Advent. That means that Christmas is almost here. That means that 2008 is almost over. As we all say in unison "Where did the year go?", lets think about that. Why does time fly? Where does the time go? Our lives flow past us like a river as we sit on the bank watching. How do we slow it down? We can't. But we can jump in. I encourage you to jump in and really be present and mindful. Check out this article: The Art of Now (Psychology Today).
I think this is much more of a spiritual issue than we think. Living in the present, being present to our lives and souls, being mindful (all mean the same thing), is a key to our spiritual formation. This is a little preview of our December 28 study. So, why did I get on this subject now? I know. More later.

This Sunday, the theme for Advent is LOVE. I encourage you to check out three articles by Julie Clawson about the LOVE week in Advent. They are here and here and here. In her tradition, love is week 3, not week 4, but we will not let this sidetrack us and we will get the message. Just a short thought: God is love, and God asks us to love. That sums it up. This week's worship bulletin is here.

Advent Poem Day 18

This advent poem is from a blog I follow: Everyday Liturgy.

Advent Poem Day 18
December 17, 2008 - 3:19pm by Thomas

The shepherds, tucked beneath
Trees sans leaves, sans shelter—
Not one leafe to share for cover—
Look up into skies void of hope.

The young man, walking slowly
Back to his lover, his dearest,
Whom he loves in such duress,
Says that no room can be found.

The young woman, tucked beneath
Blankets with holes, with stains—
Not one fit for royalty or queens—
Looks up into skies for the answer.

The new born, breathing slowly
And searching—pasty arms reaching
For a mother fatigued from pain, reeling—
Cries out the groan of creation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Old School Contemporary Service

Matt Zamora posted this video of our service in the hall from 2002. This was before I was preaching. It's funny that I don't know a couple of the people in the band...
Follow the link!

Stand By Me

I was made aware of this video through Tony Jones' blog. Jones says this about the video: A note about the creator of this short music video: Filmmaker Mark Johnson traveled around the globe getting street musicians and others to record part of the track for Stand By Me. Using battery powered equipment and a pocket full of Frequent Flyer miles he got tracks from dozens of performers. Each one was able to wear headphones and hear what the other performers had done.