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It’s Holy Week! (Part 2)

Originally posted April 3, 2012

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Today, let’s look at the entrance of Jesus into the story.

13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access.  Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.

15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.

16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.

17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.

18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.

19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.

20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.

This is what I love about the Jesus part of the story of God.  Here we see Jesus in his human vulnerability.  Though he is fully divine and capable of changing the end of the story, Jesus is also fully human and willingly becomes the final blood sacrifice as the atonement for the sins of the people–this time not only the people of God but all people everywhere throughout the course of history.

The scene in the garden is one of my favorite Jesus moments.  We see Jesus at his most intimate, praying to God not for the sake of others but for his own sake.  We see the intense struggle between the divine and human in Jesus.  This is no small matter, this business of execution and sacrifice.  This is not easy or pleasant, but it is worthwhile and shows the extent of God’s love for the people–of Jesus’ love for the people, all people.

Blessed is the one who lays down their life for the sake of a friend.  And Jesus has called us friends.

I like to think the blood Jesus sweats during his prayer foreshadows the finality of his sacrifice. Like the blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, the first drops of Jesus’ blood are spilled in the garden as he struggles to accept his role as the animal sacrificed on the temple’s altar.

But my favorite moment is still coming…

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Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  – Luke 2:10-11 TNIV

More than any other emotion, fear is what keeps us apart from God.  We fear that we are not worthy.  We fear that we are not enough.  We fear that the letting go will hurt more than the holding on.

As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus on this Christmas Eve, consider once more the powerful words of Henri Nouwen, this time from Gracias!

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the greatest mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.

My prayer for us all this Christmas season is that we would allow God to walk with us in our deepest places, hold us in our pain and loneliness, guide us in our confusion, forgive us in our guilt, and wash away our shame.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us receive fully and respond with joy to the real and active presence of God in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

God with Us

Advent is my favorite part of the liturgical year.  I love the hymns, the candles, and the general atmosphere of “good cheer.”  But what I love most is the reason-for-the-season: the birth of Jesus.

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, and what I was most struck by during the sermon was a discussion of the names of Jesus we are given in scripture.  There are many, but Matthew begins his gospel with the most important two: Jesus the Messiah and Immanuel, which means God with us. These names represent the good news Matthew was writing to share.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).      ~ Matthew 1:23 TNIV

The fundamental basis of Holistic Body Theology is our identity in Christ, who we are as the children of God.  We receive our identity because of two theological truths: imago Dei and the incarnation of Christ.

We are only who we are because of who Christ is. We are only who we are because of what Christ has done for us — not only the death and resurrection of Christ but also the birth and life of Christ.  Because God chose to come to us — physically, humbly, weakly, fleshly –, we have the opportunity to receive the gift of adoption into the family of God.

Advent is the perfect time to remind ourselves of what God has done for us — and to look forward to the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

So this advent season, take the opportunity to dwell on just what it means to anticipate the coming of Christ into the world.  Consider Henri Nouwen’s words in The Genesee Diary:

The expectation of Advent is anchored in the event of God’s incarnation.  The more I come in touch with what happened in the past, the more I come in touch with what is to come.  The Gospel not only reminds me of what took place but also of what will take place.  In the contemplation of Christ’s first coming, I can discover the signs of his second coming.  By looking back in meditation, I can look forward in expectation.  By reflection, I can project; by conserving the memory of Christ’s birth, I can progress to the fulfillment of his kingdom….

I pray that Advent will offer me the opportunity to deepen my memory of God’s great deeds in time and will set me free to look forward with courage to the fulfillment of time by him who came and is still to come.

Happy Advent, lovely readers!  May this season be full of joyful anticipation of connection with the God who created us and called us by name into the gracious, merciful, and loving family of God.

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