22 December 2019

"Advent always begins in the dark"

"Make your face shine upon use that we may be saved."
As Fleming Rutledge writes, "Advent begins where human potential ends." There is nothing humans can do to manifest their own salvation. Advent teaches us we are weak and helpless, but God comes to us, "not the other way around." And he fulfills his promises to us. He saves us, redeems us from our tragedies.
I find myself facing the tragedies of my life, often unable to believe in the larger plan God has for my life. Will God redeem my career, my path, my chance at affection? Will God turn his face toward me and save me? In Advent, I am learning to let God's redemption begin where my potential ends.
A few days ago I wrote that I made a recent turn toward cynicism. The track record of failure in reality has led me to deny hope. But as I am learning now, Advent is about turning toward the future which God is creating. That God will do something. Hope is not in vain, but it will be manifested in Jesus. God is teaching me that hope is worth holding on to.

Ryan
Flying Over Europe

16 December 2019

He is the answer to the question we didn't know how to ask

"The Lord spoke again unto Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as deep as hell or as high as heaven.' But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.' And he said, 'Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'"
How would I answer God if he were to issue me the same opportunity? Ask of the Lord your God a sign, anything. What could I possibly ask? How often I have asked God to make himself known to me. Where have you gone? What do you want from me? Have you truly called me? Do you even have a plan for me? Yet now confronted by this question in God's own words, I do not know whether the sign I seek is worth asking for. Like Ahaz, I ponder, Who am I to test God? I cannot. I cannot when I am confronted by my Creator.
All that I could possibly ask would be only the most basic, most primitive element of my faith: to know for certain that he loves me. That he would comfort me with his warm embrace. Nothing else would matter. Nothing else would mean as much as truly knowing God's affection for me.
So when God responds to Ahaz, he asks through Isaiah, Could you weary your God? Therefore the sign is this: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name God-with-us.
Perhaps God does know what we actually need, what signs we seek. He asks us what we want, and we may be befuddled in our words, but in our hearts, we crave love and warmth and affection. So he gives us what we truly need: himself. God alive in the flesh on earth. He comes to love us, to show us love, to touch us.

Because he is the answer to the question we didn't know how to ask.

Ryan
Beirut, Lebanon

15 December 2019

Advent this year

There are many reasons for a young person to be cynical in this period in time. Love, politics, religion, education, career, hopes, dreams, reality, love, heartbreak... What right do I have to be hopeful? Why should I imagine there is anything better ahead?
I recognize I've made a turn toward cynicism recently. I can't give a straight answer why. Maybe because hopefulness is so exhausting.
Instead I'd rather temporarily meet my own personal needs. I wander back to my emotional home where I can imagine fantasies in which at least some primitive part of me can be fulfilled. Because the life I should be living--at least the one in my imagination--I'm not.
So what am I doing? Shall I take hold of life and existentially seize opportunities? Am I to sit back and expect God to show up? Maybe. Or maybe I am meant to wait. That is what this season of Advent has taught me. I am waiting for God to show up. Maybe these lectionary lessons about waiting are what I've been needing to reflect on and learn from. This Advent season is something I've needed.
Unlike Lent where the key word is sacrifice or repentance--active behaviors. In Advent, the key word is wait. I let God show up because I am waiting for him. Wait, and maybe I'll find reasons not to be cynical.

Ryan
Beirut, Lebanon

08 December 2019

God finds us when we are merely surviving

We may often find ourselves in circumstances wherein we only want to survive. Ruth and Naomi looking for bread. David writing songs of his life in danger. Joseph and Mary looking for shelter. We ourselves, just trying to get by. So we expect nothing more from God. Only let me live. Let me survive. I have no intention of thriving. Yet we cannot see the greater picture, the greater promise God has in store for us. Ruth finds a husband and enters the narrative of God's people. David is found to be after the heart of God and becomes king. Joseph and Mary become parents to the Messiah. We may be just seeking survival, not realizing there is an abundant life yet to come.

Ryan
Beirut, Lebanon

02 December 2019

What is Advent for us today?

"In the early days of the church, the faithful believed that the end times were just around the corner. But they never came. Two thousand years seems a long time to wait for something imminent. So how long do we have to wait and for what? 
If the Gospel writers thought the end was near, they were clearly wrong. Christ seems to have missed his deadline. And, like waiting for a friend in a cafĂ©, waiting for a bus in the rain, we check our watches, drum our fingers, and prepare ourselves for disappointment. 
Sometimes, it feels that the waiting in Advent is a bit fake; as though Advent is a ritualised vestige of the time when we waited with true expectation for Christ to come and fulfil all things. Ritualised in Advent calendars and in Advent wreaths, candles lit, doors opened. Ritualised, because in our hearts we know it will not be now, it will not be soon. 
Waiting for Justice to arrive for many seems a long wait. For the ravaged and broken people of Syria, the mountain of the Lord seems very far away. There are no ploughshares left in a land which has more craters than fields of grain. 
For those bereaved, wounded and traumatised by the events on London Bridge on Friday, the mountain of the Lord is a long way from the dark valley they walk through. For those affected by climate change, justice seems to ebb further away, as the waters rise and the hurricane destroys their land and their homes. 
For those who suffer because of their gender or their sexuality or their race, they find that justice is not something they can afford to wait for, because while they wait, they are persecuted, oppressed, broken by an unjust world. 
That is not the waiting we are called to do in Advent, a passive hanging around until God gets his act together. There is no place in scripture where God gives us the indulgence of helpless passivity. If we throw up our hands in despair and ask God how he can let these things happen, the answer in the Gospels comes back clear and strong, that God has in fact given the hungry all that they need to be well fed, he has given the persecuted all that they need to receive justice, he has given the war-torn all that they need to find peace - because he has given them us. He has given them us, and what we wait for in Advent is for the Spirit of God to take us over, to fill us with such compassion that we have to act, because we cannot bear to see so many in such pain. 
The presence of God makes us discontented with a world which should be like the Kingdom of God, but isn’t. The presence of God makes us hungry for justice and hungry for an end to starvation, and corruption, and war. The presence of God calls us not to be content with the world as it is. The presence of God gives us courage to walk the hard road of making change. 
And when we try and change the world, the world may not like it, just as in Jesus' own time. We will be resisted, and sometimes we will be rejected, which is why of course we throw our hands up in despair and declare we can't do anything. The fact is we can. But it might hurt. 
Because to change the world, as Isaiah said, means we have to put down our most cherished weapons, we have to abandon and unlearn the paths we have trod into a world we do not like, we have to remove ourselves from the comfortable myopia that indolence and isolation bring. Advent is where we wait for something that will change us, even though we may be frightened by the change."