Dec 2 2012

Eager Expectation

Today is the first day of Advent.  Advent is a word that means “coming.”  In the four weeks leading up to Christmas Christians will be asked to reflect on the coming of Jesus long ago and also on the fact that Scripture declares that he will one day come again.  We tend to place the most emphasis on the former but Advent calls us to remember both “comings.”  When I was a child I recall hearing preachers say that Jesus was coming back anytime now.  It was a message I heard often enough that I remember eventually coming to the conclusion that he sure was taking his time.  It’s not easy for children to wait.  I’m not sure it’s much easier for adults.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.”  Yes, waiting can be difficult, especially this time of the year.  Children will certainly be restless between now and Christmas.  For them it will be a long wait before the big day arrives and they get to open presents.  Advent is likewise difficult for us adults as we wait and wait and wait for Christ’s return.  This waiting can be as painful for us as it is for our kids waiting for Santa Claus to come.  But wait we must.

Interestingly enough, we do not wait alone.  The Bible indicates that all of Creation also awaits the coming of Christ.  In Romans 8 Paul talks about how “the creation waits in eager expectation” for the glory that will be revealed.  And there is good reason for Creation to wait in eager expectation.    In vs. 20-21 Paul writes, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In v. 22 Paul goes to add, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  This verse contains both bad news and good news.  The bad news is Creation suffers today.  It is in pain from the “bondage of decay” brought upon it by the sin of man.  In his commentary on the Book of Romans, Paul Achtemeier says, “If one wonders at the ‘mythology’ involved in earth’s suffering for human perversity, one can have its truth demonstrated in a quite literal way by seeing what humankind has done by way of the pollution of air and water and the thoughtless exploitation of the natural resources of the world in which we live.”  Considering how we have treated the earth and its resources, how could it not suffer?  How could it not eagerly long for restoration?

That leads to the good news.  Paul says creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth.”  Although pain is associated with childbirth the pain points to something better to come—the birth of a child.  Nature’s pain and eager expectation are important because they point to a better day and a better world to come.  Paul’s words in Romans 8 are all about hope, which happens to be the theme of the First Sunday of Advent.  For both humans and Creation the Bible points to a brighter and more glorious future.  Many churches today heard passages read from the Book of Isaiah.  This prophet, likewise, looked forward to a better day to come, a day when “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” (11:6)  One day there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” where all shall be as God intended.  That truly is something worth waiting for.

Yes, a better day is coming for both believers and Creation.  In the meantime, we are called by God to make the most of our time on this earth and one way we can do this is by being good stewards of God’s Creation.  There are lots of ways we can help nature suffer less in the here and now.  Considering how long nature has already waited, wouldn’t you agree that it’s past time we did something to help?

–Chuck

p.s. I came across a wonderful video a few days ago where “Blessed Earth’s” Matthew and Nancy Sleeth are interview by Tony Campolo and Shane Claibore.  I encourage you to take time to watch it.  Here’s the link: http://vimeo.com/29624868


Feb 12 2012

The Gift of Today

In Psalm 118:24 we read the words, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  I’ve heard these words quoted my entire life.  Usually they were spoken by ministers at the beginning of a worship service.  The Psalmist words are certainly appropriate at such a time, but they are actually words to be affirmed each and every day.  Every single day is a gift from God.  Every day God continues His work of Creation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The day was God’s first creation, something miraculous and mighty in the hand of God.  For us the day has completely lost its creaturely and wondrous nature.  We use it—and abuse it—but we don’t accept it as a gift.  We don’t live it.”  He also said, “The daily works of God are the rhythms in which creation occurs.”  Bonhoeffer’s words have caused me to recognize anew how every day is a gift from God and also evidence of the Creator’s ongoing work of Creation. 

During Communion at church this morning our two wonderful accompanists played the song “Morning Has Broken.”  The words of this song echo both Psalm 118:24 and Bonhoeffer’s belief that each new day reveals evidence of the Creator’s hand.  The first verse says, “Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird.  Praise for the singing!  Praise for the morning!  Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!”  The last verse adds, “Mine is the sunlight!  Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play!  Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day!”

I have a feeling that if we could begin each morning reciting Psalm 118:24 and reflecting on the words to “Morning Has Broken” it would go a long way in getting our day off to a good start.  Such a practice would surely lead us to begin the day offering praise to the Giver of all good gifts and would help prepare our eyes to see more of God in the gift of His Creation.  Why not give it a try?

–Chuck

(I’ve included two daybreak  images I captured on my trip to Maine this past fall–the top one from Acadia National Park and the bottom one from Baxter State Park.)


Jan 4 2012

New Beginnings Every Day!

“…His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.” Lam. 3:22-23

“Every new morning is a new beginning of our life.  Every day is a completed whole.”  These are the words that begin the devotional thought for today in a book I’m reading based on the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The thought of each morning being a new beginning for us is certainly not something I haven’t heard before.  What Bonhoeffer goes on to say, however, is.  He writes, “God created day and night so that we might not wander boundlessly, but already in the morning may see the goal of the evening before us.  As the old sun rises every day, so the eternal mercies of God are new every morning.  To grasp the old faithfulness of God anew every morning, to be able—in the middle of life—to begin a new life with God daily, that is the gift that God gives with every new morning…”

I find Bonhoeffer’s explanation for why God created day and night fascinating.  He felt God knew we would have a tendency to “wander boundlessly” and that this would cause trouble for us.  Therefore He put us in a world where we would know each morning that darkness would return each evening and we would therefore have to order our lives accordingly.  I realize that this thinking doesn’t necessarily fit into a modern society where earth’s darkness is no longer a hindrance to travel or wandering, but I feel that there is a message here that is still pertinent.  We are meant to live within nature’s cycles.  We should be humble enough to admit our limitations and also our need for rest.  There is much in God’s Creation that reminds us that we are not meant to always be doing something.  We all need rest—physical, mental and spiritual.  In Bonhoeffer’s view, every sunrise and sunset offers us this important reminder.

Reflecting on the words found in Lamentations 3, Bonhoeffer rightly affirms that every new day is a gift from God and that a part of this ongoing gift is God’s love or compassion.  This is something each of us should remember at the start of each new day.  Every sunrise is a reminder of God’s love and faithfulness to us.  Every sunrise is, likewise, a memo that we have another chance “to begin a new life with God.”  Apparently, in God’s plan new beginnings are called for every single day, not just at the beginning of each New Year.  I don’t know about you but I am incredibly grateful for that.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at sunrise on the east coast at Acadia National Park.  I took the bottom image at sunset on the west coast at Redwood National Park.)