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I have done this before – revised parts of Scripture to capture and emphasize points – but felt the need to do it again as we come to the close of a very long, tough, confusing and tumultuous year (at least for me and those whom I call family). It has been another year of growth and pain, joy and hope, loss and life and as I do every year (like most others), I take stock of my life, my faith, and my mission.
I am reminded that my mission is to help people grow spiritually and to do the same for myself. I am reminded that I am in relationship with Jesus who for me is Life and Resurrection, the only hope that outlasts all my dread and despairing.
So, I needed a reminder – a condensed version if you will – of exactly WHO Jesus is.
I believe that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most succinct and descriptive theological dissertation on the nature of Jesus and God.
And in a year, where we all seemed to focus more on our differences, and did so with intense vitriol and hatred, I also thought it appropriate to do my revision. God is love and in Jesus we see all the glory of God, so I took out the word “love” and replaced it with Jesus.
So when you are wondering who Jesus is and how he thinks, feels and would respond to you, read this…
1 Corinthians 13 (New International Version – NIV) – Revised by Niles Comer
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have Jesus, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have Jesus, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have Jesus, I gain nothing.
4 Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, nor does He boast, and He is not proud. 5 Jesus does not dishonor others, and is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, and Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Jesus never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and Jesus. But the greatest of these is Jesus.
“Suffering of any kind can be a compelling opportunity to see and experience the face of Jesus in places where otherwise we might be blind. We find and are shown Grace at the margins of life.” N.C. (the author)
“In Jesus, we discover that God is just sloppy with his amazing grace and completely beyond common sense when it comes to his love.” Chaplain Mike (Internet Monk)
As I sit basking in the warmth of a cozy, cuddly Juno, a warm cup of coffee and some good music on in the background, I also sit in awe and wonder at the grace of God.
As I marvel at God’s grace, shown to us most poignantly in Jesus the Nazarene, I am taken back to Christmas Day 2010 in West Virginia. I had worked a 16 hour day at Maya Angelou House, a 90-day residential addiction treatment program for homeless women from Washington, DC who have hit rock bottom in almost every way. Being with the women of Maya Angelou House on that Christmas Day reminded me of the two truths quoted above.
Maya Angelou House is run by a group I worked previously with back in the early 19090s as the AIDS case manager for the addictions program and the addictions counselor to the AIDS Program – the place is called SOME, Inc. SOME stands for So Others Might Eat and was started by Fr. Horace McKenna 40 years ago as a soup kitchen in the basement of St. Aloysius Church barely a mile from the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Since then it has grown into a variety of programs, from feeding the hungry and homeless, to addictions treatment, to medical and dental and counseling services to the poor and uninsured, as well as various housing programs for the formerly homeless (women with children, men, families, the elderly, and those in recovery).
I love what SOME does for they do Gospel work – the works of mercy, by showing mercy and walking with the poor and dispossessed, in solidarity. I see the face of Jesus in what they do and in whom they serve. But I digress…
Christmas Day 2010 was for me a day for finding grace at the margins. Being with and listening to the stories of these courageous women who had lost, had taken away or in some cases – under the influence – had resigned certain parts of themselves to feed their addictions was painful and inspiring. But there we all were on that Christmas Day, hanging out and cooking, speaking of God’s goodness and grace.
It was and still is a deeply humbling thing to listen to people (who in the eyes of the world) have lost everything, speak so gratefully of the goodness and grace of God. It definitely put me in a different perspective and it also put me in my place…it still does thinking back.
I am grateful for the women of Maya Angelou House, as I am grateful for my addiction (and my recovery) as I am shown again and again God’s grace at the margins of life. I am shown time and again just how “irresponsible” God is with his grace and love, pouring it out lavishly on the just and the unjust, the addicted and the petulant.
God truly is “sloppy” with his amazing grace, and it is in Jesus that I discover this truth. On days like Christmas, when the new and unknown is almost unbearable, it truly does not make any sense how abundant God is with his love. For even as I find myself still filled with doubt and confusion (fearing a dream may once again be deferred), I am showered in the goodness and love of God.
The challenge is to “let go” of the assumption that in times of confusion, despair, sadness or lostness that we are being punished by God for some action (see Luke 13:1 – 5 to dispel that myth).
No, it is quite the opposite: God is fully present at the margins lavishing grace upon those, who in their own eyes or the eyes of the world, do not ‘deserve’ it; God is in the confusion and the lostness, being fully present to us, wrapping his love around us like a warm blanket on a cold night.
So this Christmas, I challenge you to ‘surrender but never give up’ – to stop wrestling with God and start nestling with God, to let his grace pour over you, lavishly, unexpectedly, and with reckless abandon.
I challenge all of us to surrender to the ‘sloppiness’ of God’s love shown to us in Jesus.
So, let’s all go love and live, basking in the grace that is found at the margins and in the manger, knowing that in Jesus we are totally accepted and completely acceptable.
Author’s Note: Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day in terms or actual daylight. So in honor of the Creator’s grand order of changing Seasons and in celebrating them, I offer these poems.
Autumn is slumbering into winter,
messy and graceful like God’s ongoing
Advent within us.
And the World stands
Like it did once on a Holy Night
thousands of years ago.
Winter Solstice Luna
Brilliant ivory friend of mine,
rising with quiet passion over the
you, all fecund…
me, all lost, empty and searching…
You light my way, oh gracious Luna,
Lighting the splendid darkness of my
night with Divine light.
The late afternoon sky reminded
me of old, worn out bones,
ashen gray but filled with a holy Spirit,
mine and God’s.
and I wondered if my life would be as
much of a gift to those who have
been such a Gift to me…
Luke 1:26-38 (New American Bible)
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the [slave] of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
We are deep into the season known as Advent. For some it means nothing, for others it means presents and ornaments and family gatherings, for others still it is painful, full of sadness, remorse loneliness and fear.
Advent is supposed to be about HOPE – the hope of a coming Messiah promising liberation, the Hope of a new year, the hope of a life full of abundance and community.
For many hope is lacking; for others it is found in material things; for others still it is found in the still, small voice calling us deeper into divine love, deeper into ourselves, deeper into each other.
Few people talk about the underpinnings of this Advent Hope – that it is both dangerous and wild.
We can try all we want to tame this wild and dangerous Hope that comes during Christmas. We can tame it with pageants, public creche scenes, ‘Xmas’ parties and Black Friday, but nothing can take away the edge-like danger and hope revealed in the story of Advent – the birth of the Messiah (God in flesh pitching his tent among us) taking on the vulnerable stature of a newborn infant born to an unwed, teenage Hebrew virgin, and this under the duress of an occupying empire; and then add to that the Annunciation herald was that this newborn infant would be the Savior of the world. If that is not disturbingly dangerous and wildly hopeful, I don’t know what it.
The account of Mary and the ‘annunciation’ of Jesus by Luke the Physician reminds me of just how much we need Wild Hope right now! The Annunciation is all about the paradoxical power of God to bring such Hope into the dark times and dark recesses of our hearts and days. And God is all about Wild Hope!
It is Wild Hope because we are given the momentous news that Messiah is being born anew in the world, into our lives, and into our hearts – for he is the same yesterday, today and forever. And if you really ponder this, it is just insane: God longs to come into our lives and live in and through us! There is no rational explanation why God would dare enter such a profane vessel as myself, or you, none whatsoever aside from pure, unconditional Love.
And that truth is indeed Wild Hope.
This story of the birth of Jesus is also an example of one of the few times God shows bold rudeness (forgive my anthropomorphizing of God here) as well because as we remember and celebrate the birth of Messiah, we must also remember that God did not actually ask Mary’s permission to enter her! God did not ‘knock at the door’ and ask polite permission if he could come and turn her world upside down. Go did not wait for us to ask for permission so he could come into and alter the human world. Nope. God just did it. That is crazy love and wild hope.
I mean, if an angel of God came to me and said, “Niles, I am going to flip the world on its head through you, so have faith” and then up and disappeared leaving me to ponder such words. Well, you and the head shrinkers would have a field day with me – “he’s paranoid schizophrenic, or bipolar; quick, let’s put him on meds and get him stabilized stat!” Praise God that he did not decide to come to Blessed Mary in 2016, for she would surely be institutionalized, analyzed, medicated, and patronized – thrown away and forgotten about with all the other marginalized people living with chronic mental illness.
But no, God just sends an angel (that alone would freak me out) and says to Mary, “you are Blessed among women and I am going to use you to change the world and I am going to do it by coming into your very being, your holy Womb, and birthing the miracle of all miracles.” How utterly and unabashedly rude of God. God asked for no permission, no invitation sent weeks early via the mail with an RSVP envelope, no Evite, no Facebook updates, no Tweets. None. Well, how dare God? Just Who does this God think he is? What does Mary get: a divine message sent by a divine messenger to a teenager whose audacious response was “be it done to me according to Your will.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I know quite a few 14 year olds and they can’t even answers politely when asked to pick up their clothes, much less respond with such faith and grace when they are given earth-shattering and world changing truths.
Now that is Wild Hope, my friends!
God chooses a poor, unwed Hebrew teenage girl to bring about the greatest and wildest Hope the world has ever been given. How much lower can you go on the social class sphere? And the good news here is this Hope is still living and loving today, for this Wild Hope is not just a notion or an idea. No, this Hope is a resurrected person and his name is Jesus.
What is still mind-boggling, so utterly precocious, about this is the Wild Hope of God is still coming, interrupting our lives, giving his love to us and to a well-worn world still teetering on the edges and yet pregnant with desire.
The Wild Hope of God is still coming in bold compassion, coming into hearts and minds, disconcertingly flipping us and our world on its head. God’s Wild Hope is still rudely loving those we do not think are worthy of his love, forgiving those we do not think forgivable, showering messy grace and lavish mercy to those we would rather punish and ignore.
Yes, Wild Hope is still coming to us, without permission, planting wild dreams and desires in our hearts, asking us to trust the pregnant expectancy of Divine Visitation.
God’s Wild Hope is still blowing our minds first and foremost by saying “I am Emmanuel” (God is with us) and I love you more than life itself! Wild Hope is still coming, being born anew in the living mangers of our hearts, filling them with radical grace and love. The true Wild Hope – Jesus – is pouring out faith over fear, beckoning us to come and do something “Wild” for Him.
Author’s Note: I love Kayla McClurg – her writings, her pastoral approach to life, her deep wisdom of the Scriptures and her passionate love for God and neighbor.
She always asks thoughtfully provocative Questions, and in this sermon she does it again: “What are we doing (with our days, our lives , our time)?” and “What are we expecting (of God, of life, etc.)?”
So, once again, I am letting her words speak of The Word in this Advent Season. EnJoy.
For Sunday, December 11, 2016 – Matthew 11:2-11
During this season of your life, what are you doing? What are you expecting? Where will you go for fulfillment? What are you likely to find there?
What is John the Baptist doing? Once a popular reformer drawing crowds to the wilderness with his fiery call to prepare the way for one coming who is greater than he, now he sits abandoned in a prison cell paying a steep price for his faithfulness. John wonders, what is the heralded Messiah doing? Is he fulfilling the prophetic promises John had dared to speak? Is he healing the blind and lame, the deaf and even the dead? Are the poor truly being lifted up? Is there evidence of God’s good news in the land, or will John’s work have been in vain?
During this season, what are you expecting to see? Jesus asks the crowds who followed John: Why did you go out into the wilderness? Did you expect a grand rally, a phenomenon, a motivational preacher in soft, extravagant robes? You could go to the palaces for political pleasures like these. Or did you go to John because you were truly ready for your lifestyle to be called into question, your habits reshaped, your old ways relinquished? What did you expect to see in John, to receive from John? What do you expect from me?
Two guiding questions for these remaining days of Advent and for the remainder of our lives:
- What are we doing?
- What are we expecting?
Even from the confines of a cell, John continues to serve God’s purposes. We, too, whether in public or hidden ways, are in the right place for the right purpose if we keep listening and following, expecting a new path, helping to create a new path. Our small deeds become the evidence of our faithfulness, the way we help spread the good news that God is coming—indeed, is already at hand.
“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to [Jesus] fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to [Him] in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mary.”
Meister Eckhart (14th century)
Author’s Note: I am doing two Advent revises and reposts on Hope; one is on Wild Hope and this one on Birthing Hope. I am fond of saying all the time to people (like a random broken record) that although Scripture tells us “Love is the greatest” thing, I truly believe that hope is the most necessary. Without hope, the ability to even carry on is almost unbearable and impossible. – Niles
The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming.” Indeed, it is a time of year when we tune our hearts and minds to remembering the birth of hope in Jesus the Messiah.
I have written previously about Advent as a time of wild hope, and it is. But the thoughts just keep coming about the hope that Advent offers. And since I am in the throes of depression, and seeing little hope in my current days, I am doing all within my reach to seed and water any hope I can. So here are more thoughts on Advent.
This time of the “Coming” is indeed a time of true hopefulness because it is a kairos moment pregnant with God. Kairos is a Greek word for time that is unlike the human concept of time known as chronos (from which we get chronological time). Kairos is not a time of the clock but is a time of divine visitation, a rending of the human cloak of reality when God comes to dwell among his people in an extra-ordinary way.
Kairos in many ways sums up Advent: God going to great lengths to come to us in a manner which we would truly be able to relate. It is God coming to us through the fragile vulnerability of a newborn child, who would grow to be Messiah, a human being through and through acquainted with the pain of sorrow of life as well as the power of resurrection.
We need this sign of Hope desperately today: a sign of faithful love and solidarity given with no expense spared. But it seems we have fallen prey to some of the same distortions as the people who lived during the birth of Jesus, namely the misled belief that Messiah would come as a powerful military King to liberate his people.
But God, it seems, had different plans.
As is the case in most of Scripture, God did not come to people the way everyone ‘expected’ it; not in power or might, not in a giant warrior or a billionaire CEO. No, God chose instead to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the occupation of a vast Empire. This reality truth defies all logic and reason. It makes no sense that God did not come to us as some warrior king with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for obsessive control.
God’s way if often upside-down…
No, Jesus came to us, as one of us, and chose to make God known in vulnerability, fragility and poverty. And this, my friends, is what hope is all about: in the midst of chaos, feeling lost, wandering, and despair Hope chose to come to us to shine brightly the warm light of God’s love upon us.
Advent reminds us that Hope, coming in the Man of Sorrows, is indeed a scandalous moment: a moment where God made his unfathomable grace known and available to each of us in ways comforting and disturbing.
This time of year is a time to remember that the hopeful coming of the Messiah occurred in relative obscurity, with little pomp or circumstance, with no “Black Friday” sales, or shiny decorations, and without the hottest new toy that we somehow deem necessary for our survival.
God comes to us again this Advent just as God did over 2,000 years ago: in the gentleness of vulnerability; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; and in the promise of hope when all hope seems lost.
Advent is not only about God coming to us; it is also about opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to remember during the darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become like Mary, a place where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.
“Advent is a season of the secret of Divine Love growing in Silence…”
Author’s Note: Every year I post, repost, and rewrite some of my old Advent writings. Here is one I usually post every year at the beginning of Advent. May it lead you closer to the One Who loves and desires to be born afresh within you.
Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.” In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going and rushing about’ than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the coming of Messiah.
One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all. Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.
Advent is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention. It is about taking the time to stop time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite pregnant with the Holy.
Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in my life in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.
Advent is, as well, a specific liturgical time of sensing God’s movement in my life and in the world around me. It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for divine love.
This time of year is a time for God to come to all of us once again, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: like a manger (a feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen; the forgotten and lonely or those struggling with addictions; the person next to us in line at the store. All of these are moments when we can both experience and be Christ.
In these early days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, discovering the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us and the world.
So as we continue to journey on into these days of Advent, let us all pause…
and take time…
to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.
Reasonable: Sensible, rational, practical, logical, evenhanded
Unreasonable: not guided by or based on good sense; beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness.
There is much in the world these days that is unreasonable; there is much that seems lost to good sense – from politics to the media, the world is amok in irrationality and unreasonableness.
Let me take this to another level; based on the above definitions, when you get right down to it, God can be a bit unreasonable.
God is not always rational, practical, sensible or within the bounds of reason. How reasonable and rational is a God Who chooses to use the wounded, the broken, the fallen, the fallible and even the wicked to do the divine bidding? I mean becoming flesh, walking among us, telling us we are God’s children and that God cares for us better than the best parents? Then he tells us anyone can draw near to God, be a friend of God, if only we surrender and accept the grace of it all?
Jesus was not so reasonable or practical; his resume would not have gone too far in the corporate or religious world today, if we judged by reason, rationale and appearances. God’s ‘business plan’ was (and still is) completely maniacal: hang out with the poor, the rejected, the unclean, the blue collar types. It gets even better, Jesus decided to spit fire towards the pious, the righteous, the religious leaders and consistently show disdain for the emperor time and again through stories, healings, and parables proclaiming to both that there is a new way, a new Leader, and a new Kingdom where all are welcome if they but ask.
That is not my idea of sane or reasonable and grace is the key to the doors of this upside-down Kingdom.
Jesus is just plain unreasonable and screws up all my preconceived notions, messes with plans, confuses me and makes me uncomfortable. And those of us who say we follow him way too often try and tame, deputize, and moralize him, making him into either an Uncle Sam savior or a Pinocchio wrapped in Lev jeans, a goatee, hipster glasses and mod rock music.
Try and tame a tiger and risk losing your hand. Try taming God and risk losing everything…
God is unreasonable. And if God were not, we’d all be doomed. For grace is the outflow of God’s unreasonableness. So therefore grace is not reasonable either.
Grace can be absurd. God’s love is absurd as well. Why would Jesus of Nazareth live a life that he did: loving the unlovable, defying social convention and norms, threatening the state simply by the love he showered upon people when he healed them, only to be executed for sedition. Why?
It is absurd that one must die for the many to live.
I will say it, plain and simple, grace is absurd. And way too many of us spend too much time trying to ‘figure’ grace out rather than asking for and experiencing it; far too many try and control it foolishly, like gripping sand tightly hoping to prevent it slipping from their hands, rather than sharing and giving it.