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By The Rivers of Babylon

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In 587 BCE, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked the city of Jerusalem, torn down it's walls and destroyed Solomon's Temple.  He then took thousands of Jews back to Babylon to live in captivity for what would eventually be an entire generation. 

Psalm 137 imagines a realistic moment during that long treck to Babylon as the Hebrew captives neared the city where they would be paraded and then forced to settle and assimilate.   The Babylonian captors demand a song "of Zion" from the captives. 

The Psalm begins like this: 
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Interestingly, after a generation of living in Babylon, most of these Hebrew captives did assimilate to Babylonian culture.  And when the opportunity came for them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the cit…

What Do You See?

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In Matthew chapter 11, we read a short passage where the imprisoned and soon-to-be-executed John the Baptist sends some of his followers to Jesus with a question.  The passage reads like this:  
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” I've always been intrigued by John's question because it's so incredibly real.  There had been a time when John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah.  But at this moment, as he's languishing in prison, John begins to wonder.  

Then Jesus sends back this message: 
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”Jesus' response is fascinating.  He doesn't make a singl…

Why Make A Big Deal Out of Advent?

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Advent is a time for relinquishing some of the control in order to receive the impossible from God.  - Walter Brueggeman

I have this memory of a Christmas pageant I was in when I was like six years old.  I was a shepherd, and I had a line, I think.  
I would like to say that I was the shepherd who said, "Let us go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us." All our pageants used the King James Version of the Bible.  
Anyway, I remember standing there thinking, "Why are we making such a big deal out of Jesus being born.  Didn't we do this last year?"  
The more you think about it, the less crazy that question sounds, doesn't it?  I mean why do we make such a big deal out of Advent and then Christmas anyway?  What's at the heart of it all?  
We know that the Jesus' birth wasn't something that the first Christians really celebrated at all.  
Those early Christians were more into the Resurrection, a…

The Discomfiting Disruption of Advent

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Be ready for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet...blessed is the servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives. - Luke 12:35-48

Father Alfred Delp was a Jesuit priest who was falsely accused in a plot to overthrow Hitler, which landed him in prison in Nazi Germany.  He would be executed by the Nazis shortly before the end of World War II in February of 1945.

During his last season of Advent, he wrote about how he had begun to think differently about Advent as he paced back and forth in his three-foot cell.  He also began to see the turmoil of the world around him in a new light.

He decried the unbridled pride of his age which he believed was defined by a "false pathos" and "false security" in the belief in humankind's power.  It was an age marked by what he referred to as "spiritual insanity."

Delp and many others eventually resisted the nationalistic fervor of th…

Waiting With A Sense of Promise

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Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life. - Simone Weil

I'm not keen on waiting--especially when I'm waiting to buy something in a store in the weeks just before Christmas.  It's the worst kind of torture for someone who struggles with impatience.   

And invariably, the store in question will have twelve cash registers, but only three of them will be staffed.  You know what I'm talking about, don't you?  (I'm looking at you Wal-Mart) . 

My question is simply this:  "Why create all of those cash registers when you build a store if they are destined to remain largely unused?"  

Is it just to mess with us?  To give us the illusion of what could be if they actually staffed up the place?  Maybe it's some sort of elaborate scheme to get us to buy more.  If you buy more stuff, we'll be able to afford my cashiers--come on, help us out.  

I got to thinking about waiting and Advent this week and I re-read some brilliant work t…

Jesus Blessed History's Losers

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Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God's image. - Madeline L'Engle

If we're being honest, there's something unsettling about Advent--about the idea that God would come crashing into our reality as one of us. 

And what's even more unsettling is how God accomplished this.  

There was no Grecian dramatic and violent birth story here--the eternal Word of God did not spring fully armored from God's forehead.  Nor was the Christ-child born into a royal family, surrounded by guards, protected and highly honored.      

Instead, God chose to enter into history as a tiny baby born to refugees--born without earthly protection, status or favor.  And while we have romanticized this story and sanitized it for easy consumption, the truth of Advent is unsettling and amazing news. 

The eternal Word of God identified with the least of these.  The Christ came to all of us, no matter who we are.  The Savior cam…

Tell That Good News Y'all!

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And do this, understanding the present time.  The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer now than we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  - Romans 3:11-12

What do you do when you have some good news to tell? 

Do you stuff it way down into your gut and leave it there?  Do you resist the urge to tell people your good news no matter who they might be, nor how excited it might make them? 

If you are like me, the first thing you do when you have some good news---the kind of news that is firing you up inside and burning a hole through you to get out---is to find that person you know who will celebrate with you the hardest and you tell them. 

And not only do you tell them, you tell them dramatically... you draw the story out a bit, and create some suspense.  You punch the final revelation of your good news with an exclamation point, highlighted with some over-the-top gestures and maybe a bit of jumping up and down…