Friday, December 20, 2013

darkness waiting for light

growing up southern baptist, liturgy wasn't something i knew much about. but "traditions" were something i learned a lot about...sitting in the same pew every week, following an "order of worship" that was virtually the same from week to week (just with different hymns or special music inserted in), participating in church conferences where people argued over wall colors, and so on. in college (and since), i've run further and further away from such "traditions," which to me seem stifling, often arbitrary, and frankly unnecessary if what really matters is fostering an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus. and so, for the most part, i flee from "traditional" church. i feel suppressed and inhibited by rote prayers and liturgy. and while i LOVE the advent wreath that inhabits the center of our dining room table (and the practice of lighting the candles each sunday leading up to christmas), i recently made the comment that this is about all the liturgy i can handle.  

and so i find myself being critical when i hear of people who refuse to sing christmas songs during advent, or who will only speak of waiting for the birth of Jesus prior to december 25 and will not celebrate the reality that He is already here. but over the past few days i have also been reminded of several things. first, it isn't a bad thing to really think about and ponder what it must have been like to wait, and wait, and wait for the Messiah...for centuries...often with no word or no prophecy or no murmur of when Jesus might finally come. second, as much as i STRONGLY believe that we are to celebrate the incarnation and what that means for humanity on a DAILY basis, it isn't right to act as if the current state of the world is redeemed. we are in the process of redemption, but that process isn't finished. and so we still wait...for Jesus to come (again), and for the full consummation of redemption to be fulfilled. 

and while i don't think it necessary to go so far as to refuse to sing "joy to the world" before december 25, the heart of that idea is meaningful. we do already have joy...but we don't have perfect joy. we do already have peace...but we don't have perfect peace. and we do have hope...which seems to entail that there is something we hope for. hope is something that we look toward...something in the future...something that we anticipate. and so, while i don't plan to put off celebrating the incarnation throughout the christmas season (and throughout the year), i do see value in recognizing and sitting in that tension of "already but not yet." we already have Jesus, but we have not yet seen the fulfillment of all that He has promised. we are no longer in darkness, but we have not seen the FULL light of His face. 

i was reading luke 1:78-79, where zechariah is prophesying regarding john preparing the way for Jesus, and he states: "because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." i love the part about the sunrise visiting us from on high. this speaks to the anticipation that the night will give way to the day, and the sunrise will pierce through the darkness. mankind experienced this in part with the birth of Jesus. but we still await that future sunrise...the ultimate one...when Jesus will return and will eliminate even the tiniest hint of darkness in the farthest away corners. 

to those of you who are like me and who flee from tradition and liturgy, perhaps the biggest thing we need to guard against is becoming satisfied with the amount of Jesus we already have. while not rejoicing in our present salvation is wrong, rejoicing too much in how things are and consequently not longing for the hope of future redemption and full reconciliation is wrong as well. finding the balance between the two - that's the hard part. and that's where Jesus gives us freedom to figure out what works for us (so if you love liturgy and connect to Jesus through it, go for it!). for me, that means not worrying too much about religious traditions and liturgy, but yet participating in things (like lighting the advent wreath) that help me to focus on the "already but not yet" aspect of redemption. and for others, the practical applications are numerous. the important things is that, whatever it looks like for us as individuals, we live in the tension of a Savior who has already come, but also a Savior whose return we eagerly anticipate. 

thank you Jesus that you already came! and thank you Jesus that you've yet to come. for this, we wait in hopeful anticipation.      

This blog is a testimony to the work that God is perpetually acting in my life. I am learning that when I think I've given enough of myself, I've barely begun. My prayer is that as God continues to grab hold of my life, not only will He become greater and I become less, but He will become ultimately supreme and I will vanish. This Holy Disappearance will be a lifelong journey in which, by the grace of God, I will become so wrapped up in Him that all of me will disappear and all of Him will SHINE