Exile: Advent Hope, Part 3 of 3

Mary’s song about the God who topples kingdoms and sends the rich away empty points us to the upside down subversive reign of God. We are invited to turn our attention to the poem of Isaiah: a king is coming and his reign of peace and fairness and justice will never end. Now, standing on this side of Advent, our minds shift from Mary’s song and Isaiah’s poem to Jesus’ prayer when he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

When you and I pray, “May your kingdom come,” we are saying, “May my kingdom go.” Like Mary I am reminded that God’s promise of the King who would usher in a different kingdom will not allow me to split loyalties. I can wisely use the systems of this world, but never believe in them to save. Only the king of a different kingdom can do that.

Advent proposes that we put our hope in Emmanuel, God with us, whose ever-present Kingship and the eternal life He brings is our well-being. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Wonderful Counselor who can teach us the way of discerning life in a world of temporary kingdoms and false allegiances. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Redeemer who joyfully declares that no one is ever beyond redemption. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Eternal Father who shows us that all people are made in God’s image and that we are loved far more than we can ever imagine. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Prince of Peace who invites us to become instruments of peace where, when we trade fear, selfishness, and bitterness for hospitality, generosity and forgiveness, we find the meaning of our identity as sons and daughters of God.

~ Fred

“Lord grant me the grace to do one thing at a time today, without rushing or hurrying. Help me to savor the sacred in all I do, be it large or small. By the power of the Holy Spirit, empower me to pause today as I move from one activity to the next. Unclutter my heart, O God, until I am quiet enough to hear you speak out of the silence. Forgive me for running my life without you sometimes. Help me to be still, to surrender to your will, and to rest in your loving arms. Amen.”

Pete Scazzero¹

¹ This quote is taken from the Advent Daily Offices by Rich Villodas (p. 7)

Exile: Advent Hope, Part 2 of 3

The Christmas story as told by the gospel writers has two sides. One is beautiful. One is broken. Both come together to form a single story that offers us what Fleming Rutledge says is, “an unparalleled opportunity to take a fearless inventory of the darkness in our world and in our hearts, into which the True Light will come.”

The story reminds us that God enters into the darkness and meets us in our messes.

The first Christmas was not celebrated with discounts from merchants and merriment from governments committed to honoring the Christ of Christmas. Yes, there was gold and frankincense and myrrh, but there was also pain and blood and tears. Christmas is about Herod the Great ordering a genocide. It is young mothers from Bethlehem to Jerusalem clinging to their baby boys as the soldiers storm in to their homes with knives in their hands. Christmas is fathers feeling helpless with no way to stop the executive order to have their sons murdered. Christmas is Mary and Joseph fleeing their home as refugees to escape from Bethlehem to Egypt, not knowing if they would ever be able to return.

There was a war with Christmas from the beginning and it began long ago. The poet-prophet Isaiah said:

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7)

In a strange way it’s exactly this ongoing war with Christmas that becomes our hope.

Christmas is the story of God as the Coming One who disorders the world as we know it for the sake of an alternative world in line with the realities of the coming future of God. Jesus, as Israel’s Messiah, proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God as good news and demonstrated the nature of that reign by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, casting out demons, eating with tax collectors and sinners, and inviting all hearers to leave the realities of the old way of doing things behind to serve the coming future of God. God has come and is coming, offering us the hope of a world the principalities and powers of the age are incapable of giving us—a restored world where self-giving love, abiding peace and unending joy flow from the fullness of God’s presence. It is a world that through His in-breaking kingdom, has come into the present through the Resurrected Lord, yet is a world that will fully come in His Return in the consummation of His kingdom—the final Advent. This is the advent story.

In the meantime, you and I can know that as the way with Christmas carries on and each one of us are playing our part, God still enters into the darkness and meets us in our mess. Advent reminds us that we must wait.

We wait in hope, peace, joy and love. In a world filled with divisive politics, the suffering of places like Libya, the violence of poverty despite the abundance of wealth, and the sheer weight of brokenness that arises from the death-dealing grip of the pursuit of power, we need Advent in order to remember. We need to remember to trust that God is at work in the world. We need to remember that through the coming of the long expected King Jesus God’s people have been invited to join him in his work as watchful, waiting and discerning witnesses to the world that is and is to come.

~ Fred

(Final post will come Friday)

Exile: Advent Hope, Part 1 of 3

In Bethlehem the Christmas we all know and love is happening. It involves a baby, a manger, Joseph, Mary, angels, a bright and shining star and lowly shepherds. This is the Christmas we celebrate in school plays and the one we think about as we decorate the tree and hang our stockings on the chimney with care. It’s the sights and sounds of this Christmas that feels so good as we walk through Busch Garden’s Christmas in lights or stroll about Colonial Williamsburg the night of Grand Illumination.

We love Christmas. The reality, what we love most about Christmas is only a part of the story. Matthew and Luke do not want to us to miss the larger story of Christmas.

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke tell us that Christmas includes a crazy king who rules over Jerusalem. He has privilege with Rome, position in Jerusalem, and power over the Jews. He goes by the name of Herod the Great. Like all people of privilege, position and power, his most pressing concern is keeping it. Herod the Great wants nothing less than to remain great.

Marys-magnificatChristmas is also about a young unmarried peasant girl named Mary who receives a word from a heavenly messenger that she would give birth to the long awaited King of Israel promised by the prophets. It’s a song she sings in contemplation and celebration, in protest and prophecy; we call it Mary’s Magnificat. It’s the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament. It’s a revolutionary song so politically charged that centuries later it would be banned in various forms by different governments, three just within the past century.

Around 1857, the British in India, under the East India Company, banned the Magnificat from being sung in monasteries. Getting the natives stirred up with ideas of the hungry being fed, the poor lifted up and the rich and powerful overthrown and sent away empty might not go well for the British. It is also written that in the 1980s, Guatemala’s government discovered Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor to be dangerous and revolutionary. The song could inspire Guatemala’s impoverished people. Additionally, Argentina’s militia outlawed any public display of Mary’s song when after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose children all disappeared during the “Dirty War” (1976-1983), placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the plaza of the Capitol. It goes like this:

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55)

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the revolutionary nature of Mary’s song. Before being executed by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer spoke these words in a sermon during Advent in 1933:

“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paint- ings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here….. This song…..is a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth” 

Dr. Scot McKnight has suggested that Mary’s Magnificat was to oppressed Jews what “We Shall Overcome” was for oppressed black men and women during the Civil Rights.

The Magnificat is a song about how God will bring down all earthly kingdoms, from sea to shining sea and from Princes to Presidents. Only one kingdom will stand forever. Mary sings about how God will scatter the prideful and powerful and side with the poor, filling them with good things. Her Magnificat is not a nursery rhyme for a baby but a war cry for a Savior-King. It was a prophetic song about what God will do in the Advent of Jesus, as if He had already done them in the past. God’s love, justice and righteousness is working itself out before our very eyes because the King has come and is coming again.

Join Mary in her song and wait in hope. The King has come and is coming again.

~ Fred

(The next post will come Wednesday.)


Practicing the Presence of God

WCC fam,

I read this in my devotional this morning and began sending emails to share it with all that came to mind. Then it occurred to me that I should post it here to share it with you all. I’m growing in my conviction of truth of these words. Perhaps it will make greater sense of why we practice the presence of God in silence during our worship gatherings and need to do so during the week. Have a grace-filled week.

“Contemplative Prayer

Over and over Scripture invites us to abide in God. To rest in God. To dwell in God. More than fifty times, Paul repeats the phrase “in Christ.” Contemplative prayer is not just about activity and speaking but also about listening and resting in God. Many of us have grown up thinking of prayer as a checklist of requests to God, like giving a grocery list to someone headed to the supermarket. As one kid said, “I’m heading off to pray — does anyone need anything?” Prayer is certainly about sharing our concerns and frustrations with God. God is personal enough to come down and wrestle in the dirt with Jacob or answer Abraham’s pleading on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. Still, contemplative prayer goes deeper.

A primary purpose of prayer is to impress on us the personality and character of Christ. We want to become like Jesus, so the life that we live is no longer ours but Christ living in us and through us.

Prayer is less about trying to get God to do something we want God to do and more about getting ourselves to do what God wants us to do and to become who God wants us to become. There are times when we speak, weep, groan, and shout at God. But there are also times when we simply sit in silence and are held by our Beloved. We remember the character of God, the fruit of the Spirit, and the incarnation of ­Jesus as he reveals to us what God is like with flesh on. And we pray that God’s character will become our character. The monks have been known to say, “If your speaking doesn’t add something beautiful to the silence, don’t speak.” For many of us in the high-paced, cluttered world of materialism and noise, silence is a way we can free up the space to listen to God.

In most of our lives, silence gets interrupted pretty quickly. Whether it’s a knock at the door, a cry from the nursery, or thoughts in our own heads, something almost always breaks the silence we long for in contemplative prayer. It is tempting to give up — to say that silence is not possible in our context or “I’m not cut out for this.” But the wisdom of those who’ve gone before is helpful here. Teresa of Avila, who was distracted by her own thoughts in prayer, said she learned not to fight them but to let them come and go like waves in the sea, trusting that God was an anchor who could hold her through any storm.

Contemplation is about tending to the lines that anchor us in Christ. For Francis of Assisi, the San Damiano cross was one of those lines, serving as an icon to focus his prayer on Christ’s love. It was in hours of prayer before this cross that he heard Jesus say, “Rebuild my church, which is in ruins,” then he got up to start the most radical renewal movement of the Middle Ages. Activism that matters to the kingdom is always rooted in prayer. If we want to join God in changing the world, the place to begin is on our knees before the cross.”

~ Common Book of Prayer for Ordinary Radicals

Disaster Relief for Texas – Follow Up from Sunday

Hello all, I wanted to offer you an update.

On a Labor Day weekend with many of our church family away, the grace of God was made evident through your generosity. We were able to collect a total of $5,075 for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief. Praise the Lord!

Thank you for your hospitality, compassion and generosity toward the hurting and displaced in southeast Texas. You never cease to amaze me with your love, WCC. I also want to sing the praises of our Shepherds and thank them for their faithful leadership to present this opportunity to us. I’ve served with enough churches and have enough friends in vocational ministry to know that not all congregations have shepherds that will make decisions like this in fear that the general offering will be short-changed. It didn’t even come up as a concern with our leadership. I’ve come to believe that this is one of the reasons why God blesses WCC so abundantly. I pray we always honor our Lord faithfully and courageously, especially in moments like these. We are blessed to have these Shepherds watch over us and lead us onward in God’s mission. And I know they count themselves blessed to serve you!

Let’s continue to pray for the healing of our neighbors in southeast Texas. Let’s pray for the shalom of God to overwhelm the hopelessness and confusion. Let’s pray for the Church to rise up with self-giving love expressed through hospitality, generosity, and compassion, and a willingness to put our hands to work on their behalf. Let’s pray so we can discern if we, any of us in WCC, are to be answer to these prayers. 

I have included a link to an update from CRF (Christian Relief Fund) concerning their efforts. You can access it here. I am very thankful for their work.

Have a grace-filled week as you discern what the Spirit is doing within you and out ahead of you in the lives of those you’ll cross each day.

Your bro,

Disaster Relief for Texas: How We Can Help

WCC family, 

This Sunday we will take up a special offering for disaster relief in Houston and other cities in Texas. As usual we will work through Christian Relief Fund – CRF. 100% of the money given will go directly to our neighbors in Houston for relief. I have been in communication with Milt (CEO of CRF) and they are partnering with an local agency to coordinate and insure adequate distribution and allocation of resources. As experts well practiced in bringing relief to disasters both domestic and abroad in over 20 countries, I am confident they will do an excellent job. 

As of yesterday, CRF had volunteers on the ground in Portland Texas where 20,000 residents were affected. Their volunteers are on the ground providing much-needed clean water, serving hot meals (up to 4,000 per day!), providing beds and supplies for local shelters, and offering free shower facilities. As the situation in Portland begins to shift toward rebuilding, they will provide tools and volunteer support to local residents looking to repair their homes and rebuild their live

Please begin discerning what you’re able to give this Sunday. 

We are also exploring what it involves to send more boots on the ground to join the CRF volunteers to serve Houston. We will talk more about this Sunday. 

In the meantime please continue to pray. The trauma many have experienced will be be a barrier no amount of money will overcome. At first there will be shock trauma brought about by the event. Then there will be cumulative trauma brought about by an unfolding of circumstances and anxiety-producing barriers to their recovery. The cumulative trauma can lead to depression, and for some, PTSD. It has the potential to be a debilitating force. 

Let’s pray for their healing. Let’s pray for the shalom of God to overwhelm the hopelessness and confusion. Let’s pray for the Church to rise up with self-giving love expressed through hospitality, generosity, and compassion, and a willingness to put our hands to work on their behalf. Let’s pray so we can discern if we, any of us in WCC, are to be answer to these prayers. I’m sure in many ways we will be. 

If you want to give now, feel free to do so here

You can read CRF updates here.
Thank you, family. See you Sunday. 
Your bro,


The Vulnerability of a Friendship of Love & Gracious Hospitality

Over the past three years I have lost three dear friends for three very different reasons. All were formerly homeless. All were thrust in to making difficult choices under difficult circumstances. All did the best with what they had. All were ushered in to my life and the lives of God’s people. All were truly […]

read the rest here The Vulnerability of a Friendship of Love