My Spirit Rejoices in God My Saviour

[NOTE: I shared this post earlier this week as part of our church‘s annual Advent Blog. For more of the Glen Elm Advent Blog, head over HERE.]

Tom Hanks and Martin Short chat with TSN panel in Regina before Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium. Twitter photoOne week ago, our city was rocking with the rhythms of Grey Cup 101. Among the “regular residents” with tickets to the event, a handful of bigger names joined the mix. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was hardly a surprising guest, diehard football fan that he is. Prime Minister Harper might be expected to make an appearance at our nation’s foremost sporting event. Martin Short and Tom Hanks upped the star power with their effort to bolster the Tiger Cats’ spirits as well.

jeremy and premierThe presence of such people at last week’s championship was noteworthy but not entirely shocking. What was surprising, however, was these guests’ level of involvement in the festivities. My friend Jeremy snapped a picture with the Premier among the reveling masses on the Green Mile following the victory. Our Prime Minister donned a toque and sat in the stands beside the CFL Commissioner. What are the odds that US President Obama will be free to mingle in the stands at Super Bowl next month?  Minimal to zero, I suspect. And Martin Short and Tom Hanks worked the circuit, appearing on the pregame show beforehand, entertaining in the stands during the game, and joining the party on the field afterward. Two of Hollywood’s A-listers added some flare and fun to an already-lively mix, and Regina loved them for it!

Presence is one thing.

Full-blown participation is quite another.

FBO CFL Grey Cup 20131124In Luke 1, Mary receives word that she will carry God’s Anointed One in her womb. The message is more than a touch distressing to the promised and pure maiden, yet she responds in obedience: “Let it be as God has said.”

Upon visiting her also-miraculously-pregnant relative Elizabeth, Mary declares, “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:47-48)

Joy has become somewhat synonymous with Christmas, but it is worth pausing to consider the source of Mary’s particular pleasure. She delights in God because He took notice of her and acted in her life. Mere presence would have been sufficient. By His omnipresent nature, of course, God was with Mary. He’s with everybody!  To live with even a hint of His nearness is a blessing. Yet Mary celebrates that, like celebrities at Grey Cup 101, Yahweh is not merely present; He is profoundly participating. His knowledge of her is not distant. Rather His involvement with her is deeply intimate. She celebrates that His mighty power has touched down upon her life. He has moved her from a place of lowliness to one of exaltation. He has transported her from the humbled one to the honored one. He has called her from being common to being chosen.

It is astounding to observe Mary’s ability to focus on two depths simultaneously. The human eye cannot do this. Yet she succeeds in noting (Lk 1:55) that the Creator has a plan reaching all the way back to Abraham (I would say even further back to Creation) and extending into the forever ahead of us. Yet hand-in-hand with this immense perspective, Mary is able to see her “here and now” in relation to God’s universe-filling scheme. This unwed, about-to-be-pregnant teenager declares to all of us that the works of God in our lives today – hard-to-interpret or easy-to-miss – somehow tie intricately into the Grand Plan.

A reality deeper than the Grand Canyon is being carved. Something more sure than the oceans tides is being scripted. A monument more immense than Everest is being constructed.

The plan of God is being carried out.

And this moment in your life is somehow woven into that masterpiece.

If you can muster your mustard seed of faith to believe that outlandish statement, then perhaps your mouth will be prepared to repeat after Mary: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He took notice of His lowly servant.”

Peace for A Purpose

Slide1As I mentioned in an earlier postour church has created an Advent Blog each December for last few years.  Articles and reflections are submitted by members and friends of our congregation, on a variety of topics tied to the Advent season.  You are most welcome to join us in this annual pilgrimage toward Christmas.

My first submission was on HOPE.  This one is on PEACE.

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of  Christ.  Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three lovely daughters.  He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

Everyone craves peace.

We pray it for our nations and households. We seek it for our world and for our minds. The whole of humanity could sing together of the desire for a “peaceful, easy feeling”

If it ever arrived, what would we do with it?

The Old Testament prophet Malachi described a beautiful covenant that God had established with Levi, a figure from centuries earlier:

“My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.”

Levi, the namesake for Israel’s priestly tribe (the Levites) enjoyed a covenant with Yahweh, described as one “of life and peace”. Levi lived reverently, and in exchange, his life was empowered to influence others toward a similar way of life and peace.

The priests were to experience Yahweh’s peace. Why?

So that they could bless the tribes around them.

Picked up in the New Testament, priestly imagery gets attached to the followers of Jesus, who are identified as a “royal priesthood”, apparently called to fill the role of representatives between heaven and humanity. (This concept is observed in the common Protestant doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers”.)

We see the establishing of this role in John 20:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

To disciples locked away in fear that Jesus’ killers would soon hunt them down too, Jesus first spoke, “Peace.” Displaying himself as alive and victorious, he spoke the word again.  Having shared his peace with them, he now sent them into their world in the same manner that God has sent him into ours.  They received peace so that they might go into the world as representatives of the wholeness—the Shalom—that God is working to re-establish in His creation, one life at a time.

Poor Thomas misses this empowering experience.  But a week later, Jesus grants him the wound-examination he craves, after offering one key word of comfort: “Peace.”  We dare to see the same sending trajectory being established, even with the one famously called “doubting Thomas”.

How about Chennai, India?

Strong strands of tradition locate Thomas taking the Gospel of Jesus to the Indian sub-continent, as his response to Christ’s peace-sharing work in his life.

Apparently, tasting of God’s peace is a powerful enough experience to drive even an infamous doubter into offering himself as a Shalom-ambassador, at the exclusive disposal of the Infinite One.

Make no mistake: God wants to give you peace.

Just be sure you know why He wants to grant you such a gift.  You can be sure it is a grander design than a few more Z’s tonight.

Birthed into a Living Hope

Slide1For three years now, our church has created an Advent Blog each December.  Articles and reflections have been submitted through those years by members and friends of our congregation, on a variety of topics tied to the Advent season.  You are most welcome to join us in this annual pilgrimage toward Christmas.

Below is a piece I submitted earlier this week.

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of  Christ.  Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three lovely daughters.  He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

The season of Advent is built around the experience of waiting.

Pregnant

One frequent connection is to the waiting of pregnancy, often observed graphically in Mary’s most literal waiting for the birth of Jesus. Metaphorically, Scripture feeds into this theme with its declaration that the whole of creation is groaning, as if in the birthing process (Romans 8:22).

Regarding the Advent theme of Christian hope, Peter uses similar imagery to vividly drive home its shocking nature:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

I have mixed feelings about the day of my birth. Continue reading

Draw Near to the Light

Matthew 4:12-17 depicts a time when John the Baptist has been arrested and when Jesus is stepping forward into his own ministry.  His curious first step forward?  Withdraw.

The language of the text says that Jesus “withdrew into Galilee”, leaving Nazareth for Capernaum.  More than mere relocation, the shift is backed with Isaiah’s prophetic language:

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 

Jesus’ presence is akin to that of light: Comforting, empowering, and revealing.  It was so in the region of Galilee, and it continues to be so in every life that opens its doors to Jesus.

Verse 17 then adds:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Too often, we internally shrink this sharp call of Jesus’ into a paraphrase: “Stop being bad, start being good, and you’ll feel God’s blessing on your life.”  That isn’t untrue; it’s just not true enough.

Jesus’ statement is framed as a logical movement from Isaiah’s words, meaning that a more accurate slant on Jesus’ earliest message would be: “God’s light is shining brighter and nearer than you would dare to think.  In view of this, drop everything that hinders and hardens you against this growing God-reign and embrace all that frees and forms you for full participation in it.”

In two lines: Jesus, the Light of lights, is shining.  Draw near and step in to the view and the warmth found there.

Anything less shouldn’t likely be called Christmas.

Advent Blog

Our church has put together an Advent Blog to help provide focus to this beautiful, but too often hijacked, time of year.

If you’d like to journey with us, THIS is your spot.

Future of Forestry

My Christmas listening has recently included steady doses of two short Advent albums put out by Future of Forestry, a great San Diego band I’d never heard of until last week.  They can be checked out here or here.

Advent ’10

Our church has started an Advent Blog, in an effort to further fuel our journey together through this season of expectation and preparation for the Divine arrival.

You are most welcome to join us.