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.”

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.

Anne Rice’s Christmas Confession

If you connect the name Anne Rice immediately with visions of vampires and other dark tales. then you’re not alone.   But  that would be not nearly enough to know.

I have found my own spiritual journey impacted profoundly by this truly lovely woman, by her beautiful spirit, and by her gift for stringing words together.

This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Christmas Eve.

One small snippet contains her wondering:

Is there a more beautiful love story in our literature than that of God coming to be with us, coming to suffer the mundane and vulgar indignities of our physical world?

I do not know of any.

Nor do I, Anne.

Holiday Tweeting

I just tried to get on Twitter.  All I found was this…

Apparently the world has traded the twinkling star of Bethlehem for the twittering syllables of birdies.

I suppose I should take the whale as a sign to log out and get back to Christmas a tad less “plugged in”.