Tag Archives: Advent

We Can’t Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

In recent years, I’ve commemorated Advent, the four-week season that leads up to Christmas. It’s been a great time of reflecting on the story of the birth of Christ and the celebration of the coming of the Messiah to rescue humanity.We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

The interesting thing about Jesus, and something that Advent so powerfully recognizes, is that the rescue He provided is progressive. In Advent, we celebrate the rescue that came, the rescue we live in now, and the rescue that is still to come…the ultimate rescue we long for. We look back on His work on the cross, we contemplate the salvation He is working in us now, and we anticipate His return to restore a broken earth still suffering from the impact of sin.

And in the middle of this season, I can’t help connecting all that Advent represents with the state of America right now. As the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., have sparked anger, outrage, protests, and debate, we are seeing a groaning rising from the earth. There are plenty of things that can distress our hearts. There are plenty of things in this fallen world that cause us to long for Jesus’ return. Some of those things are obvious to all believers, and some of those things are obvious to all mankind (such as human trafficking, terrorism, etc.). But the events of Ferguson and Staten Island haven’t caused a universal distress.

I can’t breathe.

I won’t lay out all the background of why the black community (and those who sympathize with it) see police officers escaping indictment for lethal force as such an injustice. But understand that there is an inbred distrust of law enforcement that goes back generations. It comes from the experiences of our grandfathers, our fathers, ourselves, and our children.

I can’t breathe.

We have seen too much injustice. We have seen law enforcement officers receive grace for their mistakes while the mistakes of our brethren are fatal. We have seen a justice system we are told to trust disappoint us time after time. So we groan:

I can’t breathe.

Our struggle is like that of Advent. Our rescue has come. We have seen the dismantling of institutional racism in this nation. We have made progress. We have a twice-elected black president. We have increasing opportunity and influence. We are experiencing rescue. But we realize we are still broken. Still disproportionally in poverty. Still undereducated. Still looked upon with suspicion (whether we have a degree, own a home, and make more money than those profiling us). So we Advent. We yearn for a rescue. A rescue the president, justice system, nor any civil rights leader can provide. Writer and Pastor Winn Collier’s words on Advent ring so true:

“Advent first pierces the cold air as a desperate groan from those living at the jagged edges, from those who taste sorrow’s bitterness, those accustomed to the crush of disappointment, of fear. Advent comes first for those who have made a wreck of things, those who carry a legitimate complaint, for those whose existence teeters on the brink. If you do not know any pain, if you have no yearning for what is not yet true, if you have no pang of grief for your sorrow or the sorrow of another…if there is no raw, raspy voice somewhere in the hollows of your soul that every now and again whispers into the ravaging night, God, please…Please tear the heavens and come down… then some of what Advent offers will always stand remote for you.” – Groan, by Winn Collier

The groaning of the black community in America today is not an African-American groan, it’s the grown of mankind. It’s the groan of broken people who make mistakes, sin, and carry anger yet believe in grace and yearn for grace. It’s the groan of people who realize justice might be blind, but it isn’t always colorblind. It’s the longing for the just and righteous One who looked into the eyes of the adulterous woman and said “go, and sin no more,” instead of consenting to the lethal force of the authorities. Our world is broken. Our justice system is broken. We are broken. So we yearn. We Advent. Desperately, we Advent. Oh, Come Emmanuel.

We can’t breathe.

 

 

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How God Gives Surprise Gifts

By Kevin Howell

photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons
photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons

There’s nothing like Christmas time. It’s truly the biggest spectacle in our society. As much as I like the commercialism of it, I stay balanced by reflecting of the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. It’s one of the most dramatic, miraculous accounts in history. And though Jesus is the center of the story, there are so many other characters that teach us inspiring lessons just in the first two chapters of the book.

Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, for example. He and his wife Elizabeth were quite old at the time, and they couldn’t have children. We are told this couple lived honorably before God, kept the commandments, and “enjoyed a clear conscience before God.” They were faithful, devout Jews.

It’s interesting that despite the couple being devout and pleasing to God, they still couldn’t have children. One of their desires remained unfulfilled. There have been times when I felt like I was doing the right things, pleasing God, serving, yet stuff was missing in my life. What I was believing for, what I felt I should have had, I lacked. Does it make sense? No. That’s where Zachariah and Elizabeth were.

Yet, despite the fact the time for bearing children had passed in their lives, they weren’t bitter. They still lived honorably before God. And Zachariah went about his business, serving God.

Zachariah was a priest, and one day he was going about his regular priestly duties when an angel appeared to him, scared the crap out of him, then said:

“Don’t freak out bro. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife is going to have a son by you (which must’ve been a relief, because no man wants to hear his wife will have a son from some other dude), and you’ll name him John. He’s going to be awesome. He’ll be filled with the Spirit and he’ll turn people of Israel back to God and prepare the messiah’s arrival.” Luke 1:13-17 (NKV – New Kevin Version).

Zachariah, still clearly freaked out by all of this, didn’t believe it because he and Elizabeth were too old. Because he doubted, the angel said Zachariah wouldn’t be able to speak (became mute) until his son was born. (Read Luke 1 for all the details).

The day Zachariah went to the Temple was just another day at work. He wasn’t expecting an angel to show up, that’s why he was freaked out. And he sure as heck wasn’t expecting to hear what he heard, that’s why he doubted.

I believe God operates the same way in our lives. I’m not saying you will be visited by an angel (and honestly, I don’t know if I could handle that), but as you are going about your normal business, staying faithful and doing the mundane things, God will surprise you.

He’ll surprise you because He loves you. He’ll surprise you because He’s never forgotten about you. As with Zachariah, He’s heard your prayer. Even if it was months ago…even if it was years ago….even if you feel your time has passed.

It’s clear Zachariah’s faith wavered. He was old; he didn’t think being a father was possible any longer. Chances are, if you’ve been waiting on a prayer to be answered for a while, your faith has wavered too. But God’s faithfulness isn’t based on our faith. He’s faithful, plain and simple, in spite of us.

At the time of the first Christmas, Israel was going about its normal business, not expecting the messiah to arrive. But God was faithful to His promise, and the Lord arrived. This Christmas, even if you’ve forgotten about a dream, or if you feel forgotten, God hasn’t forgotten. He’s bound to surprise you, just like Zachariah.

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Why Christmas Matters, 365

By Kevin HowellChristmas Matters

The story of Christmas is quite remarkable when we think of it. God came to Earth to live among us in order to rescue us from darkness. He came in the most unassuming, non-threatening way — as an infant.

The celebration of Advent reflects on this phenomenon. Remembering the wait for the arrival of the Savior, celebrating His life, and anticipating His return. It’s a celebration rooted in hope. As David Crowder put it: “It is the hope in a rescue that has come, the hope in a rescue that has found us, and the relentless hope in a greater rescue that is still coming — one that has not yet arrived but is no less present.”

Yet, in the midst of our hoping and waiting, we don’t remain idle. Advent reminds us that He has arrived. And just as He initially came in unassuming fashion, He has remained, on Earth, in an unassuming way: In us.

Every morning, when you and I wake up, is Advent. He arrives in your family, your community, your school, and your workplace through you. The hope of rescue is embodied in us.

Just as He lived, sacrificed, and rescued us from darkness through His light, we do the same today. It’s clear there is plenty of darkness around us. The mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., is a representation of the type of darkness we face. In each nation, neighborhood, family, and individual, there is darkness that needs to be dispelled. The darkness of depression, divorce, poverty, fear, anger, abandonment, resentment, and unforgiveness is among us and even within us.

But there is a light of hope in us. A hope of rescue emanating from our spirit. It’s the same hope the Wise men witnessed when they brought gifts to the Christ child lying in a manager. The hope that Emmanuel, God with us, had arrived, and somehow, things were going to be OK. We carry that peace. We carry that comfort. We carry that hope. Every day, Jesus enters the world again, through you. God is with us.

God himself put it this way: “I’ll live in them, move into them; I’ll be their God and they’ll be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16

This concept was explored in a talk by author Don Miller at Willow Creek Community Church. Watch it here.

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Hope Undiminished

By Kevin Howell

Christmas season is officially here again, one of my favorite times of year. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Yes, as a kid, I enjoyed putting together my wish list for my parents and waking up Christmas Day to ambush the gifts under the tree. But as much as the gift-giving and receiving part, I just enjoy the festivities and atmosphere of the season

  • decorations at the mall and stores
  • Christmas music everywhere you go
  • Christmas lights
  • Nativity scenes
  • egg nog
  • holiday drinks at Starbucks

But more so recently, I’ve anticipated the season of Advent. It’s a beautiful time to dwell on Christ. To reflect back on first-century Jerusalem waiting for the coming of the messiah, and to look ahead, longing and anticipating the Second Coming of our savior.

It’s a season of hope. And hope is something we will always need. Hope is something that never gives up. It trusts. It anticipates. It confidently expects.

Hope has significance in the life to come – as we anticipate and long for Heaven, a place absent of pain, strife, fear and frailty – but also in the here & now. There are deep longings in our hearts – expressed and unexpressed – that we are trusting God for.

Unfortunately, the wait can diminish our hope. It can shake our trust. Advent reminds us of God’s faithfulness. He has come and He will come. And all the promises He’s made, and all the things we trust Him for will also arrive.

Every Christmas as a child, I woke up with eager anticipation to unwrap what was under the tree. I was never disappointed. I may not have gotten everything I wanted, but I was never disappointed in what I was given. Advent reminds us our hope will never be lost. It will never be for naught. Don’t let your hope diminish, He is coming.

What are you hoping for? What does hope mean to you? Share your story either in the comments or email editor@transparencymag.com and we’ll publish them during the Advent season.

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