Thursday, December 31, 2015

Loneliness Amidst Enveloping Goodness: Some Reflections on 2015

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV)

This text has been gripping me for several weeks now as Advent has come to a close and ushered in the season of Christmas. As I have learned about and experienced more of the Kingdom of God I have different eyes for texts like these, eyes that are on the lookout for evidence of God's loving rule from the heavens.

I am reminded of the gospel Jesus came to preach. To Him, the gospel was all about the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God into our neighborhood, to make it immediately accessible and readily available to everyone who wants it.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
His death removes every obstacle, and his life and teachings show us how it looks to live, through all the seasons of life, in that Kingdom with a God of infinite goodness as our Father.The amazing thing to me is that Jesus brings God’s good rule, with all the presence and activity of Trinitarian sufficiency, right down to the ground where I live and work, sleep and wake, despair and hope.

One of the things that has struck me in this Isaiah passage is talk of the “government” (NIV) and “authority” (NRSV) that will be on this Child’s (v.6) shoulders and will go forth in ever widening circles of design, power and peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:7 NIV)
As 2015 winds down, I wanted to connect this Isaiah passage to what Jesus is doing right here, right now and throughout the year. Simply put, he will take charge of whatever we let him take charge of. This is what it means to call Jesus “Lord” as well as “Savior.” He shows us how it works and why it’s the best thing we have ever imagined; indeed, it’s what we were created for.

Speaking for myself, I desperately need this reminder as 2015 ends. It has been for us a year of risk and trust; trusting God enough to put myself out there with resumes and cover letters for a job that doesn't yet exist. Deepening exposure to the Kingdom that Jesus brings has yielded experiences of deep healing. It also has been one of the most lonely years I can remember. Our longing for a church to call “home” has remained unfulfilled and throbbing. Further, my attempts to “dream” again and seek to respond to a pastoral call (see here and here) has met with silence, opposition, skepticism and increasing marginalization and obscurity. As the year winds down I feel weary, with little hope that anything good is coming. I don't know if I can handle another year like 2015.

Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there! I remember that I don’t need to make my story turn out “right” or force resolution on stubborn plotlines that resist closure and peace. I can simply be present to the people and range of choices before me and not worry about where it’s all headed or what’s in store for me and my family. Either the outcomes of my life are on my shoulders or they are on his, and my body stress, levels of shame, fear and anxiety will always tell whose shoulders are bearing the load. If I let the Christ-child bear the arranging of my affairs (my "government"), the promise is that I will experience his peace. His peace – the peace he had and still has and that he still gives to those who are disciples of his, those learning from him how to live.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" (Col 3:15 NIV)

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV)

One of the biggest shame triggers at this time of year is having to tell your story to someone who doesn’t get it. Social gatherings and family get-togethers can be especially painful as we seek to answer questions about “what’s going on” in the best possible way so that we don't end up looking like fools. We feel ashamed about what remains unfinished in our lives, so we either hide our stories or embellish them to make them sound better than they are. Plotlines that remain unresolved and messy cause us deep shame in the presence of many (seemingly) strong successful personalities that have it all together. Everybody seems richer and more successful than I am! I wish I had his clarity, her purpose, their network of relationships, their opportunities!

I remember and return to the humble king of obscurity born in a cave with a feeding trough for a throne. No need to impress here, only experience his presence and pour out my heart. I say I'm sorry for how little I accomplished for him this year, how I was unable to better my family's situation or find much clarity in calling or purpose. As I pour out my heart, I sense his heart lean into mine and remind me that he doesn't measure the years the way I do, in terms of how much I got done or who I came to know or what resources I have gained. The way he measures my year is by how many shared experiences we have had, how we have grown in conversation and participation as I have learned to trust him with more and more of my actual day to day life. Intimacy is shared experience, and all he cares about is growing deeper with me in increasing levels of trust and shared experience, year by year. I felt his joy over me, with the enveloping promise that any year spent growing in shared experience with Jesus is a fruitful year and one to be celebrated!

May you, dear readers, find him to be more than you ever dared hope. May 2016 be for us and all ragamuffins out there a year that we find satisfaction in Emmanuel - such satisfaction that we can lay down our costumes and masks and grow into a little bit more of who we were made to be - the person God had in mind when he spoke us into existence and weaved us into substance. That person, living life with-God, is our truest and best self, our freest and happiest self. May God grant us renewed vision to venture out on his word and Kingdom, trusting him in and for everything.

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—
sustainable peace for all time.
This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,
to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.
He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.
The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies,
will carry this to completion.
(Isaiah 9:6-7, The Voice)