-Pastor Melissa Fain-
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John 1:1-4 NRSV
Did you know there is something called a Christian Calendar? It’s been around for centuries! It begins this week with something called Advent. Advent is a word that means “beginning.” It takes place over four Sundays, the four Sundays before Christmas to be exact.
Advent is about preparing for that special day, preparing for Christ’s birth. Preparing for Christmas! It has always been prepared for the same way. Every Sunday we are given a new word that helps us get to Christmas: hope – peace – joy – love. Many Christian faith groups celebrate these ideas with something called an Advent Wreath.
The wreath itself is a circle, reminding us that God is without beginning or end. God is forever. The wreath is also evergreen. In the winter, evergreens like pines stay green. It reminds us God’s presence is with us even when everything living sleeps.
Today we make our advent wreath.
Today we also make our first candle: Hope.
Godly Hope is like looking at a map. Have you ever seen a map? You can see so many amazing places, while you don’t actually go to those places. A map helps you plan for an adventure. Our map is leading us to Christ, on Christmas. That is our hope. We are going to do more than plan for it- Christmas is the destination! We’re going to be there in 24 more days!
First, and always first, we must begin our journey in hope, by setting the destination on Christ.
Question: What are your hopes? What are your hopes for Christmas? What are you hoping for in life?
Prayer: Dear God, you are always with us. You want us to find your hope, seek your path, and walk your way. May we see and hear your call. Amen.
Places to connect:
To see or share pictures of the Advent Adventure Crafts:
Twitter: @FigTreeTweet, #AdventAdventure
For deeper discussion: Reddit: www.Reddit.com/r/FigTreeChristian
-Rev Melissa Fain-
3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Mark 4:3-9 NRSV
Watching people hurt sucks!
When it comes down to it, we don't want people to feel pain. I believe if most of us could take away pain with a push of a button, we would. No more tears. No more heartache.
There's a catch- there usually is.
Pain serves a purpose. Pain let's us know our body needs help. Pain also serves as a warning that something bad is happening, and if not reacted to immediately would continue to happen.
Many are now probably amending their idea, and push the button to end senseless pain but not all pain.
I get it. I'm right there with you. But we tend to lump unhealthy and healthy pain together, and avoid them both equally. If we embraced healthy pain, we'd all be healthy. (Well, many more of us would be healthy. Never speak in absolutes. Crap, that's an absolute. Try not to speak in absolutes.) You get what I mean.
Planting hope is easy, but growing hope is a painful process.
Back in my youth ministry days, I used to do this activity. We'd sit in a circle, and I would pull out brand new Play Doh from a container. I'd announce the Play Doh was God's plan. God wants us to build something. I'd mention something it was supposed to be. A heart. A cat. Just something that would be relatively easy for the group to make. Then I would pass the Play Doh around the circle. My only rule was everyone had to touch it as it went by.
I feel it's important to add, this was always with middle school youth. You can tell them to make a ball, and two people in you have this perfect ball that would make Leonardo Di'Vinci proud, just to have the third in the circle squash it. I found it hilarious, while almost all the youth in the circle were in mental anguish. (See, I didn't use absolutes.)
The point of the activity was two-fold. First, our fingerprints are necessarily all over God's plans. It's part of the activity. Unless we're willing to take hold of what God gives us, it simply sits as an unrealized idea. Nothing can happen unless we're part of what's happening. Second, being part of anything naturally means failure and failure almost always hurts.
"Saving" us from eminent failure
There are two levels of pain here: There's the pain of the person you see with the hope, and there is your pain in helping that person.
Don't be mad at the animals in the Little Red Hen, because most of us are those animals. We live in an immediate culture, and that immediacy has made us lethargic and took away our desire. Our intelligent selves have streamlined life, took away pain, and destroyed passion in the process. This was the piece I was missing every time I talked about immediate gratification: the death of passion.
Now I'm back to Brueggemann and the Prophetic Imagination. (If you've been following over the past few months, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, go back and read January and February's posts.) Comfort is the killer of God's call. Comfort are the birds, path, rocky ground and thorns. Under the guise of ease, God's plan, or hope, is often destroyed:
Let me say it: It's not fair. It's healthy to name the truth in this case.
It's not fair that anyone who is writing about taking God's plan are all telling these bouncy stories of success, where their only trial involved praying for a week and everything magically appearing in front of them. Those books and stories are used as ammunition to destroy those who don't just magically get everything they pray for. They're used to further demoralize those who have had their words stolen by birds, trampled by strangers, and strangled by thorns.
It's not fair that all the power is held by thorns. It's not fair that God is calling those with no power to change a broken system that has all the chips. When the thorns offer power it's only to further the growth of more thorns. You can't take their power, because they ask you to leave God's hope at the door. Taking a piece of their power turns you into a thorn grower. So you sit in the wilderness with nothing, completely demoralized, and lost.
God can work with nothing. Back when I first began, I knew what I had. I didn't have a single thing. Nada. Ziltch. I was ashamed of this fact, and didn't know how to verbalize that deep inner call with the nothing God gave me. It often left me speechless when people would ask what this whole Fig Tree thing was. In reality, I should have been excited by the void. It was fertile ground for God's' plant to be whatever it was supposed to be. What was Fig Tree? A seed. A tiny hope. An unknown that has the potential to be anything God wanted it to be. I didn't trust God enough to express this desire, because I kept waiting for something. Anything. That's my failure. I couldn't trust. What am I doing now?
I'm at a place where the story hasn't reached it's best selling conclusion. I feel when I've reached the end of a chapter to Fig Tree's epic story. The Zombie Church section was one of those moments. Now I'm just sharing the awful truth: Hope is painful. Hope is work. Hope if filled with heartache and loss. I'm sharing because all of these things are healthy and someone, anyone, needs to say it. We are a sacred remnant. Hope comes from the ashes of the refining fire. What I love about Jesus' parable is the mass of it all was never considered. Yes, some of what God has given has been gobbled up by greed. Yes, some of what has been given has been planted in shallow graves. Yes, some of what has been given has been destroyed by those who fear it. But that sacred remnant still remains. God gave so much, so something would still remain to save us all.
That hope has been secretly growing in the wilderness away from everything else.
That hope has been growing deep roots that are years old in the making.
That hope might not be Fig Tree Christian when it's all said and done, but that hope will save us all.
It seems like an odd place for a story to start. The curtain has fallen. There is nothing more to be said, or is there? Hope is often born from the ending of other stories. A seed must die to grow a tree. A caterpillar must pull it's very essence apart to become a butterfly. The world is a cycle, and one piece must end for the next piece to start. This start always begins with Hope.
This is how the story begins. For it to be born, something must die. Our desire for vengeance, and retribution must put down for us to accept this new story. This story is the story of peace, joy, and love. There is little room for vendettas when Christ is involved.
What is your hope this Advent season?
Dear Holy Creator,
In this new beginning, help us let go of what hinders our hope.
The Advent Calendar doesn't technically begin until December 1. As part of this year, on Sunday I will share our previous meditations on Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. Some of them are years old and cringe worthy. I feel like I'm sharing my baby pictures to the world, even though I willingly shared this when it was first published.
For "Hope" I really like the "It's a Wonderful Life" post.
Hello, it's Christmas! Summer is Coming?
Christmas Hope: It's a Wonderful Life
Hope: When We Feel Broken, Guest Devotion by Katie Bond
Prayer for Hope:
Dear God of new beginnings, and auld lang syne,
Light in us a hope born of new life. Give us the spark we need to begin the Advent season.