(A Christmas gift for UPPC Group Life followers: an early blog! Life gets busy during the weeks surrounding Christmas, so I wanted to get this to you now. There will be another blog entry after the message on Dec. 31, but not until Tuesday Jan. 2. –Mike)
Cut off. Alone. That’s how Mary and Joseph might have felt.
The census Caesar decreed meant that Bethlehem was filled to bursting with every cousin, grandparent, and third-cousin-twice-removed who traced their lineage to the line of David. It probably felt a bit like some people’s Christmas gatherings, come to think of it.
So Mary and Joseph’s urgent need placed them in a vulnerable situation. Physically, because she was about to give birth. And socially, because who wants her to give birth in their living room? They must have felt so alone.
Ironically, alone was the last thing they were. Because moving and kicking inside of his mother’s womb was the very Lord of creation Himself, ready to disembark. Or, perhaps, to embark on what would become the most important life in all history. The life of “God with us.” No more would he be enshrouded behind a cloud on a mountaintop. No more would he be relegated to a tabernacle-tent. No more would he be veiled behind the temple curtain. God chose to be with us. And he meant it.
- Have you ever felt truly alone? What led to that loneliness? What did you do to cope?
- Have you ever known someone who was lonely? What could/did you do in response?
- If God chose to be with us in the flesh then, how does God choose to be with us in the flesh now?
- Imagine having an encounter with another human being that convinced you God was right there with you. What would that encounter be like?
Luke 1:67-80, “A Parent’s Joy”
There are times when God seems silent.
There are times when we need to be silent.
And there are times when we need to burst forth in joyful song! Today was a day to break the silence of Advent; a time to cast our minds forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises.
As Jesus’ people, we live an “already-not-yet” existence. In Christ, the Kingdom of God has already come, breaking into our world with the rushing wind of God’s Holy Spirit. But the Kingdom of God has not yet been fulfilled, evident in the broken, but healing, world in which God has placed us. And so Jesus’ people are to be characterized by a unique sort of waiting.
Like the moment after the orchestral overture, but before the curtain rises, we wait with baited breath, with eager anticipation, with joyful excitement. For we know that what we wait for will come. And it will be worth the wait.
- Can you recall a time in your past when you just had to share some good news? When you burst forth with joy?
- Have you ever known someone who was so full of excitement, enthusiasm, or joy that they couldn’t keep silent?
- In seasons when God seems silent, how do you suppose you might maintain hope?
- In seasons when the noisy din of humanity drowns out the peace-giving presence of God, what could you do to find peace?
- In seasons when you’re blessed with joy, what can you do to express it?
Last week, we began this Advent contemplation of “Silence” by looking at the painful silence that accompanies a longing for the voice of God. But even when God sent a messenger to Zechariah, to announce the coming of a new prophet John the Baptist, there was a need for a new kind of silence — the silence of the people.
The story of Zechariah’s life-changing encounter with the angel Gabriel is linked above. But in sum, Zechariah and his wife are childless and elderly, but when God reveals that Elizabeth will bear a son who will be a prophet, Zechariah can’t believe it. In response, the angel makes him mute until the day the child will be born.
Of course, when you read it, it’s clear that Zechariah’s muteness is a sort of punishment. But really, I see it as more of a discipline, that is, something imposed upon him for the sake of teaching him an important lesson. Perhaps the lesson was something like, “Oh, you don’t think God can do this? Well, how about you stop using your mouth for a season and learn how to use your other senses; your ears, your eyes. Observe and see all that God can and will do.”
Had he not been silenced, we might conclude that Zechariah might have rationalized his experience away, like Scrooge does when he’s getting creeped out the night before his ghostly encounters: “Perhaps a bit of bad beef…”
But because Zechariah was silenced, he was actually blessed with the opportunity to observe all that God can and will do in God’s own time, and with God’s own power. And thankfully, it is all for the benefit of the world.
- Would it be hard for you to not speak for nine months? Discuss.
- Have you ever had an experience of slowing down and turning off the noise of your life? What was it like?
- Why do you think God seems to insist on encountering people in simple, humble, and easy-to-miss ways, as he does with Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19:12)?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a period of waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. We recognize Advent in a few ways. (1) We anticipate the Christmas holiday, of course (think “Advent calendar.”) (2) We acknowledge that we are currently in a period of waiting for Jesus’ return and the final consummation of God’s creation. (3) We remember the time before Jesus’ birth, sometimes referred to as “the silence of the prophets,” during which people waited for centuries to hear a word from God.
Of course, even before this relative silence, people would cry out to God in times of distress. One in particular, the prophet Habakkuk, articulates the kind of prayer one might even hear today as he asks God to explain why the world around him is so full of wickedness. God, it seems to Habakkuk, is silent. Ironically, God has plenty to say in this 3-chapter book, and reveals the plan for God’s people to be conquered by the terrifying Babylonians.
Later, the voice of God would fall silent for generations. This silence, perhaps, cultivated in people a longing, an anticipation, for God to act. To save. To anoint a particular king who would usher in a new and permanent era for God’s people and the world. This king was known in Hebrew as the moshiach or Messiah.
- Do you have an experience of trying to hear from God, but “hearing” nothing? What was it like? Did it ever change?
- Habakkuk actually has two complaints: one about his own people and one about the invading Babylonians. Which do you find more concerning today, the problems within your community, or problems that threaten from outside your community?
- Think of something you had to wait for. There was nothing you could do to speed up the process, and maybe you didn’t even know when the waiting would end. Is there anything you learned? Did the waiting shape you in any way?
- If you’re currently in a period of waiting, especially for God to do something, what are some ways you can learn or mature because of the waiting?