Earlier this week, I posted a devotion for this 3rd week in Advent. You can take a look at it here. The basic theme is we’re hearing a lot about “the end” that looms in our lives – the fiscal cliff, getting through the holidays in one piece, unemployment, war and unrest around the world. People, all of us, are looking for a word of “good news” in that – a way to endure the end, stave it off, or at least prepare for it in a way so when it comes, we can diminish its affects on our lives.
But is that really good news? And this good news in Isaiah 61 – “Good news to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, and those who mourn,” is it really any better than the good news we get offered by other places in the world? What makes this announcement of good news any better, and what difference does Advent’s message of Christ being born into our world make for our lives today?
I think it’s a good question….because when I think of how prominent “endings” are in my life, and the feelings of sadness, uncertainty, and fear they cause, I wonder myself how the good news of God in Isaiah, the good news of God in Jesus’ coming into the world, works to change things like Scripture tells us. This past week, in a conversation I had with the associate pastor at my internship church, we asked ourselves the basic question, “What difference does the message of Christmas make, especially since Christ has already come? What’s are we supposed to be observing in Advent anyway?”
And that takes me back to endings, because I’ve experienced a few this week. Recently, the President of my Seminary announced his resignation – one that came amidst the news that the Seminary will finish the year with a $2 million deficit, and the financial picture doesn’t look great right now. Lots of talk about additional cuts and even, the seminary closing itself – a looming “end.” And, this past week, Pastor Paul “Chip” Gunsten, assistant to the Bishop in the Virginia Synod, ELCA, died suddenly this week. Part of Pastor Chip’s responsibilities was to oversee all candidates for ordained ministry…folks like me. For the past 5 years, Chip has supported, guided, challenged, and offered friendship in my own journey through seminary. He and his wife Kris were on the same trip to the Holy Land I took in 2010 – where I learned Chip had been recently diagnosed with cancer. And a couple weeks ago, at my interview for approval to become a pastor in the ELCA, Chip was right there next to me, as he has been for so many others.
I probably don’t have to state too much that I’m profoundly sad at the loss of Chip. Yet in my sadness, I also have this deep sense of thanksgiving – thanks for the life and relationship God allowed me to share with Chip. Thanks for the life I’ve shared with others in meaningful conversations this week. And in all this stands God and his promise in Christ, that in our sadness, our darkness, and even death, there is peace, light, and resurrection on the otherside. In Christ, there is always a new creation, new life waiting. In Christ, the “good news” is not the end, but the beginning is near.
The message of Advent for us this week is one of beginning: Christ’s birth into this world reminds us that God is about creating a completely new beginning in the world, not just a survival plan to get through the endings we face in the world. This new beginning in Christ is just that, a start – a start of a journey, a life in which God is with us in all aspects of life – ups and downs, security and uncertainty, joys and sorrows, life and death. Advent is the reminder that Christ shines light into the dark endings of our world and lives, and reveals to us exactly where and in what things we find true, abundant life. Light and life that brings hope, joy, peace, justice and love. This Advent, “good news” is announced to all people – Christ is our light. Alleluia! Amen.