For me, the season of Lent always begins in the same way. I pour olive oil in a bowl. Then I stir in the ashes of the palms we raised in worship last Palm Sunday. I mix the two ingredients into a paste, roughly akin to peanut butter. This will become the crosses born on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a sign of our baptisms. It is a reminder of our finitude. It is a reminder that only God’s grace can transcend the human condition.
Lent is coming up quickly. Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, is next week. With Lent fast approaching, it makes me think about the invitation to observe Lent with forty days of self-examination and repentance; with prayer, fasting, self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Word. Beyond that though, are the voices in my head asking, “What are you giving up for Lent this year?”
My sleep has been disturbed by many things. On occasion, a recurring nightmare dragged me from sleep into the sinking feeling and elevated heart rate that only a good nightmare can give. While the setting changed, the theme was consistent. I found myself in an unfamiliar sanctuary, hall, or room surrounded by people largely unknown to me. They were ushering me to get up and preach. The problem was I had no sermon prepared. In one version, water begins to rise around my ankles, and I find I’m actually in a big boat, sinking, while the people want to know what I have to say. This is a very typical nightmare for someone who spends lots of time talking in front of people.
I lost a book the other day. It is a dreaded phrase.
I searched and searched my bookshelf and I just couldn’t find it. I searched, and I searched again. I pondered whether I had lent the book out to someone else. My brain couldn’t recall lending it out. I then searched again because I have this habit of not really looking. I have to ask my wife Jen all the time to find things for me because I tend to scan past them. I was determined to find this book without asking for help.
The ancient Church adhered to a tradition of publicly announcing the dates of Easter, along with other festivals that lacked a fixed date. Given that the Epiphany (January 6) is a fixed date and it marks the final significant fixed-date feast before transitioning into the Easter cycle, characterized by moveable dates, it served as an opportune moment to declare the dates of Easter and other moveable observances.
This has been a busy month. But I think I say that every month. In the middle of that busyness, it seems life has gotten complicated. Not only has life gotten complicated, it seems Christmas has gotten complicated as well.
The theme we have selected for Advent this year is a prayer, a plea, an appeal, for God to come and be with us. Emmanuel (no matter how you spell it) means, “God with us.” So, this most recognizable of Advent entreaties is a simple call for God’s presence. It is a cry of hope, with more than a hint of desperation included.
Being thankful seems such an important thing that we have a national holiday dedicated to gratitude! For many, it involves gastronomic excess, time off from work, and football. This holiday is our expression of something humans have been doing since the pre-winter harvest and hunt took place for the very first time, I imagine. We have our American version of the feast, but it is a universal impulse to give thanks for the bounty we humans receive regardless of clan, nationality, time, or place. “It is right to give our thanks and praise,” as our worship proclaims.
Revelation is a book of encouragement. John was writing to persecuted Christians under Roman rule - under the oppressive political powers of the day. John writes in code, in a way that the original audience would know exactly what he was talking about, but that the political powers would wonder, and they wouldn’t quite understand it.
In the Western world we have a dominant worldview. An integral part of our dominant world view is capitalism, which is based on quid pro quo, reward and punishment, and justice as retribution. If I want X number of widgets, I will need to provide Y amount of payment. We are unaware of how this fundamental worldview affects our relationships, our basic self-image, and actions. Phrases like “I deserve”; “You owe me”; “I will be generous if it helps me, too” seem to dominate our conversations. It also gets built into faulty foundation for our relationship with God.