Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas: An Invitation to Stillness

“Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.”

Silent, attentive and still, the world waited to receive its savior. Into the tranquil night hours, God the Father spoke his Word, Jesus, to humanity. The Father sent his one and only Son to be Emmanuel—God with us. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled a little while among us” (John 1:14).

Christmas is an invitation to stillness. It is a call to quiet our hearts and focus our minds on God’s Word to us. The antithesis of pop culture’s hectic “holiday season,” the true season of Christmas is about quietness and receptivity.

While Christmas celebrates Jesus’ coming into the Roman-ruled world of Caesar Augustus some 2000 years ago, it goes beyond a mere remembrance. Christmas welcomes us to receive Jesus anew into our own situation, with whatever joys and sorrows face us today. Each of our worlds is very different than Caesar’s—but just as much in need of Emmanuel. Our life situation may even be very different this year than it was a year ago. The observance of Christmas calls us to invite Jesus afresh into our world—with its new challenges, new losses and new opportunities.

How can we, like Mary and Joseph, receive him amidst all our quests and concerns for the future? How can we, like the shepherds, realize God’s glory as it breaks into our everyday life?

In order to be attentive and receptive to the Lord, we need to set aside space for stillness in our lives. Isaiah 30:15 calls us to return and rest in the Lord if we desire to see his deliverance. It invites us into quietness and trust so that we can have our inner strength renewed:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (RSV)

One of the most beautiful reflections on Christmas I have ever read comes from the fourteenth-century preacher, Johannes Tauler:

“In this midnight silence, in which all things remain in
deepest stillness and where perfect peace reigns,
there we will truly hear God’s word. For if God
is to speak, we must be silent; if God is to enter in,
all other things must make room for him.”

What things are crowding him out of your life right now? Where are your thoughts so loud and hectic that you have no space to listen to him? Tauler continues:

“We should often cultivate this deep silence within
us and allow it to become the habit of our life, so
that through habit it takes firm root in us.”[1]

Let us set aside time for stillness each day this Christmas season to pull back from our frenetic activity in order to nurture quiet space in our hearts. Let us cultivate calm and receptivity. In that midnight silence, let us welcome Jesus into our world, our situation as it is right now, and into the inner sanctuary of our being.
1. Johannes Tauler, Sermon 1. Although not well-known today, Tauler’s sermons profoundly impacted believers in his generation, Martin Luther during the Reformation, and thirsty souls over the centuries. The translation is my own from Johannes Tauler Predigten: Vollst√§ndige Ausgabe. Edited by Georg Hofmann. Freiburg: Herder, 1961.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent: Season of Watching, Waiting and Transformation

“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee!”

Advent is a season for waiting. Since the early church, Christians have set aside the four weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of watching, waiting, and preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Much spiritual growth takes place when we set aside a time intentionally to wait on God. We listen with fresh awareness of what he might want to address in our hearts. We watch for what he might be initiating in our lives. We attend to the still, small voice through which he often speaks in our souls.

Sometimes that spiritual growth is remarkable and immediate. Other times it is less noticeable, yet nonetheless real. He addresses a bad attitude that we have been harboring. He gives us a fresh glimpse of his Father’s love for us as a son or daughter. God plants a seed of hope in our hearts—a seed that may take months of years to grow and bear fruit.

Waiting Comes Hard to Us
Contemporary culture is one of the quick fix and immediate resolution. We satisfy our hunger at the drive through rather than take the time to enjoy a healthier, better meal. Even though the quality of food is lacking, we content ourselves far too easily with its convenience. We have lost the art—indeed the fruit of the Spirit—of waiting in patience.

In the same way, we settle for fluff in our spiritual lives. We allow ourselves to be satisfied with superficial change rather than pursuing a more profound encounter with the Living God. Charles Wesley’s advent hymn is an appropriate prayer during this season: “from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee!” We all harbor fears—although we often deny it. Most of us fear what others think about us. Some fear loneliness; others fear intimacy. We fear the future, and we fear failure. In short, we live fearful lives, even though as Christians we know we do not need to fear. Advent is a season to actively wait on God and ask him to silence the voice of fear within.

Advent is a time to invite God to refine our character and transform our hearts. To experience lasting, substantive change in our lives, we need to watch and pray. This is a season for active, whole-hearted waiting on God, looking to him to change what we cannot on our own power.

Waiting necessitates tension. If I am waiting for someone or something, I have positive expectation, on the one hand, and unmet expectation, on the other. This creates an inner tension within me. Until the wait is over, I have two opposing dynamics working inside of me.

Waiting is an integral part of much spiritual growth. We experience tension—and feel emptiness—that are a part of waiting. If we settle for an immediate resolution, opting for a quick, easy answer to our inner hunger, we forfeit the deeper fulfillment that comes only when a long-awaited desire is finally fulfilled.

Creative tension leads to genuine growth. God works in our hearts during this such times of discomfort—uncovering fear, exposing wrong priorities, and revealing disordered affections. He also works in positive ways—affirming his call in our lives, kindling genuine passion for his purposes and developing much-needed endurance.

The Psalms are replete with accounts of those who had to wait years—even decades—as the Lord worked in their lives. David describes his waiting on God: “For you I wait all the day.” Such waiting comes with confidence, however: “Indeed, none of those who wait for you will be ashamed.” (Psalm 25:3, 5 NASB). David exhorts us to do likewise:

“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14 NASB)

Genuine waiting demands focus and emotional energy. When we are waiting for something we want, or waiting for our plans to work out, we become exhausted. However, when we are waiting on God we are renewed!

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;
The will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tiered,
They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB)

This Advent
Advent is the season for waiting afresh on the Lord. Let us not lose this opportunity amid all the hustle and bustle. Instead, let us take the time and energy to wait on God. It will transform us. It will give us new focus and fresh strength that comes only from the Lord!

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers