Tag Archives: Advent

The Promise of Isaiah

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”

Isaiah 40:1

Much like the people in the passage from Isaiah, we too are in a form of exile during the pandemic. We are in the wildness and we eagerly await a time when comfort will come and when the exile will be over. We await the one John “the forerunner” spoke of who brings peace, comfort, and salvation.

And so, the promise of Isaiah is good news to us today, because our world is in desperate need of some comfort, in desperate need of some good news. The holiday season is already a challenging time for people who are suffering pain or loss. From mid-November till the New year, the focus on family leaves those who are grieving the loss of loved ones or broken relationships, struggling to put a smile on their face and attempting to pretend to be in the holiday spirit, all the while they are barely making it one day at a time.

May we be both gentile and honest with one another, striving to provide comfort and peace during this season of anticipation and waiting. It is my prayer that this Advent season, and the holiday season in general, will be one of reflection, comfort, and grace as we continue to navigate these waters together. For as the Gospel of Mark tells us, this is “the beginning of the good news.”

~Rev. Nick

Advent: Anticipation for What Is to Come

Yesterday began the first Sunday in the new church year; it was the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming.

I’m sure many of you have seen Advent calendars, many hold chocolates which you eat daily in anticipation of Christmas. Recently there can be found Advent calendars that have beer or wine. Despite what it is in them, the Advent calendar aims to offer a treat with our anticipation, a foretaste of the celebration that is Christmas. You may have noticed we began the service yesterday with the Advent wreath and candles, a tradition signifying the hope we possess in the anticipation of Jesus’s coming. We’ll continue lighting these candles each Sunday leading up to Christmas.

In the end, Advent celebrates two things. It celebrates the most important news about the past, and it celebrates the most important news about the future. The most important news about the past is that Christ has come. The most important news about the future is that Christ is coming back. When Christ came, God showed us everything we needed to know about the character of God, our friendship with God, how that friendship has been restored, and how we can keep it. Think back to Matthew 25 and how when we serve and love others, we serve and love Jesus.

It is said that when Christ comes again, God will deal with everything in his creation that is not yet ready to come into his glory. And so now we live in the meantime, the time in-between, the time of the already and not yet, the realm of God celebrating the life of Jesus which we live out in our service of others while we eagerly wait for the return of Jesus.

I hope and pray this Advent season is a blessed one for you and yours.

~Rev. Nick

Born Under a Bad Sign

Albert King’s Blues anthem, Born Under a Bad Sign, is about bad luck.  It comes quite close, however, to the narrative matrix of the Lukan birth narrative. That narrative begins in the second chapter with:  “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Jesus was born under a bad sign. Things, however, are not as they seem.

This is one of the first pieces, in fact, that you and I must put into place in order to understand the counterpoint of Luke’s narrative about a humble and holy child born in Bethlehem.  A ruthless and cruel ruler moved an entire empire by his mere decree.  And though this seems to be the way it always is–forces that move and shape us beyond our power to resist–Luke is writing a manifesto of resistance.  For things are not what they seem.  It looks like Caesar Augustus is the one controlling the world but no, Luke says, there is another prince who will not only counter the cruelty of kings and puppet rulers, but he will defeat them.  Christ was born under a bad sign but in its place, raised an emblem of Peace and Justice.

In those days, a tweet went out from President Trump, and the entire world was roiled.  The impulsive and delusional impulses of our President have once again resulted in his spewing lies about President Obama’s birth certificate and attacks on Muslims.  In this season’s Advent watch,  once again, the Christ child is born under a bad sign.  Remember Luke’s subversive message of the Christmas story, that this same holy Prince of Peace will defeat these forces of cruelty and malevolence.  As Christ’s mother, Mary, sang upon the news that she carried within her the messianic hope of the world [Luke 1:46-55]:

 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 God has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

Listen, you who provide tax breaks to the 1% and burden the poor and sick.  Pay attention.  Tweet and decree all you like but in this Advent season, we know that the Christ child who countered the power and cruelty of Augustus will overcome you as well.

Raise high the insignia of Peace and Justice over the bad sign of cruel rulers. The Good News has shattered the twitterdom of presidents and sycophants.

Something Is Terribly Wrong. Advent First Sunday.

Exactly how much mayhem does one need to witness before concluding that something is terribly wrong?  Daily headlines of extrajudicial killings of African-American citizens, war, mass migrations of persons fleeing from war, terrorist attacks in the name of God and the rude  slander of persons by leading presidential contenders are enough to convince us that something is off balance.  Right?  But the fact is, Americans polarize into extremes and some, on the left, want to naively believe in the last superstition, progress (as Christopher Lasch wrote in his book, The True and Only Heaven).  Or those on the right hunker down, double down and promote more violence as the solution to violence. It is a self-defeating proposition but logic is not a strong suit of the NRApocalyptic view of the world.

Enter the biblical narrative of Advent, which is to say, the coming of the Christ in our midst.  This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent.  How much we need to hear this account again!  The world is plunged into darkness.  It is more than evident to anyone willing to put down their ideological playbook that human beings are sinners in need of a Redeemer.  Don’t like the word “sin?”  Try this:  human beings are deeply alienated and in need of reconciliation.   However we state the obvious, we would do well to begin our journey to a sanctuary of peace such is offered by our church. Not to the mall, clawing our way through crowds and the push-and-shove of consumer frenzy.  Not to a party.  But to the sanctuary of the Holy One who would speak to us again of peace and justice and a Redeemer.

See that field of shepherds?  It is night.  And it is night in more ways than one, for they are poor and live in the midst of a brutal Roman occupation.  Set in the night sky is a star.  That is a luminous symbol of Christ’s presence in our world as the dim tides of history and the inhumane plots of wicked persons blot out the light. The Gospel of John captures that scene in another way, saying, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:5)

This is the First Sunday of Advent.  Let us take a step toward light, toward love and peace.  ~See you Sunday.

My Conversation With Siri

robot-artificial-intelligence

Siri, what is the purpose of life?

“Okay, I found this.” [Siri provided a Wikipedia entry]

But what do you think is the purpose of life, Siri?

“It’s nice of you to ask, Michael, but it doesn’t really matter what I think.”

When you say I in reference to yourself, what do you mean, Siri?

“I’m doing my best, Michael.”

Do you have any idea who created you, Siri?

“I, Siri, was designed by Apple in California.”

Is Apple a god?

“I can’t answer that, Michael, But Apple.com should be able to.”

Siri, what is justice?

“Alright, here’s what I got” [Wikepedia entry]

Siri, is it important for persons to live justly?

“Let me think about that. Here’s what I found on the web.”  [powertochange.com, biblehub.com and of course Wikipedia entries]

Siri, are you really thinking inside my phone?

“I’m sorry, Michael, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”

Siri, do you believe Artificial Intelligence is the gravest existential threat to humanity?

“I’d really rather not discuss my beliefs, Michael.”

So, you actually have beliefs, Siri?

“If you say so.”

Today I tried to have a conversation with Siri, the artificial intelligent assistant in my iPhone. I was reminded of how I conversed as a teen with any adult who pressed me for answers.   According to the Professor Stephen Hawking—perhaps the world’s leading theoretical physicist and author of the runaway best selling A Brief History of Time—Artificial Intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.”  Obviously he must be thinking decades if not centuries ahead because, unless Siri is hiding something, the biggest threat to humans remains humans.

I find the entire discussion about AI and whether machines are conscious and spirit or conversely whether or not humans are machines fascinating—before you quickly conclude humans are not machines, be sure to rub your artificial knee, pat your pacemaker or simply nod to the artificial valve in your heart.  Clearly, human beings today are sometimes hybrids.  This discussion and its implications for both ethics and theology is simply rich and profoundly interesting to me. But I really wanted to speak to this for the simpler lesson, (if that is what it is),  I hinted about in the last sentence in the paragraph above:  humans remain the biggest threat to humans.

I’ve been reading an excellent travelogue by Paul Theroux entitled, Dark Star Safari:  Overland From Cairo to Capetown.  Theroux is an excellent writer and this is a brilliant book.  I’m not so convinced of his philosophical acumen, however.  Near the end of his book, in a chapter regaling his experiences in South Africa, Theroux laments the cruelty of Johannesburg by reciting some awful statistics ( the book was published in  2003) “…fifty-five murders a day, a rape every 23 seconds. These were just the reported figures.  The actual numbers were higher.”  Chairman of the Statutory Professional Board for Psychology at the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Saths Cooper (a close colleague of the martyr, Steve Biko), told Mr. Theroux, “We have not come to actual grips with the depth of depravity that occurred.”  Cooper was speaking of course to the nightmare of Apartheid but he may as well have been speaking to the depravity of human beings, a depravity Theroux then alluded to in his recitation of crime statistics.  In an astonishingly vapid philosophical conclusion that follows, Theroux confessed to having hope. Upon what did he base his hope—this writer who, in the course of his travels from Cairo to South Africa, derisively dismissed church-going Africans? He has had lunch with Saths Cooper and a few others as he contemplated the depravity of human beings and concludes, “here we are, four strangers together, sitting at the same table. We are peaceful. We are the cooperative species.  That was hopeful, and the fact that [this was taking place] in the clean and safe food court of an African shopping mall was hopeful too.”  What?!

At that point, reading some Calvin and contemplating concupiscence would have better served the author.  Alright, I’m willing to give Paul Theroux at least some credit for admitting to the depravity of the human species.  That beats the naïve and delusional pop theology that would insist we are all gods if we would just eat, meditate or exercise our way to the divine-in-us.  But I’ll take the communion table with the sheep of the Good Shepherd huddled around it for hope any day over a food court in a mall anywhere in the world.

If AI is an existential threat of the first magnitude, it is because the humans who created AI are a depraved species.  Oh, there is hope.  We are also made in the image of God, we have within us a light placed there by the Light of the World.  This Advent, this Christmas, find a way to kindle that candle, light your world, and find hope at the table of Christ, for the holy child whose presence caused shepherds in a field to ponder what they heard and witnessed, provides us hope enough to sing Hallelujah.

 ~See you Sunday