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Distracted

About the author: Stan is a pastor to pastors, a writer, a lover of Malawi, and a ZPC attender and choir member. He and his wife, Mary, have three grown children and seven grandchildren. Stan serves as the parish associate for ZPC.

Today's Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

This morning I have the delight of looking out upon a lush, green lawn; spring-green leaves of maples and oaks; and the radiance of irises in full bloom. Among these moves a fresh breeze, promising warmth; and above all, a sky sparkling deep and blue. Furthermore, I have the pleasure of watching several starlings, robins, finches, and even hummingbirds eating their second, or maybe their third breakfasts. 

This day holds much beauty and opportunity for me—ah, a hummingbird just returned. 

But as I behold this morn, I know that beyond my sight is a pandemic world, that looks very different from an assisted-living and/or nursing home window; from an empty classroom in India; and from a desolate marketplace in Uganda. Likewise, beyond my view lies the aftermath of demonstrations and destruction; of despair and fear amid broken glass and burned wreckage; of hope puddled in grimy gutters. 

In the light of these worlds, the irony for me this morning stems from an anticipated conversation, in which two sisters, Martha and Mary, might figure (Luke 10:38-42). Very likely you know this account: Martha appeared as “vexed,” “distracted,” and “overcome by great service”; and Jesus affirmed her vexation: she was “concerned and troubled about many things.” Although motivated to serve, her distractions prevented her from focusing upon the important and the essential: time with him.
As I thought of Martha’s distraction, I gave further attention, as perhaps never before, to the Greek word, περισπάω (perispaó), which we translate as “vexed” or “distracted.” Without question, either of these words is an accurate translation, but in classical Greek, this verb also describes the action of an army diverting energies and efforts to counter an enemy’s flanking movements. Instead of centering upon its primary objective, the army begins to turn about, backing up and in upon itself: great confusion and loss is probable.

Martha was vexed. Apparently she forgot about the nature and meaning of her hospitality: her focus was to be upon Jesus and providing for his needs. I wonder: Might he have wanted her, for a moment, to sit with him, to be present for him? 

Upon this day, I realize that I too can be distracted: I can allow beautiful surroundings, or riot and pandemic concerns to divert me from what I am to do and to be. Apart from asking: “Lord, what would you have of me today?” most anything or anyone can turn me about, in, and upon myself. 

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Wednesday, Dec 13 | An invitation from the incarnate

Editor's Note
About the author: Stan is a pastor to pastors, a writer, a lover of Malawi, and a ZPC attender and choir member. He and his wife, Mary, have three grown children and seven grandchildren. 
About this post: This blog post is part of a series of daily devotionals where we are exploring traditional Advent themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. To sign up to receive text notification of these posts, text zpc advent to 39970. Advent booklets are also available at the ZPC Welcome Center. We welcome your comments and questions each day.

Mystery | 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

When I was a child – and when I relive that childhood – Christmas-time was wondrous albeit veiled with mystery. Without question, the lights, the scents, the foods, and the wrapped presents were a wonder; but equally, and somehow touching if not eluding these was the sense that something secretive, something mysterious was present, or soon to be present. Was it in the air? Was it a look? Was it a hug – or perhaps the clear, crisp, night sky? What was it – what is it?

Within the New Testament, the Greek word μυστήριον, becomes for us in English a near-transliteration: mystery; and this Greek word can mean: “(God’s) secret”, or “that which transcends normal understanding, transcendent/ultimate reality”.[1] Furthermore, this word occurs twenty-five times within the New Testament, but almost exclusively within the Pauline corpus, for instance in 1Corinthians 2:1-2 where Paul wrote:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Surely Christ crucified – the Son of God crucified (and yes, risen) – “transcends normal understanding”, and yet it is fully consistent with Paul’s thought, which precedes these two verses; for he had just written of an apparently topsy-turvy, transcendent world:

[We] proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the   wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)

For Paul, Christ crucified is foolishness to Greek, Western, logically philosophical minds – and yet it transcends such minds: there is something more, something beyond; for Paul, Christ crucified is morally repugnant to Jewish, Eastern, moral thought and action – and yet it transcends these. Paul did not shy away from mystery: the Gospel was/is not irrational, neither is it ethically bankrupt; rather it transcends any and all human constructs, those that are philosophical and those that are religious.

This transcendence Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured well when he wrote:

“No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders, that God became [human] . . . Theologia sacra arises from those on bended knees who do homage to the mystery of the divine child in the stall … Without the holy night there is no theology.”[2]

Without question, if Jesus Christ is not the Crucified and Risen One, then we would know nothing of Advent and Christmas; but because he is, then wonder of wonders, as Bonhoeffer suggested, the Incarnation invites us into the mystery of God, neither to resolve nor to define it, but with praise to thrill with wonder. This Advent, may it be so for you and me.

Activity

Bundle warmly, and then stand quietly for ten minutes beneath a December, night sky (hopefully a clear, star-studded night). As you stand, ponder afresh: perhaps on such a night, God-Incarnate entered into our world – and remains, inviting us into His world, transcending thought and experience. And as you stand, share your wonder with him (even if your teeth chatter and your fingers grow numb).

Prayer

Gracious Lord,

This Advent and Christmas, may we thrill with wonder and delight – not with all the sights and sounds and scents, which abound, but instead, as your Children, may we enter your Kingdom via a stable door. In you may we find the “mystery of the Kingdom of God”; in you may we find the only real and transcendent wisdom and righteousness, which makes of any other cheap tinsel. In you may we behold the Christmas glory of your Cross.

Humbly we ask in your Name.

Amen.

 

[1] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000) pp. 661-662.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, eds. Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1995), p. 448.

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