Sunday, December 24, 2017

Homily: The Light of Love

The Light of Love
Isaiah 9: 2-7; Luke 1: 26-38
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2017
The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined...

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
- Isaiah 9: 2, 5-7

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. - Luke 1: 26-38

According to Barbara Robinson there was a particular Christmas pageant which could be described in one word – scandalous!

For as long as she could remember, the children’s Sunday School Class played all the parts and those children knew the Christmas story by heart. The primary school kids were angels; the intermediate kids were shepherds, the older boys were the Wise Men; the pastor’s son Elmer was Joseph; and Alice was Mary because she was the most holy-looking.

But one particular year it was all very different. The Herdman kids happened to come to Sunday School the day the pageant cast was assigned. And they were not shy to stake a claim for all the main roles.

You see, the Herdman kids didn’t have such a good reputation. They lied. They stole money from the offering plate. They said bad words and smoked cigars – even the girls. The day they attended Sunday School they drew mustaches on all the disciples’ faces in the classroom picture Bible.

And here they were going to represent the best and most beautiful in the Christmas pagaent. The Herdman children didn’t even know the Christmas story! Well, it got everybody worked up.

The very first rehearsal the director was answering lots of questions, so she read the whole story from the Bible. The Herdman’s reacted like it was a case from an F.B.I. file. They were shocked to learn about a pregnant teenage girl in church. They were worried about Mary having a baby in the barn. They concluded the Wise Men were a bunch of dirty spies, and King Herod was a villain who needed to be removed.

When word got out that the Herdman kids were in the pageant, the pews were packed on Christmas Eve. Everybody wanted to see just what those Herdman kids were going to do.

The lights dimmed and the spotlight shined on the empty stable, anticipating the story to unfold. Imogene and Ralph were Mary and Joseph. The holy couple didn’t look so holy. Baby Jesus was slung over Mary’s shoulder and she was just ready to clobber anyone who would threaten to mess with her boy.

The shepherds all approached the manger and little Gladys pushed through as the angel of the Lord with her skinny legs and dirty sneakers. The Angel threw her arms open wide nearly hitting a shepherd in the face. And she shouted, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Leroy, Claude, and Ollie trekked forward as the Wise Men. They knew just what baby Jesus wanted for Christmas. So one of them carried a heavy gift – a ham that they dropped at the foot of the manger. The ham came from the Herdman family’s Christmas basket, a gift from the church. That ham was the first thing the children had ever sincerely given away.

As the pageant closed with Silent Night, little Mary with her crooked veil stood in the makeshift stable crying and crying. She didn’t even wipe away her tears. The spirit of Christmas completely overwhelmed her.

What many thought could be the worst actually became “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” because the Herdman children revealed the truest sense of Christmas. The story unfolded for everyone that night through the most unexpected family and in the most unexpected way.

The Christmas story that so many of us treasure is really quite a scandalous one. Mary was a young teenager. She was legally and financially bound to marry Joseph. And in the most unexpected way, the angel of the Lord appeared with the most unexpected and shocking news. Mary would carry in her womb the Son of God.

Mary was disturbed with her inner thoughts and emotions. She wrestled to make sense of all this. None of this looked good. If pregnant and unwed, according to the Law, she could have been stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). She could have been publicly shamed by Joseph. She could have lost every hope for a promising future according to ancient cultural norms. And yet she said yes to God. Mary took a bold risk to trust God’s faithfulness.

The announcement of that sweet little Jesus boy is revealed in a less than desirable situation. What more, God chose to enter in the messiness of human life to be one of us.

This babe lying in the manger is the flesh and blood of a divine promise kept. This past week our Women’s Advent Bible Study concluded with these words:

Jesus does not come into a perfect family, filled with perfect people, who do not need saving to begin with. He comes into [God’s family] that has sinned. The Messiah’s people need saving, not just from individual moral failures, but from multigenerational, systemic sin that touches every human institution… The beautiful hope is Mary’s child provides physical, tangible evidence that God has not abandoned God’s people. Mary’s pregnancy fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of Emmanuel, “God with us.” [1]

Listen in the silence. Listen in the noise. Listen for the Spirit’s voice.

The voice of God’s Spirit is saying, “I have kept my promise for I will be your God and you will be my people; yesterday, today, for all eternity.”

The sign of God’s promise is Emmanuel for God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. He is the light shining brightly in the darkness of our unholy moments and imperfect family dynamics, our fears and grief, our brokenness and sin. The Christ Child is the true light that enlightens everyone with cries and coos of God’s possibility.

The new life born from Mary’s womb holds God’s promises of redemption and new life for us. The gift of salvation is from the very womb of God’s amazing grace.

The continuous thread of Scripture weaves the most unlikely women, men, and even children to bear God’s good news in the most unlikely ways.

The miracle of Christmas is a scandalous one – the holiness of God put on the thin skin and tattered garments of humanity to be one of us. The gift of Christmas is a profound one – the promise of Emmanuel proves that nothing will separate us from the love of God!

May the Light of Love overwhelm you and me through unlikely people and in unexpected ways this Christmas season.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Tom Fuerst, “Underdogs and Outsiders: A Bible Study on the Untold Stories of Advent” (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), p. 84.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sermon: The Joy of the Lord

The Joy of the Lord
Isaiah 61: 1-4; Psalm 16: 7-11; John 1: 6-16
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 17, 2017
The Third Sunday of Advent

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
- Isaiah 61: 1-4

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
- Psalm 16: 7-11

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
- John 1: 6-16

Henri Nouwen is known in faith circles as a deep well of spiritual wisdom. He was a respected Dutch Catholic priest, a seminary professor, and an author of many books on spirituality and pastoral care. But one of Nouwen’s gifts was his ability to be transparent and real about the journey of faith. Nouwen was a wounded healer. He struggled with depression and wrote about his own dark night of the soul:

Everything came crashing down — my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God… everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness.

What had happened? I had come face to face with my own nothingness. It was as if all that had given my life meaning was pulled away and I could see nothing in front of me but a bottomless abyss.

Nouwen found incredible healing in being surrounded by a small circle of trust and compassion; friends who shined God’s light of love and grace into his darkness. Nouwen’s experience completely changed his understanding of joy; for JOY is knowing that the promise of God’s presence is a solid foundation that grounds us in the strength of God’s grace.

Years later Nouwen offered the truth he learned about the joy of the Lord:

Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God's love for us…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us. Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing-sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death-can take that love away. [2]

The Psalmist was a wounded healer too. He had in incredible gift of pinning down his own human experience and his daily need for God’s grace. The Psalmist opened his heart and mind to be real about his own oppressions, heartbreaks, grief, and longings for new life. And we find comfort in his bold trust in God that spans lament and praise.

But we need to know the hidden truth for the Psalmist – it was true for Henri Nouwen too; even before the Psalmist found his voice to be a light of encouragement to others, the Psalmist was first aware that he was fully understood and fully known by God. This is a key truth of joy.

The Psalmist’s bold trust that God was and is ever before him was the Psalmist’s strong foundation, therefore he would not be moved (Psalm 16:7-8). The Psalmist’s conviction granted him joy in all circumstances; that joy was a keen awareness of God’s grace breaking in.

The Psalmist’s conviction was not a solo endeavor. He was encircled by the goodly heritage of God’s Word. Our ancestors of faith like the prophet Isaiah surrounded this wounded healer with the promise of Emmanuel “God Is With Us;” the Lord will bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim the Lord’s freedom and favor, comfort and provide for those who mourn, and give a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit (Isaiah 61:1-3).

The Lord God showed the Psalmist the path of life for it is illumined with the light of God’s promises. That path is not an easy one nor is it free of challenges, struggles, pain, or grief. It is the path of life because God is with us in all situations and even shares in our human struggles as revealed in the fullness of Jesus Christ. The life of the Christ Child is the light of all people (John 1:4).

As we anticipate his birth once again, it brings us great joy. Nothing compares to the wonders of Christ’s love and the glories of his righteousness. Because the Lord is ever before us, we shall not be moved. As we live into this great hope others take notice of that light shining within you and me. That true light which enlightens everyone is coming into the world.

As we enter into this third week of Advent, I want for you to think about your journey along the path of life. Consider the all the twists and turns that you have encountered along the way.

Where have you been hard pressed?
What situations at home, at school or work, and in the wider world hurt your heart?
What do you need to be freed from that is gripping your life?
Has grief come to visit you again leaving you a longing for comfort?

Yes, these are deep questions, but we do not answer them in a solo endeavor. Even as we are trying to find the words to articulate our own stories and name where we need God's grace, we are already fully known and fully understood by the Lord, for God is with us.

Take heart in the prophet’s promise. Be encouraged by the vulnerability of the wounded healer of the Psalms. And follow in John’s footsteps of shining the light of your truth about the wonders of Christ’s love and the glories of God’s grace breaking into your life and in the wider world.

As we live into God’s story that still changes the world, we find joy. True joy is not superficial happiness. It cannot be bought or self-generated. True joy is a gift that encircles us. And we need one another to find it.

Henri Nouwen says it this way:

People who have known the joy of God point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real Presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other's wounds, forgive each other's offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God's Glory. [3]

Listen in the silence. Listen in the noise. Listen for the Spirit’s voice of compassion.

From his fullness we have received grace upon grace (John 1:16).

May the joy of the Lord move you and me to share the light of God’s promises in Emmanuel.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Henri Nouwen, “The Inner Voice of Love” (New York: Random House, Inc., 1996), p. xiii.
[2] Henri Nouwen, “The Heart of Henri Nouwen” (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003).
[3] Henri Nouwen, “The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Story of Homecoming” (New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1992), p. 117.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sermon: The Peace of God

"The Peace of God"
Isaiah 40: 1-5; Mark 1: 1-8
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 10, 2017
The Second Sunday of Advent

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
- Isaiah 40: 1-5

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
- Mark 1: 1-8

Some words will only bear the weight of their full meaning when held in tension to its opposite. Here are a few dynamic duos that are common to all ages: night and day, cause and effect, right and wrong.

The Bible is full of such opposites that are pregnant with meaning when we hold them side by side: sin and grace, debt and forgiveness, death and new life.

But today we are peeling back the layers of a particular word that we are longing to find fuller meaning within this second week of Advent; and that word is PEACE.

What opposite would you pair with the word “peace?”

Many say the opposite of peace is conflict. But Scripture offers another word pairing.

The prophecy of God’s peace comes from Isaiah. According to the prophet, the opposites of peace are injustice and unrighteousness; they threaten the wholeness and wellbeing of God’s shalom, or peace.

God’s people of Israel cried out for God’s peace to comfort them in the wilderness. God’s people lamented. The most weak and vulnerable were being oppressed by an unjust society. God’s people felt completely disconnected from right relationships.

The wilderness of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles felt like walking through the valley of the shadow where mountains seemed merciless and immovable. The path that seemed to lead to no where was chalked full of stones of judgment, pitfalls, and potholes where large gaps of integrity were missing.

Isaiah speaks comfort to God’s people. “A Spirit from on high is poured out on us; in the wilderness justice will dwell and righteousness will abide. Justice and righteousness will abide in the fruitful field of God’s possibility. The effect of righteousness will be peace. The result of righteousness [will be] quietness and trust forever (Isaiah 32: 15a, 16-17).

You see, the peace of God is a divine prophetic reversal to make things right for God’s people; particularly the oppressed: In the wilderness [the Spirit] prepares the way of the Lord. Every valley is lifted up in to the light of God’s bright hope. The merciless and immovable mountains of injustice are made low by the justice of God’s Law of Love. The uneven ground with all its stones and potholes is made level by God’s faithfulness, paving the way for right relationships.

The wilderness that led to nowhere now clearly leads to a highway where we meet our God Emmanuel, God-With-Us. The peace of God reveals the glory of the Lord and all people shall see it together (Isaiah 40:3-5).

The word of the Lord will not return empty. It shall accomplish God’s purposes of peace (Isaiah 55:11). Its full result is God restoring us to see one another, especially the weak and marginalized, in our full God-given dignity and personhood today and to experience the glorious new life of God’s security and trustworthiness through Jesus Christ forever (Isaiah 32:17).

This past week I found the prophetic peace of God at work in an unlikely person. August Pullman is a ten-year old boy. He has been walking in a wilderness his whole life. He has felt shunned for something completely out of his control. Auggie has a severe craniofacial deformity. He has had twenty-seven surgeries to breathe, to see, and to hear without a hearing aid; but Auggie says none of them have helped him to look ordinary.

Auggie was homeschooled from a young age. His parents now think it is time for him to take the next step by starting fifth grade in a nearby middle school. Every fifth grader would be beginning the fated middle school wilderness together as new students.

Auggie was petrified but willing. He dreaded the unwanted stares from those who did not know him. While his new wilderness got really rocky at times, Auggie experienced a complete reversal in that school year that brought an inspiring and profound peace.

On his first day of school his dad dropped him off with a big hug and the wise words, “Auggie, I know you are going to feel all alone but you are not.”

Auggie found the gift of connection among a few true friends who looked past what made him different. These friends saw Auggie’s character of quiet strength, humor, and rock star science skills.

When the valley of bullying overshadowed Auggie with hurtful words and actions, Auggie’s principal shined a bright light into the darkness of that bully saying, “August cannot change the way he looks, but we can change the way we see.”

August saw a new beginning unfold as he envisioned where he wanted to be. Over the course of his fifth grade year, Auggie went from being treated as “less than human” to receiving the highest honor for pulling up the most hearts with his quiet strength and his deep resolve to overcome cruelty with kindness.

August Pullman is a “Wonder,” as told in the book and movie. He is a wonder because his story displays God’s powerful promise that justice will dwell and right relationships will abide in the wilderness no matter what age we are. This story is bringing great comfort to children and families facing similar struggles who have been silenced and marginalized. This story is giving them a voice.

You and I have also seen God’s prophetic peace unfolding in one of the fastest moving reversals of our time.

Women and men who have long been silenced as victims of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are now truly being heard. As a result, powerful figures across the board are resigning from these allegations. This reversal has given many a great hope because abuses of power cast a shadow of shame which feels less than human. Abuses of power blame the victim for something they had no control of. Those words, “abusive power,” “shame,” and “less than human” no longer have the last word.

And this is just the beginning towards God’s peace which seeks to bring healing, wholeness, and security where trust has been violated. As The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

God promises the human wilderness will be transformed into a field where all may flourish according to God’s law of love and his gospel of peace. Advent anticipates the great kingdom reversal that the Prince of Peace brings and will bring to completion. And we are seeing glimpses of God’s glory together.

These stories are important because they hold profound implications for all people of faith today. There is something at stake for the church to understand God’s prophetic promise of peace: “When the church is deaf to the voices of women, children, powerless men, and other peoples at the margins, the health of [the church’s] faith and witness is compromised.” [1]

The church is called to listen for and respond to these voices for the sake of the integrity of the gospel.

The peace of God invites us to prepare the way of the Lord. The work of Advent is to listen in the silence. Listen in the noise. Listen for the Spirit’s voice.

The voice of God’s Spirit is saying, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”

Look into your own heart of personal valleys, immovable mountains, and rocky paths. Where is God’s peace missing in your life? Know that God longs to bring about reversals for you to find healing and to flourish this Advent season.

Look outward too. God’s mercy and grace are on the move to shine the light of Christ upon the women, children, powerless men, and the marginalized. “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9). The body of Christ is to be on the move too as a sanctuary for a weary world when the wrong seems oh so strong.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is Emmanuel; GOD IS WITH US. His gospel is peace.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] “Feminist and Womanist Essays in Reformed Dogmatics” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), p. 208 “The Gifts of God for the People of God,” by Leanne Van Dyck.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Sermon: The Hope of God's Faithfulness

"The Hope of God’s Faithfulness"
Isaiah 64: 5-8; 1 Corinthians 1: 4-9
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 3, 2017
The First Sunday of Advent

You [Lord God] meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
- Isaiah 64: 5-8

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
- 1 Corinthians 1: 4-9

The network television drama This Is Us just completed its second season. The show has come into America’s homes and quickly become a favorite. It is one of the few tv shows that I have actually binge watched for hours on end; I am completely captivated by the story line of the Pearson family.

Their story unfolds from 1980 to the present day. That storyline narrates an ordinary Pittsburgh family who faces the very real and oh so common joys and trials of life.

Jack and Rebecca Pearson have triplets; Kevin, Randall, and Kate. Jack is the family anchor. He is not a perfect man; he struggles with alcoholism as his father did. But he strives to live into a different story as a family man. Jack and Rebecca live into the greater purpose of raising their children to navigate through the great joys, obstacles, and the gut-wrenching moments of life.

As their lives unfold in switchbacks from childhood and adulthood, the triplets each have a thorn in their side: Kevin wrestles with self-doubt, Randall struggles with anxiety, Kate is conflicted with low self-confidence.

Life just happens and when it brings deep needs to overcome, the triplets’ individual memories flashback to a tender moment with their dad. Jack’s loyalty as a patient father and husband oftentimes moves us to tears.

Whatever the moment held that brought an emotional unraveling, Jack would cup his hands around his child’s face. He would look them in the eyes with a trusted and tender spirit. And he would say, “Just breathe. We are going to get through this.”

Jack gave his kids a great hope when they could not see it for themselves. Jack’s love was a centering force that calmed Kevin’s, Randall’s, and Kate’s heart and mind, preparing them to take the next step. And Jack’s loyal love tethered each one in that household to a family bond so strong that nothing can separate.

This Is Us reminds me of some deep truths that our Advent texts hold today.

The season of Advent comes into our ordinary and imperfect lives. It meets us where we are in all the switchbacks of life’s joys and messiness. The season embraces us in God our Father’s trusted and tender spirit.

Advent is a holy space to anticipate God’s faithfulness because we are still in need of a Savior. God’s faithfulness is ultimately revealed in his loyal love.

Gods’ loyal love gives us a great hope when we cannot see it for ourselves.

Whatever life throws our way, we do not need to fear. Our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:2) and says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

God embraces the messiness of our lives with trusting and compassionate hands like a potter. God’s faithfulness is reshaping our hearts and minds, as the prophet Isaiah says, “We are the work of God’s hands” (Isaiah 64:8). God is shaping our faith by God’s own faithfulness, therefore giving us the assurance of things hoped for and deepening our conviction of things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1)

God’s loyal love is a centering force that calms the chaos of life, preparing us to take the next step.

When life is spinning out of control and we continually think of that thorn in our side or that struggle in life, God tells us to keep our eyes on the Lord.

The writer of Lamentations says, “My soul is bowed down within me, but this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end, they are new each morning. Great is your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3: 20-23). “The Lord is the keeper of our lives; the Lord will keep our going out and our coming in from this time on and forevermore” (Psalm 121: 5, 8). The Lord will always help us to see a forward when there seems like no way.

God’s loyal love tethers each of us into the great family of faith, which is the fellowship of God’s Son Jesus Christ, which will strengthen us to the end.

The mystery of God’s love is that it is revealed to us in a profound way – God’s loyal love is embodied in human form. We are waiting for the birth of the Christ Child whose name is Emmanuel, meaning God-With-Us.

Emmanuel leads us from the manger to the cross and to our highest calling to be the body of Christ. We are called to continue Christ’s ministry of love, justice, reconciliation, and peace. We are called to be God-With-Us people so that we might see Christ in one another.

There is nothing more powerful than to be the body of Christ and shine the light of God’s love in the great joys, obstacles, and the gut-wrenching moments of life. These kind of God-With-Us moments reveal the ties that bind us together in God’s faithfulness and will strengthen us to the end.

My prayer for each of us today is that we will be intentional to claim this holy space of Advent. Eagerly anticipate God’s presence in whatever chaos is tossing you and me around like a faded leaf in the wind. I promise you that making time to draw near to God will quiet our hearts and minds and prepare us to take the next step.

I want for you to close your eyes just for a moment. Behold the light of God’s loyal love embracing your face as a beloved child of God. Listen in the silence, listen in the noise, listen for the Spirit’s voice.

God’s Spirit is saying to you and to me, “Just breathe. We are going to get through this. I will strengthen you and I will help you with my victorious right hand!”

In this first week of Advent listen in the silence for the still small voice of God’s faithfulness.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

* Special music, Listen in the Silence, shared with permission of singer / songwriter, Linnea Good