Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Advent Ponderings (page 1 of 4)

Book Review: Down to Earth

Down to EarthDown to Earth: The Hopes & Fears of All the Years Are Met in Thee Tonight, Mike Slaughter & Rachel Billups, Abingdon Press, 2016.

In this book for the Advent season, pastors Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups explore what it means for love, joy, peace, and hope to come down to Earth. The book accompanies a four-week Advent study that opens up Christmas to examine how one helpless baby changed everything.

What makes this a great read during Advent this year, is how relevant it is to current events. While it was written before we had two primary presidential candidates or even an election, reading it post-election is food for the soul. Slaughter and Billups acknowledge that we put too much attention on the wrong things. They write, “Or in arguing about things such as red cups, sexual identity issues, who we voted for, and where refugees should go, are we allowing these issues to create dividing lines between us?”

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Quote: Advent Reminder

Advent Quote

Letters of Love

Read Romans 1:1-7.

Christmas cards have been sent and received. Our fridges are cluttered with the picture cards from loved ones. Our mantels are decorated with the Christmas wishes from families. We feel honored to be remembered and thought of. We feel loved.

Some families include a traditional Christmas letter in their holiday cards. In these letters, they share what has happened over the past year. Facebook is starting to put an end to the Christmas letter for some. But for those who do, the Christmas letter has become an art form. There are even blogs that will help you write it and give you samples.

In the Hellenistic culture of Paul’s day, letter writing was an art. There was a basic template that all letter writers used. These first seven verses from Romans 1 are the letter’s greeting. Paul’s greeting is a tad bit longer than most. Some have called these verses a “mini-sermon” because he communicates grace to all.

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Are You My Jesus?

Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3, Common English Bible)

areyoumymother-1Do you remember P. D. Eastman’s book Are You My Mother? The little bird hatches out of her egg and begins searching for her mother. She walks right past the mother bird because she does not recognize her or know what she looks like. She proceeds to ask all kinds of different animals and such asking, “Are you my mother?”

We can identify with the little bird. There are times and moments in our lives when we search for Jesus. We don’t recognize him. We may walk right past him, not even knowing it is him.

Like John in Matthew 11, life can take an unexpected turn. For John, he was imprisoned, and in his way asks, “Are you my Jesus?” For us, we may be imprisoned in our addictions. Imprisoned in our fussing. Imprisoned in disease. Imprisoned in our busyness. Or perhaps we are imprisoned by the holiday.

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Guest Post: Go and Tell

Rev. Alan Combs serves as Pastor at Lane Memorial United Methodist Church in Alta Vista, Virginia.

Read Matthew 11:2-11.

candles_9826cJohn the Baptist is beginning to wonder what’s up with Jesus.  As Stanley Hauerwas points out, John was certain that Jesus was the Messiah when he baptized him. Now he isn’t so sure.  What changed?  Well, for one, John’s in prison for calling Herod out on failing to keep the law.  Even worse, there are a lot of folks who don’t appear to be taking to that whole “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near” message John and Jesus have been proclaiming. [1]

Even John, the one who Jesus describes as “more than a prophet,” the one called to announce the Messiah doesn’t seem to be getting the Messiah he expected or asked for.  So he sends his disciples to speak with Jesus.  He charges them to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus’ response to the question is to ask John to look and listen, through the reports of his disciples, at what is actually happening all around them.  Rather than to remain bogged down in what he thought it meant for the Messiah to come, Jesus challenges John to see the kingdom that is unfolding in their midst:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them (Matthew 11:4-5).

Yes, John is in prison, but those who are disabled and sick are now lifted up, rather than seen as accursed.  Yes, there appear to be many who aren’t paying attention to the arrival of the Messiah, yet as Mary sings in the Canticle this week, Jesus has “lifted up the lowly” and “he has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53).

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Kingdom of God has come near, and it is received first by those who are most in a position to hear it. They are the ones who most easily “take no offence” at Jesus because they have no stake in the powers and principalities that are threatened by this new kingdom in which the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:52-53). [2]

As we live in the tension between awaiting the birth of our Messiah and the flowering of his kingdom in his return during Advent, we find ourselves again challenged by this Jesus who refuses to be who we try to make him into. This was true even of John, who must have wondered why Jesus didn’t make his disciples fast in the same way John did, and who hung out with people like tax collectors and sinners.[3]

We are constantly surprised we are not getting the Jesus we asked for. Instead, Jesus challenges us to look at the places where his kingdom is actually unfolding.  He meets us on his own terms, and he reaches out to people we may think don’t deserve it.

We are surprised to find a Jesus who actually makes demands on our lives, rather than kindly letting us know that the way we are living is all right with him as long as we are nice people.

We are surprised to find that he’s not upset with John for saying hard words to people in order to lead them (and us) to repentance.  Jesus points out to the crowd:  John’s a prophet, that’s what prophets do.  They speak often unpleasant and unpopular truths to call us to repentance. (Matthew 11:7-9)

Instead, we find a Messiah whose kingdom is breaking into our world to our right and left, but the epicenter resides not in the centers of the powerful.  Instead, we find it in the centers of those who are often marginalized and voiceless.

When we learn to see and hear the signs of this kingdom, we find ourselves charged in the same way as John’s disciples, “Go and tell what you hear and see.”


[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible:  Matthew, (Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, pp. 113-114.

[2] Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 115.

[3] Ibid., p. 114.

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