Ezekiel 37:1-6 (ESV) | “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’
PSALM 22:1-5 (NASB) | “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy…In You our fathers trusted…To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.”
Sooner or later every Christian will experience something of this sense of desolation. It’s the desperate cry of a soul that has sacrificially responded in obedience to God’s call, but then found him to be mysteriously absent.
LUKE 22:32 (NIV) | “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
This was the last Passover meal that Jesus would share with his disciples. It was the weekend of the crucifixion, and he spoke frankly about his upcoming death. The disciples had heard this before but were still in disbelief, unable to imagine the future without the Master. And none was more vocal than impetuous, passionate Simon Peter. It was Simon who gave the bold proclamation that the other disciples hoped was true: “You are Christ, the Messiah.” Jesus announced that this was God’s revelation and gave Simon a new name: Peter, the rock. Simon Peter vacillated between his two names, but he would grow into his new name.
LUKE 9:57-62 (ESV) | “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
This passage reminds me of the ad placed by Ernest Shackleton, the British Antarctic explorer, in a London newspaper back in 1912:
“Wanted: men for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success."
LUKE 22:41-44 (NIV) | "[Jesus] withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."
Sorrow, grief, suffering, anguish, and anxiety. These are words we are all familiar with to differing degrees. Reading the passage where Jesus was in such deep anguish that he sweat drops of blood, I see that he was familiar with sorrow too.
HEBREWS 5:7-8 (NIV) | “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered…”
As a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a mommy. My favorite pastime was pretending my dollies were my children, but four decades later—still unmarried and without kids—I found my hopes of ever becoming a mother fading with my childbearing years. Then one night as I was leaving a group of friends who were all married (as usual), I felt hot, angry tears erupting from within because of accumulated hurts and disappointments. Feeling powerless to change my situation, I spoke honestly to God: "Lord, I don't like the way my life turned out, and I am very disappointed with. . .YOU!"
2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-6 (New Jerusalem Bible) | “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father and the God who gives every possible encouragement; he supports us in every hardship, so that we are able to come to the support of others, in every hardship of theirs because of the encouragement that we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives; so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ. So if we have hardships to undergo, this will contribute to your encouragement and your salvation; if we receive encouragement, this is to gain for you the encouragement which enables you to bear with perseverance the same sufferings as we do.”
It was November 10, 2008. I had been receiving treatment for lymphoma, preparing for a stem cell transplant from my own body in the New Year.
It was our first true Christmas here, in the marginalized corners of Miami, and we were reaching for new traditions like a four-year old reaches for the star atop a tree. The year before this, our belongings, including Christmas stockings and chipped, hand-me-down decorations, had been neatly tucked away in storage while we had lived in someone else’s large and lizard infested farm-house. We did our best to celebrate joy coming down to the world but mostly it just felt like any other day.
Saying the Radical Yes to God’s Invitation for Your Life: A Christmas Reflection
The stories of Advent are among my favorites when it comes to exploring God’s call on our lives.
Men and women are going about their everyday lives—priests, young girls, old women, shepherds, astronomers—most walking on the treadmill of whatever the equivalent of the “American dream” was for a Middle Eastern Jew: get yourself a wife (or husband), a few kids, a pottery shop out back, and stay off the radar of the Romans, for goodness sake!
Then into ordinary life explodes the voice of God, with an invitation to take up a role in his unfolding plan at a critical moment in history. God likes to do that—shake us loose of our little plans and invite us into something bigger.