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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Incarnation

When lament suits Christmas

jenmichel@me.com

In our weekly Sunday liturgy at Grace Toronto church, we pray for our church and the city. It is one of my favorite parts of the service because it helps me to remember, not just the great news of the gospel, but the great responsibility of place. To live anywhere is to answer the call to be a neighbor. And being a neighbor means carrying the burdens of others.

Neighborliness is one word to describe the holy act of the Incarnation: God clothed himself with flesh and pitched his tent among us. This Advent, I am contemplating that mystery—and also finding myself deeply burdened for the world. When it came time for me, this past Sunday, to lead the weekly prayer for the church and the city. I couldn't help but bring a prayer of lament. It seemed fitting, and perhaps it gives words to some of your sorrow and hope.

I offer it as an Advent meditation.


Father,

 

Thank you for this holy season of Advent—a season for contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation. Your ways are not our ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Who has ever known your mind? Who has ever dared to be your counselor? We cannot begin to grasp what it means that you, in your holiness, would choose to be clothed with the liability of human flesh, that you would send your Son Christ into a world where he would not be welcomed. He is the Suffering Servant of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, the one whose first and final advents advance the cause of justice and announce the hope of salvation.

 

We need that justice and salvation today as much as Ancient Israel, God. We need Jesus to return and to bring with him your kingdom of peace.

 

We have watched Aleppo fall and little children suffer. Lord, have mercy.

Nationalism is taking hold around the world. Lord, have mercy.

There is political instability, racial injustice, great economic disparity. Lord, have mercy.

In Toronto, there are people living on the streets as the temperatures fall, and even the wealthy suffer evil like domestic violence, substance abuse, family breakdown and spiritual alienation. Lord, have mercy.

 

How long, O Lord? This has always been the faithful cry of your people, our song of lament in the face of suffering. How long, O Lord, until you put this world fully and finally to rights? Until you judge evil and deliver the oppressed? How long until your Son comes again to put the enemies of sin and disease and death under his feet?

 

I pray for those in our congregation for whom 2016 has been a year of suffering. They have lost jobs. They have lost loved ones. They have prayed and seem only to have had silence in response. They wonder, God, where you are and whether you care. They doubt that your goodness and power are real. Even 2017 is full of unanswered questions, and there is fear in meeting the uncertainties ahead. In this final week of Advent, help all of us to abide in hope: hope which is a confident expectation in you.

 

Israel was taught to pray:

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,

Shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

 

Make this true of us: may our tears of lament plant seeds of greater hope and faith. May we begin to lay down, with greater willingness, our need for control. May we begin to embrace, with greater humility, your wisdom. Let mystery be cause for worship.

 

Finally, God, bring your people home with shouts of joy. We look forward to the next Advent of Jesus, when he will return and gather us to himself in the city of God, when you will declare, “The dwelling place of God is with humanity.” Suffering will be ended. Tears will be dried. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Bring us to the day when the former things have passed away and you make all things new.

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

Amen.

 

 

Breaking the Bread of Belief: Lenten Faith in Dust

jenmichel@me.com

Dust Image courtesy of Joetography

Dust is the symbol of Lent.

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

Humanity is constituted of dust.

In the second chapter of Genesis, we are taken to the scene where God makes the first human being. The Divine stoops low and scoops into his eternally creative hands a handful of dust. What can be made of this pile of dirt? And what imaginative vision will be required for beholding shape and form, even dignity in so inauspicious a mound?

“The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

The LORD God.

As Hagar understands and names him, He is the God who sees (cf. Gen. 16:13). It is the imaginative vision of the LORD God, a vision as wide as the universe and as long as eternity, that beholds what humanity can become.

As a writer, I have curiosity for these questions: Who am I? Where do I find myself? What purpose does my life serve? My appetite as a writer is as I describe it in my book: “Words [are] the instinctual way I puzzle out the world. They are the tools I take to my mysteries, as if by them I can carve up who I am and where in this big world I find myself.” And if there is something I find easy to believe about myself, it is that I am dust. To believe myself to be dust takes no grand effort of energy. It is a truth hung visibly around my neck, a blinking neon advertisement.

Dust.

Yesterday, we are hurrying out the door for church. I am operating on four hours of sleep. When Nathan chastens Andrew angrily, “Hurry up! Get your shoes on!” I peer from the top of the stairs and say, “Ask him gently, Nathan. There’s no need to be rude.” But when I look to find Andrew sitting obstinately in the middle of the mudroom, unflinching at the necessity of haste, I scream. “Get your shoes on!”

Dust.

Dust has obvious knack for failing the standard of heroic.

No, to believe that I am dust – my lifespan but a faltering wisp in eternity’s winds despite all I do to immortalize myself– is not difficult.

Dust.

But to believe that God has imaginative vision for dust, that God grants dignity to his dirt, that God is mindful of every human creature, numbering their hairs, collecting their tears, and counting their days?

This will require faith.

But I think it is a Lenten faith, the very faith that will usher us into the miracle of Easter where God once again stoops low, this time constituting his own being into dust, becoming like us that he might, in a body, mount this massive campaign of persuasion:

You are dust. And I have loved you with an everlasting love.

* * * * *

This is the second in a series of posts entitled, "Breaking the Bread of Belief."

1: "First Words of Faith: In the beginning"

"To believe in a purposeful, coherent architecture to the stories of our brokenness requires faith.

To believe in an Architect - with a will for good in the midst of pain - is and only ever will be apprehended by faith."

Also, for your Holy Week, you may want to revisit the prayers I wrote several years ago:

Holy Week Prayers: Hosanna

Holy Week Prayers: To See and to Love Holy Week Prayers: Betrayals

Holy Week Prayers: The Surprise of Grace

Holy Week Prayers: Healing the Divide

Holy Week Prayers: The Friday that was Good

Holy Week Prayers: Saturdays of Doubt and Fear

Holy Week Prayers: Resurrection Morning