Tag Archive: Advent


Pointing To The Light

We heard about John the Baptist last week, and again, this week, we get another description of him, this time from the Gospel of John. But what is so fascinating to me is that the description we get of him is really… non-descript! We know that he was sent from God, that his name was John, that he was to witness to the light, and that’s about it. That leaves me with a ton of questions, and apparently, I am not the only one, because the Jewish authorities sent people to ask John who he was. He told them straight up that he wasn’t the Messiah, and when they asked if he was Elijah or the prophet said to come as a forerunner to the Messiah, he answered no. The only thing he would tell them is, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

It reminds me of a song my mom used to sing to me when I was little: “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

The original was about a little girl losing her yellow basket, but reading the Gospel, I re-imagined the song going a little something like this:

Are you the Messiah?

No, no, no, no

Are you Elijah?

No, no, no, no

Are you the prophet?

No, no, no, no

Just a voice crying out,

A voice crying out!

I know… it’s sad, but maybe it’ll help me remember all the people John the Baptist was being mistaken for!

So who was this man anyway? What was he up to? And why does it matter for us?

John the Baptist is described here only in terms of what or who he is not. He’s not the Messiah, the one to redeem all of creation. He’s not the prophet Elijah who was carried into the heavens by a fiery chariot and was, therefore, rumored to come back before the Messiah appeared. He’s not even the prophet like Moses who was supposed to come before the Messiah.

And when he is asked “what do you say about yourself,” he says only that he is the voice crying out in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord!” Instead of really answering, he only points to the coming of the Lord. He tells his inquirers that there is one they don’t even recognize standing in their midst – one who is greater than he is and for whom they should be looking. His calling is to “testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

Now, the lectionary doesn’t do us any favors here because it leaves out the part of the text that tells us who this light is. It’s the part that goes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” For those still wondering who the light is, it’s always safe to go with the Sunday School or Seminary answer: “It’s Jesus!”

John is the one called to prepare the way of the Lord, to get people ready for Jesus’ coming, and to point to him when he appears on the scene. He is called a “witness,” or in the Greek, a “martyr,” and indeed, he will give his life speaking God’s truth to the powers that be. His whole identity is bound up in Christ. When Mary visits John’s mother Elizabeth, John leaps in the womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, rejoicing that Mary and Jesus have come near. From the very start, he is intimately connected with the Savior, and as the text tells us, pointing to Jesus was the very thing he was sent from God to do.

Just as John was called to be a witness to Christ, so, too, are we called to point to Christ. This day in Advent is called Gaudete Sunday or Rejoicing Sunday – a day to rejoice at the nearness of the coming of the Lord in a season of waiting and preparation. Part of that means pointing out and rejoicing over the places where we see Christ in the world. As a German theologian put it, “The time of fulfillment has dawned. We are already surrounded by the wonders and miracles of God” (Helmut Thielicke). This week I saw the wonders of Christ in so many places – in the faces of friends at a synod worship service, in the sharing of the Eucharist on Wednesday and with some of our homebound members, in a van full of toys collected for LINK, in laughing and praying with others… The list could go on and on. Where did you see Christ? Where can you point to God’s presence or activity in the world?

The world is full of darkness and difficulty, pain and suffering. Sometimes, life is just rough. We, like John, are called to witness to the light – to point out that God is here among us even if all seems difficult. And when we cannot see God for ourselves, we need others to point to God to help us see. We are called to proclaim with joy the wonderful things that God has done – that God is with us, loves us more deeply than we can even imagine, and has forgiven and welcomed each of us as beloved children. That is amazing news and a reason to rejoice if I ever heard one! It’s the type of news that causes the overflowing of poetic praise we hear in Isaiah: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness …For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In baptism, we have been clothed with the garments of salvation and the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Just as John’s identity was in Christ, in baptism our identities have been shaped by the cross of Christ and sealed in the Holy Spirit. We know that God’s love for us is not dependent on what we do, the connections we have with people in high places, our jobs, our skills, or the amount of money we have. And out of that wonderful knowledge, our praise is to spring up before all nations. We rejoice because of what God has done for us and we are called to share it with others.

I take heart that John is not your normal, average, everyday person. He was a little weird. He was born to parents far too old to have children, he ate wild locusts and honey, he wore camel hair, a garment which was a sign of being a prophet, and he lived out in the wilderness. The wilderness was not a quiet getaway either, but a place feared and seen as disorderly and dangerous, where wild beasts and fierce bandits lived. It was a place of desolation and waste, where people find themselves bewildered and often lost – yet this is the place where the covenant with is Israel was made. This is the place where prophets lived/fled to. It is the place where Jesus will go to be tested and where he will feed thousands. It is a place of trial and difficulty, but also of learning and strengthening one’s reliance on God.

I find great comfort in the fact that God worked through someone who was on the margins, who was outside of the box in order to point to the light of the world.  I find incredible hope and joy knowing that God can work through each of us, no matter how “unorthodox” it may seem. Because the beautiful thing is that God works through you and me – through the poor, the marginalized, the hurting, the quirky, the broken, the serious, the weak, the imperfect, and the goofballs to bring about healing and wholeness, and the kingdom of God on earth.

John spends his life pointing to Christ, bearing witness to the light and life that will allow humanity to see God and each other more clearly. He is the lone voice crying out and preparing the way for Christ to come and usher in the Kingdom of God. The voice is a powerful concept in Scripture – God’s voice speaks and brings creation into being. The Word of God, Jesus, becomes flesh and dwells among us. God speaks through us and our fragile voices bear the voice and the words of God – comfort for those grieving, hope for those struggling, laughter for those rejoicing, and encouragement for the downtrodden. How will you use your voice to cry out that Christ is near? How will you use your voice to rejoice that the coming of the Lord is near? How will you use your life to point toward Christ in others and in the world?

My prayer is that each of us will find ways of pointing to and focusing on Christ this season and throughout the year. That we would have the bold and audacious confidence of John the Baptist in claiming our identities in Christ, as well as John’s humility in knowing that the one who is coming is the one far greater than ourselves. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Awake in Advent

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I preached on Mark 13:24-37 at Community Lutheran Church:

If you’re anything like me, the past few days have been spent in a sort of hibernation mode. Packing in delicious food, watching T.V. and meditating on the wonders of comfortable pajamas and sleeping in. I am slightly ashamed that I really didn’t do a whole lot that was productive in that time. Yet, at the same time, I know that it was needed. Valuable time to rest and recharge. Precious time to spend with Jeff, the dog, and my family and friends. And I hope that you were able to have some of that time as well.

Each year, it seems that the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. Now, emerging from a turkey coma, the world is going full steam ahead into Christmas, with decorations, shopping, parties, cookie baking, Christmas carols and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. With this flurry of activity and stress, it can be really easy to lose sight of God.

Meanwhile, we in the church enter into a time of expectant and hopeful waiting, yearning for the coming, or Advent, of Christ. As a result, the four weeks of Advent are kind of an odd time because we know that Christ has already come 2,000 years ago, yet we’re awaiting Christmas and Christ’s second coming where he will reign in the fullness of his kingdom. Holy and anticipatory waiting contrasted with the busy-ness and often chaos of the month of December.

And then we get these fiery passages about God tearing open the heavens, suffering in the world, the sun being darkened, the moon’s light giving out, falling stars and the very powers of the heavens shaking. Ummmm… yikes! I definitely feel the draw of watching the Grinch, making snowmen, eating gingerbread and laughing at ridiculous hip-shaking dancing Santas!

When we hear texts about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ, I think we have one of two tendencies. We may get nervous and try to figure out when it’s happening and how to read the signs of the times. It makes sense that we would try to figure it out given what we hear in Scripture, but Jesus also tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Not even Jesus knows when all of this is going to occur! I think our second tendency is to say, “I don’t know when this is going to happen, so I’m not going to think or worry about it.”

Both tendencies, however, miss what we are being called to. And that is faithfulness. We’re being called to keep our eyes peeled – to be like watchmen, waiting with our senses on high alert, prepared for whatever will come next. That’s why we hear this Gospel text in Advent – in the season of waiting, preparation, anticipation, and hope for the things to come.

But what do we do while we’re waiting? We keep watch and keep alert for the ways God is active in the world. And we keep watch and keep alert for the places and ways in which we can actively participate in God’s kingdom, whether that’s listening to those who are hurting, cooking for and serving the hungry, praying for and encouraging others in the faith, or repairing and building homes for others. We use this season to prepare our hearts to receive Christ at Christmas and every day through worship, prayer, fellowship and service. We live out our baptisms and are fed by the Word of God, and at the Lord’s Supper. We use this time to allow God to continue shaping us and helping us to recognize Christ in our neighbor.

I’ve been struggling over the past week, and maybe many of you have been, too. I’ve been listening to conflicting reports from Ferguson, Missouri, reading articles, opinion pieces, and listening to interviews… I’ve been trying to figure out what happened there. I’ve been disturbed by the violence, not only of Michael Brown’s shooting, but also of some of the protestors. I’ve been upset by the hate and the vitriol I’ve heard and read. I’ve been saddened by families torn apart, by the hurt, frustration and the brokenness of the situation in Ferguson that is rippling across the country. And I’ve been wondering how I, as a follower of Christ and a white woman in Virginia, can or should respond. I know that by virtue of my skin color, where I’ve been born, and my circumstances in life, I have been lucky – I have not had to worry about the affects of racism. So when an event occurs that highlights the racial divide, the poverty and lack of opportunity for people of color in our country, I struggle to find what to say or do.

I know, however, that the temptation is to hear about these events, acknowledge them, and then just continue with my life. To hit the snooze button rather than keeping awake for the places God might be calling me to use my voice, my role, or my gifts for the sake of my brothers and sisters. But the truth is, while we await the fullness of Christ’s loving, merciful, and just reign, we are invited to be a part of God’s kingdom work. To keep alert and attuned to how God is tugging at our hearts.

And God is tugging at each of our hearts a little differently. Jesus says in his parable, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.” Each of us has our own work. We have a voice and we have opportunities to get involved in our world. We are invited to be a part of the conversations and reconciliation needed in so many different issues at hand, whether that’s poverty, education, working for peace, caring for the sick, comforting the dying or grieved. You have been invited by God to speak to and live out the hope and love you have been given in Christ Jesus. To keep awake – to be alive and fully present instead of asleep, complacent or missing out of the life into which God is inviting you. Where do you feel like God has awakened you to a need in our world? How might you use the gifts God has blessed you with to make a difference?

There is one other time this phrase “keep awake” or “keep watch” is used in the Gospel of Mark. It’s in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus urges his disciples to stay awake with him and keep watch as he prays about his upcoming trial and then crucifixion. The disciples, as you may recall, fall asleep not once, but twice, nodding off at one of the moments of Christ’s greatest need.   As we begin the season of Advent, we are reminded not to ignore those in need around us, or to ignore God in favor of perfectly decked halls or the most expensive or decadent gifts. We are reminded to slow down a bit and to savor this time, watching with the eyes of faith for opportunities to experience Christ in others and to share Christ with others.

There is an Aramaic word that appears only once in the New Testament, but I think it helps to paint a wonderful picture of Advent. The word is “Maranatha.” Say that with me: “Maranatha.” It can either mean “Our Lord has come” or it can be read as a plea or command: “Our Lord, come!” This word is the prayer of Advent. It is stating with hope and confidence that our Lord has come. Although things may be difficult, God is in our midst and is working in and through us to bring about the kingdom. We know this because we know Christ has come, has died and was raised from the dead. We know that we have a God who brings about healing and forgiveness in even the darkest situations – even from the cross.

And yet this prayer expresses the eager longing of people tired with the way things are. It cries out and asks God not to delay in bringing about the fullness of the kingdom where all are seen as children of God, where justice abounds for rich and poor, black and white, young and old, and where love is the currency people spend freely.   Maranatha. Our Lord has come. Come, O Lord. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Keep Awake!”

I have a confession to make.  I have already started listening to Christmas music.  I had songs stuck in my head and I gave in to the temptation sometime before Thanksgiving.  Shame on me!  And since I’ve gone down this slippery slope, now you’re going to hear about a Christmas carol!  I was driving a few days ago and I heard “Little Drummer Boy” come on the radio.  It’s my dad’s favorite carol since he’s a drummer, so I was grinning and singing along, but then I realized that this song was a perfect way to kick off our first Sunday of Advent and the Advent Conspiracy.

The song tells the story of a little boy who comes with a group to see the infant Jesus.  While others have fine gifts to give the King to honor or worship him, this poor, little boy has nothing to offer him.  And so, he humbly asks,

“Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.”

 Besides being a catchy tune with a fun beat, this is a great story about worshiping God with all you’ve got.

As you may recall, this Advent, we are participating in Advent Conspiracy, a program which is encouraging congregations to reclaim Advent as a time of worship, of spending less on material items, giving more of our time to family, friends and helping those in need, and loving all as Christ loves us.  This Sunday’s theme and, really a theme of Advent as a whole, is “worship fully.”

The church season of Advent and the shopping season for Christmas fall at the same time.  In the church we are in an odd in-between time.  We are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas, while already recognizing that it has happened.  At the same time, we are preparing our hearts for Christ’s return.  It’s a confusing time for sure!  But maybe this time – these four weeks – can help us understand something much bigger: how we live our lives as Christians in the world each and every day.

Our Gospel reading for this morning does not seem to match up with the joy and merriment people often associate with the Advent season or Christmas time.  “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  It doesn’t sound good!  But in an instant, the next verses bring hope: Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Jesus will return and will gather up his people.  There’s the good news!  With so much suffering, injustice, chaos and stress in the world, this is refreshing news.  But when is this going to happen?  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Hmph.  If you’re a planner like I am, this might be frustrating.  What on earth are we supposed to be doing in the meantime?

Jesus answers us in two short words:  “Keep awake.”  Keep awake.  This is clearly a command not to fall asleep during sermons!!  Sadly, I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told this to his disciples.  But keeping awake was important to Jesus.  In this passage, this phrase or similar phrases show up four times.  And the other time this phrase is used in Mark’s gospel is when Jesus tells his disciples to “keep awake” with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Keeping awake is crucial.

Now, I’m pretty sure Jesus is not instructing the disciples and us to be insomniacs.  Keeping awake can also mean keeping watch or keeping alert.  It means paying attention.  For the disciples, it meant that they would soon have to be paying attention to what was going on around them because Jesus wouldn’t be with them.  He was going to be crucified and they would have to make their way without his physical presence.  It meant that they would have to be on guard against false teachers who might seek to lead their fledgling community astray after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

We walk out of this sanctuary on Sunday mornings and we walk back into the world.  We walk out of an atmosphere of worship into the hustle and bustle of the city streets, humming with people rushing about, getting ready for the holidays.  We walk out of this place and into the whirl of the week.  And sometimes, in the midst of the craziness, we find ourselves dozing off to God’s presence in our lives.

It’s so easy for this to happen.  With to-do lists, shopping to be done, errands to be run, and cleaning, cooking and decorations to be managed, Advent, the season of hope, joy, and light turns into something we hope we make it out of.

Jesus’ command to “keep awake” is an invitation to once more find the joy and light in this time and all seasons.  Jesus invites us to pause and pay attention to where God is appearing and acting in our own lives.  It’s an invitation to notice once again how God is with us.  “Keep awake” is a call to turn from the things that drag us away from Christ and instead to turn once again toward God.  It is a call to be alert and watchful for the things that lead us to Christ.

We hear every year about the so-called “War on Christmas.”  There is a war on Christmas, but it’s not one that involves not being able to say “Merry Christmas” to people.  It’s a war that pits worshiping Jesus and following him against buying into consumerism and materialism in the name of Christ.

During this major shopping season, advertising would have us turn our hearts toward things and gadgets.  But we follow and worship a living, breathing God.   A God who comes to dwell with us incarnationally – in the flesh!  A God whose second coming we await and for which we yearn.

And this worship is not limited to this building.  In fact, this type of worship should not be contained by any walls.  It should spill over and shape every aspect of our lives.  It is worship we participate in in our homes, our jobs, our schoolwork and our play.  It includes prayer, praise, thanksgiving, hospitality to others, participating in the sacraments.  It also includes serving and forgiving others, and living out our vocations, whether they are jobs or roles as parents, spouses, children or friends.  Evelyn Underhill describes the mood of worship as “loving confidence in the Divine generosity.”  Worship is our response to God’s incredible love and forgiveness.   What does that worship look like for you?

Does it sound like making a joyful noise to the Lord with singing and instruments?  Or maybe it looks like dancing before the Lord like King David?  Does it look like a poem composed to praise God?  Or is it more like tending and caring for creation to honor our Creator?  Or maybe it looks like volunteering at the soup kitchen over the holidays?  Does it look like spending less on gifts and spending more time with family and friends?  Perhaps it is even something as simple as being a calming, gracious presence to those around you in the hectic Christmas rush.

One of the Eucharistic Prayers we use incudes these words: we worship “not as we ought but as we are able.”  Every time I hear this, I have great hope, because it means that on those days when I don’t feel particularly worshipful, what I can give is still welcomed by God.  And through those little offerings, God can transform our hearts into hearts full of worship and praise.

In this season, we wait.  We keep watch.  We keep awake.  We keep awake through the ever-darkening days for Jesus, the Lord of light, to burst onto the scene and illumine our lives and our way.  At the same time, we also celebrate that Jesus has already come and brought forgiveness, hope and love into our lives.   We are reminded by our reading this morning that Jesus continues to call us to keep alert for the ways in which God is present in our lives.

How will you worship God fully – with your whole life – this Advent?   How will this affect your shopping?  Your preparations?  Your stress level?  How will these four weeks help to shape your life as a follower of Christ the rest of the year?  I challenge all of us to think about worship this Advent – not just on Sunday mornings, but every day.  May we think about worship as a way of life, not just as a name for what we do when we gather here.  May we like the little drummer boy worship with all we’ve got.  May we worship fully.  AMEN.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

First Snow

Today, I’ve been watching the snowflakes dance and drift slowly to the ground. It’s the first snow of winter and I love it! It’s coated the grassy area in back and the roofs of the buildings across the way with a white layer of fluff. For a while, I heard shouts of joy from kids playing in the snow – giggles and the sound of a snowball fight in progress. I wish I could have joined them, but, alas, the final assignments of the semester were calling my name. Even now I’m procrastinating!

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been loving seminary, but I’m ready to have a bit of a break! Right now, I’m in “get it done” mode and crossing things off my list makes me almost shout with giddiness: “Yes! One step closer!” It’s been a wonderful semester, but I feel almost as if I’ve forgotten some basic things in the hustle and bustle.

In school we discuss God, ponder God, debate about God and theology, learn about how people in the past have talked about and believed in God, how people worship, why we worship the way we do… It’s fascinating and I feel like I’m learning a ton, but it’s almost as if I’ve forgotten how important it is to just sit still and listen to God.

I find myself in dire need of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Those two words are so simple and, yet, incredibly complicated. How on earth can I be still with seven classes, a part-time job, my teaching parish, and trying to have some kind of a social life?! And now, it’s Advent and we’re ramping up for Christmas. Being still seems impossible, but I think it’s the thing we need most desperately.

In Advent, we await the coming of Christ with great anticipation and excitement. In this season of hope and expectation, we wait until the time is right for Christ to enter the world. However, I think this is what we need to be doing every day – not just in Advent. We need to be still – to wait for God to burst into our lives and make Himself known to us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated in Meditating on the Word, “to be silent does not mean to be inactive; rather it means to breathe in the will of God, to listen attentively and be ready to obey.”

If we’re running around, we might miss His arrival. We might miss the opportunities He wants to grant us in spending time with loved ones or making time for the stranger or the outcast. We might miss how He longs to speak to us through His Word if we say, “I haven’t the time to read yet another book.” We might miss speaking with Him or hearing Him speak to us in prayer.

The snowfall and the sound of children playing helped to remind me of the simple pleasures. They helped me to remember how relaxing and renewing simply sitting with a cup of coffee and taking things in is. Moreover, I was reminded of how important it is to sit quietly with God – to listen for His voice, to praise His goodness and faithfulness, to thank Him for the blessings we have received, and to just enjoy the company of the Almighty. How refreshing it is to be still!

And so, I pray:
Holy God, as the snow drifts to the ground, help us to remember the importance of being still and knowing who you are – the God of creation, justice, salvation, peace, mercy, hope and renewal. In the midst of to-do lists, errands and the end of the semester, may we rest in the sheer joy of sitting with you. I ask this in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ, AMEN!

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

A beautiful instrumental version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by “Casting Crowns” to put you in the holiday mood:

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