Crawling toward the Manger: Day One

Welcome to the journey.

It’s six a.m. I look out my back window, and all I see against the backdrop of darkness is my reflection in the glass, thanks to the light from my screen. This might seem gloomy, but that image seems to represent my season of life right now—looking into darkness and seeing only myself.

How fitting to begin this Advent writing journey in the dark, evocative of the hundreds of years of waiting, longing, and suffering that God’s people experienced as they journeyed toward the manger that first time. Their hope for a Savior often as dim as a lamp burning its last drop of oil.

The journey to Christ begins in a sin-induced darkness. That’s the reality of a broken world. Gospel principle number one: we are fallen.

Your hope, like the Israelites’, might be flickering its last flame. This journey is for you then, and I’ve titled it Crawling toward the Manger for a reason. We don’t always have the strength to run the race marked out for us, as Paul encourages. That doesn’t mean we don’t race. It means we drop to our knees.

The idea of crawling elicits that sense of desperation. It’s the act you succumb to when weariness roosts on your heart and pushes you down. The act that demonstrates your last bleeding desire to reach a goal, despite having spent your energy.

But crawling also screams of infancy, and hasn’t Jesus bid us come as children?

Experts in child development say that crawling is an essential step for an infant that is not good for an infant to skip. I take this to mean that—in all areas of life—crawling can be a necessary, enjoyable stage. When I remember my children crawling, I picture them with smiles, cruising across the floor on all fours. They didn’t see crawling as an act borne of desperation, but rather as a delightful freedom that ushered them into a new world of exploration.

You might crawl toward the manger in both ways: desperate and delighted. I know I will.

Because I began this post with a dark tone, let me end it with hope: we always crawl toward the Light. The manger is a place of exceedingly bright light. It’s the cradle of the Christ Child, Jesus. Our hope on this side of Bethlehem is that Jesus has come, the Incarnate Son, and that God the Father has said through this act: I am crawling toward you. I am coming for you.

But more on that tomorrow.

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Advent Preview

Friends, I’m excited this year to commit to daily advent posts, in some manner (in other words, not always a lengthy theological treatise). These posts will perhaps be some of my most honest, being that I am writing from a vulnerable place in my life right now. I’ll be asking some friends to guest post and encouraging your comments. Hopefully, we’ll make the journey of advent not only a celebration, but a communal experience!

manger star

Some things I’ll be pondering:

How do we make a traditional season fresh and relevant?

How do we celebrate something from a place of brokenness?

Can we strip away the commercialism of Christmas and find a wellspring of joy?

Who initiates Advent? The Church calendar, our penchant for a good celebration, or the call of God?

Is the liturgy of Advent worth it or should we cut that out as well as commercialism?

Your turn: What are your initial feelings when Advent is mentioned? Do you dread the fast-paced season or relish the opportunity to focus on Christ’s birth?

Looking in Our Blind Spots: We All Have Them

He was merging on the freeway when it happened. A large, gray SUV crashed into the rear driver’s side of my husband’s car, sending my husband’s hat flying backward. Is that breaking the law of physics? I don’t know.

The police asked if he’d looked in his mirrors, checked his blind spot. Of course he did, I thought. It’s a habit. But maybe he didn’t. Or maybe he did it too quickly. Whatever the cause, it was an accident. That’s what an accident is: something you don’t plan for or expect, but something that happens for some reason, and in this case, no one was ticketed.

kia accident

Excuse me for spiritualizing and making an obvious analogy, but we can get lulled into our routines of checking mirrors and blind spots, only to be blindsided by sin. It happens because we have that perpetual weak spot through our sin natures.

I thought I checked my mirrors, we might say to ourselves while rummaging through the consequences of sin. I thought I was a better driver of my life. Or maybe even, I thought I was beyond mirrors and blind spots, after all, I’ve been a Christian for years.

Be on your guard, Paul says.

We might be tempted to say that our sin is an accident. I didn’t mean to say those words (and maybe we really didn’t). But we are without excuse. God has laid out mirrors for us to see our blind spots, to be warned of sin’s traps, and God has provided a way out of temptation.

The mirror of Scripture. 

The mirror of community.

The mirror of spiritual authority. If you don’t know who has spiritual authority in your life, figure it out. We are all called to be under some form of spiritual authority.

The mirror of the Holy Spirit.

The mirror of common sense. You were given a brain for a reason. God’s common grace is showered on us all through a general sense of what to do and what not to do. I know it’s not a strong mirror, but it’s present.

Know your mirrors, friends, and most importantly: use them.

Questioning through Mark: 3:20-35

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

out of his mind

Wow. Jesus is getting hit from all sides. Crushed by the crowd so that he cannot even eat. Convicted by strangers and law keepers of being powered by the demonic. And then his embarrassed family tries to shut him down.

We have a lot of questions to ask ourselves in this passage:

1. Are we crowding Jesus? And I mean this in the good way. Are we pushing in because we need him? Are we following him around, wanting more of his teaching, his miraculous, and his presence in our lives?

2. Are we seeing Jesus for who he truly is? Crowding him is not enough. We must know him and where he comes from: God, the Father. We must give him the glory he deserves.

The Pharisees only crowded him to find fault with him. What greater fault could they find than to say he was acting in Satan’s power? “He is out of his mind,” they said. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re the ones out of your minds.” He refrains from arguing and instead speaks in parables. He gives an example of why the Pharisees accusations make no sense: how can Satan cast out Satan? If you want to rob someone, you must tie him up first to do it.

What’s the take-away for us? Crowd him for the right reasons. Know him. And we only do that by believing what the Bible says is true. A good place for a foundation of Christology: Colossians 1. Christ is not only in his right mind, but we can only be in ours when we know who he really is.

3. Are we embarrassed by Jesus? It’s okay to admit that we are embarrassed sometimes. It’s not okay to try to subdue Jesus in our lives. If we are following him and know him, we must let him do his work in us and the world. There is no taming Jesus. Ironically, in this passage, it is not Jesus, the accused, who is acting in Satan’s power. It is his family, the pharisees, and the crowd–all who want to tone him down and make him safe, make him fit their understanding of a good teacher and powerful leader. Later, Peter cries out against Jesus’s work on the cross and Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.”

Are we letting Jesus be Jesus?