GLIMPSES OF THE KINGDOM
December 14, 2014 by Ken Dale
I have often joked that the folks in my last church probably think Buechner is a book in the Bible. Earlier this year I discovered that there is a Buechner website and you can sign up to get a daily quote from it ? which of course I have done. The other day the quote for the day was about God being mightily present. The quote began with these words: As I understand it, to say that God is mightily present even in such private events as these does not mean that he makes events happen to us which move us in certain directions like chessmen. Instead, events happen under their own steam as random as rain, which means that God is present in them not as their cause but as the one who even in the hardest and most hair-raising of them offers us the possibility of that new life and healing which I believe is what salvation is. He goes on to reflect on his father?s committing suicide ? how he does not believe God willed it, but that God was somehow present in what happened. He also speaks of how with some assurance, he can speak of how God was present for him in that dark time ? that he was destroyed by it but came out of it with scars he bears to this day. Buechner concludes that even tragedy can be a means of grace that I might never have come to any other way.
She was probably only about 16 years young at best. She was betrothed to a man she probably didn?t know well. No doubt she was scared about becoming his wife and leaving her home. She is pregnant and she knows that the man she is betrothed to is not the father. Women in that time had neither name nor honor. They had value if they were virgins and marriage simply added that value to a husband?s assets. In her condition she had neither virtue nor value. Her name of course is Mary. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was a pretty honorable man. Mary being pregnant ? well, it was best if Joseph just got rid of her ? but he did not want to cause her disgrace, the best of which would be banishment and the worst of which would be public stoning. He chooses to quietly divorce her but as we know from Matthew?s stories, he has a dream that better informs him of the whole situation ? God is at work in this.
Think of Mary?s lowly place in life?s journey. Believing God is at work in her situation enables her to sing ? and one of the powerful things about that song is that it celebrates not just her God but the God of all ? not just God of some ? but the God of all. Mary sings of a God who assumes all people are to be blessed. Yes, Mary sings of God who ?has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant?for the Mighty One has done great things for me.? But she also sings: ?His mercy is for all who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.? I love Barbara Brown Taylor?s take on that passage when she writes that this good news is for the proud and powerful who will be relieved of their swelled heads, for the hungry who will be filled with good things, for the rich who will be sent away empty so that they have room in them for more than money can buy. Things are powerfully turned upside down. God is present in it for the possibility of new life.
In Bible study this past week we considered a passage from Isaiah 42 where the prophet offers the people the image that even in the midst of their brokenness they will be a light to the nations. The Isaiah passage spoke of ?bruised reeds? and ?dimly burning wicks.? There are times in life?s journey when are no more than that. A commentary on the passage quoted songwriter and theologian Leonard Cohen who writes ?there is a crack in everything, but that is where the light gets in.? The point being that God?s grace and power works exactly there where we are broken, where we are most fragile ? in our lowly state, if you will.
In our group stories of two people with ALS (Lou Gehrig?s Disease) were shared. One of a woman who had an on-line daily blog even with her illness. Even as she neared the end of her life she would write incredibly inspirational thoughts and reflect on the beauty that she saw outside of her window. The second was of a brother, a photographer who, in the face of his illness, was still able to fine tune the colors and effects of his photographs. How easy it was to go to Paul?s words in 2 Corinthians 4 that reminds us: We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Again ? the cracks, the broken places in our lives are where God?s light shines in ? where God?s grace is able to work ? and maybe even cause us to sing ? if not with our voices ? with the witness of our lives.
Our Advent theme is ?here is your God? and we have considered God in the people, in the world, and today in the lowly ? God in the cracks. Mary is faced with a great challenge yet understands herself as looked upon with favor by God. The presence of Christ is seen in the lowly ? in the lowly, in the poor and the poor in spirit ? but they are blessed and they are filled with good things.
Fred Buechner closes his thought with these words ? and I will do the same:
God acts in history and in your and my brief histories not as the puppeteer who sets the scene and works the strings but rather as the great director who no matter what role fate casts us in conveys to us somehow from the wings, if we have our eyes, ears, hearts open and sometimes even if we don’t, how we can play those roles in a way to enrich and ennoble and hallow the whole vast drama of things including our own small but crucial parts in it.
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