Worth the Wait

A meditation by Michael Pahl on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019, called “Worth the Wait.”

Here is a written excerpt:

We tend to skip over the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel when we read it. That’s the extended genealogy of Jesus through Joseph’s family line. Matthew lists Jesus’ descendants from the patriarch Abraham to ancient Israel’s king David, and from David to another exile in Babylon, and from this exile to Jesus the Messiah.

We tend to skip over this genealogy, and that’s too bad, for a few reasons. One reason is the women named in Jesus’ family tree, and the significance they had both in Israel’s history and in Jesus’ heritage. Another reason, though, is that when you do read the genealogy, naming fourteen generations three times over, you can better appreciate Israel’s long wait for its Messiah.

Long, long ago, God had made promises to Abraham: promises of blessing for Abraham’s descendants, promises of blessing for all the nations through Abraham’s descendants. And Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, also called Israel, and Israel the father of Judah, and Judah the father of Perez by Tamar, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.

Then, long after that, but still long ago, God had made promises to David: promises of a son of David who would reign as king forever, bringing about the fullness of God’s kingdom of justice and peace on earth. And David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.

Then, long after that, but still a long time ago, God had made promises to the exiled people in Babylon: promises that God would come to them and reign among them through David’s son, finally bringing about that promised justice and peace and flourishing life, not just for Israel but even for the nations. And Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.

If we have a hard time imagining the wait Ahaz and Judah were called to—a patient trust for a few years at most, while armies lay siege to Jerusalem’s gates—how much harder it is to imagine the wait Matthew portrays for Israel—patiently trusting for generation after generation, dozens of generations, through slavery and liberation, covenant and wilderness and promised land, kingdom united then divided then toppled, one exile and then another, returning and rebuilding, now stifling under yet another oppressive empire.

How long, O Lord? What are you waiting for?

After fifty-plus generations of unfulfilled promise, here’s the choice before Israel. Here’s their fork in the road. They can trust that God has not abandoned them, that God loves them with a deep and abiding love, that God is yet with them. They can even now prepare the way for the Lord. Or they can ignore this promise of God’s loving presence, and try to forge their own way.

Mary and Joseph, at least—and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Anna and Simeon and other faithful Israelites—continued to trust that God was still with them, still on their side.

And so the virgin Mary conceived and bore a son, and he was called “Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” This was how the birth of Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, came to pass.

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Christmas at MMC

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Getting Ready While We Wait

A meditation by Michael Pahl on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019, called “Getting Ready While We Wait.”

Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:

“How long, O Lord?”

It’s a common refrain in the Bible, found nearly twenty times from the Psalms to Revelation.

“O Lord, how long?”

It’s a common refrain in the Bible, because it’s a common experience of God’s people: stuck in a time of waiting, in a space of discomfort or pain or sorrow, longing for peace and joy and life, feeling as if God is ignoring us, as if God has abandoned us.

These are the Advent seasons of life: waiting for God to come, yearning for God’s salvation, longing for God’s deliverance.

“How long, O Lord?”

We might tend to think of this as the cry of an individual person in their individual circumstances. There are a few of these in the Bible, like David in Psalm 13. But most of these cries of “How long?” arise out of the collective experience of God’s people.

There’s Psalm 94, for example:

O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the stranger,
they murder the orphan,
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.” (Ps 94:3-7)

Or there’s the Prophet Habakkuk’s opening complaint:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted. (Hab 1:2-4)

We can understand these feelings, can’t we? We, too, look around our world and see the migrant child being left to die, the evildoer boasting, violence rising around us like the rising seas, justice being perverted, and the wicked exulting over it all. We cry out to God, but God does not seem to be listening. God does not even seem to see the evil we see, being committed in plain view.

“O Lord, how long?”

Nearly twenty times in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, this cry goes up from God’s people: “How long, O Lord? How long must we wait for justice, for peace, for salvation from our oppressors and vindication of our just cause?”

God, what are you waiting for?

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Our Wait Begins

A meditation by Peter Hildebrand on the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019, called “Our Wait Begins.”

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What Are You Waiting For?

This Advent we are asking the question, “What are you waiting for?”

God, what are you waiting for? We need you to act!

God, what are you waiting for? Maybe our repentance, or a step of faith or obedience?

What are we waiting for? God is eager to respond to our cries for mercy.

What are we waiting for? God is with us! Let us walk in the light of Christ.

Join us as we gather in worship this Advent season, through Christmas, and into Epiphany. Watch for special services and events throughout the season!

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God’s Peaceable Kingdom

A meditation by Michael Pahl on Eternity Sunday, November 24, 2019, called “God’s Peaceable Kingdom.” It is a reflection on Psalm 46.

Here is a written excerpt:

At some point in our lives, all of us come to this place: teetering on the brink of disaster, engulfed in anxiety or despair, realizing the precariousness of our lives, our relationships, our carefully constructed worlds.

But this has always been the reality of our human existence: we are caught in the now of harsh experience and elusive promise, catching only glimpses of the not yet of some bright future.

Psalm 46 speaks right into this reality. It speaks directly to us in our unstable, uncertain worlds. And it says this:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Three times the Psalm says this: “God is our refuge. God is our refuge. God is our refuge.”

When all is falling down around us, “God is our refuge.”

When our world is crumbling from within, “God is our refuge.”

When our lives are pressed down by forces beyond our control, “God is our refuge.”

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Bear One Another’s Burdens

A sermon by Michael Pahl on November 17, 2019, called “Bear One Another’s Burdens.” This is the fifth in a five-part series called “One Another.”

Here is a written excerpt:

It began with washing some feet. But it led to dying on a cross.

Washing someone else’s feet—serving them in love—is not easy. It requires us to humble ourselves before them. It requires us to—to put it frankly—get off our duff and do the work, doing the work that no one else is willing to do.

But while serving others in love requires some humility and initiative, it still might seem pretty innocuous. No one gets executed by the state for loving people, do they?

Well, yes, in fact, they do. Jesus is Exhibit A for this. But history is filled with people who were persecuted, even executed, simply for seeking to live a life of love in the way of Jesus, simply for calling other Christians to live a life of love in the way of Jesus.

And here’s why: Jesus’ way of servant love is radical. It’s subversive. And this makes it offensive. This makes it threatening.

Jesus’ way of servant love means lifting up the poor as blessed by God. It means healing the sick freely and caring for the dying with dignity. It means liberating the politically oppressed, centering the socially marginalized, and giving them a seat of honour at our table. It means ceasing all violence against neighbours and strangers and enemies—even convicted criminals.

In other words, Jesus’ way of servant love means giving up our privilege to stand in solidarity with the underprivileged. It means giving up our power so that the powerless can be empowered. And this kind of love is always a threat to those with privilege and power.

And so Jesus himself, after washing his disciples’ feet, walked the road to the cross. He walked the road to the cross in solidarity with all those who have ever been condemned as sinners. He walked the road to the cross in solidarity with all those who have ever been victims of violence. He walked the road to the cross in solidarity with all those who have ever been cast out and trampled upon by the powers that be.

This is what crucifixion meant in the ancient world, and this is what the cross meant for Jesus.

With this we are getting at what Paul means in Galatians 6:2 when he says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” He’s thinking of the story of Jesus. He’s thinking of Jesus teaching love of God by loving one another. He’s thinking of Jesus welcoming children and washing feet. He’s thinking of Jesus walking to the cross in solidarity with sinners, in solidarity with all oppressed peoples everywhere.

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