Advent – Friday, December 4

Author: Chad Hyatt

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Reflection: v. 3, ‘let your face shine, that we may be saved’

How do you see the face of God? I see it everyday. I see the face of God in the multitude of faces that greet me each morning in our little community—a patch-work quilt of beautiful belovedness. Sometimes it may be weathered and weary, looking for hope like a last scrap of bread. But it’s the face of God, all the same. It may have eyes wrinkled in mischief, laughing at a good joke or another crazy story of survival on the streets. But it’s the face of God, all the same. It may have a brow furrowed in concentration, trying to puzzle out a piece of Scripture in a particularly hard Bible study. But it’s the face of God, all the same. It may be with a mouth wide open in full-throated song as we gather to worship. But it’s the face of God, all the same. It is the face of God shining upon us that saves us, the psalmist says. God saves us face-to-face. And face-to-face is the only way we can truly love our neighbors, in keeping with the great commandment. It’s mighty hard to see the face of God in prayer or perhaps someday up in heaven, if we fail to see God’s face in our neighbors here and now. Salvation is never just personal. It’s social, too. But in an ironic twist, even our social salvation must also be personal—made possible by the lines we cross to make community in this world. If we hope to feast at the banquet of God, then we had better pull up a chair at a table where folks are hungry. And as we break what bread we have together, let us look one another in the eye—and see reflected there a thousand stories we had never imagined. Then and only then shall we see each other face-to-face. And we might just find that the face of God is shining radiantly upon us.

Prayer Lord, as the psalmist sang, let your face shine upon us. And save us, O Lord, face-to-face—in your company and in the company of our neighbors, especially the poorest among us.

Advent – Thursday, December 3

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 13:24-37

Reflection: v. 24, ‘In those days, after the suffering of that time…’

The crises that could make us more compassionate, more in tune with the suffering of our neighbors, can also make us more afraid, pushing away others whom we judge to be not like us—and therefore a threat to our sense of security.

In a time of economic dislocation, we could rally around our neighbors and share our bread with the hungry. Something Jesus strongly suggests we should always be doing. Or we could lock our doors—and call the cops on statures of the Homeless Christ in church parking lots (yes, that’s a real thing).

Loving our neighbors requires overcoming our fears. Loving our neighbors isn’t a job we can outsource to others or shift to those we deem professionals, however well-trained they might be. Loving our neighbors—tangibly, concretely, face-to-face—is the sacred responsibility of each one of us.

The works of mercy—sharing food with the hungry, clothing with the naked, welcome for the stranger—is how we love our neighbors, especially those of us who are suffering and vulnerable.

And it is also how we can answer the Advent call to repent. As we turn toward one another in compassion and empathy, we can turn our communities away from brokenness and bitterness toward wholeness and belovedness. But we must do the turning. The crises we face provide an opportunity, but only we can choose how we respond.

Let us turn toward our neighbors who are suffering instead of turning them away. In so doing, we will embrace our own suffering and pain. Only then can we all be healed and find new life. This is the gracious promise of Advent.

Prayer God of compassion, you who stand with us in our suffering, turn our hearts from fear to love—and lead us to stand with all who suffer.

Advent – Wednesday, December 2

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 13:24-37

Reflection: v. 36, ‘Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping’

In our community, which has it’s share of struggles with addictions of various kinds, we have come to believe that we live in a deeply addicted society. It’s not so much that we fail to see the disorder all around us, it’s that we have allowed ourselves to become numb to it. Numbing ourselves to pain is at the heart of every kind of addictive behavior. Don’t make the mistake of thinking addiction can be limited to ways we abuse substances. Addiction shows up in all the unhealthy patterns we take on to try and cope with our pain—and every addiction, however seemingly personal or private, affects our relationships with those around us. When we numb ourselves to our own pain, we also numb ourselves to the pain of others. These hurtful patterns must be named in order to be undone and new, healthier patterns established. The Bible calls this numbness ‘hardness of heart.’ It characterized Pharaoh as he refused to hear God’s voice calling for human liberation and instead charged head long to his own destruction—and the tragic destruction of those who followed him. Naming the patterns that harden our heart and choosing new patterns is what the Bible calls repentance. If Advent is indeed a time of repentance, then we must reckon with the fact that it is our numbness, our hardness of heart, that keeps us complacent and comfortable with the world the way it is.

So Jesus calls us to rouse ourselves from this selfish slumber, to shake ourselves awake and to be clear-eyed and alert. How? Prayer is an obvious answer. Scripture, too. Community is essential, of course. But the practice that pulls all the others together into a whole are the works of mercy—direct engagement in the pain of our sisters and brothers by sharing our table, our time, and our very selves with one another. Compassion, where we feel with others their suffering and pain, is the opposite of numbing ourselves. In the face-to-face love of our neighbor as ourselves we will all find sobriety.

Prayer God of compassion, rouse us and awaken our numbed and hardened hearts with a lively love of our neighbors who suffer.

Advent – Tuesday, December 1

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 13:24-37

Reflection: v. 33, ‘Watch out! Stay alert!’

We missed it. That’s the tragic truth the Gospel tells as we start Advent. God answered Isaiah’s prayer—a cry that gives voice to our own fervent longing. God tore open the heavens and came down. And we missed it. We missed it then for the same reasons we are liable miss it now. God did not come to defend the status quo. God came to defend the poor. God won’t protect the privilege we deny is ours but fight tooth and nail to keep. God comes to save those without privilege or place within the unjust structures we make and maintain. Jesus of Nazareth was a poor laborer from Galilee. He didn’t look much like God tearing open the heavens and coming down in glory and might. Not when he compassionately healed lepers and restored them to community. Not when he fed the multitudes of the poor with meager rations. Not when he made a place at the table for the outcast. Not when he healed the sick whom others regarded as ‘sinners’ on account of their suffering. Not when he went about Galilee with no place to lay his head. And certainly not when he hung, tortured and humiliated, gasping for breath on a Roman cross. Church folks sometimes say God doesn’t come when we want—but God is always on time. The Scriptures also teach us God doesn’t come how we want. But God comes to save us nevertheless. The question for us is the same as it was for our ancestors: what happens when the God of our prayers comes in the person of the poor—and for the liberation of the poor? Advent is a grace-event that calls us to wake up lest we miss it all over again.

Prayer Jesus, you come to us again and again in the guise of the poor. Rend not the skies but our hearts, that we may see you in our homeless neighbors.

Advent – Monday, November 30

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 13:24-37

Reflection: v. 31, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away’

‘It’s the end of the world as we know it,’ R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe sang in 1987. I’m not sure I feel fine, but I do know every end holds the possibility of new beginnings. An apocalypse isn’t the literal end of the world. But it may seem like it, as old systems fail us and the foundations upon which we have staked so much of our hope and security shift beneath our feet. In that sense, it may seem very much like our world is ending. As Jesus put it, it’s like ‘heaven and earth’—our whole universe of meaning—is passing into nothingness. That’s certainly how those who were listening to Jesus at the time would have felt. After all, he’s foretelling a Jerusalem overrun by Roman armies and the Temple of God destroyed—only days before his own violent arrest and execution. But the inevitable destruction, death, and disorder of unjust social systems can open us to new, more life-giving ways to order our lives.

And that’s the key: there are ways of ordering our lives, as individuals and as communities, that may appear to be what we want, but the truth is they lead us all toward death—because those ways harm our neighbors as well as ourselves. Greed doesn’t create true wealth. Walls won’t keep us safe. Violence never solves problems. Addictions never cure our pain. An apocalypse—in personal or global terms—is when the lies we have carefully woven to overlay our injustices are stripped bare. Suddenly, we can see. When the false idols that blind us are exposed for what they truly are, then we can clearly see the true and living God calling us to order our lives anew.

From the rubble of an old world, we can build a new one where love for our neighbor guides us in all our relationships, communities, and institutions. That’s the word of God that will never pass away. As our old idols crumble—along with the worlds of meaning we have constructed around them—that’s the word of God that can create a new heaven and earth where justice makes it’s home.

Prayer Jesus, your word lasts when our worlds fall apart. Help us to build our lives and a better world on your word: love your neighbor as yourself.

1st Sunday of Advent – November 29

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 13:24-37

Reflection: v. 34, ‘giving each one a job to do’

Bet you never thought you would live through an apocalypse, did you? Welcome to 2020, y’all. From the perspective of the church calendar, Advent kicks off a new year. And it happens while we’re still trudging our way through the old. It’s as if God’s people are invited to become divinely out-of-synch. The realities that have come surging over the banks—a global pandemic, persisting racism, political polarization—won’t simply recede because the clock ticks midnight on New Year’s Eve. Things will only change because we choose to change them. And that’s God’s subversive invitation to us.

At a time when so many of our churches have chosen—for sound public health reasons—to close the doors on traditional worship, might we imagine worship more broadly? What if worship was a little more Isaiah 58—a down-to-earth practice where we empower and embody more just and inclusive communities that could transcend the divisions that beset us? That would mean literally making room for those who cannot shelter-in-place because they have no place to shelter. It would mean creatively organizing our congregations to share food, clothing, running water, and rental assistance—things we should have already been doing, if we’re honest. Now is the time to make a new time for our world. Disruption of old patterns can embolden new ways of being together. But we can’t limit our creative vision to fashioning online content.

The Advent Event itself shows us the way: God comes to us as a poor and homeless child who quickly becomes a refugee on the run with his parents. Is this not where we can still find God at work? I believe with everything within me it is. God is always to be found, graciously at work on the margins, close to suffering, in the broken places. We must creatively reimagine church as a liberating, grassroots community that makes sharing our bread with our hungry neighbors as essential to true and vital worship as sharing the bread of the Eucharist with one another. A new Advent is upon us. Let us fearlessly embrace it.

Prayer God of Advent, help us to see in our troubled times that now is always your liberating time. May our broken status-quo lead us to reorder our worship as justice for our neighbors.