Scripture reading for today:

Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

God with Us

I live with a drive inside of me that’s been passed down through generations of good evangelical people whom I love and respect. The great commission has been a rallying cry that I’ve heard since I was a boy, through my formative years in church, through my years in Bible school, and during my first kick at the traditional church can. This drive that’s come from that commission and been reinforced by every mission statement, vision statement, local church initiative, denominational catchphrase, and missions promotion that I’ve been a part of has shaped who I am.  It’s inescapable. And that’s not an entirely bad thing. I happen to like talking about Jesus with people. I happen to believe that he offers them the best way to live right now. I think sharing the Good News is a good idea. But I’ve got to tell you, since planting a church seven years ago, that drive often feels like a weight. And that weight often becomes a feeling a failure. And every time someone asks the question, “Is your church growing yet?” that feeling leads to depression, doubt, anxiety, and sometimes a belief that either I need to defend what God has(n’t) been doing, or admit that I really can’t get the job done.

This week’s Advent readings bring me back to what I know to be true but what is too often clouded by my evangelicalness. I know that what is ultimately asked of me is to be faithful to what Jesus is asking me to do. I know that the metrics of success need to be influenced and shaped by that truth. I know that the first question needs to be, “Are you doing what Jesus is asking of you?” and not “Is your church growing?” But too often I forget about what it means to be faithful because I forget that not only does Jesus offer me a better way to live, he offers me Himself. Right here. Now. His presence — living in it, talking with him, listening to him — is the only way I can know what it means to be faithful to what he’s asking of me. If I ignore, forget, or become too busy to be with him, I have no capacity for sensing his specific requests of me and my church, his affirmation, or his encouragement. I need to remember and know that Jesus is with me and that he is my hope, sustenance, guidance, confirmation, affirmation, and compass. The irony of my evangelicalness is that as an evangelical I’m Jesus-centric, and yet too often that means he’s part of an equation or the means to an end, rather than a person with whom I can commune.

There is no quick or easy way to “evangelize” my Canadian context. There is no magic bullet, no book with the answers, and no strategy that we just haven’t discovered yet. I know this, yet I chase those things all of the time. There is simply my response to his presence. And for me to know that he is speaking, leading, guiding, I must first remember and take note of the fact that he is with me.

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst” (Zeph 3:15). “Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion, because the holy one of Israel is great among you.” (Is 12:6) “The Lord is near” (Phil 4:5). The incarnation reminds me, a mostly insignificant pastor with a small church, of the greatest gift and reality I could ever know: Jesus is with me. And it is there, in that living relationship, that I work out my faithfulness to what he’s asking of me. Interestingly, coupled to these statements of the Lord’s presence with us is also the reminder of what it means to walk with his living presence.  
Take care of those in need.  
Remind people that God is good.  
Treat people with compassion.  
Be humble and thankful.  
Treat people with respect and dignity.  
Don’t cheat people.  
Be gentle.  

None of these tasks and challenges negate that evangelical impulse to share the Good News, but they do remind us that those who know and respond to the living presence of God in our midst live these sorts of lives. My perspective and sense of encouragement grow exponentially when I think of what our church is doing to live that sort of life, regardless of whether or not we grow numerically.  

Before I invite our church to the communion table each week I make a statement. And no matter what we’ve discussed through the sermon, in Scripture, in song, or whatever, there is always a component of this statement that we need to hear and embrace.

For Christ lived.  
Christ died.  
And Christ rose again.  
Christ with us.  
Christ in us.  
And Christ will come again.

For this week of Advent, I encourage us to spend a few moments basking in the truth of Christ with us. Christ in us. For it is there, in that experience, that we find what it means to live faithfully.

The Revised Common Lectionary offers this prayer for this Sunday of Advent:

O God of the exiles and the lost,
you promise restoration and wholeness
through the power of Jesus Christ.
Give us faith to live joyfully,
sustained by your promises
as we eagerly await the day when they will be fulfilled
for all the world to see,
through the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.

photo credit: Fabrizio Verrecchia