Tony  Sammut
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Daily Readings:

Day 1: John 1:1-18

Day 2: John 1: 19-51

Day 3: John 2:1-25

Day 4: John 3: 1-21

Day 5: John 3: 22-36

Well, it’s that most-wonderful-time-of-the-year, when Christmas carols are playing on the radio, lights begin to brighten up front porches, and advertisements for everything under the sun start exploding from every direction!  It’s a season full of all kinds of excitement from every corner of our experience.

And even though we know that this season comes with a certain kind of “crazy”, all the excitement is actually pretty appropriate for what we, as followers of Jesus, celebrate at this time of year – the season of Advent.

“Advent” comes from an old Latin word, adventus, that means “COMING”.  It’s a good word for this season, because that’s what we’re celebrating – the coming of God into the world, in the form of a person named Jesus of Nazareth.

Advent is a season that invites us to immerse ourselves in the life of Jesus.  In his embodied presence here on earth.  In the story of his birth.  In the lessons that he taught.  In the miracles he performed.  In the conversations that he had with others.

Advent is a celebration of the presence of God in the world.

It’s a bold statement – one that is so profound and mysterious that we need to set aside a whole season every year to dwell on it – that God has come near.

Advent tells us that God is not content to watch our lives from far up in the clouds.  God is not satisfied to shout out his orders from a mountain top and demand that we follow them.  God is not wired to remain distant and disconnected from us, while we scramble to find our way to Him.

No.  Instead, God comes near.

He prefers – even delights – to come close.  To get personal.  To speak our language.  To walk the same roads we walk, so that sooner or later we’ll find Him crossing our path. 

This is what the temple (which started as the tabernacle – or meeting tent – that Moses built) was always meant to remind the people of.  That God lived among them.  That He was near, present, and intimately involved in their affairs. The temple was the place where heaven touched earth, and people could meet with God.

Ultimately however, even the temple was not close enough for God.  So He “became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1: 14).  The meeting place between heaven and earth was no longer confined in a lifeless building, but in a Person.

And it might be easy for us to think that this was a great call on God’s part.  But it actually posed some pretty big problems.

Because it seems that often, people weren’t able to recognize His Presence among them.

John, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, wrote it this way: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” (John 1:9-10).

Jesus walked.  Jesus worked.  He spoke and taught and did some surprising things.  And one of the most common responses he received was disbelief.  Or at least, misunderstanding.  People failed to see the Presence.

Confusion about who Jesus really was surrounded him his entire life.  Was he simply Jesus of Nazareth, or was he the Messiah?  Was he merely a Rabbi or was he God’s chosen one?  Jesus is given seven different titles in the first chapter of John alone!

And it seems in the early chapters of John’s biography, Jesus did some pretty confusing things for someone who was supposed to be bringing God’s presence into the world.

John records Jesus’ first miracle.  And a miracle, we’d think, is something that makes sense for God-in-the-flesh to do.  He took basins that were used for religious ceremonial washing, and miraculously turned the water they stored into wine!  Pretty amazing!  But for any self-respecting God-fearing person of Jesus’ day, this particular miracle would have been a very confusing thing to witness.  Because Jesus took “religious” items, and used them for a party.  It was almost as if Jesus didn’t see their religious value any more – as if he knew better!  How could a person like that be from God?

It gets worse.  Jesus went to the heart of the Jewish religion – the Temple.  Remember, the place where heaven and earth were supposed to meet.  And instead of coming in with reverence and respect for this holy place, he turned it upside down!  He wrecked it.  It was almost as if Jesus didn’t believe that this place had much value any more – as if he knew better!  How could a person like that be from God?

People were confused.  Angry.  Uncertain.  So much so that one night, one of the religious leaders secretly came to Jesus, because his curiosity just couldn’t be contained.  He made a statement (but it was really a question): “Rabbi, we know that you’re a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2).  But Jesus didn’t fit the mold of anyone who they thought might come from God.

So Jesus responded accordingly: If you really want to see the Kingdom of God – if you really want to see God’s Presence here with you – you need to be born again. (John 3:3).

You see, if we’re looking for God’s Presence with the old lens of religion, we will always be confused – and maybe even offended – by Jesus.  Those paradigms won’t work.  We need whole new eyes.  We need a whole new way of thinking, and understanding.  We need to be born again.

It’s why people were constantly misunderstanding him, and mishearing him.  Its ultimately why people wanted to kill him.  They weren’t ready for this. 

His presence isn’t always what we think it will be.  It will at times surprise and disturb us.  It will rock us out of our well contained rhythms of religion.  And it will call us into whole new ways of seeing him.

And so, as you embark on a new season of Advent, invite Jesus to do just that!  Invite him to confuse and confound you out of some of your old and worn out ways of relating to him.  Invite him to birth new eyes in you so that you can see more of him for more of who he really is.  Invite him to COME into your Advent season in a way nearer than ever before!

Questions to consider as you read:

1) Why might people have been confused or confounded by Jesus actions?  Why might it have been difficult for them to see God's presence through Jesus in these encounters?

2) When do you think you are most prone to missing Jesus' presence in your own life?

3) Are there any ways that your own religious practices or attitudes may be keeping you from encountering more of Jesus' presence in your life?