This has not been the best couple of weeks for Rangers fans. Three of our favorite players, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton will wear different uniforms next season. Playing catch with James in the backyard yesterday-- he owns two Hamilton t-shirts-- it was difficult to explain the situation to him. Financial flexibility, depreciation rates among players, development of younger players... these are concepts not easily understood by a 10 year old. Or, honestly, by a 41 year old. All James knows is that some of the guys who were Rangers when he first became a fan are no longer around. Like every other Ranger fan, he/I/we have to accept a new reality, confident that team is headed in the right direction and has a plan.
Advent is a time of expectation and waiting. This is the time to reflect upon the ultimate purposes of God that seem far away and distant. No, Advent is not about baseball-- it's about God and looking for God to fulfill a vision for our reality-- but the emotions sports fans feel are similar to the ones faithful observers of Advent experience. Longing. Hope. Anticipation. Read these texts assigned for this Sunday and listen for Advent themes:
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 12:2-6)
Every Advent and Lent I take out a favorite prayer book, given to me years ago: Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Seasons by Sharlande Sledge (1999). Let me share this Advent prayer, called "Risktaker God," with you:
help us to empty our hearts
to make room for the birth
of something new
and altogether unforseen.
Cast off whatever
we assume will sustain us,
so we can receive the light
of the unknown things
you have in store.
When we are full of our own ideas,
there is no room for the birth of hope.
When you are looking for a warm room for a baby,
we are inside our homes with the doors closed.
During Advent may we accept your invitation
to come out of our safe places--
to let go, to open up--
not to forsake the things and people we treasure
but to learn to hold them lightly and freely.
What do you have in store for us God?
While we are preparing a home for you,
what are you preparing for us?
What is taking up too much room in our hearts?
O, God, assure us it is all right
if we do not have all the answers
because that is what Advent is all about...
waiting without knowing,
waiting with nothing but faith, hope, and love
in the company of God's love,
a love that promises everything,
even your advent,
to those who have saved you room.
May your remaining Advent days be filled with the promises of God. Do not give up on God's direction for your life. Do not lose hope of God's vision for peace and justice for the world. Rangers fans, be still. After all, we're talking about a game here (can't believe I wrote that!). May we all place our trust in God this season-- the Advent season and next year's Rangers season! One last text assigned for this Sunday. Hear it as invitation and challenge:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)