Seeking God in the Unexpected Places

This week I have spent much more time on the phone than normal, calling folk who have yet to turn in their anticipated financial commitment to the church for next year. Yes-- you are next on the list-- so why not save everyone the effort and turns yours in Sunday? Thank you! Anyway, I called one of my favorite people in the church to ask about her pledge and she said she would get back to me in a few days. "Great," I said. Then, sort of out of the blue, I asked: "Is there anything I can do for you?" "You can pray for me," was the reply. I said, "I'd love to. What should I pray for?" There was a long pause. There was a trembling sound-- she was crying. I asked, "Can I come over this afternoon and check in on you?" She said that would be nice. So I went to her place and we had a nice visit and made come plans for dealing with her issue. It was a holy moment.

Turns out I've had several of those this week. I've had lunches with devoted members of Oak Lawn to discuss the church's future, a colleague to get some tips on launching small group ministry next year, hospital visits, a random email from an old buddy going through a difficult season, a conversation about dealing with challenges to faith. This week has been filled with opportunities to share God's love, to pray for and with folk, to touch another's life. And many of these moments were sort of hidden under the surface-- a long pause on the phone, a comment inserted into a conversation.

After an administrative meeting last Sunday, I was headed to the hospital to visit a long-time Oak Lawner. I said to another as I left the building: "I've done church work, now I'm going to do the work of the church." I recently read a post from Bishop Ken Carter (Florida area) where he gave several pieces of advice for the Season of Advent (four weeks before Christmas), one of which was, "Do not have administrative meetings in December unless absolutely necessary." [Read the entire post here.] His point was this season is filled with enough distractions, frustrations, and diversions-- so limit whatever additional distractions, frustrations, or diversions you can. Advent, and, fairly quickly, Christmas, will be much more meaningful the quieter, calmer, less hectic your soul is.

Your schedule is probably as full, or more so, than mine this month. We are busy people and there are many things to attend to. Some of these things are important, others not so much. Some of them could probably wait until January. When you feel the days slipping by too fast-- December moves like a bullet train for me every year-- what do you mean it's already December 7?-- seek after the little Advent surprises God is dropping into your life during these days. Pay closer attention to the words spoken during a conversation. Or the body language. Or maybe the voice you should listen hardest for this month is God's, speaking to you.

I love the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer. He was an priest, married to Elizabeth. They were both faithful, elderly people, sort of like Abraham and Sarah-- and just like Sarah, when Zechariah heard from an angel that he and and Elizabeth would have a son, he didn't believe it. Because of this, the angel Gabriel took away Zechariah's ability to speak for the entire pregnancy-- a difficult thing for any preacher, but probably a great blessing to Elizabeth! Anyway, when the boy is formally named John, Zechariah receives the ability to speak again, and here are the first words he says:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days' (Luke 1:68-75).

His first words have nothing to do with the birth of his long-wished for son-- that's the next few verses. His first thought is to see a bigger picture of God working, not just in his own life, but in the life of the whole world, for all time.

During this time of frustration and joy, anticipation and busy-ness, hope and confusion, seek after God. You will find God in the mundane tasks and in the moments of ultimate happiness. God is seeking you in the surprising, unexpected places as much as the obvious ones-- like worship. God is looking for you in the conversation you are really too busy to invest in fully, the office party you really wish you could avoid, even in the pursuit of the perfect gift for Uncle Larry. When you encounter God this Advent-- not if, when-- know that this blessing-- a phone call, the unexpected turn of a conversation, is part of a bigger plan. God is at work in your life, my life, and every life this Advent. If we are quiet, centered, focused enough we will see light of glory breaking in around us.