Advent Blog Post 4 - by Lauren Cooper
2 Samuel 7:1-16
A couple of weeks ago marked four years that we’ve lived in our current house near Garfield Park. As I reflected on that, I realized that four years is the longest I’ve lived in any house--ever. While I’ll admit to wanderlust deep in my bones, I had never considered myself quite so nomadic until I started doing the math. But we did move every few years when I was growing up (across the country twice and then blocks away). And living in both Chicago and Seattle for ten years after college meant a regular shuffle of roommates and apartments. Total count? 19. So needless to say, home as a location has always felt kind of temporary.
All that said, I do like the idea of home being something more permanent and I understand the desire of King David in 2 Samuel 7. Feeling comfortable and settled in his own home, David declares that he wants to build a permanent house for God, replacing the portable tabernacle that was housing the Ark of the Covenant. But, through Nathan, the Lord tells David that this isn’t what we wants. In fact, we know that David’s son Solomon did build a temple, but it was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. A physical dwelling won’t work—and isn’t necessary.
What message does David get in response?
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
What does this look like? Through Jesus, God provides His permanent presence in a house that stands forever. Not the physical building, obviously, but through us. The house—His kingdom—that will stand forever is the community of believers in whom the Holy Spirit lives. We are the living stones, providing structure for this spiritual house and—because of Jesus—making an impact that far outlasts anything physical or temporary.
When I reflect on every place I’ve lived, I realize that it’s really never the building that make a place feel like home. And length of time in a place doesn’t necessarily mean anything either. It’s always something that rises above anything physical or tangible. When I think about my college semester in London (which, though my shortest residence, remains the most magical five months of my life), what made it feel like home in such a short time had nothing to do with my tiny dorm room. It was the non-sanctioned bonfires in the back field with our new English friends, where we’d laugh at the strangeness of ourselves and share secrets until the sun started peeking up over the horizon. And still, it was temporary—and it fades over time.
During this season of Advent, we’re reminded that in a world full of temporary things, God provides something permanent that can satisfy the longings of our hearts. As we wait and anticipate and sit in our weariness this December, we are comforted by the knowledge that, through the birth of Jesus, God gives us His permanent love. A love that is intentional, enduring, and without condition. It’s this permanent feeling of home that we hope for through a covenant that lasts forever.
Advent Blog Post 3 - by Nancy Vander Meer
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The year 2020 was like none most of us ever imagined. So many of our sisters and brothers at Alger Park Church experienced disappointments and frustrations this past year, exacerbated by COVID-19 and political situations. We all kept waiting for good news to come, for the weeks and months—and the year—to just be over. Yet sometimes it seemed like the news kept getting worse.
I don’t know many people who like to wait, especially through difficult times. In challenging situations, we are tempted (and often succumb) to blaming God. “Where are You, God? Why are You allowing this pain, these disappointments, the setbacks? We believe the everlasting covenant You’ve made with us (Isaiah 61:8), but we aren’t seeing it. It’s a little (or a lot!) difficult to rejoice and praise You right now (v. 10). My faith is faltering.”
Ah, but isn’t that exactly when our faith grows? When we see God being faithful no matter the circumstances. Even when we can’t see His immediate plan, we stand rock solid on God’s truth and past experiences of His faithfulness. During some deep disappointments in my earlier years, I held on to the encouragement in a song by Pam Thumb. The chorus kept repeating, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.”
Our pastors have often reminded us to look for God’s big picture. I imagine this Sunday they’ll explain how the people of God in Isaiah 61 were able to go from the ashes to crowns; from mourning to joy, from a spirit of despair to a garment of praise. Because Yahweh is the faithful covenant God who keeps His promises.
We may have to wait for the bigger big picture in the circumstances we are struggling with. We will have to wait for the perfection of Christ’s kingdom here on earth. But while we’re waiting, God continues to send glimpses of His grace, and reminders of His faithfulness, even—or especially—through the difficult times. We can now look for and see the Greater Good News that Jesus came to earth to dwell among us (John 1:14); to experience everything and anything we might be going through (Hebrews 4:14-24); to proclaim the Good News to the poor, brokenhearted, prisoners in darkness, mourners (Isaiah 61:1). He is waiting with us, and that gives amazing hope.
In what ways are you seeing God at work in your time of waiting?
Advent Blog Post 2 - by Jamie Reynolds
There’s something a little bit magical about Advent as a child: four weeks of candles, carols, and stories at church while colored lights, ornamented trees, and ribboned gifts pop up everywhere else. Advent is a marathon of anticipation, of waiting, and Christmas is the finish line. However, as an adult, I feel like I have become painfully aware that when we do finally reach Christmas Day, our waiting is actually far from over. When Jesus was born, humanity’s initial wait for the arrival of the Savior indeed came to an end. But when Jesus died and rose, when Jesus ascended to return to God in heaven, we began waiting anew – waiting for him to come once again, to complete the work of redemption he began in the manger.
At the end of a year like this one, that thought can make Advent feel a bit like poor comfort. We are living through a pandemic that has upended our lives, devastated families, and impoverished countless people in the midst of heartbreaking political and racial unrest. On days when our world is so obviously broken, it can feel like Christ’s Birth just isn’t enough. Jesus came to save us – an act of extreme grace that, without question, merits every ounce of celebration that we can pour out – but I also find myself yearning so deeply for The Rest of It. I’m ready for that second part, the Big Finish where Jesus comes back and, as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “make[s] all the sad things come untrue.” I am ready for the fulfillment of comfort, not just the promise that comfort is coming.
Those feelings can make God’s words to Isaiah in the midst of Israel’s own devastation into a bit of an emotional roller coaster. While I feel such relief at God’s command that Isaiah declare bold, tender, and certain comfort to his people, to joyfully “cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned,” that “ Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low,” that “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,” I look around me and ask the anguished question of, “But when? When?”
Somehow, in the midst of that anguish, the comfort refuses to evaporate completely, like an echo remaining just within earshot. Maybe at times like this, the comfort comes when we whisper fervently in the depths of our hearts, “This is not the way things are supposed to be!” and the Spirit whispers back, “Oh, my child. I know.” Maybe Advent is the time when we celebrate that whisper, when we cling to it, waiting for its completion, its fulfillment. We wait to celebrate the comfort of Christmas – the comfort that the end of our divine separation began with the birth of a tiny baby, and that redemption is still in motion – even as we wait some more for the day of Reunion, when comfort will finally come in its full and complete form.