Hope in the Age of Darkness: Gifts of the Incarnation
I still remember the first time it happened.
Those who know me well know that I have a tendency to want everything done a certain way. I tend to worry a lot about appearance and first impressions. So early in my ministry, I spent a great deal of time making sure everything was done right in worship and, having grown up in a mid-sized church like Wellspring, I was never quite happy with the lack of resources or talent to pull off certain things in churches that were way smaller than my home church. I would then try and compensate by doing something with greater deliberation and intensity.
In time, I had grown so accustomed to worrying about the particulars that I could not answer one of my early mentors who asked me if I actually worshiped while leading worship. I started to shrug off the question by saying, “Sure I do.” But something in his eyes kept me thinking. I asked what he saw, and he said that, from what he could tell, I never spoke as if I were actually engaged in worship as much as I focused on creating worship that was engaging for other people.
Some of us worship as if waiting for the surprise; others of us go on as if there is no surprise to be had only to be shaken awake when the surprise unfolds.
He was right. Then there was that one Sunday etched into memory. At that time, I was on the staff of a church that was nearer the size of my home church, but I still spent so much time in the details of worship that I really never had paid attention. So there I sat as the choir began to sing and arrangement of “I Surrender All,” when it felt as if God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I’m right here. You can let it go. Embrace the moment and be lost in worship.”
And I worshiped as if for the very first time. With all the words I could come up with, it was finally an ineffable moment … a moment where words have no meaning and only detract. It was in a moment that had begun as rather perfunctory, yet it became a moment rife with the spirit of God inviting me to experience holy presence in a way I had not previously done. Some of us worship as if waiting for the surprise; others of us go on as if there is no surprise to be had only to be shaken awake when the surprise unfolds.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, in an earlier time, had prayed they would be able to have a child, but their efforts at conception were never successful. Culturally, they were considered inferior if they did not bear at least one child. As they aged, they realized it was just never going to happen.
At this point in their life, they had given up hope. The simply went about their lives doing the tasks that were expected of them in that day and time. One of those tasks was that Zechariah, who was a descendant of the priestly order of Abijah, was going about his duties in the temple.
Then it happened! He suddenly saw an image of Gabriel, and he heard this incredible announcement that Elizabeth was to conceive a child who would herald the coming of the Christ into the world. But this could not be. They were both too old. The angel told Zechariah that his inability to grasp what he was being told meant that he would be incapable of speaking about it until the child was born.
In a darkened world, it may seem impossible to see where God is at work. When so many people are acting out against one another, each claiming that God is on their side, some find it easy just to walk away without looking further. So where is God?
Breathe into the palm of your hand. Do you feel it? There are no words to adequately describe what you feel, but you know you feel it. This is God who stands with us in the darkness … who is with us even when we fail to believe it … who is in solidarity with us, no matter how dark and hopeless the world may seem.
Don’t worry about the words. The experience is enough.
Lord, we don’t know how to describe the moments when you reveal yourself to us and when you proclaim to be real that which we had labeled “impossible.” Be made known to us. Give us eyes to see you and words to hear you in the time of confusion and darkness. Amen.