An Expectant Hush: an Advent Reflection

By Shannon Youell

In the midst of Advent—the season where we reflect upon God-with-Us in the incarnation of Jesus, in His kingdom both now and yet to come, through his Spirit, and through the expectation of Jesus the King coming again to rule and reign in the new heavens and earth foreverwe can find ourselves once again asking, how do we rest in the wonder of this miraculous event? The demands of the season have us rushing through malls, to parties, to surpassing our neighbour’s outdoor light display, all of which compels us to spend more money on more things that we likely didn’t really need in the first place.   

I love this quote from an unknown source: “Let’s approach Christmas with an expectant hush rather than a lastminute rush.” At first glance, this appears to be an oxymoron:  how can we possibly rest and find quiet to listen and reflect when there are so many expectations upon us? No wonder we miss the expectation and the wonder of this time, replacing it with the idol of consumerism that distracts us from Jesus as our Lord and the Savior of the world.

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The cultural norms of today have deflected our expectancy far away from the Advent Expectancy and we have unconsciously allowed it to become a lord in our life that displaces Jesus as Lord of all and sets His Lordship as a side dish to the Christmas Feast. 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we are reminded that God is bringing “all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). He is bringing all things together so that all things are one. One God, One body, together sharing One-ness in our With-Ness. Residing within that oneness we find hope, peace, joy and a love that surpasses all human understanding.  

What does Advent and the Christmas celebration look like through the lens of One-ness, of our God-With-Us? I imagine it looks a lot like the Shema, the “Hear, O People of God” that Jesus exhorted as the most important thing to lean into if we truly want to be faithfully present in our lives, our work, our neighbourhoods and our places of worship and gathering: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). 

This is the journey we are on, in all seasons of course, but in this one season, celebrating the birth, the habitation of God-With-Us on earth, this one we take back from the distortions, distractions and misdirections and reframe it in the very words of Jesus, our Lord and Savior in this world where God has been and is bringing all things back together again.

With-Us

By Shannon Youell

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God-With-Us.  Incarnated.  Spirit takes on flesh.  The Lord is born to earth.  Christ.

All the Christmas stories have now been re-told.  The waiting, the expectation has come.

As sure as the sun will rise in the sky each morning

As sure as the God-With-Us Son walks with us,

In the midst of human-living in dark places where grief, despair, desperation dwell

in hollowed hidden crevices,

Light has come to define these deepest sorrows to shadow

Only shadow

For on earth there is peace to all peoples

On whom God’s heart is resting.

The tender mercy of God

Filling the hungry with good things,

Lifting up the humble, the rejected, the excluded

Restoring to creation intention the God-With-Us

Glory of Created walking in the cool of the day with Creator

In Thy will on earth splendor

Christ the Savior present – With-Us – 

Guiding the weary to green pastures, quiet waters

Restoring souls, hearts, hope, joy

For on earth there is peace that God-With-us-Will-Never-Leave-Us

Alone

For darkness is but a shadow

Waiting for the light

Light of the world

With-Us.

 

Merry Christmas from CBWC Church Planting!

What ARE we Planting Part IV: In A Neighbourhood

By Shannon Youell

Church planting is developing an expression of God’s kingdom in a neighbourhood.

In the beautiful and familiar passage of John chapter one sits one of my favorite verses: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message this way, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14).

CC Lauren Wellicome

God, in Jesus, moved into the neighbourhood!  He went to the local school, shopped at the nearby shops, visited over the fence with his immediate neighbours, went to barn dances at the local community center, memorized the Torah at the local synagogue. He lived there, right there, God with skin on, where humanity, created in His image, lived. And He lives in my neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood. He dwells among the world He so loves and His presence invites all to participate with Him in the ministry of reconciliation.

I love this image as it helps me understand and re-see that God is already at work in the places around me. What does that mean for us as we wrestle with God and imagine with Him where he is already at work in our neighbourhoods? And where, exactly, is the neighbourhood where we are to develop this expression of God’s kingdom? Is it the neighbourhood where the building is that we gather for worship? Or the one in which we live? Or work? Or where the jogging trail, the coffee shop, the grocery store that we frequent during the week are?

Perhaps, the answer is the same answer Jesus gave when the Pharisee asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus’ short answer: the people right in front of you! Right where you have been placed. Right where you are. This is where each of us, as image-bearers of Christ, are compelled by love of neighbour to develop an expression of God’s kingdom.

We form relationships with those around us, in communities whose health and well-being affect our own health and well-being, because, as we are reminded in Jeremiah, we are not set in a place to endure until heaven, but to “seek the peace of prosperity [of the place I’ve put you]. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (29:7).

Eugene Peterson takes us on a journey of “a conversation in spiritual theology”—the subtitle of his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. The book is an amazing read, but I want to focus our attention on his observations about place in his chapter titled “Christ Plays in Creation.” He talks about how God created place for humans and it is local. It is wherever we are. And it’s not perfect; there’s a serpent slithering around. Peterson writes this:

This place, this garden, is not utopia, is not an ideal no-place.  It is simply place, locale, geography, geology.  But it is also a good place, Eden, because it provides the form by which we can live to the glory of God (page 74).  

And a few pages later he acknowledges, “Getting to know the neighbourhood, the nature and conditions of the neighbourhood, is fundamental to living to the glory of God.  It is slow and complex work” (page 78).

Pepe Pont CC BY-ND 2.0

I wonder that much of our wrestling to define neighbour and neighbourhood has to do with what we need to come to terms with.  Developing places where the glory of God is seen does take some slow, often tedious, and complex work.  It requires commitment and shared heart with God about who he loves. t demands dying to what Peterson calls “self-enclosed” lives—to opening ourselves up to an adventure of learning who is around us, and where the gospel story intersects in their own stories.  It means putting aside what we think is needed and discover together, in a neighbourhood, what is needed to usher in God’s shalom that brings healing, hope and goodness to that place.

In urban planning and developing we are seeing an intentionality in reclaiming community. In reconnecting neighbourhoods to shopping and recreation and community issues. As Christ Followers, we should be doing the same—looking neighbourhoods as places we already live, work, play and pray in. But just like in urban planning, we must be intentional. We must make an effort and take a step out of our comfort zone.

Is there a local community issue? Attend the meetings, research all sides, get to know all people involved.

Help out cleaning up the parks; participating, not just attending, local community celebrations; read to kids at schools; do a bakery or grocery pick up run for your local food bank once a week.

Make an effort: engage, encourage. Be intentional. Get to know the people around you. Start walking your neighbourhood, your local community. Chances are you might run into God taking a leisurely walk down the same streets as you.

I could share with you some stories of those who have committed themselves to this type of intentionality in their place of context, but how about you tell some of yours with all of us.

Send us a story over the next few weeks to encourage, inspire and equip us to join God where He lives…in our neighbourhoods!

Shannon Youell
CBWC Church Planting Coordinator
syouell@cbwc.ca

What Christmas Teaches Us About Church Planting

Did you ever consider that Christmas could have an impact on how we do church planting? Christmas is the holiday, but Jesus Christ is the message of the holiday. His life and how He lived it is the ultimate instruction for how we, too, should live.

Image credit colinjcampbell

Image credit colinjcampbell

We certainly should strive to keep Christ in Christmas, but we can also strive to keep Christmas in Church Planting.

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us (Isaiah 9:6).

See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).

The principle that Christ and Christmas teach us about church planting is the necessity to go to where the people are. Jesus left the glory and comforts of heaven to be “with us.” Since Jesus gave us the example of incarnational living, it is necessary for us to go to the people who so desperately need Him. Past are the days when we can hang out a sign and say, “ya’ll come.”

His last instruction to those He entrusted with the job was, “Go into all the world…” It may be difficult and uncomfortable to cross streets or cross cultures, but reaching people with the good news of salvation and seeing new churches begun requires that we leave our homes and church buildings and go to where the people are.

What other elements of Christ’s incarnation story speak to Church Planting? Share your thoughts.

Adapted from Ken Weathersby’s article “What Christmas teaches us about Church Planting”