Monday, November 28, 2011

An Advent Reflection

For those of you who follow the Christian calendar, you'll already know that yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. In keeping with what has become a tradition at my church for several years now, we released an Advent Devotional booklet for our members, with a different reflection written by members of our community for each day from now until Christmas. Upon volunteering to write such a reflection for this year's booklet, I was asked to work with Isaiah 49:1-7. The following was edited slightly* and included in the book for December 10th, but I'm going to go ahead and post it here today to kick off the season.

"I have wearied myself in vain.
  I have used up my strength
  for nothing...."

We sympathize with the servant in this verse. Even when we work hard at what God wants us to do, it still seems like nothing changes. The world keeps going on much as it had been before we started. We ask ourselves, if God wants things to change, and we have indeed acted faithfully, working so hard to change things, why does it seem that there has been so little change?

But perhaps the change has been greater than we realize. I've been a fan of North Carolina-based singer-songwriter David LaMotte since just before I started college. At one of his concerts, he pointed out that we actually influence the world every day. Our friends make different decisions because we know them. If we're married, our spouses become different people for agreeing to share their lives with us—and vice-versa! If we have kids, the amount of influence we have on who they become is incalculable. And each of these influences ripples out to the friends that they meet, the people they marry, the kids they have, and so on and so on through the contacts each of those people make. Not only can we change the world, we actually can't help but change the world by virtue of our having been in it!

So, just like the servant discovers in verses 6 and 7, God turns things around. Even though we feel like we're not doing anything at all, God not only calls us to do—but in fact God will do, though our actions—amazing things.

*To be honest, at least one edit the church made was an improvement on my original draft, going ahead and providing the verse I was focusing on in the text rather than making folks look it up, and so I've included that change here (although I use the CEB translation, rather than the one they used). The main thing they left out that I originally had wanted included was a footnote, letting folks know where to find David LaMotte's current web site: davidlamotte.com, as well as his previous blog site "World Changing 101," which would have provided specific examples of how LaMotte demonstrates the kinds of changes we can make in the world around us. I especially recommended his "White Flour Poem." I knew when I included the footnote that such footnotes were unusual for this kind of devotional, but thought it was important that people have more than just LaMotte's name if I was going to cite his argument for how we have more of an influence on our world than we often think. Apparently, I was unable to communicate the need for that inclusion in the e-mail I sent them with my entry, but at least I can share those links with readers here! If you're interested in reading the full Advent Devotional, it can be found at this link on the Knox Presbyterian Church website.

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