dry bones

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Advent season has always been happiness for me. Shiny, tinseled, bell-ringing joy. Full of color, full of life, full of fun. I used to long for the day that I could listen to Christmas music and put up all my decorations. Baking, game-playing, parties, carols, presents…I was always ready for the season. To be truthful, though, I was celebrating the dear-sweet-little-baby-Jesus-in-a-manger, Santa-on-the-rooftop cultural Advent. What most people commonly refer to as the Christmas season. (Or now that everything starts before Halloween – the ‘holiday’ season.)

Is that all Advent really is? The happy time that we use to shop for presents and bake cookies to eat with our families on Christmas? Is this why Jesus, the very Word of God, became flesh? Came to dwell among us? To just bring us happy times with our families, full of food and presents? I think we’ve trivialized this season for far too long.

Yesterday, we lit the first Advent candle. One lone flicker to remind us that Jesus is coming. Traditionally, it’s called the Prophet’s Candle or the Candle of Hope. When I think about the prophets in Scripture, I think about darkness. Sadness. Lament. Judgment. They aren’t tremendously fun books to read. The last words in the Old Testament are those of the prophets speaking of judgment. They were dark times. Times of rebellion, brokenness, exile, and suffering.

The words of the prophet Ezekiel that we read yesterday in our worship service:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!

I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons.

Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD.

I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’” (Ezekiel 37)

Cheery, right? Bones. Exactly what you think about when you think about Wonderful Christmastime. So antithetical that our worship leader made an entirely different set list with different Scriptures. Arguing with God about whether it was right. (One thing to explain about our church is that we are a grass-roots community, so to speak. There isn’t one person in charge of the whole service. We sometimes give a general theme, but not always. So when the speaker got up to bring the message and his primary Scripture was this very passage, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s from God.)

It’s really kind of dark. Not your regular happy Christmas celebration. I love that our faith community is comfortable with this part of it. Lament doesn’t scare us. We don’t have to end everything with happiness every time. Sometimes it’s ok to know that some things don’t get better. In truth, as much I want it to be full of lights and sparkles, Advent is just a dark season. We’re longing for God. We’re reaching for hope. We’re waiting on the true Light.

The beauty of the continuing to observe Advent year after year is in the ‘already, but not yet’ part of God’s kingdom. Yes, the prophets spoke darkness, but they also spoke hope. So God’s people waited. The last words of the Old Testament were written, and then they waited. They waited for months, years, decades – they waited for four hundred years before any official recorded word from God. The beauty of that? The next time God spoke – He spoke in flesh. Jesus, the Word of God. That was the next thing God had to say to His people.

He said Jesus.

Jesus, the Light of the World, became flesh to dwell among us.
He came.

And yet…
we are still waiting on Him to come.
It’s already.
It’s not yet.
We’re waiting.

Last year, this time, our family was barely afloat. There was a lot of darkness in our house. I felt that the flickering light of that first lone Advent candle was all the light I could see. This year, I don’t feel immersed in the darkness as much, but I am much more comfortable with the barrenness of this season than I have been in the past. I’ve passed that desire to fill my home with the shiny, pretty things that I used to fill my season with. I’m comfortable with the dry bones. There’s brokenness. There’s suffering. I don’t need to cover it up with all the frosting of the season. This year, I’m ok with barrenness. I’m spending time with the dry bones in my life. I’m acutely aware of the broken pieces of my life, of my family, of our community, of the world. I’m hoping, longing for their redemption and restoration. I’m waiting on the Light.

There’s the beauty of the prophet Ezekiel’s message: our hope is in the Lord. The Lord has spoken. The Lord puts His spirit in us. The Lord breathes life. I don’t have to do it myself. My work is to hope; it’s God’s work to bring life.

In this commercialized holiday season, I don’t have to buy pretty.
In these oh-so-tempting-days of Pinterest, I don’t have to create beauty.
I don’t have to fill my house with shiny things.
I don’t have to manufacture happiness.
I don’t have to fix all that’s broken.

Jesus is coming.
He is Light.
He is beauty.
He is coming to redeem and restore.
He is coming to shower us with grace.
He is coming to be WITH us. Here.
In the valley of dry bones, he is coming to breathe life into us and into all those bones we’re surrounded by. That’s the hope we have during this desolate season of Advent.

Jesus is coming.
We’re waiting.

What are the dry bones you are waiting for the Spirit to breathe life into?
What are you waiting for?

Counting the gifts as I wait:

517. a second visit of much-needed assistance from my Aunt Marcia
518. shipping management so we can get our Christmas trees on time
519. a lot full of beautiful, fragrant Christmas trees
520. the sticky feel of sap on my fingers
521. cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies
522. crispy sausage stuffing
523. ruby red cranberry relish
524. carrying on my Grandpa's legacy
525. that my dad always wears a bike helmet
526. crazy exhausted children
527. expectation and longing of Advent
528. new life for dry bones

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