Advent 2017 - Lamentations

Advent 2017: Lamentations

Typically, the Christmas season is portrayed as a time of boundless celebration, wonder, and joy. There is a steady stream of parties, presents, and tables that overflow with the finest of food and seasonal drink. The lights are hung with precision. The presents are wrapped with sparkle and flair. And the desires of countless children are etched onto physical and digital wish lists. With so much singing and festivity, it is easy to overlook what lies beneath the thin veneer. Even during the Advent season, there is enormous brokenness and pain. Even at Christmas, our world hurts. More than another kitchen gadget or gift card, what we need most is a message that addresses our real stories and our real lives. Drawing from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, what we need are “tidings of comfort and joy.”

For the Advent season this year, we are turning to an unconventional source of wisdom: the Old Testament book of Lamentations.  This short, five-chapter book tucked away in often unread places, is poetic lament. It is a creative yet devastating declaration of honesty about the destruction of Jerusalem during the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC. In its historic sense, it captures the essence of the Jewish condition before the coming of Jesus in a poem. They were a people of exile who were crying out in their pain for help. And their cries, like our own, are only fully answered by the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem. During this Advent season, we are looking to reclaim the lost art of lament that prepares us more deeply to see the comfort and joy of Jesus, the incarnated expression of God’s steadfast love. Honest, unbridled lament is a perfect backdrop to discover the true wonder of Christmas.

"A Matter of Life & Death" Mark 14:1-9

As the old year comes to a close and we pivot to 2018, we consider a story told in Mark’s Gospel of a woman anointing Jesus with precious oil worth a year’s wages.  While the disciples scold the woman for the waste, Jesus praises her, indicating that she is preparing Him for His burial.  What can we learn from this encounter?  What does it mean that the very author of life and creation was himself preparing to die?  How do we follow a teacher such as this?

"Happily Ever After?" Lamentations 4-5 (Advent 2017: Lamentations - Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

In our "fairy-tale" world, we absolutely love it when we and those around us live "happily ever after." We want happy endings, resolution, and tension relived. In terms of Lamentations, we would much prefer the book to end with Lamentations 3:22-24 with words of hope, covenant faithfulness and mercy. However, instead of ending there, the book goes on for 2 more chapters of lament over the brutal fall of Jerusalem. Although this may feel like a dreary ending as the book limps to a close, it is actually quite helpful to spotlight certain areas and themes that we tend to not handle very well. As we walk through the final 2 chapter of the book of Lamentations, we will hopefully recapture the value of repetition, repentance, and delay. Some things are too important to move past quickly.

"When Hope Dies" Lamentations 3:1-66 (Advent 2017: Lamentations-Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

Lamentations chapter 3 is not only the middle poem of this book of laments, it is also considered by scholars to be the climatic centerpiece. In theme and structure (it is 3 times longer than the other 22 verse chapters), all eyes are drawn to its message. Shifting from funeral dirge to personal lament, Chapter 3 involves the personified voice of the "suffering man" who finally hits rock bottom. In fact, by the end of verse 18, he declares that hope is dead and that he can no longer endure. But rather than ending in the bleak dark, the rest of Lamentations offers a glimmer of hope. And in a battle of memories, the Poet calls to mind God's covenant love and His personal touch. As we work through Lamentations 3, we discover the only path to hope's resurrection.

"Good News, Bad News" - Lamentations 2:1-22 (Advent 2017: Lamentations - Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

Moving into chapter 2 of Lamentations, we are once again confronted with the pain and agony of the author's lament. Due to the crushing fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, Lamentations 2 is filled with all sorts of news: painful news, bad news, and good news. In all of its poetic pain and beauty, there is one person that the author holds responsible for the unfolding chaos: God. How do you respond when you discover that God is your enemy? What do we have to hold on to? In judgment and in blessing, God is faithful to His covenant word.

"Finding Her Voice" - Lamentations 1:1-22 (Advent 2017: Lamentations - Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

This week we begin our Advent series for 2017 by beginning to venture into the opening chapter of the book. After a brief introduction about the what, why, and how of Lamentations, we will focus on the two features of chapter 1. It is (1) a funeral dirge with (2) a feminine voice that is lamenting the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Often times we either avoid lament or don't know how to do it well because we feel uncomfortable expressing our hurts, frustrations, and disappointments to God. Yet, to be a healthy church, we need to re-discover the balance of both praise and lament. This question that guides us this week is: "What painful events do we need to name and give voice to? Without our honest expression, we lose the true longing for God's Messiah Son and His healing.