Blog Series: God is Near. God is Now.
Recovering the radical hope of the Advent and Christmas seasons has vast implications for how our congregations or alternative ministry contexts see themselves, the world, God’s presence, and how to move forward in turbulent times.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:2-5
My daughter turns 21 today. On November 14th, 2002, I was in the hospital having my first child – and in that moment, everything changed. Everything I thought I knew about life shifted the minute she came into the world. Everything I thought I knew about childbirth shifted and changed the minute my water broke. Everything I thought I knew about raising daughters shifted and changed when the daughter was mine. As a former youth minister, I thought I had it all figured out already. I had been advising parents on how to raise their teenagers, even though I never had one. As a faithful religious educator, I had been telling Sunday School teachers how to be sure that the kids we were teaching would grow up and become good Christians. Ah…how little I knew when I was young.
And now, my baby girl is 21. A legal adult, completely ready and prepared to take on the world, just like I was when I turned 21 a few years ago. Maybe she is now “mature and complete…” as James notes in his letter to the young communities of faith who were starting to follow Jesus.
Every ounce of me wants to continue to protect her from the trials and tribulations of the world so that she can have a good and safe life, never having to experience disappointments, disasters, or despair. That’s what most parents want for their children, right? The greatest gift we can give our children is faith, love, and hope. And as the community of faith who was there at her baptism, we should be devoted along with the parents to orient her towards hope. An endless hope that will sustain her through every trial she may face. That is our role as the Christian Church.
The author of James knew how important it was to give the small burgeoning Christian communities hope in the midst of their trials and tribulations. Scholars say that the author, James, was the older brother of Jesus who led the Jerusalem Council, the early Jewish Christian church that had started to gather around the teachings of Jesus. They were being ostracized by their Jewish communities because they were doing things differently. They were not accepted by the Gentile communities because they were not like the other religious communities they were used to dealing with. And so, we’ve got people who thought they had everything figured out, and now they were being rejected and persecuted. Hope was not at the forefront of their everyday lives. But James was trying to send them a message of hope and perseverance. He was trying to remind them that if they keep staying faithful and walking through the trials and tribulations together, they will find a deeper type of wisdom that can only come from a God who “gives generously to all without finding fault.” (James 1:5) This kind of wisdom is the lasting kind of wisdom that helps all of us navigate the unknown challenges that life throws our way.
It’s an experiential kind of wisdom that can’t be gained just by reading about it. It’s the experiential kind of wisdom that God offers through the challenges we walk through, think about, learn from, and then pass on to others in our lives. Yes – our children need to have some of the experiences too, but if they learn from what we learned, then the challenges they face ought to be a little less intense because they have the wisdom of our experience and the power of Christ to guide them.
The Ministry Collaborative team had a robust conversation about maturing faith and the spiral of life that moves us from moments and experiences of disorientation to reorientation and into an orientation of life that recognizes how we mature in faith and gain wisdom. This wisdom helps us recognize that when we fully lean into our God, then we will not lack anything we need in this life, or the next. This posture that James invites us to take centers us to the core of our humanity and allows us to navigate all the moments of disorientation in our life with joy, creativity, and grace.
I truly trust that God is and will continue to walk with my daughter as she matures in every way the world tells her to. I truly trust that God will help her find her center and her core as she navigates the “trials of many kinds” that life will inevitably throw her way. And I truly trust that the community of faith where she was raised will walk with her, offering her the glimmers of God’s hope in everything she sees and does. That’s what the Christian community is all about. Even when the Christian community itself faces the moments that test our faith, we know how to persevere, ask questions, and seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to guide us every step of the way. That’s the church, and on our best days, that’s what we do. Let’s keep striving for our best days for the sake of the newly minted 21-year-olds in our world today!