Advent

We Know How This Story Will End! (An Advent Meditation)

Arrival Web Banner With Logo This is an Advent reflection written by Krissy Kludt, a writer, storyteller, mom, wife, and artist at Open Door.

Before our son Everett was born, I was a seventh grade English teacher. Every year, my students wrote narratives. They wrote about super hero ninjas fighting evil nachos, time-travel to the Jurassic age, and, in the Twilight years, lots of teenaged damsels falling in love with vampires. The one common thread was that each story was to follow a traditional narrative arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. My students had learned these terms in sixth grade, and probably in elementary school as well, but the terminology was difficult for them to retain. The one term I could always count on them to remember was “climax.”

“It’s the most exciting part!” they would shout, usually just as I was writing the word on the white board above the arc I’d drawn for the lesson.

“That’s part of the definition,” I would say. “But there are often many exciting moments in a narrative. How do you know which one is the climax?”

This question usually stumped them. We read a few stories and found the climax in each. We talked about how the climax was not in the middle of the story, it was closer to the end. And, with the help of the textbook, we found this secret: the climax is the point at which the eventual outcome of the story becomes clear.

The home team scores a tie-breaking goal. The wizard appears on the crest of the hill at dawn, flanked with reinforcements. The heroine halts at airport security and makes her way back through the crowd. These are the moments of climax. There is still a game to finish, a battle to be fought, a relationship to mend, but this is the point at which we know how the story will end.

We live our lives in the falling action. The climax is over: Jesus, our Savior, has come! He was born a tiny baby in a stable, he lived a life of love and grace and challenge and peacemaking and turned the world upside down, and then he died. But here is the key: he rose! He was lifted up, tortured, forsaken, and killed, but that was not the end; it was only the beginning of the climax, because three days later he appeared in a garden, alive and breathing, walking among the trees. Death saw the writing on the wall and knew how all of this would end. So do we.

We live in the falling action. We know how our story will resolve – peace and love and grace and the whole world made new – but we are not there yet. We are in the in-between, the ushering in of the already-not-yet-kingdom. The way we live in this in-between time matters a great deal, but it will not change the final outcome of the story, because the events that determined that outcome have already unfolded. Now, in peace and love and grace and kindness, we are to live our way into the resolution. The goal has been scored, the wizard has come, the heroine has turned; God came in the flesh, conquered death, and is both here now and coming back again. This is the knowledge that allows us to live in hope and anticipation, in Advent.

Last night I drove in the dark to Bekah’s house for a night of creativity with our Circle. I had just gotten word of a tragedy in the life of a friend-of-a-friend, and my heart ached with the knowledge that all is not right with the world. Then, as I turned onto Bekah’s street, I saw three deer grazing in front of a house. The house was dark, unlike many others already lit by Christmas lights. The deer stopped, and I stopped, and we looked at each other. Clouds rolled over the moon. The deer flicked their ears and time slowed down. We acknowledged each other in our waiting.

This is Advent: the time in the dark before the glittery lights and the Christmas songs. The stopping, the waiting, the acknowledgement that all is not as it is supposed to be. The glimmer of moonlight cutting through the clouds in reassurance: we know how this story will end.

I am hopeful for us this Advent. Christmas is coming; it is here and not-yet-here. Jesus has come and gone (but not gone) and is coming again. We live in a world marked by despair, mourning, chaos and apathy, but we know that hope and joy and peace and love are coming and that they are here, now. Let’s watch for them, cling to them, and usher them in. Let’s be glimmers of moonlight in the dark.

Let us wait in hope.

Elizabeth's New Album and the Journey of The Arrival

These last two Sundays marked the beginning of our Advent journey called The Arrival. This series was crafted around the new musical work by Elizabeth, our Pastor of Worship, and the traditional themes that mark the Advent journey. Her album is available for purchase here and details about her Bay Area Christmas Concert on December 12 are here. Elizabeth writes this about her album:

ehunnicuttsmAs I planned for this record I had a desire to not only sing Christmas songs, but also songs for the season of Advent – a season of longing and waiting. Though Christ has already come, we remain in a world that is not yet perfect. We long for things to be made right, and for the day when Christ will come again. “The Arrival” is a mix of both songs that cry out for things to be restored, and songs that celebrate that God is now with us. Half of the songs on the album originals and the other half are remakes of some of my personal Christmas favorites, including “O Holy Night.”

As Elizabeth notes, there exists a tension between what's already happened (Jesus' birth) and what is yet to come (the world being made right). This is the mystery and beauty of Advent, an integral part of our dream to see heaven and earth woven together again.

Each week throughout our teaching series, we've paired a theme or characteristic of Advent with Scripture using a guiding song from Elizabeth's album. In this way, Elizabeth's album is more than the soundtrack or accompaniment to our Advent journey; the journey has actually been shaped by the music that's been stirring throughout her creative process.

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We'll be singing and learning from these songs together as we move towards Christmas and we'd love for you to journey through this season using Elizabeth's album as a key resource. It will shape our collective journey as well as your personal journey towards Christmas and the reality of the world God is creating through Jesus.

The Arrival of The Arrival

This Sunday marks the arrival of The Arrival! The Arrival is our Advent teaching series crafted to coincide with the release of Elizabeth's Advent/Christmas album of the same name.

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In this Advent journey, we'll consider what it is that we're waiting for as we approach Christmas. What is it that Jesus brought to this world and what is our role in God's unfolding arrival?

November 09 - Tenses of Advent (+ Post-Gathering Dinner at Extreme Pizza) November 16 - Presence in Distance (Isaiah 64:1-9) November 23 - Hope in Despair (Isaiah 40:1-11) November 30 - Joy in Mourning (Isaiah 61:1-11, Psalm 126) (+ Post-Gathering Open Door Square One Orientation) December 07 - Peace in Chaos (2 Samuel 7:1-16) December 12  - Elizabeth Hunnicutt Christmas Concert (Friday night, ticketed event) December 14 - Love in Apathy (Psalm 89, Luke 1:46-55) (featuring Open Door Kids!) December 21 - East Bay Service Projects + Dinner Together (Details forthcoming) December 24 - Christmas Eve Morning Service (Wednesday at 11AM)

Copies of Elizabeth's album and tickets to her December 12 Christmas concert will be sold throughout the Advent season at Open Door.

Egypt Transcript

In Eden, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man were one and the same.  Heaven and Earth were woven together such that they were indistinguishable.  God and humanity walked together in the garden.  And it was very good. But sin and death were invited into the story by man’s disobedience, tearing heaven and earth apart and leaving man east of Eden.  East, and moving further east.

Graciously, God chose not to end the story.  God allowed the story to spin forward, granting man our freedom to choose death over life, lies over the truth, and ourselves over Him.  Often, man does choose these things.  And God hates it.

But still, mankind was allowed to breathe the air God had given them.  Still, mankind was granted the freedom and the capability to tend to God’s good creation.

And it wasn’t long before God’s love led Him to begin inviting those broken, rebellious beings, who still bare His image, to join with Him in the work of redemption.  God began a scandalous and costly rescue effort, seemingly determined to see heaven and earth reunited in love and unity and peace.

God started His rescue with a man named Abraham.

Abraham was invited by God to leave the comfort of his home and to start a family in a new land.  God promised to multiply this family out into a great nation.

This nation was going to be blessed by God – a picture of what it looks like when heaven meets earth again.  And then, this nation was meant to turn around and bless all other nations, that one day all people might once again walk with God.

Abraham was unsure.  He was old and had no children.  So God gave him a sign of the promise, or covenant, that He had in mind.

In accordance with the customs of the day, Abraham was instructed to split three animals in two, creating a bloody pathway between the halves of the animals for each party to walk between.  By walking between the animals, both parties committed to a covenant with one another, with the understanding that their own blood would be spilled if their end of the covenant wasn’t maintained.

But God did a startling thing.  As Abraham sat and watched, God appeared as a smoking oven and a burning torch, and he walked back and forth between the animals Himself.    God invited Abraham and the nation that would emerge from Him into a covenant… and then He signed it unilaterally. God was obviously confident in His own ability to live up to the agreement, and then put His own blood on the line on behalf of Abraham and his descendents.

And God said to Abraham, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

Abraham took God at His word, and God lived up to His.  Abraham had sons, who had sons of their own… and the nation of Israel was born.

But God also knew what He was talking about when He predicted four hundred years of slavery.  Abraham’s grandson Jacob, who received the name “Israel” after wrestling with God and demanding a blessing, eventually had 12 sons of his own.  Out of jealousy, 11 of them turned on Jacob’s favorite son Joseph, selling him to Egyptian slave traders and returning to their father with a blood stained coat and a lie about their brother’s untimely death.

And so, even among God’s chosen people, the story of Cain, Abel and fallen humanity continued to wreck havoc, through jealousy, betrayal and death.

Although God was gracious to Joseph, even allowing him to rise to power and influence in Egypt, God’s people and the Egyptian empire were now entwined with one another.  Eventually, out of fear of Israel’s growing numbers, the Egyptians enslaved God’s people.

And so, generation after generation after generation… nothing changed.  Generation after generation after generation, God’s people were strangers in a country not their own.  They were enslaved and mistreated.

Every day was like the day before.  Soon, there was no one left who could remember life before slavery.  Then, there was no one left who could remember a descendent who knew life before slavery.  Lives began and ended in the same place under the same circumstances, knowing nothing but the despair of days that were always the same as the day before, every day after day after day until their days ran out.

But generation after generation after generation, a story was passed down.  One of a forefather named Abraham, and a promise.  A promise that offered hope and courage - that God would not wait forever to stand up for His people Israel.  Generation after generation after generation, parents would whisper it to children, over paltry meals and under the harsh desert sun.  With backs stinging from the whips of their captors, they would tell the story of a God that would one day show up for his people.  Through beads of sweat dripping into the mud as cracked hands went about the endless work of brick making, they would tell the story.  Through the tears of grieving mothers and families sold apart, they would tell the story.

One day, God will stand up.  One day, He will say “No more!”  One day, we will come out of this hardship with great possessions.

Just wait.

Just hold on.

Because the day is coming when heaven will touch earth again, and the furious judgment of the God of Abraham will set this all of this right.

And then, after hundreds of years, a change finally came.  But it got worse before it got better.

Seeing that the Jews continued increasing in number, Egypt’s Pharaoh began to worry that they might revolt and overthrow their captors.  So, he decreed that a generation of Jewish baby boys were to be put to death.

During this time of anguish for God’s people, a Jewish woman had a son named Moses.  Desperate that her son not fall into the hands of the Egyptians, she placed him in a basket and floated him down the river.  Ironically, he was discovered by an Egyptian – in fact by Pharaoh’s own daughter – who saved him and raised him into the royal family.  Like Joseph, Moses found himself rising improbably into Egyptian royalty.

One day, when he was grown up, Moses decided to go out and see the condition of his people.  And he saw one of his own, one of God’s chosen, being beaten by an Egyptian slave-driver.

Moses was enraged at the sight.  He was overcome by the injustice of it.  By a stroke of luck, he had lived a free life… but how long before God’s justice would come for all Jews, for his fellow countrymen?

Seeing no one around, Moses decided to take justice into his own hands. 

He knocked the Egyptian to the ground and struck him, and then struck again.  Knuckles exploded into hard bone, and soon the flesh between split and gave way to warm blood.  Moses felt the man weakening, and he struck harder still, an animalistic grunt rising from his gut and cutting through the air each time his fist landed.

He didn’t relent until lifeless eyes stared back at him.  The man stopped resisting, and his body slumped into the warm, red puddle beneath him.

Moses buried the man in the sand, and wiped the blood from his hands.

Soon, word of Moses’ attack spread among the Jews, and eventually made its way to Pharaoh’s ears.  Moses rightly feared for his life, and fled to Midian to escape retribution.

There, Moses spent many years as a fugitive in a foreign land.  He started a family there, and tried to start a new life.  A Jewish man with a royal Egyptian upbringing, now a fugitive in Midian… Moses had much to think about as he sat in the fields tending his father in law’s sheep.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt, another generation of Jewish children was being taught the hopeful, defiant story of Abraham and the blood covenant of their God…  Because another generation of God’s chosen people were still groaning under the weight of their slavery.  Another generation was crying out toward the heavens, desperate for God to finally remember His promise.

And then, God showed up.

Surprisingly, the new chapter of God’s story didn’t start where God’s people were, in Egypt.  Rather, God’s first appearance occurred in Midian.

While tending sheep, Moses saw a bush burning in the distance.  But he was puzzled when he noticed that the bush was not burning up.  When Moses went to investigate the fire and the smoke, God spoke from within the bush.

“Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am,” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God told Moses that He had heard the cries of His people.  The time had come to fulfill His promise to Abraham; to rescue His people and to give them the land they had been promised, through which God would bless them, and then through them bless all others.

And then, another surprising twist.  God said to Moses, “So, now go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

Moses, the Jew born Egyptian royalty currently a fugitive in Midian, was unsure.

God was not.

So Moses pleaded for more.

“What if they ask who sent me?” Moses asked, terrified.  “What if they want to know your name?”

God replied, “Tell them, I AM WHO I AM.”

Then, God went on, “Say to the Israelites, that I am the God of your fathers – of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And I’m here to fulfill my promise, because I am faithful to my word.”

Moses was still unsure.  So God gave Him signs to perform.  A staff that could turn to a snake, and the power to turn his hand leprous and back again.

And Moses was still unsure.

“I don’t speak well,” Moses said.  “Who am I to serve as a spokesperson for the nation?

To which God replied, “Who do you think gave you your mouth?”

Finally, God even compromised with Moses, agreeing to send his brother Aaron with him.

Moses was out of excuses.

So Moses returned to Egypt, armed with the words of God and the works he was able to perform.

When the Israelites heard Moses and saw the signs he performed, they believed and worshipped God.  They agreed that he should go to Pharaoh.

Breathlessly they wondered to one another if their waiting might finally come to an end.  Might Moses and Aaron and the words and the signs be enough?  Might they finally be free people again?

Moses went to Pharaoh, and said, “The I AM WHO I AM, the God of Israel, has sent me, and the Lord has declared that you let His people go.”

But Pharaoh did not believe.  He did not let Israel go.  Rather, he responded by punishing Israel, making their work more difficult but insisting on the same output.

The people lamented to Moses.  “What have you done?!” they cried.

And so Moses returned to God.  “Did I not do as I was told?  Why did you send me only so that we could suffer further at Pharaoh’s hand?”

Again, Moses wondered aloud to God why He would send a stutterer to be His spokesperson.  But God insisted that He was not done showing His power to Pharaoh, and that He would yet use Moses and Aaron as His spokespeople to set His people free.

And so, God sent Moses back to Pharaoh with a warning, in the form of a plague.

Moses warned Pharaoh that if he did not let the people of God go, I AM WHO I AM would turn the water of the Nile into blood.

Pharaoh dismissed Moses from his presence.

So, Moses and Aaron raised their staffs as they were instructed - over the Nile, over ponds, and even over water stored in containers.  Each time they did, Egypt’s water turned to blood.

Still, Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not let the Israelites go.

And so, God offered Pharaoh more warnings, and more chances to repent.  To repent away from faith in an empire built on chariots and horses of war.  To repent away from faith in an economy built on the backs of slaves.  To repent away from the false gods, those other than the One True God of Israel.

Eight more plagues followed, each one coming with a warning and a chance for Pharaoh to repent.  Frogs covered the land, and the dust of the ground became lice.  These plagues were followed with swarms of insects, the death all of the Egyptian’s cattle, and the plague of painful boils and sores.  And finally came a horrible hail, swarms of locusts, and the plague of darkness which covered the land for three days.

And still, Pharaoh did not let God’s people go.

So, God foretold of a tenth plague against Egypt, one that would leave no doubt as to the sovereignty and power of The God of Israel over all other gods.

At God’s prompting, Moses warned Pharaoh that the firstborn son of every home and every livestock would be struck down by the I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With that, Moses left Pharaoh’s presence for the last time.

God instructed the Jewish people that from this day forward, they were to make this month as the first of their year, for a new era of history was now beginning.  On the tenth night of the month, every Jewish family was to select a lamb without defect and care for it, until the fourteenth day of the month when it was to be slaughtered.  The Jewish people were to take some of the blood and spread it on their doorposts, on the top and the sides of the door.  That night, they were to cook the lamb over fire and eat all of it, dressed like people who are ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Then God said, “That very night, I will sweep through Egypt and strike down the firstborn of every home and every livestock, and I will bring judgment on the gods of Egypt.”

The firstborn son was a sign of blessing to the Egyptians.  A healthy firstborn son meant that the gods were in control and that they were pleased with your home.

On the fourteenth day of the month, in the still of the night, God announced once and for all that there is no god greater than the God of Eden; the God of Heaven and Earth; the God of Adam and Eve; the God of Cain and Abel; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; The God of Israel; THE I AM WHO I AM.

As the angel of death visited the homes of the enemies of God, and passed over those covered with the blood of an innocent lamb, God declared to all people in all times that though He is slow to anger, He will not wait forever.  The things He promises will come true.  He has come to declare freedom for His people from those who oppress, those who benefit from injustice, and those who put their faith in power and wealth and false gods.

Though He waited for the right time, God insisted that nothing will stop Him from restoring the tapestry of heaven and earth woven together again.

So here we are, at the break of the new day; the people of God walking out through doors still covered in drying blood, past a wailing in Egypt unlike that which has ever been heard.  For the I AM WHO I AM, the God of Abraham, has brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

God’s people are now free from the yoke of slavery.  We are bound for the Promised Land.