Category Archives: advent

Saint John and the Cubs.

Nancy and I walked past Arnie’s Jerseys and Stuff. It’s the local sports memorabilia store. We usually ignore it, not being fans of the teams, the old players, or the markups. This time I stopped, staring at the Ernie Banks Cubs uniform shirt. It was part of a display of Cubs items. After they won the World Series, everyone became a fan. But the price on the Banks jersey made me stop.

As I stared, I heard a voice behind us.

“Chicago fans are irrationally faithful. Just like my friend Nathanael.”

It was Saint John.

“What do you mean?” I said.

relationship“Year after year, Cubs fans kept watching for a winning season. They kept showing up to worship at Wrigley, even when there was no hope of a positive outcome to the season. People learned the names of people who would never wear rings, never hold pennants, never play baseball in November.”

I grinned. “Billy Williams, Don Kessinger, Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Ron S…”

John held up his hand. “You learned those when you were 9 years old. How many more years after than before they won the World Series?”

“Forty-eight years.”

“Irrationally faithful,” he said. “Like Nathanael. We grew up together. He was looking for the Messiah, learning details, memorizing Torah, keeping faith. But like you and the Cubs, I’m pretty sure Nathanael thought Messiah would ever come.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“Because when Philip told him that Jesus was the Messiah, Nathanael pushed back. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ was his first question. Can anything of value come from around here, from where we grew up.”

“But if Nathanael was such a doubter, why did Jesus accept him?” As I said it, I realized that we almost always talk about accepting Jesus, not the other way around.

John smiled.

“Jesus knew his heart, knew that Nathanael wanted to believe in someone. He just didn’t want to be disappointed again. And Jesus knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

I looked at him, uncertain.

“Jesus was the certainty for irrationally faithful people. Nathanael’s healthy skepticism about pretenders was grounded in a desire to be proven right.”

“Like the people who wept when the 2016 Cubs won,” I said.

John smiled. “Ah, but so much more.”


The story is based in John 1. The post is day 7 from Saint John of the Mall.


Advent 26: Saint John and the books.

IMG_0057It was the day after Christmas. Saint John of the Mall was sitting in front of Barnes and Noble. Through the doorway we could see piles of books on tables.  Every table had a sign: “Best books of 2016” and “Making the most of 2017” and “Clearance.”

“All those stories,” I said.  “All that creativity. All those shelves. All those books.”

“You know,” John said, “if you took every conversation and comment that Jesus made, every action and miracle that Jesus did, and you started writing them out, they’d fill all these shelves.”

And then he caught himself. “Maybe not. There are a lot more books now than when he talked. A lot more noise. A lot more clutter. maybe.”

“A lot more clutter?” I said.

“Maybe,” John said. “But not everything that has been written since then is clutter. Some of it actually brings clarity. And Jesus said that he was sending the Holy Spirit to teach and remind us of what Jesus had said. So not everything written is clutter.”

I waited for him to mention my writings. But he didn’t.

“But some of what is written about Jesus and his life and his words doesn’t help,” he said. “When you look at the Gospel of John, you find the idea of editing – selecting some materials and not others – for a purpose. There were many words, many signs, many conversations that Jesus had. There could have been a comprehensive catalog, but, as you read,  ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’”

I looked at him. “So the gospel isn’t a tell-all expose’? There is bias in the writing?”

John smiled. “The gospel writers weren’t historians. Not even Luke. They were witnesses, giving accounts of the birth and life and death and life again of Jesus. Enough witness to give an account. Enough teaching to live a life. Enough Jesus to reveal hope for the future.”

“It’s funny,” I said. “I wanted to talk about returns in this post, about all the people bringing Christmas presents back today because they weren’t quite right after all the expectations. But you are saying that Christmas never was about satisfied expectations.”

“I never knew anything about Christmas,” John said. “My life is all about advent. The first advent was about expecting a messiah. And the second advent, the one you and I share, has been about expecting the Messiah again. I gave up thinking that stuff would satisfy my expectations. But you know, knowing the one I’m expecting is pretty satisfying.”

I closed my eyes to figure that out. When I opened them, the bench was empty.

But I’m glad he’s been here this year. Advent seemed a little less frantic.

Advent 25: Merry Christmas

The mall is closed today. I’m not sure where John is. I’ll be at the hospital. I’m expecting to see him listening to patients, understanding their fear, offering them hope. I’m expecting to hear him talking with family members who are watching for any movement at all. I’m expecting to be reminded to love like Jesus loved.

IMG_0194But I expect that you may see him, too. He’s the guy simply and clearly pointing past the decorations. Past the miracles of the moment to the One who does the work.

A friend of mine said that his Christmas is always rough. But, he said, “some people have reason to smile and that’s good.”

So for those of you who have reason to smile, that’s good. Smile well today.

For those of you who have reason to weep, I’m sorry. Weep well today.

And for those of you like me, who can get a little out of sorts just for the effect, let’s pick a side. As Paul said when writing to a group of people who faced the struggles of being human and following God, weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. And long for the healing of all things.

I would say, “Christmas wishes from our family” but I have no idea what that means. But the people I’m most grateful to be a part of are grateful that you are part of us. Because we talk about you all the time.

Advent 24: Waiting with Saint John

I headed to the mall alone on Christmas eve morning. I wasn’t there to walk. I had last-minute arrangements to make. And I wasn’t alone. The mall was already full.

I stopped by the fountain. The crowded tension was stifling.

in grand rapids mi with @swansonswanson and @timhortons. yes.“Sit down,” a familiar voice said. I turned and saw Saint John pointing at the space on the bench. “I need to tell you a story.”

“The kids will be at the house soon,” I said. “I don’t have much time.”

“I don’t either,” John said. “Sit down.”

I sat down.

“Jesus was teaching one day, same as usual. ‘Master,’ a familiar voice said. It was one of the people who helped out around Martha’s house. But why he was here, two days journey from Bethany. ‘Martha and Mary would like you to come,’ he said. “Lazarus, your friend is very sick.’

“Jesus loved that family. He should have moved immediately. But he didn’t. And later it was clear that he loved them so much that he didn’t move.

“A couple days later, somehow, he knew that Lazarus was dead. Then he decided to go. Some reminded him that he, and they, could be killed within a couple miles of Jerusalem. But he went anyway.

“When he arrived, he talked with Martha. Then he talked with Mary. He wept with Mary, in fact. And then he stood in the graveyard for a bit.”

John stopped.

I waited expectantly. Finally, I said, “And then he called Lazarus out of the dead. Finish the story. Don’t leave me waiting.”

When John finally spoke, his voice was the gentlest it had been.

“You’ve been trying to understand advent, looking ahead to the coming of Jesus. That was Martha and Mary. First looking ahead to the coming of Jesus, then lamenting to him his lack of action. But before there was the miracle, there was the presence.

“People Jesus loves deeply get scared and hurt and desperate. They go places that make them fear for their lives, and some of them die. And when he finally shows up too late, the people he loves tell him so, to his face. He listens, he weeps with them.

“For Mary and Martha, the presence of Jesus before the healing of Lazarus was barely enough. They were hardly holding on. But they did. In the face of the ridicule of those around, and the deep pain in their hearts, they held on. Something about being able to talk with him, weep with him, look to him. And the preview they got of the end of all things was amazing. “

John smiled, as if he were remembering something.

“Yes, the end will be worth waiting for.”

Advent 23: Like sheep.

Two days til Christmas and the mall was congested all the time. Now that school was out, kids were with their parents.  Many were “stabled” in the play place. From time to time, a kid would stand up and look around. An adult would speak a name. The kid would turn toward the voice, get oriented, and go back to playing.

I had been watching while waiting for Nancy. The women’s room was congested, too.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” said a voice next to me. I laughed.

“They look a little like sheep,” I said to Saint John. Because that’s who it was. “Though it feels a little more like, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray.’”

And then I found myself humming. It was the bass part from “All We Like Sheep.” It’s a movement in Handel’s Messiah. For its blend of music and lyric, it’s probably my favorite movement. 

IMG_2419.JPGI had attended a performance this year for the first time in decades. I’ve been so busy with church stuff, body and mind and soul, that I haven’t had the time or attention to stop and listen. 

Actually, this year we attended a dress rehearsal. It meant that we could listen to the chorus pieces and didn’t have to listen through all the solos. Hope’s in the chorus, so that’s why we could attend the rehearsal.

As we were listening to the chorus and the orchestra rehearse, and the directions from the conductor, I realized that it’s more fun to participate in the Messiah than to simply listen. To be part of something that demands focus and awareness of those around you and willing obedience to the directions of the conductor.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” John repeated.

“You said that,” I scolded. Then I stopped. “Was Jesus talking about an orchestra?”

I knew he wasn’t, but the idea of following a conductor was giving me a new picture of the sheep images. Although we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all, when we listen to his voice, like sheep we can be led beside still water.

“I think this year, listening to the “Messiah” was part of restoring my soul.” I finally said.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” John said again. “Listening to the Messiah is always part of restoring your soul.