How often do you think of Jesus as your servant?
Perhaps more importantly, what do you feel as you read that question? A recoiling in immediate dismissal of the possibility? That mix of fear and guilt in the pit of your stomach when you see flashing red lights behind you? Quiet resting in that part of who Jesus is?
Michael Card’s words have been both challenging me and giving me hope this week:
“A lot of Christians don’t embrace Jesus as their servant, and it’s my contention that if you don’t know him as your servant, you don’t really know him. It’s the shape of his life.” (Michael Card, session 2, 20min)
I’ve memorized Philippians 2 where Paul reminds us that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7). I’ve listened to half a dozen Maundy Thursday readings and sermons about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13). I know Jesus’ statement that “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). But it feels quite different to quote those verses or tell those stories than it does to think of Jesus as my servant. Not just in the past, laying down his life to gain my salvation for me. Not just in a distant place, getting a home fixed up and ready for me (John 14:2) and praying for me (Heb 7:25, 9:24; Rom 8:34; 1 John 2:1), but here and now, with me, attentive, taking care of my needs before I even ask as does His (our!) Father (Matt 6:8, 33; Is 65:24). It’s another of those concepts that is so mind-blowing that it almost feels like heresy—except Jesus Himself makes it so clear: "Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. . . ." The Creator of the Universe has made himself our servant!
He is, of course, our Servant Lord—not someone we order around. But as Michael Card again points out, we don’t need to order a servant who is so attentive and knows perfectly what we need—witness the risen Christ with his nail scarred hands standing on the beach making breakfast for his tired, hungry disciples who’d been working all night (John 21). And note, as we see him standing there, that Christ’s servanthood didn’t end with his death. This same One who came to serve continues his serving of us through this life and into the coming kingdom where "he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them" (Luke 12:37).
Our faith is one of paradox: God’s sovereignty and our free will; a Saviour who is both fully God and fully man, Lion and Lamb, Servant and Lord. It sometimes feels easier and more comfortable to slip to one side or the other of these paradoxes—but that’s precisely when we both slip into heresy and miss the richest gifts that God has to offer us. It’s as dangerous, incorrect, and prideful to treat Jesus as only our Lord and refuse Him as our Servant as it is to presume that He’s there simply to provide for our desires and not bow to Him as our Lord.
We need to pay serious attention to Jesus’ words to Peter: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8). I think Michael Card is right: those words aren’t just about a one-time acceptance of Jesus’ death for us, but about the humility of daily accepting the tender, attentive care of our Lord who chooses to be our Servant even as we learn from him how to serve others. This is who He is. Accepting Him as our Servant as well as our Lord is part of making our home in Jesus and His love—the single condition Jesus lays out for our fruitfulness (John 15:4,9).
I can't help but wonder: are so many of us so weary because we try to serve Jesus as our Lord but don't also know Him as the One who delights to serve us daily?
Where do I accept Jesus’ care, and where do I, like Peter, push Him away, refusing to be served by Him? What holds me back from accepting His care? And how might my life change as I keep learning not only to bow moment-by-moment to the Almighty God who is Lord of all creation and of me, but to receive without hesitation the care of that same All Powerful One who is ever-present and attentive, praying for me, listening to me, stooping to wash my filthy, smelly feet, preparing a table before me, a home for me, and guiding me along right paths?
It's not enough for Jesus to be the Lord; He must be my Lord. It is also not enough to know Jesus as the Servant. If I want to hear His heartbeat and make my home in His love, I have to receive His serving of me.
One final question, then: How do I receive Jesus as Servant while still reverencing Him as Lord? Perhaps the first step is simply to notice and savour the daily ways Jesus loves and serves us, and to fall on our knees in awe and thanksgiving. (Don't we all get more joy out of serving when the person we're serving receives and delights in our gift than when they push it, and us, away?) And then—once we've received and savoured and have been filled up again—to join Him in His serving, not working for but with our Servant Lord.
I attended The Sound of Music with a friend on Saturday. The summons to search until we find what we’re called to and then live it fully is still ringing in my head:
A dream that will need
All the love you can give
Every day of your life
For as long as you live
There’s a determination to it, a purposefulness. An intentionality.
Climb every mountain
Search high and low
Follow every byway
Every path you know
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
Till you find your dream
It’s not just The Sound of Music that calls us to search for a dream that will take all the love we can give, and then pour ourselves into it.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13, c.f. Deut 4:29, Matt 7:7-8)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, . . .” (Col 3:23)
It’s that time of year when I prayerfully choose a new word that I want to shape my life over the coming year. Or when that new word chooses me. This year, that word is intentional.
Over the past decade, I’ve been living the call to make my home in God’s love. That has meant letting go of plans and goals and career, and learning to rest in God’s love. That call will never change. It’s the call to all of us at the heart of the gospel, and the root from which our life of discipleship springs:
“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. . . Make yourselves at home in my love." (John 15:4,9 The Message)
But God offers us a number of different images to help us see how to make our homes in God’s love. Some, like the vine or the infant, seem quite passive. They highlight God’s role in the process and our dependence on him. We make our home in God’s love by trusting his goodness and his grace and learning to rest in that love.
Other images, like the bride and the athlete, make our part in the process of transformation and shared life more explicit. We choose. We say no to some things to say yes to something better. In these images, “love” is as active a word as “run.”
The two are not opposites. They fit together and complement each other. It takes at least as much intentionality to rest and trust as to work. Part of making our home in God's love is responding to his call to come to him and rest (Matt 11:28-30). Another part of making our home in God's love is keeping God's commands to love Him and others:
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love."
(John 15:9-10, The Message)
Though there is much that only God can do in us, He chooses to do very little of that without some sort of involvement by us. (For example, it is as we contemplate the Lord's glory that we are transformed into His likeness. 2 Cor 3:18, c.f. Phil 2:12-13) And this is grace. God honors us by making us in his image, persons with real choice, real agency. He pours out his love and his salvation, but he does not force them on us. He respects us by refusing to write our stories without our involvement. We co-write our stories with God in the ways we choose to respond to Him.
This year I began praying about my new word for the new year as I was paying attention to what was taking place in me during Advent. I was feeling all over again both my longing for God and the places I resist his coming as King in my life. I was becoming aware of, and grieving, the places I’ve slipped into laziness.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working through the questions posed by Lara Casey in her 2020 goal setting blog post series. I’ve pondered her question, “Where do you want to be when you’re 80 (or 90 or 100)?” and paid attention to the places I want to change. As a result, I’ve written out several areas in which I want to be intentional this year, and why it matters. For example, I want to eat intentionally because I don’t want sweets, or anything else, to take God's place or mine in deciding what this body does. And because this body is entrusted to me by God and I love Him by caring for it well. I want to be more intentional about ending my days with Scripture, because I want this God who loves me and whom I love to have the first and the final word in my days.
What about you? Are there places you want to be more intentional in the New Year? Is there a new word that seems to be calling to you as we begin this new year? I'd love to hear it!
Each Advent I marvel all over again at these words:
“Greetings, you who are highly favored; the Lord is with you.”
The words aren’t just for Mary. That same Greek verb which means “to highly favor” is used just one other place in the New Testament, this time of us: “. . . his glorious grace, with which he has highly favored us . . .” (Eph 1:6)
Mary is as surprised to be greeted in this way as we are. “You who are highly favored”. What does it mean? The angel clarifies with a phrase common in the Hebrew Scriptures, “The Lord is with you.” Each time this promise is given, the recipient is being entrusted with a particular task (Gen. 26:24; 28:15; Exod. 3:12; Judg. 6:12; Jer. 1:8; Acts 18:9–10). For Noah and Abraham and Moses, Gideon and Jeremiah and Paul, finding favor with God equates to being accompanied and equipped by God for a particular part in His great story. So for Mary. And so for us. . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
Mary still has questions. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. . .” (Luke 1: 35) These words aren’t just for Mary either. Luke, writing his story in two grand acts, echoes this phrase from the start of Act 1, in which Jesus is born of Mary and lives as a man in our world, at the start of Act 2, in which Jesus is borne in us into the world. Jesus speaks to his followers as the angel spoke to Mary, “when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8), you will receive power to make the impossible possible, and the miracle of God living in a human body will happen all over again.
We each have our questions. How can this be? How can we bear the Son of God into the world?
Mary was young, Elisabeth was “well along in years.” (Luke 1:18) Mary lacked the needed situation (marriage); Elisabeth had been desperately trying within the perfect situation for years and kept coming up empty. With these two examples, the angel brackets and encompasses all of our impossible situations, and answers them all with a few simple words: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
The question for us is as mysteriously simple as the angel’s reassurance. Will we cling tightly to our questions, or will we open our questioning hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
“. . . the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you. . . ” (Col 1:27)
An edited repost from the archives.
What does it mean to you today that you are highly favoured, accompanied and equipped by the God of the universe for a particular part in His story?
Advent, for me, seldom looks the way I think it should. And, as I wrote two weeks ago, though I often find it uncomfortable, that uncomfortable place is usually precisely where the grace is.
This year is no different.
I began Advent with anticipation, and with a plan to read through Malcolm Guite’s Advent devotional, Waiting on the Word. I didn’t expect the restlessness that would arise, the recurrent moments when, even though I’d chosen that plan and wanted to mark Advent, some other part of me would resist lingering with the reading, reaching for a detective story instead.
How is it that, even in this month of preparation for one of the holiest events of the church year, I find myself once again saying with Paul, “I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge” (Rom 7:22-23, The Message)?
And yet, right here, once again, is grace, because instead of keeping the Advent story’s good news at a comfortable distance, reading the words and singing the songs, I find myself clinging to it for dear life.
Right here in the awareness of my own need and my inability to fix myself is the starting place for the real living of Advent, the awe and the gratitude and the kneeling at the manger because God knows me and still He comes. Long before he entered the world as a baby, he knew my beauties and my failures and that I couldn’t fix myself, and instead of condemning or rejecting me, he came to be with me and to do in me what I can’t do in myself.
And, more than this, He comes not only for me, He also comes through me, choosing to live His life in me for the blessing of the world.
It’s been like this since the beginning, when He came through people who were as messed up as any of us. He isn’t ashamed to be known as the Son of David—a man after God’s own heart, to be sure, but also one who in the heat of passion not only committed adultery but murdered the husband of the woman he had stolen. He came through the line of Jacob the deceiver and Rahab the prostitute and Abraham, who, in fear, said that his wife was his sister, causing her to be taken into another man’s harem. He comes, now, into the world through you and me.
It’s right in this place where I feel most strongly my need for God that I’m most truly able to live Advent, to give myself over to God, just as I am, for him to come and live in me and through me and with me, doing in me what I can’t do.
I recognize the grace of answered prayer here too: I’d wanted not only to mark Advent, but to live it deeply. I’d prayed for God to make Himself a little more at home in me, to set me a little freer to be His alone, living in Him and with Him and for Him. Seems like that’s precisely what He’s doing in letting me see all over again both my desperate need for Him and His gracious love that brings Him right into the middle of my need and my longing.
We began, eight days ago, to live this in-between month when the secular calendar is winding down toward the end of the year while the church calendar has already begun its new year with the first Sunday of Advent. Are we at the end of the story or at the beginning in this season in which we remember the coming of Jesus as a baby, welcome his coming into our lives now, and ponder and prepare for his future coming in glory?
It seems fitting that the end and beginning be intertwined as we prepare to welcome the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the One in whom past is gathered up and healed and future embraced and secured and both are brought together in the always present love of the One who holds us together.
There is, of course, a very important middle to this story, and we'll relive that middle in a few months. But in this Advent season we're invited to see the full scope: to step back and re-live the beginning and begin again to celebrate the approaching ending.
It’s not only time that’s gathered up into an eternal present in Advent. We ourselves are gathered up, held up, offered—the beginning and the culmination of the gift of ourselves from the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father and of us to ourselves as Christ enters our flesh.
Advent, in other words, shows us both who we’ve been and who we will be, and invites us to live a little further along the journey between the two.
On the one hand, I read the news headlines—and my own journal—alongside the story of the first Advent and I feel so deeply our world’s need—my need—for a Saviour. I’m aware of my inadequacy and sin and smallness. How is it that the holy God who made us, whose heart broke as we turned away, would want to be close enough to us to enter our flesh?
Then I turn the page and in the second Advent I see you and me reflected in a completely different way. This time we are in possession of the kingdom (Dan 7:18, 22, 27). We are princes. we are the Bride, the King's queen, co-ruling alongside the One who has made us his own. In another image, we replace the temple's most holy place becoming the most holy place ourselves, our flesh made holy by the presence of the holy God who comes to make his home not just among us but within us.
Advent season, then, not only reminds us how far we’ve fallen but how far we’ve been raised. We are paupers, and royalty. Sinners, and God’s holy bride. Desperately in need of a Saviour, and grateful recipients of all the life and joy and wholeness that the Saviour came to bring. Grateful recipients of the Saviour himself, the One who comes to us in our low condition, in our sin and need and cowering, not to condemn and shame but to love and save and elevate (John 3:17). The One who will come again, revealing himself as King and us as his bride, his queen.
Could it be that all the ways God comes to us in the present, in this stretch in between his first coming in a manger and his second coming in the clouds, are to help us trust his goodness and love, moving us gradually from thinking and acting like the paupers we’ve been to thinking and acting like the royalty we’re becoming?
The central gift of Advent is, of course, God. Light curling small in the dark, placing himself not in a box under the tree but breaking open our boxes and placing himself in a womb and then a manger in preparation to hang on the tree, lighting the whole world. Without this central gift, there are no other gifts. But with it come dozens of other gifts.
Perhaps the most precious of those other gifts of Advent is ourselves.
This week, these lines from Christina Rossetti’s poem, “Advent Sunday,” and Malcolm Guite’s reflection on her poem in Waiting on the Word have wakened me again to one way in which Christ, in his first and final advents and all the ways he comes to us in between, offers us this gift of ourselves. At Christ’s return his kingship will be reflected in us:
“. . . For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.
Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.
Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.
His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.
He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.”
As Guite says about the image of Esther triumphing in the presence of her king,
“Here Rossetti seems to be suggesting that acknowledging the kingship of Christ, far from being a demeaning, belittling or infantilizing act on behalf of the submissive Church, is in fact a radiant affirmation of her own royalty.”
(Waiting on the Word, p.3, bold mine)
In Advent, we remember both. Our need and the gift. Our sin and Christ’s righteousness which now clothes us. Ourselves as beggars and ourselves as Christ's bride, serving alongside the God who first came to serve us.
May we kneel—at the manger, the cross and the throne—and give thanks.
Advent. The word means “coming.” For me, the word also holds all the anticipation and longing and preparation for the One who is coming. And the surprises of the way He comes.
I always look forward to Advent—the melodies of Handel’s Messiah, the mirrored surface of the red and gold baubles turning hundreds of little white lights into thousands. The hope that swells as I remember all over again the mystery of a love deep enough to come down and step into my flesh. The candy cane chocolate fudge crackle ice cream which has nothing to do with Jesus’ coming in a manger but somehow still seems a fitting celebration for the arrival of a King.
I always look forward to Advent. And mid-way through, I often find myself wondering why. It seems, for me, that there’s often discomfort in this month. One year, darkness and fear accompanied the unexpected need to look for a new home and the prolonged search for anything suitable. More often it’s the grief of feeling like the noise and bustle of the season is swallowing up the closeness that I want. It starts early. With Black Friday emails pressing for attention, reminding us of everything we need to satisfy our longings, we forget that the only true saving happened on another Friday when for three hours the world went black.
Sometimes even the selection of Advent devotionals sitting on my shelf and pouring into my inbox feels like pressure. I simply want to be still, to come closer, to walk the road with Mary, to kneel at the manger with the shepherds. I want to hear myself, too, called "highly favored,” to feel Jesus’ life moving in me. Sometimes the longing is so deep I think I’d settle for being a fly on the wall, or the donkey who carried Mary who carried Jesus. I just want to be there, somehow, with Him.
One year not too long ago this tension that I often feel in Advent began to make sense. I’d gone to talk with the friend who helps me listen feeling like I was missing Advent. I wasn’t feeling the joy or the hope that I wanted and expected, only painful longing. But as we talked, she helped me see: I wasn’t missing Advent at all! God’s coming just looked different than I’d been expecting. The longing was a healthy, holy discontent, a sign of God at work in me, stretching out space in me for the One whose life grows in each of us who are His.
Turns out God has come differently in each of the Advent seasons I remember.
In the winter of house hunting, God gave himself in a friend who went with me to look at apartments and another who packed when I couldn’t, and in a song I heard my brother sing to his children at bedtime.
In my little village in Afghanistan, a woman on a donkey became for me a vivid image that God was there, the holy family once again part of the pilgrim train walking to Bethlehem as Jesus waited, carried and curled in the darkness but present and coming nonetheless.
Why am I surprised that God comes to me differently each year? Of course the Creator who shapes each snowflake, each fingerprint, each personality with its own unique beauty won’t settle for less when it comes to His own ongoing drawing close to His beloved children. The creativity of his coming is part of the gift.
When we were children, Dad hid our main gift and wrote clues which we had to follow to find the gift. I’m sure the gifts themselves were lovely and I enjoyed them immensely at the time, but of the gifts waiting for me all those years, I only remember one: the playhouse Dad and Mom built for us under the stairs. What I do remember is the pondering and deciphering, the running from room to room testing out whether we’d rightly understood the clue, the sense of lovedness that someone had put that much effort not just into choosing or making a gift but into the creativity and fun of giving it and helping us find our way to it. The gift wasn’t just waiting at the end of the hunt; it was in the fun and suspense of searching for it together. Inherent in the search was the promise that the ones giving the gift loved us, that whatever was waiting for us at the end would be good, and that there would be fun and togetherness in enjoying the final gift just as there was fun and togetherness in searching for it.
How might this season be different if I approached Advent as a treasure hunt in which God is not only the infinite gift waiting for me at the end, but also the One writing the clues and following me from room to room, eyes sparkling with shared delight as He says, "Colder, colder . . . now you're getting warmer. . . "? What if I entered this season remembering that Advent is not just about Jesus' past coming or his future coming but his present coming, bringing the gift of Himself and His creativity and freedom and wholeness into each moment of each day? Can I be open to the surprise of Him coming in whatever way He wants to offer Himself to me this year, knowing that He is good and what He gives will, ultimately, be good?