Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Advent Anticipation


Happy Liturgical New Year! Advent begins today. All around us, the pace of The Holidays threatens to overwhelm the intention of Advent, which is traditionally about waiting. Unless you’re remembering waiting in long retail lines, most of us tend to think about The Holidays as a time of busyness—filled with parties and gifts and travel plans—not the stillness that comes with waiting.

For what—or whom—are we waiting in Advent? The season is meant to be both a remembrance of awaiting the arrival of the baby Jesus and a looking forward to the adult Jesus coming again. Our perspectives, however, are colored by our distance from the events themselves.

When Mary was pregnant, only she and her family and friends were waiting—and she likely wasn’t sitting around while she waited. She had chores to do—though she might have wondered, as she chopped vegetables, whether baby Jesus’ eyes would turn brown or stay blue. Joseph might have had a cradle to fashion when time was slow at the carpenter’s shop. They had a Bethlehem trip to plan.

DSC_0587We, on the other hand, have the gift(?) of perspective. We have been hearing for years, perhaps for all of our lives, about the birth of Jesus. We know “how it all goes down”—or at least we know the stories that have come down to us about how Jesus’ birth came about: full inn and manger cradle, awestruck shepherds, gifts from unexpected wise men. We wait, and expect—but it’s harder to get our hearts and minds into the perspective that Mary and Joseph would have had: anticipation of the unknown.

On the other hand…the early church thought Jesus was “coming again” very soon—with a triumphal, transform-the-world agenda—but now two thousand years have passed. Here, we get closer to that anticipation of the unknown, because that second coming is all conjecture, no facts. Plus, while we wait, we also have things to do. Jesus gave us a commission, when he was here the first time: share my good news with all the world. It seems to me that’s enough to keep us occupied while we wait.

So, while you’re waiting in line, why not mention the “reason for the season”? Look deep inside, tap into your own anticipation about the coming of Christ, and share some good news with those around you, as the Holy Spirit gives you ability and opportunity.

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Go Home and Proclaim Good News


The big celebrations in the church’s liturgical year are now over. Jesus has died, is risen, and has sent his disciples out into the world to proclaim the Good News of God’s abiding and universal love. But we shouldn’t feel disappointed to be entering what the church calls Ordinary Time. This is when our real life in Christ truly begins.

Take, for example, the story of the “Gerasene demoniac” in Mark 5. This man lived in the hills on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in what today is called the Golan Heights. Gerasa was part of the Decapolis, ten cities in Palestine that formed the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.DSC_9264e (In January, we visited these excavated ruins of Beit She’an, aka Scythopolis, another city in the Decapolis.)

The “demoniac” is not named in scripture, but rather described by his affliction: He was possessed by many demons. Today we might call this some type of mental illness or schizophrenia but, in Jesus’ day, demons were understood to be the cause. Jesus meets this man right where he is: in the midst of his demons. Furthermore, Jesus immediately addresses this man’s defining issue—those demons. Jesus commands the demons to come out, negotiates with them about where they would go, and sends them off (to their deaths).

Naturally, this man—who remains unnamed—is thrilled with this turn of events. I can imagine him going immediately to the nearest Roman bathhouse for a good scrub, the trimming of his hair and beard, and the donning of some new, clean clothes. We know that he then hangs around with the disciples, continuing his healing process at the feet of Jesus. I’m pretty certain that he is enthralled by this miracle worker who has shown him a love of God which is deeper and broader and more healing than he could ever have imagined.

Also, naturally, this man wants to go with Jesus when he returns to Galilee. But Jesus refuses. Instead, Jesus gives this man his commission: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” This man was not called to a life of itinerant ministry as one of Jesus’ disciples. He had his encounter with Jesus, and he was transformed through that encounter, but then he had to go home. He had to take himself home and spread the Good News that had transformed his life.

For most of us, following Jesus doesn’t mean taking up an itinerant ministry. It means going home, to the life we know and the people we know, and proclaiming Jesus’ message there. For this man, it meant returning from the Sea of Galilee to the cities of the Decapolis and spreading the Good News there.

The realm of God begins with us, right here, right now—right where we are. Once we encounter Christ, we are not called to follow him around for the rest of our lives. Even the disciples only got to spend about three years with him. Then they also were sent forth, commissioned to spread the Good News.

What is your home—your Decapolis? What is your commission? Where, and to whom, are you called to spread the Good News of resurrection, of new life, of the love of God which is deeper and broader and more healing than you could ever have imagined?