Stop. Raise Your Head. Hope is here.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28

We need the hope of Advent. I cannot imagine what it was like to be in Bethlehem at the time of birth of the Christ. I cannot imagine the waiting for the Messiah, and hope and the anticipation. I just cannot imagine it because I sit in relative comfort and I only know Christ through the fullness of His life, His death, His resurrection and the reality of His deity. I cannot look at the manger without an awareness of all that it holds.

Still. We get comfortable with the Babe in a manger, and we forget, or at least I do, the magnitude of the hope held there. They didn’t know in that moment…they only had an inkling. Mary knew the most, but even she did not know the magnitude. How could they? That not only was this the Son of God, but that He would make us all new.

This Advent season, just like every one past, and probably most to come, has been filled with a mixture of life. I have varied from stress to contemplation, from delight to sorrow. I have been frustrated and on edge, and I have been at peace and joyful. Sometimes all those things in the span of a day.

Advent, though, my friends…it is staggering.

It is hope.

The reality of God made flesh, God dwelling among His people, God redeeming…this reality should raise our eyes.

Look up and raise your heads.

Right now. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Just plain tired and sad?

Look up. Raise your head.

Right now. Depressed? Filled with sorrow and awareness of our brokenness?

Look up. Raise your head.

Stop. Listen again to the reality of God coming to His people. Hear it again, and let it soak into your bones. Raise your head and be filled with wonder. And hope.

Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28 RsV). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – God Is In the Manger

Hashtags and Hopes.

I am not sure there are many who would know the true sense of Advent…of that waiting and anticipation…as would Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or others who have sat in prison and waited for their release. Waited for their rescue.

Like Pastor Saeed. He is an Iranian American who travelled to Iran to work on an orphanage he was helping to organize. He travelled there with the approval of the Iranian government. Then he was arrested an imprisoned without a trial, and has been sitting in prison for over a year simply for his faith.

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine the anticipation? The hope? The waiting?

There is an enormous push right now, #FreeSaeed, with over 20,000 committed to posting on FaceBook and Twitter and Pinterest about the plight of Pastor Saeed. The hope is to place pressure on our government as they make deals with the Iranian government to not forget this American citizen who sits and waits in an Iranian prison. The hope is that Pastor Saeed will know he is not forgotten and that there will be a flood of hashtags and a flurry of comments that remind the world that this one person is important.

And in that moment we remind everyone that they are important. We remind ourselves that we are in this moment of Advent. Of waiting. Yes, we are taking a stand for this one specific pastor and we are saying that he should be freed and no one should be imprisoned for their faith. More than that, though, we take a stand to say, especially as Christians and part of the Body of Christ, that we have not forgotten our brother. We are all in this moment of hush of Advent and it is holy.

We are in this moment that reminds us that the story is true. God has broken in to the prison and set the captives free, and that empowers us and gives us hope. It gives us hope to stand and believe that shouting out hashtags on social media means something. It gives us hope that standing together and raising our voice means something. It gives us hope that the traditions are more than platitudes and bobbles.

When we see that those who are imprisoned and beaten and forgotten do not forsake the One who came, we realize this Hope is true. In these moments we are more deeply aware of the depth of the Holy.

Listen to Bonhoeffer:

“Christ is knocking. It’s still not Christmas, but it’s also still not the great last Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: “see, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5).  The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”  – Bonhoeffer “God is in the Manger”

So, Pastor Saeed…we pray that in that dark cell you know that you are not forgotten by us, and that somehow this flurry of social media reaches your ears. We pray that it reaches the ears of those with the power to pressure for your release. We pray even more so that the One who we wait upon gives you grace in your waiting, ministers to your wounds, bears witness to your guards that He is faithful and true and that your hope is made sure when you come home.

Tomorrow, December 4th, please consider raising your voice as well. Join the event on Facebook. Use the hashtag #freesaeed or #savesaeed  on Facebook or Twitter. Talk about him and pray for him.