“See, I have set the land before you…” (Deuteronomy 1:8)
Context. We often talk about our need to understand the time, the place, and the people in a reading from scripture, in order to understand what God is doing. What did God’s word mean in their historical context?
But do we understand how our current context affects us? Imagine church for a moment. Our sanctuary is a physical place which helps many people feel a sense of peace, of safety, of belonging. The altar is front and center, physically emphasizing the importance of communion and the presence of Jesus Christ.
Recently we heard from Circles of Support, a CCFA mission project that surrounds people coming out of jail with supportive church folks who help them reintegrate into a normal life of work, volunteering, and socializing. Circles of Support volunteers provide a new context of relationships for these ex-offenders, instead of them falling back into the bad relationships that probably led them to trouble before.
With Christmas approaching, many people change their context to help them “get in the mood.” They hang decorations and play Christmas music, fill the house with the smell of baking, and attend a candlelight service at church. These sights, sounds, and smells evoke memories and feelings that help many people “feel” Christmas as we celebrate the hope, joy, and peace that attend the birth of Jesus Christ.
Context can also have a negative influence. As we read The Story at church, one of the recurring themes is the temptation of God’s people. Because they did not drive out the tribes in the promised land, they were continually influenced by the cults of wealth, child sacrifice, and ritual prostitution of those people they live among.
As you look around yourself today, what is your context? Does your environment at home, school, or work help you feel safe and happy? Are you edified and encouraged by the music, TV, movies, books, and news you to which you give your attention? Are the people you spend time with a good influence? … Or, is exactly the opposite true?
Christmas is about context. In the infant Jesus Christ, God entered directly into our world, our context, shaping and influencing world history and our individual hearts and lives. Pay attention this Christmas to God’s presence and God’s specific love for you. Take advantage of the many opportunities at church to surround yourself in the context of God’s love. Be the context for others, who are shaped by your presence, words, actions, and attitude.
And as the New Year unfolds with its boundless opportunities, remember your context. Jesus says, “You are here, here in my heart, here surrounded by my love, here amongst my people.” Context is not confinement, but opportunity. God has set the land before us. Go with God!
Blessings for Advent and the New Year…