Study Guide: When God Shows Up

Sunday December 16, 2018 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

This weekend Greg continues our When God Shows Up series by examining two crucial questions we must ask when we find ourselves in an Advent season: How do we conduct ourselves in this fallen world when misery takes over? How can we hang on to hope when all seems hopeless?

Extended Summary:

As Greg explains, when Jesus was born, Israel at that time had been under Roman rule for around 60 years. Rome ruled by terror and 1st century Jews longed for a messiah to free Israel and ultimately set the world right. The more they suffered the more this longing grew and the more they began to ask the question, “How long must we wait for God to show up?” This period of waiting and longing we celebrate today as Advent. In one sense, Jesus already fulfilled this longing through his life, death and resurrection which changed everything. In another sense, we are still waiting for the second coming in which the Kingdom will be fully manifested throughout the world. What Jesus accomplished in principle is only experienced to the degree that a person yields, complies, conforms, and accepts this new reality. We are to be manifesting as much of this creation as we can right now. Because many people don’t accept this new creation, this world continues to act as though what Jesus accomplished means nothing. However, this period of decision making will not continue forever. Jesus says that he will return and manifest as fact what he already accomplished in principle through his life, death and resurrection. At that time, all the injustice and evil that afflicts this world will be eradicated.

Because we still operate in a world that is afflicted, we ourselves are still afflicted. Each of us has been, is, or will go through their own Advent season. During these times we should pray for deliverance, rely on the Holy Spirit for comfort, and allow the pain of that season to drive us closer to Jesus. However, today’s focus revolves around the following two questions: How do we conduct ourselves in this fallen world when the misery-o-meter gets dialed up?  How can we hang on to hope when the situation seems hopeless? To address these to questions, we focus in on Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The story begins with Mary, around the age of 13, being engaged to Joseph. Both Mary and Joseph were peasant Jews who dealt with a lot of suffering and were longing for the Messiah to come. One day the angel Gabriel shows up, and tells Mary the good news that she will be instrumental in bringing this long awaited Messiah into the world through a baby that she would birth. Although we know that the story goes well, if we can imagine Mary in that moment, we could see that for her this meant a road of challenge and hardship ahead. For a 13 year old girl who is engaged to get married, getting pregnant out of wedlock, is scandalous. In most cases this would lead to a life of being a single mother begging or engaging in prostitution just to survive. It’s a life of utter humiliation. It would have been understandable if Mary had passed on this invitation. Instead she responds:

Luke 1:38 – And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Here we find the answer to the first question of how to conduct ourselves in an Advent season. Mary was in a miserable situation, but she was willing to take on even more misery in order to serve the Lord. In this way she models how we can, in the midst of our suffering, make ourselves available to be used by God regardless of the cost. There are times of crises mode where we need to rest and attend to ourselves, but we should never stay there, and as soon as possible we should move to focus on how God might use us to love others. When we are suffering, our tendency is to focus inward. This has the effect of magnifying the suffering, not helping it. Instead, we can get out of our self and pour into others. In the midst of our brokenness, God wants to use us.

Lastly, to answer the second question (how do we hang on to hope when the situation is hopeless?) we continue the story of Mary a little further along. Mary is visited by Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) when she bursts out into a song:

Luke 1:46-55 –

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Mary is speaking of things as though they had already occurred. Mary was speaking of a future reality as though God had already brought deliverance and set things right. Mary here was speaking with a proleptic voice, which is to speak of future events as though they were in the past, and to envision the future as though it was in the past in order to convey her confidence that these events will take place. Mary here was demonstrating what it means to have faith.

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

When we have faith we envision what we hope for. We believe in God’s will and envision his deliverance as a substantial, vivid, and concrete reality, producing a conviction within us that it will be so, and motivating us to move in that direction. Like Mary in her Advent season, we too can envision a reality beyond this temporary season of suffering. We can then be filled with hope for the Kingdom of God for both this life and the full manifestation of that Kingdom when Jesus returns. When we are in the midst of an Advent season, we are to exercise faith. We should see ourselves delivered and free from our suffering now, but also extend our vision further towards eternity. What will it look like when the world is finally set right? What will it feel like when Heaven is finally here? What will eternal life with Jesus Christ look like? In the midst of our Advent season, let us enter into the hope that awaits us. 

Reflection Questions: