Search Me and Know My Heart: Advent Day 9

Psalm 139

My favorite of all Psalms.  God is inescapable.  In our best–our ascension to high places, and our worst–our farthest places from God, God is there.  “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”(12)

In a tradition that reminds us often of our darkness, our depravity, our sinfulness–I think it is important to balance this with Psalm 139.  “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  And how wonderful is our God.  How marvelous that God enters humanity for the sake of restoration and reconciliation.

Take a moment to meditate with Sara Groves song, Know My Heart.

Dear God, Thank you for searching and knowing me.  Thank you for making each one of us wonderfully.  Help us this advent to prepare for seeing you new.  Amen

Vision of Possibility

Isaiah 11: 1-10

I worry: 

Voice 1:

I worry. I worry about my children.  Did I do a good enough job?”

Voice 2: “I worry.  I worry about being alone.  Is anyone out there?”

Voice 3: “I worry. I worry about the repairs my car needs.  How am I going to pay for it all?” 

Voice 4: “I worry  I worry about our children and our grand children.  So much more to worry about than when I was a kid.” 

As if there is not enough to worry about?  I turn to the news—just this week, and we have priests and children, polarized politicians, people screaming about health care…or no health care…I wonder what Justin Bieber is up to this week? 

We are surrounded by a message of fear.  Economics—will there be enough?  Climate—is it too late?  Food—I worry as we read and watch the Hunger Games, while finding entertainment we are missing the point that we identify more as the Capital than the hero as a real life hunger games is happening in the world.

 And if you want to lose all hope, scan the comments section on any controversial article.  We are more connected than ever, and ironically this also has us more disconnected.  Autonomy and anonymity—it feeds the beast.  The predator in us grows. 

 If we are honest with ourselves, the lion and the lamb reside in each one of us.  When we react and pounce, wish the words didn’t come out the way they did…the lion is fed.  And we know the receiving end, the hurt from another—and we identify with the lamb. 

 There is the old Cherokee story of the two wolves. An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


We come here—hungry.  Thirsty.  Seeking, longing, and hoping.  We want something different.  In this time of waiting—we anticipate something new.  We sing wanting Holy Nights and Goodwill and Peace for all. 

And may we find comfort.  Comfort in an ancient text—in a time where people said—don’t read the comments section.  And to these people, Isaiah prophesied,A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.” And to us, we receive the good news that a shoo shall call from the stump of Jesse. 

That God’s judgment is not disembodied from God’s righteousness.  Another translation for ‘righteousness’ is restorative justice.  That this stump, this remnant, that what remains from the great oak—receives new life.  That chainsaws—cutting down brings life.  A new shoot-then branches.  Later we find in Isaiah 61 a vision of great oak trees.  Imagine.  New life as promised.  This new live comes to us in an advent tree that has lines that go back through David.  This family tree—this Davidic line—this stump of Jesse is life. 

We wait looking forward to new birth.  As we wrestle with the complexities of the lions and lambs, this new birth is also complex with wisdom paired with understanding, and counsel paired with might, and knowledge paired with reverence. 

It is through this Davidic line that we await the innocence of a child.  When all seems hopeless—long lay the world, in sin and error pining, ‘till he appeared and the soul felt his worth.  May our anticipation only heighten the wonder and surprise in a marvelous story of a little child—you can’t make this stuff up—of God re-interpreting power.  Power where we find wolf and lamb together.  This is hope found in waiting, from God initiated in Christ.  God brings hope. 

Hope that is something to look forward to.  Hope and faith that is from God, and transforms us into something new. 

What are our threats?  Immediate? Personal? 

 A little child shall guide us.

This second week of Advent, as the light continues to grow, may we enter into a time of prayer.  This week, we will be handing out leaves.  These leaves are new life.  May we enter into a time of prayer together seeking areas in our lives that we want to turn to God for new life.  We are a community that is here to support one another, and yet what you share on your leaf is between you and God.  After you have written your prayer, if you would bring your leaf forward to hang on the tree.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit . . . the wolf will live with the lamb . . . and a little child will lead them”
(Isa. 11:1, 6; TNIV).

Isaiah promises things that sound impossible: new life from a dead stump; natural enemies living in harmony; and a child in charge of it all.

Looking at the twigs, think of things in your life and in the world around you that appear impossible. What are the things you barely dare to hope for? Where does newness seem impossible? Where does peace seem far away?

Choose one item to decorate the tree, a sign of one thing that you hope for, even if it seems impossible.[1]


[1] Reformed Worship, Erica Schemper, Sept. 2013 issue, Advent Prayer Stations. Advent Week 2.





Before, I Knew You: Advent Day 8

Jeremiah 1: 4-5

Jeremiah’s call shares that God is active and present in relationship.  And Jeremiah is present with God.  God’s presence is active from before birth.

Think of the checklists we are building, and the experience we try to craft to try to make Christmas something magical.  As if grander will become grandeur. The magic that transforms Jeremiah is an active presence of love and nurture. 

May we make this time of year less about doing, and more about being present.  Taking time to be present with God.  And taking time to be present with those we love.  This is the transforming power of God. 

In our busy lives, the best memories we have created so far with our children are the evenings where we have paused to enter into their lives and to play games with them.  Saturday night, there was still so much to be done, but we instead went out for hot chocolate and played games.  Christmas Carols were being sung and memories of being together will far outlast anything else we accomplish this season. 

Dear God, Thank you for being present.  Help us to slow down and practice spending time with you.  Help us to share the joy of Christmas with those around us.  Amen

Waiting in Desert Places: Advent Day 6

Advent: Day 6

Isaiah 35: 1-10

Imagine, twenty-seven years in that prison cell.  Much of it in isolation.  May we always ask ourselves why?  Power can justify the worst in all of us.  Power and greed are interconnected and are very seductive.  The lines of justice and righteousness become blurred  for preservation of status-quo.  Apartheid is a time in our recent history that humanity lay lost in the desert.  There is a great divide between oppressed and oppressor as the oppressor is unaware.

Consider the desert of those years isolated in prison.  With the strength and moral compass, we then find the beauty that blossoms from the greatest depths.  Nelson Mandela was not without fear, but it is speaks of his inner strength guided by faith to channel this fear into hope.   “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Consider the waiting in that cell.  As we turn to our reading today, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”  Nelson Mandela knew wilderness.  It is in this wilderness his faith and resolve were strengthened and he offers a beautiful witness to power.  Isaiah shares:
     ” Strengthen the weak hands,
        and make firm the feeble knees.
    Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
        “Be strong, do not fear!
    Here is your God.
        He will come with vengeance,
    with terrible recompense.
        He will come and save you.”

In his liberation from prison, he came with a resolve that of a spirit that was already free.  Mandela shares, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

Keeping his head towards the sun, a whole people moved forward.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
        and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
    then the lame shall leap like a deer,
        and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
    For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
        and streams in the desert;
    the burning sand shall become a pool,
        and the thirsty ground springs of water;
    the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
        the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

With Apartheid officially ending in 1994, we have a long way to go today in addressing inequality.  May we be guided by the inner compass of the likes of Nelson Mandela in addressing power and fear. And may our deserts blossom, may the wilderness and our dry places be nourished and glad, and may we blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.

Thankful today for the life and witness of Nelson Mandela.  Thankful for the leadership that exemplifies power in weakness, and greatness found in serving.  As the disciples were seeking positions of power, we are reminded in our anticipation this Advent season as we await singing, “O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”  In our waiting, may we remember God enters in poverty as a little child with the kind of power that “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”





Feast For All: Day 5

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
        a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
        of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
    And he will destroy on this mountain
        the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
        the sheet that is spread over all nations;
        he will swallow up death forever.
    Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
        and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
        for the LORD has spoken.
    It will be said on that day,
        Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
        This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
        let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. Isaiah 25: 6-9

     There is a reason that for this time of waiting and preparation, I did not select Isaiah 24–any of it– as an Advent reading.  Yet, take a glance.  See the contrast.  We go from despair, all is hopeless, “The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants…no longer do they drink wine with singing…” to the Lord of hosts making a feast of rich food for all.

     Contemplate our world today.  I consider the stories Lisa shares from her time this last week in India and the eye opening reality of systemic poverty.  Today our headlines read of fast food workers seeking a living wage contrasted by corporate profits of $5,000,000,000.  Hunger strikes in effort to move leaders to offering just solutions with immigration.  Income disparity unlike any time in our history.

     Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, speaks prophetically today as much as his original intent.  There is a sentimentality that helps bring comfort with a happy ending of transformation and all around the family table as the credits role.  Yet we are surrounded with this story every day.  Can we hear the words from Isaiah 24?  Or Isaiah 25:4, “For you have been a refuge to the poor”, a refuge, a shelter.

Our word today does not end with Isaiah 24.  It is a message of hope in the working out of God’s purpose.  A purpose of gathering all at table at a feast unlike any other.  A feast of rich food, the finest wine, and the inclusion of all people.  But do we have to go through Isaiah 24 to reach Isaiah 25?  Are our ears able to hear, and eyes able to see.  This speaks as much of God as it does of humanity.

     And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then…

     Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears.  Deeply seeded within all of our humanity is a desire for an end to mourning.  There is a longing for community, belonging, and providing.

     I am thankful for our community of faith.  I am humbled this last week to witness Thanksgiving feasts that shared the hospitality of making sure everyone was invited to be part of our greater family.  As we continue throughout this Advent season and into a new year, how do we continue to participate in sharing God’s righteousness, or God’s restorative justice. How may we live into our participation into the baptismal promise we share that we will provide for, care for, and nurture our brothers and sisters.  For this is the vision that is salvation.  That one day the Lord will make a feast for all.   May we share together in making a difference in the waiting.

A Little Child Shall Guide Them

Day 4 Advent Reading

Isaiah 11: 1-3, 6-9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
        and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
    The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
        the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
        the spirit of counsel and might,
        the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
    His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD…
       The wolf shall live with the lamb,
        the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
    the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
        and a little child shall lead them.
    The cow and the bear shall graze,
        their young shall lie down together;
        and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
    The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
        and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
    They will not hurt or destroy
        on all my holy mountain;
    for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
        as the waters cover the sea.

How do we understand judgment?  We speak so much of a loving God, what do we do with judgment?  What do we do with fear?

I like how Isaiah 11 begins with a shoot coming from the stump.  That in judgment, there is pruning–or even more-so.  A stump itself appears at first as no hope for the tree.  But the promise is for life.  That along with chainsaws, there becomes more room for growth.  And this leads to one day wolf and lamb lying down together.  All this to be led by a little child.

I share with you a song based upon this text.  This song is from the group where Lisa and I met, the Newman Singers.  On That Holy Mountain.  May this season of advent be magical as you enter into the wonder of what God has done, and what God continues to do.

Join With Us as We Watch For the Light Together This Advent

Watch for the light. (Daily Scripture Readings)

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’”  (Gen. 1: 1-3). When God enters our lives, there is light. When God enters into our world to camp with us, God comes as light. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 1-5)

As we begin this Advent season together, may we again see the wonder of the light and life of God entering and making our lives new. With the distractions of consumerism, may we pause with anticipation and be guided by the brightest star. May we together, help nurture and strengthen one another. 

December 1 is the beginning of a New Year in our Christian calendar. I would like us to try something new this blessed New Year. As the Word that was in the beginning is Jesus Christ, and the Word is our living Scripture, I would like us to enter into the Word together every day of this month in the anticipation of seeing Christmas again through the eyes of our children. In our busy lives, this pause will help ground us with the fullness of why we celebrate Christmas. 

Parents, I have been intentional in selecting Bible verses that help build from the prophecy to the birth of Jesus. One of the greatest gifts we can share with our children is a love of reading our Scripture. Pick the time that works best for your family. We will choose to do this each night at bedtime. If you think of a Christmas Carol that goes well with the song, or a story, may we share the true gift of Christmas of a great light. Also, we will be regularly blogging and sharing thoughts on these readings on our website throughout Advent. Please join in and share in the conversation at

Daily Readings:


Isaiah 2: 1-5



Isaiah 7: 13-14

Sign of Emmanuel


Isaiah 9: 1-7

A coming king.


Isaiah 11: 1-3, 6-9

A peaceful kingdom.


Isaiah 25: 6-9

Passionate waiting.


Isaiah 35: 1-10

Prepare for God’s reign.


Isaiah 49: 1-2

You are God’s beloved child.


Jeremiah 1: 4-5

“Before I formed you—I knew you.”


Psalm 139

You are beautiful.


Isaiah 60: 1-5

Your light has come.


Luke 1: 5-25

Song of Zechariah


Luke 1: 26-38

Angel comes to Mary


Luke 1: 39-56

Mary shares good news


Luke 1: 57-66

Prepare the way of the Lord.


Isaiah 40: 1-5

(Prepare the way)


Luke 1: 67-80

Song of Zechariah


Matthew 1: 18-24

Angel tells Joseph


Luke 2: 1-5

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem


John 1: 1-9

Light shines in the darkness


John 8: 12

Light of the world


Isaiah 42: 1-9

A light to the nations.


Micah 5: 2-5a

Prophecy of one of peace


Zechariah 9: 9-17

The coming ruler.


Luke 2: 6-20

Jesus is Born


Luke 2: 21-38 and Luke 1: 31-32



Matthew 2: 1-12

Wise men follow a star.


Matthew 2: 13-23 and Luke 2: 39-40

Herod becomes angry


1 John 3: 1-3

Children of God


1 John 4: 9 and John 3: 17

Why did Jesus come?


1 Peter 2: 2-3

Spiritual Milk


Colossians 3: 16-17

New Life.


Merry Christmas, Pastor Rob


Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,  Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.  But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.  Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.


Where do we find hope?  Do we find hope in the might of our armies, our defense–our ability to stand stronger than the other?  Yahweh intervenes and offers another way.  God offers instead faith and hope through another intervention–Immanuel.  Immanuel means God with us. In this time of waiting, may we be so thankful at this promise and the miracle of how God has been working from the beginning for the purpose of restoring a relationship.

Waiting for Morning

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,  39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.  40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.  42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24: 36-44

Advent—A time of waiting.  This can mean many things for different people.  May we be conscious of this as a community and help share in the waiting together and strive to find the wonder of the anticipation as a child laying beneath the tree gazing through the iridescence of the magical Christmas light.  

With anticipation this first week of Advent, we find this curious text of waiting.  As we long for the sentimental Talladega Nights “sweet little baby Jesus”, instead we begin with apocalyptic literature.  As I scan the three years of our lectionary, there is a pattern of beginning Advent with parousia—eschaton—rather than Incarnation.  Meanwhile, I am ready for “sweet little baby Jesus”.  But what we want and what we need may be different.  A good message to begin the season.  A reminder that we  live between the times.  That waiting has multiple meanings.  That Advent is waiting of ‘sweet little baby Jesus’.  And like the Ford commercial that helps point out that it is not sweet ‘or’ sour chicken, but that we like the ‘and’.  The season is anticipating the entering of God into humanity ‘and’ anticipating Christ’s return.    

On one hand, we remember God’s promise to Israel of Immanuel—God with us.  And on the other hand, we anticipate Immanuel returns as king of kings.    

Living between the two is a gift.  Jesus-warns of this day that will take us by surprise.  Like a homeowner—unaware of the time of a thief that comes by night.  Or like the time of Noah—where people were eating and drinking, marrying—following a pattern in the ordinary—the mundane. 

This teaching is reiterated in three parables immediately following the morning’s text.  The first, parable is of the ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom. When he arrives in the middle of the night, he receives the five who were prepared with enough oil.  The second—a story of a master who leaves on a long journey and entrusts his servants with his money.  Upon his return, he rewards the two who risked and grew the investment while condemning the one who buries the treasure.  The third, again warns of judgment rewarding the ones—the sheep, who by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those imprisoned. By feeding, clothing, and visiting the least of these—they did this unto the Lord—all the while unaware.   And those who did not feed, clothe, and visit—the goats—also unaware.  Today along with the three parables conclude, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 

There has been a lot of ink spilt and breath wasted in predicting the time.  For some, this prediction is the rapture—left behind.  This scenario I refer to as the evacuation model, the ejection seat justification for abdicating responsibility of caring for this creation.  Others view this as the time of each individuals death—judgment seat where one stand before the court, God as judge.  As defendant, we give an accounting of our life.  What is the balance on the scale?  What is good enough? 

And for others, we can hear the response to the question of what would you do if this were your last day on earth? Many respond with scenarios of living in excess—going out with a party, thrill seeking—responses of going out with a bang—this is it.

But in Christ, there is another way.  Our reading today encourages faith instead of apathy.  It emphasizes hope instead of anxiety.  At the quest of predicting, we are also reminded of the many times the disciples tried asking Christ for the details—when are you coming back?  But Christ reframes the question.  In stating that the angels don’t know, nor the Son of Man—he is asking what are you doing in the waiting?  Rather than the trivial—how are you living in the mundane.  In this time of eating and drinking, marrying—this is where faith happens.  In our question to predict, crack the code, solve the puzzle—we are reminded that it is not about knowing everything—but is about the expectation to do something. 

As Jesus speaks in parable, perhaps the point is less about a future judgment, but rather speaking to disciples on how they are living now.  Each day, each moment, how are we responding in our freedom to the free gift of grace? 

While holding together living in between the times, of anticipating God entering through the advent of a little child, and the second-coming that we proclaim today in the words of Christ as we gather around table together—how are we living in that new day in Christ each and every day through the lens of life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.    

You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”
(Matt. 25:44, TNIV).

During Advent we remember God’s promise to be with us—wholly and completely. And we wait for that promise to be fulfilled. But we don’t know the exact time: Jesus doesn’t always come according to our schedule.

Keep your eyes on the clock. Watch the seconds go by. Does time move fast or slow? Can you slow yourself down for a whole minute? Two minutes? How does it feel to just wait? Easy? Hard? Relaxing? Frustrating?

What are you waiting for? Are you watching? Are you ready?[1]

[1] Reformed Worship, Erica Schemper, Sept. 2013 issue, Advent Prayer Stations. Advent Week 1.

Walk in the Light

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
       In days to come
        the mountain of the LORD’S house
    shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
        and shall be raised above the hills;
    all the nations shall stream to it.
        Many peoples shall come and say,
    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
        to the house of the God of Jacob;
    that he may teach us his ways
        and that we may walk in his paths.”
    For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
        and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
    He shall judge between the nations,
        and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
    they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
        and their spears into pruning hooks;
    nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
        neither shall they learn war any more.
       O house of Jacob,
        come, let us walk
        in the light of the LORD! (Isaiah 2: 1-5)

Day 1 in our Advent journey together.  What a great place to begin.  Many scholars believe this to be the original beginning of Isaiah–Chapter One is therefore a later submission–a prequel.  I think of the whole of Isaiah as three books: 1. Warnings; 2. Exile; 3. Restoration.  In our opening today, the people trusted in themselves.  God is distant.  But for God, we are held close.  God is judge is righteous.  My favorite definition for righteousness in most of Scripture is ‘restorative justice.’  Justice is not about casting out, or for the sake of retribution.  But our righteous God cares about relationships.  God cares about us.

God cares enough that the highest points are not our own successes, but it is our connectedness to God and one another.  God’s purpose is for all nations to follow in this path; “…all nations shall stream to it.”  God’s judgment shall arbitrate for many.

What is restorative justice, and this high place?  It is a place where we beat our swords into plowshares.  It is a place of hope.  A place where instead of stand-your-ground laws, we get our hands dirty caring for one another.  Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.  Amen