Prepare the Way: Advent Day 15

Isaiah 40:1-5

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”  How exactly does one prepare the way of the Lord?  At first glance, it appears to involve heavy machinery and a lot of earth moving expertise.  But when we look at how John the Baptist actually prepared the way, he “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

And how does that prepare the way?  As Isaiah said, “Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).  By recognizing our sin for what it is and making a conscious decision to turn and head in the other direction, we begin to restore our relationship with the God that loves us.  Once we give God a foot in the door, the Holy Spirit enters and works within us to help identify further sin, and gives us the strength to oppose it.  In fact, by giving our life to Christ, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and no longer a slave to sin (Romans 6:6).

During this Christmas season, I pray that those that do not know our lord and savior would give their life to Him, and that those who have already made that decision would humble themselves & ask Him to reveal any unconfessed sins in their lives.  Then may we turn from those sins to embrace the ways of the God who humbled himself by entering the world as an infant in a manger.  Amen.

The Magnificat: Advent Day 13

Luke 1: 39-56

Today’s reading is known as the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song.  This is a song of praise and a song of hope.  What does hope look like?  What does it look like for Mary?

As her song concludes:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
   He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;

   he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
  He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
   according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

What does hope look like for us? What does hope look like for God?

If You Need a Job Done Right: Advent Day 12

Luke 1: 26-38

You can’t make this stuff up.  Ask yourself, “If I were to write the story?”  God could have entered however God wants.  I would picture nothing less than Zeus with lightning bolts, bulging muscles, the finest castle, and a jewel studded throne.  Having a soon to be teenager, I would enter as thirteen–because I would be God–and know everything.  At least this would be past the diaper stage.

But God is God–and God gets to write the story.  A story of incarnation conceived with a poor, socially and religiously compromised single mom.  Think about that in all of our social commentary on who we bequest as good enough.  In our discussions on good enough for adoption, for marriage, for church…  And God chooses Mary–far from perfect Mary.

The miracle is this imperfect, outcast, marginalized woman is the perfect choice.  This strong, hard working, independent, and faithful woman.  If you need a job done right…

It is through the angel Gabriel that God taps on her shoulder and says, “Greetings!  You are going to have a baby, you will name him Jesus (meaning to liberate, save).  He will be great, the Son of the Most High, and Son of God.

And Mary says, “Yes”.  She says, ‘Here I am.’

Thankfully God does things differently. How powerful is that!  Amen.

Do Not Be Afraid: Advent Day 11

Luke 1: 5-25

“Do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard.”  May we not only wear this on our t-shirts, our bumpers, our foreheads, but may we internalize this message.  By internalizing, may we be transformed and radiate in a world that so greatly needs to hear, “Do not be afraid.”

One of the blessings already in my vocational journey of ministry is the witness of those who live these words.  A witness that strengthens me and all of those around when called to visit the hospital.  A witness at the time of great loss of a loved one.  A witness of an embrace that reminds me that the importance isn’t about coming up with the right words, but that it is about sharing in the presence of one another in our most difficult moments.    Is there an amount of time that would be enough to prepare one for some of the most difficult calls?  In those times we feel unprepared, Gabriel reminds us that God is enough.  God is present. “Do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard.”

“With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Isn’t this a beautiful picture?  So often our effort is so focused upon youth programs/camps/groups.  Focus can be be through a zoom lens that limits Sunday School for kids.  Meanwhile, we drop the kids off celebrating the hour of peace and quiet.  Gabriel instead begins with the parents. Let us start with turning the hearts of the parents to their children.  May we as parents participate and lead by example.  May our preparation, our turning, our praying, our reading scripture.  May our lives be representation of a living faith that lead by missional example.  And like Zechariah, when we screw it up–may we humbled in silence.

Something great is coming.  May we prepare as families and as communities for new birth, new possibilities, and deeper relationships.

Come to the Light: Advent Day 10

Isaiah 60: 1-5

Today’s text contrasts darkness and light.  This is our first text in what many refer to as “Third Isaiah.”  A central theme woven throughout this section is restoration.  For those displaced, this light is hope of a new dawn.

Where are you feeling displaced?  May this Advent provide hope in the waiting.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come.”  As we journey towards Bethlehem, may we open our eyes and look around, gather.  May our sons and daughters, and our church family see the radiance and may our hearts thrill and rejoice.  (And may a multitude of camels cover you–whatever your camels shall be).  Merry Christmas!

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

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.