Advent 2011: 3.1 — Dancing in the Ashes

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 3: A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

The Spirit of the Lord and King is on me. The Lord has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts have been broken. He has sent me to announce freedom for those who have been captured. He wants me to set prisoners free from their dark prisons. He has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free. He wants me to announce the day when he will pay his enemies back. Our God has sent me to comfort all those who are sad.

He wants me to help those in Zion who are filled with sorrow. I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like the oak trees that are strong and straight. The Lord himself will plant them in the land. That will show how glorious he is. They will rebuild the places that were destroyed long ago. They will repair the buildings that have been broken down for many years. They will make the destroyed cities like new again. They have been broken down for a very long time.

The Lord says, “I love those who do what is right. I hate it when people steal and do other sinful things. So I will be faithful to those who do what is right. And I will bless them. I will make a covenant with them that will last forever.

Their children after them will be famous among the nations. Their families will be praised by people everywhere. All those who see them will agree that I have blessed them.” The people of Jerusalem will say, “We take great delight in the Lord. We are joyful because we belong to our God. He has dressed us with salvation as if it were our clothes. He has put robes of godliness on us. We are like a groom who is dressed up for his wedding. We are like a bride who decorates herself with her jewels. The soil makes the young plant come up. A garden causes seeds to grow. In the same way, the Lord and King will make godliness grow. And all of the nations will praise him.”

— Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NIRV)

We’ve made it to week three of Advent. The week of Gaudete. The “pink” week. The week of rejoicing.

We’ve established hope. We’ve experienced peace. And, now, we rejoice.

Joy while living between the yesterday and the tomorrow. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Joy that brings healing.

Joy.

As has been the case each week throughout Advent, we begin the week with the Prophet Isaiah. I’ve often imagined Isaiah as this cantankerous old fella who had a long grey beard and said things in a really gruff sounding pirate voice. Now, I have no idea if my imagination is close to reality or not, but, I urge you, re-read the passage with that in mind.

Now, that you’re back.

In this passage, Isaiah (as he does in many other passages) brings hope to a group of downcast people. He reminds the people of God about who their God is.

He draws a beautiful picture. He turns ashes into crowns. Ashes of mourning turned into crowns of rejoicing. Ashes of death turned into crowns of life.

Life.

I think about Job. As he sits and hears servant after servant telling him the tragedy that is unfolding in his life, he responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and reflecting upon who God is.

I think of Mordecai. As he learns that Haman has suckered King Xerxes into what will amount to genocide, Mordecai responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and praying for deliverance.

I think of Jacob. As he hears the lie that Joseph is dead, he puts on sackcloth, covers his head in ashes, and cries.

Ashes.

Dad's Coffee Mug -- Used 35 years and washed only a handful of times.

I think of the day we held my Dad’s memorial. An urn filled with ashes and surrounded by flowers and flanked by a coffee mug and a plaque commemorating the Marine Corps naming him an Honorary Gunnery Sergeant. A crowd of people–all of them, in their own way, family.

Some reflecting upon who in that moment and that context is God.

Some praying for deliverance from the emptiness they felt.

All in deep sadness.

Yet, Isaiah offers hope. Isaiah offers peace. Isaiah offers joy.

Joy in that which is not yet, but is soon to be.

Messiah is coming.

He’s quite nearly here.

And when He comes, He will bring a spirit of praise that will replace the spirit of sadness.

When He comes, He will set His people free from their darkness and downcast spirit, and set them about rebuilding the City of Peace.

He will set them about dancing in the ashes.

He will set them about joy.

As we light the Gaudete candle, let us remember that His Light breaks into our darkness. It breaks into our sadness. It breaks into our sorrow.

And, like the mythical Phoenix, we are risen up out of the ashes to dance again.

Advent 2011: 2.4 — And so it Begins

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 2: A reading from the Gospel of Mark

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

— Mark 1:1-8 (ESV)

Rio Papigochi, Huapoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

And so it begins.

The beginning of the gospel — the Good News of the Messiah.

Mark’s rendition of the story seems to have the most abrupt of beginnings.  No angels, no Mary and Joseph, no manger, no shepherds, no wise men, no Bethlehem.  Rather, we begin in the wilderness with a wild man.

The beginning of the Good News.

Not a new beginning of the God story.  Rather a turning point on the continuum.  Prior to this beginning, we find Priests making atonement for the sins of the people by slaughtering lambs–as symbolic for what is to come as they are real.  Yet, John, the son of a Priest, comes in from the wild declaring that salvation is coming.

A wild man declaring that Peace has come.

A wild man introducing world to the embodiment of Peace.

A wild man heralding the coming of the King and His Kingdom.

There have been two themes as we’ve traveled along our Advent journey this week.  Peace and Preparation.

Preparing the way for the King who brings Peace beyond all understanding.  The King who prepares our lives for the glory that is to come.  The King who, in His absence, leaves us with the ultimate in Peace–His very presence, the Holy Spirit.

And so it begins.

A wild man declaring to the world that the King who is to come will bring Peace in the person of the Holy Spirit.

As the Messiah prepares the way for His coming crucifixion He reaffirms John’s statement.  He tells His disciples: “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18, WEB)  He promises that He will send a Comforter (the word orphan literally means comfortless).  He promises that He will send Peace.

And so it begins.

The ministry of a humble Carpenter, destined to be King.

And so it begins.

The comfort that is only found in the Peace of the Holy Spirit.

Advent 2011: 2.3 — The King is Coming

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 2: A reading from the Peter’s Second Epistle

Dear friends, here is one thing you must not forget.  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years.  And a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow to keep his promise.  He is not slow in the way some people understand it.  He is patient with you.  He doesn’t want anyone to be destroyed.  Instead, he wants all people to turn away from their sins.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar.  Fire will destroy everything in them.  God will judge the earth and everything in it.

So everything will be destroyed.  And what kind of people should you be?  You should lead holy and godly lives.  Live like that as you look forward to the day of God.  It will make the day come more quickly.  On that day fire will destroy the heavens.  Its heat will melt everything in them.

But we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth.  Godliness will make its home there.  All of this is in keeping with God’s promise.

Dear friends, I know you are looking forward to that.  So try your best to be found pure and without blame.  Be at peace with God.  Remember that while our Lord is waiting patiently to return, people are being saved.

— 2 Peter 3:8-15a (NIRV)

"King Jesus Returns"

Today’s reading takes our focus off of the Messiah coming as a Baby, and places it squarely on the Messiah coming as the King.  It moves our vantage point from that of the Israelite people longing for a Rescuer and makes it one of a Rescued people longing for the eternal.

Our Eternal King is coming.

Yet, as we all know, He skipped the apparent appointment that He had on May 21 (which, by pure coincidence, is my birthday).  Why?

Peter tells us that the King is coming, yet He is coming in His own time.  He is coming on His own schedule.  And, the longer He waits, the better.  His waiting gives the millions who have never heard of His rescue plan a chance.

“And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?” — Romans 10:14b

Someone has to tell them.

So, Peter gives us one way to tell them.  He tells us to live like we are excited about the coming of the King.  If you knew that the King of Norway (or any other country) was going to visit your house, then how would you prepare?  How would you get ready?  Shower?  Shave?  Wash clothes, dishes, floors, and windows?

Peter tells us that we should live the same way.  We should prepare by washing our souls.  We should prepare by living like the King is about to show up.   We should open the door of our heart (mind, will and emotions) to godliness.

Be found pure and blameless.

And then, Peter uses the word of the week: PEACE.  Be at PEACE with God.

There is an implication here that to not be preparing for the coming King is tantamount to being at war with that King.

As Jesus said, “This is war, and there is no neutral ground.  If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.” (Matthew 12:30, The Message)

So, are you preparing yourself for the coming King?

Are you preparing the world for the coming King?

If you’re not, then “you’re just making things worse.”

The King is coming.

Are you at Peace?

Advent 2011: 2.2 — An Advent Psalm

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 2: A reading from the Psalms

Lord, You showed favor to Your land; You restored Jacob’s property.  You took away Your people’s guilt; You covered all their sin.

Selah

I will listen to what God will say; surely the Lord will declare peace to His people, His godly ones, and not let them go back to foolish ways.

His salvation is very near those who fear Him, so that glory may dwell in our land.

Faithful love and truth will join together; righteousness and peace will embrace.  Truth will spring up from the earth, and righteousness will look down from heaven.  Also, the Lord will provide what is good, and our land will yield its crops.

Righteousness will go before Him to prepare the way for His steps.

— Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Favor.

Restoration.

Redemption.

Peace has been declared to those who are willing to stop and listen.

Listening.

If we stopped long enough to listen to the words that God had to say to us, then what would we be able to accomplish in the world?

Peace.

Salvation.

Near to those who fear Him.

Why?

For our fame? So we can be uplifted? So we can feel good about our abilities? So we can show how big our auditorium is? So we can broadcast on cable television?

For HIS FAME.

For HIS REPUTATION.

It’s not about our fame. It’s not about our reputation.

It’s about a broken and dying world that needs to know the Peace of a Savior.

A world that stays broken and dying as long as we sit still on our comfortable pews.

Love and truth.

Righteousness and Peace.

Embracing.

Love embracing the truth of the Gospel. Love embracing the ones in need of the truth.

Righteousness. A right-standing legally and relationally with the God of the Universe. Righteousness bringing peace.

Truth springing up in places where truth is not yet know.

Burma.

China.

North Korea.

Cuba.

Maldives.

Yemen.

Iran.

Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan.

Peace bringing truth. Peace bringing love.

Yet, the need exists. The need for someone to prepare the way.

The fields are ready for harvesting.

“Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” — Psalm 126:6 (NIV)

Advent 2011: 2.1 — One to Rescue

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 2: A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”  And I said, “What shall I cry?”  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”  Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are young.

— Isaiah 40:1-11 (ESV)

Last week, we lit the candle of hope.  This week, along with hope, we light the candle of peace.

Our first reading this week takes us back to the Prophet Isaiah.  By this point in Israel’s history, neither hope nor peace are in play.  Israel is in captivity.  Their land is being occupied by foreign forces.  God is speaking through the Prophets, yet the words are not always all that hopeful or peaceful.

Then we come to today’s passage.

Isaiah speaks words of comfort to Jerusalem.  The Lord is coming, so prepare the way.

The Lord is coming.  Make the highway straight.

In the latter part of the reading, we find words of peace.  “Fear not.”  “He will tend his flock like a shepherd.”  “He will gently lead the young.”

Gentle leading.

We see this theme of Shepherd again.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the life and ministry of the Messiah.

Jesus comes.

He’s hanging around with some shady characters.  Characters who, like us, need rescued.  The religious folk of the day are critical of Jesus’ methods.

“He hangs around with sinners.”

“He hangs out with our enemies.”

“He says to go into the highways and hedges and bring in the homeless.”

“He says to love the orphans.”

“He says to heal the sick.”

“He says to take care of the immigrant.”

“He says to love all as brothers and sisters no matter their social standing.”

And Jesus responds with a story.

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one.  Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it?  When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me!  I’ve found my lost sheep!”  Count on it–there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” — Luke 15:4-7 (The Message)

Jesus tells them, in essence, that He would leave them in their cushioned pews to go get the one who is dirty, hungry, homeless, and sick.  The one who needs rescued is more important than the ninety-nine who have been rescued and are comfortable in their rescue.

What would you do?

Would you sit in the fold with the ninety-nine and say, “Forget the one.  They have nothing to offer anyway.  They have no money.  They have sickness.  They’ll just want a hand-out.”  Or, would you leave the comfort and head into the woods to find that one who needs rescued.

There is always one to rescue.

What are you doing in this Advent season to bring Christ’s peace to the one who needs rescued?

Peace in the midst of suffering.

Peace in the midst of hunger.

Peace in the midst of war.

Peace in the midst of illness.

Peace in the midst of death.

Peace has come.  He came unassumingly.  He came without fanfare.  He came without a gift.

A child — Peace embodied — in a humble stable.

Peace came to rescue the world.

Would you leave the ninety-nine for the one to rescue?

Advent 2011: 1.4 — Summer’s Just Around the Corner

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 1: A reading from the Gospel of Mark

“Following those hard times, sun will fade out, moon cloud over, stars fall out of the sky, cosmic powers tremble.

“And then they will see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his arrival filling the sky–no one will miss it!  He’ll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole.

“Take a lesson from the fig tree.  From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner.  And so it is with you.  When you see all these things, you know he is at the door.  Don’t take this lightly.  I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too–these things will happen.  Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.

“But the exact day and hour?  No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son.  Only the Father.  So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable.  It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch.  So, stay at your post, watching.  You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning.  You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job.  I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post.  Keep watch.”

— Mark 13:24-37 (The Message)

Caleb in the Garden of the Gods

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a fan of cold weather.  I love summer.  Sunshine.  Warmth.  I love it.  If I had my way, it would be 90 degrees year-around.  Unfortunately, I don’t have my way.  As I write this and look out the office window, I see a cold overcast day.  It’s 40 degrees.  There’s a chance of snow in the next couple of days.  Winter is upon us.

As I read through this reading, I kept going back to the phrase “summer’s just around the corner.”  Summer is coming.  It’s almost here.

To be honest, this reading gave me some trouble from the moment I first looked at it.  It’s not what we have come to imagine as a typical Advent/Christmas story.  There are no shepherds, angels, Joseph’s or Mary’s.  Rather, we have Jesus on the brink of crucifixion.

Jesus is about to die.  Winter is about to come.

The Disciples have to be confused.  Here is their Leader — the One whom Peter had declared to be Messiah — about to die.  Yet, Kingdom hadn’t come.  At least, the Kingdom they expected.

Expectations.

What are your expectations from your time with Messiah?

What are your expectations of the Kingdom?

As we journeyed through the past 20 months of my Dad’s battle with Pancreatic Cancer, we knew that death was all but inevitable.  Yet, even with that knowledge, our expectations were that Dad would somehow beat death.  That he would somehow manage to live 20 more years.  Yet, after only 20 months, winter came.

Winter always comes.

Even in winter, Jesus promises something more than just cold and bleak.  As He is preparing His Disciples for his inevitable journey back to the Father, He tells them that He will send a Comforter.  He will send one to bring Peace in the storm.  He tells His Disciples, “I’m leaving you well and whole.  That’s my parting gift to you.  Peace.  I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left–feeling abandoned, bereft.  So don’t be upset.  Don’t be distraught.” (John 14:27 (The Message))

Winter is here, yet Summer is coming.

As I read the passage from Mark, I found hope in the fact that summer is coming.  It’s right around the corner.

Warmth.

Sun.

Summer is coming.

Jesus leaves us with more than a Comforter and the hope of Summer.  Jesus leaves us with a mandate: “Prepare for Summer”, He says.

Keep working.

No sleeping on the job.

See, Jesus has called us each to do a job.  Everyone has been called.  We all have a task to do.  Summer is coming, and work needs to be done.  In the timetable of the Kingdom, we don’t know when Summer will finally arrive.  So, we’re told, to keep working.

Keep the expectation intact.

Keep the hope alive.

Keep at it until Summer has come.

As my Dad drew close to his last breath, he kept true to his character.  He kept true to his vocation.  He kept teaching.  That final lesson was very similar to what Jesus is telling us in this passage.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Don’t give up just because it’s cold.  Don’t quit because it’s dreary and overcast.  Keep on fighting.

Be ready!  Summer is just around the corner.

Advent 2011: 1.3 — Hope-FULL

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 1: A reading from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

I always thank God for you. I thank him because of the grace he has given to you who belong to Christ Jesus. You have been blessed in every way because of him. All your teaching of the truth is better. Your understanding of it is more complete. Our witness about Christ has been proved to be true in you.

There is no gift of the Holy Spirit that you don’t have. You are full of hope as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to come again. God will keep you strong to the very end. Then you will be without blame on the day our Lord Jesus Christ returns.

God is faithful. He has chosen you to share life with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

— 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NIRV)

Hope (noun) – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.

What a beautifully loaded word.

Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, identifies them as “full of hope.”

Full of hope.

To the brim.

Expecting something big to happen. Full of trust that what they are expecting to happen will indeed happen.

On Sunday of this week, we lit the first of the Advent candles. The Candle of Hope.

Paul’s language is full of the language of a hope fulfilled. Notice:

  • God WILL keep you…
  • You WILL be without blame…
  • God IS faithful…
  • He HAS chosen you…

As we travel through the journey of life, we often find ourselves at places that seem devoid of hope. Places that seem to scream: “GOD ISN’T HERE.” Places that feel as if we have been left alone to fend for ourselves.

Yet, we in those times of darkness, we light the candle of Hope. We light the candle of expectation.

Consider Paul’s words again.

First, he prays that God, our Father, and the Messiah — Immanuel — may grant us grace and peace.

Peace.

In our darkness. In our void. In our lonliness. May God grant peace.

Second, in the gift of grace, we find blessing. We find truth. We find a solid witness to the graciousness of God.

Even in the bleakest of moments, God has granted us his grace. God has granted us his peace. Out of that grace and peace, we form a testimony. A testimony of Hope.

Finally, Paul shows us that because we are full of Hope — full of expectancy — God will keep us strong. As we wait on the Messiah to come, we wait with hearts full of Hope. Hope founded in the grace and peace of our Lord. Hope that we know will be fulfilled.

We find hope coupled with faith in another Scripture.

Hebrews 11:1 — Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. (NIRV)

Because “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9), we can hope with surety that Messiah will come.

Our hope-full waiting is punctuated by Immanuel.

  • God has chosen us.
  • God is faithful to us.
  • God will keep us.
  • God is with us.

Remain Hope-FULL in your waiting for the fulfillment of faith.

Advent 2011: 1.2 – And God Smiled

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 1: A reading from the Book of Psalms

Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned [on] the cherubim, rise up before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Rally Your power and come to save us.

Restore us, God; look [on us] with favor, and we will be saved.

Lord God of Hosts, how long will You be angry with Your people’s prayers? You fed them the bread of tears and gave them a full measure of tears to drink. You make us quarrel with our neighbors; our enemies make fun of us.

Restore us, God of Hosts; look [on us] with favor, and we will be saved.

Let Your hand be with the man at Your right hand, with the son of man You have made strong for Yourself. Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, and we will call on Your name.

Restore us, Yahweh, the God of Hosts; look [on us] with favor, and we will be saved.

— Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (HCSB)

Like our previous reading, we find Israel in trouble. In darkness. In a hopeless situation.

Yet, as we light the candle of Expectancy this week, we find even in the bleakest darkness a glimmer of hope.

I like how Peterson (The Message) paraphrases verses 3, 7 and 19: “God, come back! Smile your blessing smile: That will be our salvation.”

All was dark, and then, God smiled.

The enemy was at the door, and then, God smiled.

The Doctor told you a loved one was in their final hours, and then, God smiled.

It’s important that we realize that God’s smile doesn’t mean that things turn out the way we want them to turn out. Rather, when God smiles we know that there is hope for a brighter future. We know that there is a light shining forth in the darkness. We know that His smile ushers in His Kingdom.

We know that we can make it through the tough time.

When God smiles.

God smiled, and the diagnosis was still cancer.

God smiled, and the illness grew worse.

God smiled, and the situation became more desperate.

God smiled, and death still came.

Yet, even in death, we know that God’s smile brings comfort. God’s smile brings peace. God’s smile brings hope for tomorrow. God’s smile brings forth salvation.

God smiled, and Immanuel came.

God smiled, and resurrection happened.

God smiled, and peace reigned.

God smiled, and Kingdom came.

Advent 2011: 1.1 – Molded in Hope

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

A reading from the Book of Isaiah:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can be be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.

— Isaiah 64:1-9 (NIV)

Our journey through Advent begins with the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is reflecting upon the behavior of the Israelite people. They hadn’t always been faithful to God. They had wandered in sin. They had lived their life as if they were in control.

In this, the first week of Advent, as we light the candle of Expectancy — of Hope, we find the Prophet lamenting the behavior of his people.  He is lamenting the behavior of a people who believed they could be their own best hope.  Who believed they could chart their own course.  Forge their own destiny.

Ultimately, we find the Prophet telling us that trusting in our own ability leads to a life of no hope.

We end our reading from Isaiah with the Prophet declaring to YHWH that He is the Potter and we are merely the clay.  In essence, the Prophet is saying, “I’m no longer in charge.”

The Prophet is saying, “My hope is no longer in myself.”

Where is your hope?

Are you like the Israelites of old who believed that they could find a better way?  Or are you like the Prophet Isaiah who is willing to say, “I’m not the boss of me.”

See, clay has no way of telling the potter the type of vessel it should be.  Clay can only sit and be molded by the potter.  The potter who has in his mind a vision of what type of vessel the clay could become.

In the midst of our achievements…

In the midst of our failures…

In the midst of our joy…

In the midst of our grief…

The Potter molds us.  The Potter forms us into vessels from which He can bring Kingdom into the world.  The Potter molds out the flaws in us to create vessels of beauty.

The Potter in HIS Wisdom is creating the best possible vessel from the lump of clay.

All too often, we attempt to control the outcome of the potter’s hands. We attempt to mold ourselves.

Yet, Advent is a time for us to relinquish control and allow the Potter to instill the Hope of that which is to come into our souls.  The Hope that is Kingdom on the Horizon.  The Hope that is Immanuel.

In this, the beginning of the Advent season, may you let go of your destiny.  May you relinquish control of your molding.  May you allow the Potter to make you into a vessel that can be used to pour Kingdom Light into a dark world.

Shields of Faith

When I went up this morning to receive communion during our church service, I prayed and asked God to shield us from attacks of the enemy as we mourn the death of Michael’s dad.  As I was praying, I had a picture in my mind of a group of soldiers protecting themselves with their shields positioned over their group as a whole in the formation of a tortoise shell similar to what is pictured here.  I believe God was saying that attacks from the devil are too aggressive for us to go into battle alone even when we’re clothed with the full armor of God.  There is strength in community, in others fighting with us, in unity.  So I ask that especially during this time as we journey through this grieving process, that you will cover us with prayer as we all join our shields to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).