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Advent 2011: 4.4 — A Covenant of Love

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 4: A reading from Paul’s epistle to the Romans. 

Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

–Romans 16:25-27 (NLT)

 Our focus shifts with today’s Lectionary reading.  It is almost as if we exchange our “someday the Messiah will come” for “the coming is imminent–any moment now”.  As we have progressed through the previous 13 readings, we’ve explored the story from various perspectives.  And, now, Paul offers a sort of benediction on our study.  Yes, we have one reading remaining, and I would caution us to not treat that reading as a post script.  Rather, tomorrow’s reading is the beginning of a new season.

So, Paul offers us a place to shift our focus.  A place to pause and remember where we began and the path we have traveled.  Further, he offers us a glimpse at that which is to be.
 
The plan has been revealed, he says.  That plan, authored–yet, kept secret–before time itself, was that all of humankind would have the knoweldge of God’s mercy, grace and love.  

Emily and the Magnifying Glass

Emily looking through a magnifying glass. (Christmas 2009)

Paul brings our focus–as he often does–to the mystery of the gospel.  That beautiful mystery.  A Jewish covenantal promise extended to all by the mercy, grace and love of Father God.  
 
Remember with me the story of Abraham.  The Messenger of YHWH comes to him and makes him a promise–your offspring will be as the stars in the sky.  So many you won’t remember them.  And to prove it’s a covenant promise, the Messenger walks between the body of animals split in two.
 
Many years later, we find Jesus.  Not as a baby, rather as a man hanging on a tree.  Broken.  As a fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham.  
 
The covenant then gets expanded.  Since God’s covenantal people rejected the completion of the covenant, God extended the covenant to all of mankind.  The mystery of the gospel is revealed by this extension of the covenant. 
 
God’s mercy at work.
 
Grace defined.
 
Love exhibited to all without regard.
 
So, as we allow Paul to extend our benediction, and we look forward with longing to that imminent event, let us not reject the covenant.  Rather, let us embrace the mystery of the gospel.  Let us with the shepherds bow in adoration.  
 
The covenant of love has been made.  Now, we await its imminent fulfillment–fulfillment that begins with the most humble of beginnings.  

Let us, with the weary travelers, seek out a place for the covenant to be fulfilled in us.

Advent 2011: 4.3 — Guest Post – Rev. Nathan Kilbourne

Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne
Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

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 is 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.

We asked our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, if he would take this week’s optional Lectionary reading and offer a meditation for us.  We are excited and blessed that he said yes.  In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR.  He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Week 4: A reading from the Psalms

I will sing of your steadfast, O LORD, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.  I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: ‘I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations.'”
Selah

Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown of one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.  I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.  The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.  I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.  My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name shall his horn be exalted.”

— Psalm 89:1-4,  19-26 (NRSV)

Psalm 89 seems pretty cut and dry when it comes to its place in the Advent season.  Our current pericope (verses 1-4, 19-26) is pretty upbeat.  The Psalmist desires to sing of the Lord’s “steadfast love” forever and proclaim how faithful God has been.  The writer reminds the people of God of the covenant established by God with his servant David. Everlasting hope was to be found in the establishment of this earthly  kingdom and in the Davidic line.  God will use this kingdom to bring about salvation and be present in the world through this line.

On the surface it seems like it is pretty cut and dry – a proclamation of praise to the God who keeps promises.However, if we were to take a peek beyond the prescribed passage, we discover this Psalm is not one of praise but of lament.  In verse 38, there is a key shift.  After the Psalmist has proclaimed praise to God who has established David’s kingdom, the Psalmist writes, “But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.”  Even more poignantly toward the end of the Psalm, the writer questions, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”  

Here we catch a glimpse of the true nature of the Psalm.  The psalmist knows the promises of God in the past, and yet, the Davidic line has seemingly to an end.  God’s ruler no longer sits on the throne, how can God’s promises be fulfilled? It seems that all hope is lost and joy is out of reach.  It seems to be a dark, bleak moment.  Because the Davidic kingdom has ended, it is a moment of great angst.  Out of great distress, the psalmist cries out to the heavens knowing he needs God but asks, “How are you going to respond to all this?”  Will not God act as we expect?  

Advent is a time of great expectation and anticipation as we await the coming of the Christ child.  And yet, we look for him in the places we expect him to be, or better yet, in the places we have designated or assigned him to be.  But, God has acted in a surprising way.  The psalmist could only see salvation happening in a designated system.  But the promise of God was much larger than what could be perceived.

Though hope was fleeting, God’s promise was going to be fulfilled.  God’s love was steadfast.  However, it was found in an unexpected, unforeseen way.  The Davidic line would not be the author of salvation but the source of salvation, a salvation even greater than anticipated.

In the narrative of salvation, God was faithful and God’s steadfast love did endure!  

As we journey closer to the birth of Jesus, maybe we need to examine how we search for the Christ child.  Do we confine Jesus to only a certain place or among certain people? Or do we venture out and find him wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger or hear angels pronouncing good news to outcast shepherds?  May we yield ourselves to the Spirit of God and the Spirit’s movement in the world.

Let us pray, “Open our eyes, holy one.  Forgive us when we get ahead of you, thinking we know what is best.  Help us to see your love being born among us in unexpected ways and follow you. Your love does indeed endure forever and you are faithful to all generations.  Amen.”

Advent 2011: 4.2 — Love isn’t Safe

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 4: A reading from the Gospel of Luke

And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened-I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

— Luke 1:46-55 (MSG)

In today’s reading, we come back to Mary’s Song. Last week, Rev. Thorpe used this text to show us how joy is made manifest despite the circumstances by which we are surrounded. Today, I want to approach this text within the context of this week’s Advent theme–love.

Mary.

Her story is simply amazing.

A teenager.

Unmarried.

Pregnant.

In a culture that could stone her to death for that particular arrangement of circumstances.

Yet, she rejoices at the fact that God has placed her in His story.

She considers herself a victim of God’s deep love. She considers herself an example for generations to follow of God’s intense mercy.

What we learn from Mary’s plight is that God loves us so much that He’s willing to make us a part of His story. Yet, we also learn that being a part of God’s story is not always a safe place to be.

Mary could be killed by man for simply saying “Yes” to God.

There is a common misconception floating around the church. This misconception says, “The will of God is the safest place to be”. Yet, if you ask Mary, I would venture a guess that she would disagree.

As would, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

As would, Job.

As would, Jeremiah.

As would, Paul.

As would, Jesus.

Yet, all would tell you the immense depth of God’s love for them and for the world.

I am often reminded of Mr. Beaver’s comment regarding Aslan (the image of Jesus) to Lucy in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

“Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a l-the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking they’re braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

He isn’t safe, but He’s good. Mary understood this. Paul, Peter, Job, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego understood this. Millions of Chinese Christians understand this. God doesn’t call us to safety. He calls us to love.

Love is not safe.

It’s dangerous. It’s challenging. It’s tough. It’s uncomfortable.

It’s an unwed, pregnant, teenager in a culture where stoning her to death would have been acceptable.

It’s prison for merely reading a Bible.

It’s not safe.

But, God’s Love is always good.

Advent 2011: 4.1 — A Kingdom Established in Love

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 4: A reading from 2 Samuel (read by Emily)


We’ve now lit the fourth of our Advent candles.  The light of love is burning brightly.  Our first passage this week takes us to the Israel’s Golden Age.  We find ourselves listening in on a conversation between King David and his Creator.  A conversation that establishes forever the Davidic throne.

God has shown immense favor to David as he has progressed in life from lowly shepherd to king.  David now wants to do something special for God.  David loves his God, and wants to build a tangible monument to that love.

God has another plan.

God loves David.  And out of His love makes a promise, “Your family and your kingdom are permanently secured…your royal throne will always be there…”

Wow!

Now, before we get too far into this, let’s remember a little about this guy David.  He lived a messy life.  Adultery, murder, and rebellious kids for starters.  Yet, God blesses him with the promise of an eternal kingdom lineage.  David has a past.  A past that our merciful, gracious, and loving God redeems.

Redemption!  God’s love in action!

What David doesn’t know about this lineage established in God’s promise, is that the eternal kingdom is more than just a physical kingdom.  What David doesn’t know is that there is a King in his line that will redeem the entirety of mankind.

Twenty-eight generations later, we find an angel making a promise to an unwed, soon-to-be pregnant teenager:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” — Luke 1:30-33 (ESV)

Immanuel.  Messiah.  King of Kings.

God’s rescue plan for mankind.

God’s love embodied in a Child.

Redemption.

As we progress through this final week of Advent, let us not rush to the manger.  Rather, let us take a minute and remember what has brought us to this point.  We’re messy.  We need redemption.  We need a new Kingdom.  We need a Savior.  We need a Rescue Plan.

And, God, in His eternal love, has one in the works.

Advent 2011: 3.5 — In a Great Chasm

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 Gospel of John.

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?” “I am not.” “The Prophet?” “No.”

Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something-anything!-about yourself.”

“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing at the time.

— John 1:6-8, 19-28 (MSG)

Today’s reading brings us back to our Wild Man in the Wilderness. We encounter John the Baptist again. Yet, instead of Mark’s presentation of him as a Wild Man, we get a more subdued–almost politicianesque–character.

The religious leaders of the time come to John the Baptist with the intent of determining who he is. People from all over are flocking to him. The religious leaders are nervous. Who is this guy? Or probably more likely, “How much of a threat is this guy?”

What I find interesting here is that these religious leaders are the ones who know the prophecies. A few quick questions beginning with, “Were you born in Bethlehem?” (Micah 5:2) should (at least in theory) clear it all up for them. Yet, they they take a more direct approach: “Are you the Messiah?” While these leaders would have known the prophecies, they would also have, no doubt, known what had happened some 28 years prior.

We have a mad man ruling over Isreal. Herod. His power, he thinks, is contracting. He’s hearing rumors from three wise men that a new king has been born in Israel. So, he commits one of the most atrocious acts in history.

“Are you the Messiah?” they ask.

“No,” John says, “but let me tell you a little bit about him.”

John the Baptist bringing the message of that which is to be, but is not yet.

As we close this week of Guadete, we find ourselves in not all that different a place as John the Baptist. We again find that we are in that same great chasm in which people have found themselves for centuries–firmly between the promise and the fulfillment.

We know that Messiah has been promised, yet we await His coming.

We know the tragedy has occurred, yet we await the rescue.

We know that hell has broken loose, yet we await heaven’s entrance.

We know that a new King has been born, yet await the Kingdom.

And, in this great chasm, we rejoice.

We rejoice in the hope for that which is to come. We rejoice in the peace that will be.

But, for now, we wait.

Three Lit Candles

Two candles remain to be lit. On Sunday, we will light the candle of love. And, with its lighting, we will begin the mad rush to that most blessed of days. This time next week, we will quite nearly be to Bethlehem. We will be trying to find a place for two weary travelers to rest.

It would seem that the more we add to our calendars, to do lists and lives we become more like the innkeepers and less like the travelers.

And so, I would caution us against the mad rush. Let us stop and with all of creation take that deep breath. Let us take a breath of hope. Let us take a breath of peace. Let us take a breath of joy. Let us take a breath of love.

Then, as we light our final candle, and we begin the celebration of the birth of a Servant-King, let us again rejoice because our hope has been fulfilled. Let us rejoice because our peace has come. Let us rejoice because love has found hands and feet.

Advent 2011: 3.4 — Rejoice! Always?

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 Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians.

Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.

 — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NET)

Rejoice always.

In every circumstance.

In every challenge.

Rejoice.

When the road seems to be a dead end, rejoice.

Sometimes, reading the Apostle Paul can be an exercise in frustration. Be joyful always?!? Is this guy for real? Does he not understand the challenges that simply being alive brings???

We began our week with a prophecy given to Isaiah about God’s chosen people. A people that appeared to have chosen sadness as their destiny. Yet, Isaiah tells them to rejoice becuase God is about to rescue them. Now, we find Paul. As Jewish as one can be. Telling a church in a heavily persecuted area to rejoice always.

Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds on: Pray constantly and give thanks for everything.

Salt, meet wound.

The trifecta of challenges. “No matter what’s going on around you,” Paul says, “Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks.”

He then opens the entire salt shaker and says: “For this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”

God’s will?!?

Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. He outlined it all very clearly for the church at Corinth:

I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. –2 Corinthians 11:24-29 (MSG)

Emily Asleep in the Word

Emily falls asleep reading the Word.

Rejoice always.

It would seem to me that these three commands–Rejoice, pray and give thanks–are linked together for a reason.

The lynchpin here is thanksgiving. As we begin to give thanks for everything: food, clothes, shelter, family, clouds, sun, moon, pets, water, coffee, maps, phones, shoes, kids, parents, next-door neighbors, church, pastors, teachers, and on, and on.

From out of the giving of thanks will come rejoicing.

From out of the giving of thanks will come prayer. Prayer that will no doubt start with, “Awesome and giving God!”

Paul understood the importance in giving thanks. Thanksgiving brings joy. Thanksgiving brings a humble awe that leads to prayer.

Consider Paul’s writing to the church at Philippi:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity [to show it]. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret [of being content]-whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:10-13 (HCSB)

Paul understood that our joy wasn’t contingent upon our circumstance. As, Rev. Thorpe showed us yesterday, joy comes from knowing God. Joy come from knowing that Immanuel has indeed come, and will come again.

Are you walking in joy this Advent season? Are you living in the revelation of who God is? Are you living a life that illustrates to the world that Immanuel has come and is coming again?

Give thanks.

Pray continually.

Rejoice always!

Advent 2011: 3.3 — Guest Post – Rev. John A. Thorpe

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.

Rev. John A. Thorpe

Rev. John A Thorpe

Since this week’s Lectionary Readings contained an optional reading. We asked our friend, The Reverend John A. Thorpe, if he would step-in and offer a meditation on this reading. He graciously accepted, and we are all blessed because of it. Rev. Thorpe is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (where we became friends), Yale Divinity School, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He currently serves as the the Rector (Senior Pastor) of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newton, Iowa.

Week 3: A reading from the Gospel of Luke

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

— Luke 1:46-55b (KJV)

Mary’s spontaneous joy comes at a difficult time in her life: she will soon be an unwed mother, in a culture that would ostracize and even kill her for that. She has no money, no ability to support herself, and has risked her relationships with mother and father and fiancée, anyone who could support her – all to say, “Let it be to me as the Lord desires.” That one moment of real spirituality, of vision, of fearlessness, of submission to her God might cost her everything. Mary had nothing to gain but everything to lose.

Mary sings this song to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, is with child by a miracle; but rather than risking everything, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a crowning achievement. Since she had been considered barren, she had been ostracized by society; but God’s action took away her shame. Her husband was at the top of his field, and both were well advanced in age and respect in a culture that respected age. The coming of a baby was no shame to them, but lauded at every turn as a blessing. They had nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Though these two women were vastly different in age and circumstance, they were linked by the divine miracles in their wombs; but even further, they were linked by their willing submission to God’s plan for them and their families. And this submission, more than anything else, leads both women to exult in God’s victory through their pregnancies. Mary’s song is full of praise to God for what He has done – not a word about human action or agency. God is always the actor in this song. Mary finds joy in seeing God’s hand at work, even though it leads her down a difficult path, and even though Elizabeth’s path is happy! There is no jealousy among these cousins, but both find joy in their insight into the character of God.

The lesson for us today is that true joy is to be found not in circumstances, but in God. The more we look around at ourselves, others, the worldliness around us, the more joy we lose. But the more we shut that cacophony out and focus upward on the Lord Himself, the more we find joy. The retail hubbub of the Christmas season has it wrong: joy is not to be found in money and stuff and status and self-indulgence and consumption. Nor is joy to be found in getting our problems solved. Elizabeth praises God for solving her problems; Mary’s problems are just beginning. Joy is to be found only one place: the face of our Lord, Mary’s Lord, Elizabeth’s Lord – Jesus Christ. And no one can have the Joy of the Lord without that crucial step which both Mary and Elizabeth model: willing submission to our loving and Living God. From Mary’s joyful submission, by an act of the Holy Spirit, came Christ into the world. From our joyful submission to the same God, by the act of the same Spirit, Christ can come into our worlds and bring joy, no matter what might be our circumstances.

Advent 2011: 3.2 — Joy in Returning Home

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.

Today, Stephanie submits an entry.

WEEK 3: A reading (recited by Emily) from the Psalms (chapter 126, NIV2011)

Israel has returned home. Again. Not by their own effort or will, but by God’s grace and purpose. Israel had turned away and been taken captive by the desires of their flesh. From that place of sin, they wept out of their desire for closeness with their God. They showed their sorrow for transgressing — for breaking the relationship — against YHWH.

We too, turn from God to pursue the desires of our flesh, thus breaking our relationship with Father God. As we turn and chase after the sin that He warns us about–the sin that will hurt us– we drift further from the voice of God who is constant and faithful. God’s voice of love and of discipline grow more and more faint as we continue down the path of sin. Notice that God doesn’t change. He doesn’t stop speaking. We are the ones who have left His presence and thus are no longer in the range of His voice. After all, if we’re living in disobedience, isn’t it more comfortable that we can’t hear the Father’s rebuke?

But then, our sin catches up with us, and as we look upon ourselves, we see the chains that we have allowed to entangle us. We find ourselves captured. Upon coming to our senses, we long for the voice and comfort and closeness of Father God again. We weep with sorrow for breaking our relationship with a faithful and loving Father. We lose our pride, and we humble our hearts with repentance — a turning to God. We invite Him, again, to be Lord of our whole self again. To come into our messy lives with the filth that has built up and stained our hearts. And we ask for His blood that washes away all our sins and makes us clean…that makes us righteous again–on right terms face to face with God and right living side by side with God.

And because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy brings us back to Zion. To His holy mountain. To His presence. And our mouths our filled with laughter!

FREEDOM!!!!

No more chains of captivity bringing us down! No more distance from the Father! No more silence!

Not because of what we have done, but because of who our Father is!

Our tongues are filled with songs of joy!!

People start talking about the great things God has done for us, and you know what? It’s true!! He has done great things for us! Receiving us back, loving us, forgiving us, redeeming us! Yes! those are great things, and yes! He has done it for us! Praise Him!

Our fortune of sonship has been restored! The tears of yesterday have been turned into songs of joy! The sacrifice and humility it took to turn back to God — to repent — has been rewarded with the honor of being brought back into His presence! This is true life! This is something to sing and laugh and praise God for!

Shout, laugh, and sing for JOY!!!

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: 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.