Archives for December 2013

An Advent Journey, 2013: Merry Christmas!!

 

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But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-7 – NRSV

I greet you this day in the blessed name

of our Savior, Jesus Christ,

and wish for you and all whom you love

a very Merry Christmas

and a rich and wonderful New Year.

I will be taking a break from blogging

for the next two weeks or so

and look forward to being back in this space

with some new ideas sometime in early January, 2014.

Merry Christmas!

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Twenty-Four

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Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:1-6-NRSV

And the light shines in the darkness . . .


Only a tiny beam,

is all that is required.
And the darkness is pierced,
unable to blanket us all
with it’s ebony closeness.

Tiny and vulnerable,
subject to wind and weather,
illness and suffering,
pain and despair.
Still, the light shines,
guttering bright.

Who knew
that the whole of creation
could become so small?
That the winding of history
would pivot in that
dark, small space,
attended only by
exhausted parents,
lowly shepherds,
and an angel or two?

God knew.

God knew.

An Advent Journal, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Twenty-Three

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Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets,has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.”

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.”

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22:6-7, 18-20-NLT

When I imagine that day, it looks a whole lot like this sunset shot taken on Maui in 2011. It had been a quiet day, a little stormier than usual, and we hadn’t done much. We read, we watched a little TV, enjoyed some fresh fruit for lunch.

And then, about 4:45, I began to notice that the sky was looking interesting. So I grabbed my camera and strolled out onto the lawn in front of our rented condo. People began drifting out from all over the development, talking quietly together, and then — just standing there, looking.

The sky went from glory to glory. Literally. It was so beautiful, my throat ached and my heart broke a little. Over the course of the next hour, I leaned against a palm tree for support and I shot picture after picture of this stunning vista.

And I whispered, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come.”

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.

 

 

 

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Twenty-Two

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This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25-NLT

In my book, Joseph is a rock-star. Kind, generous, steady, committed, teachable, receptive.

God chose a good man. And sometimes, I wonder if Joseph’s presence in her life might have been one of the reasons why God chose Mary, too. 

Not much is known about him and he is never mentioned as a living person after that interesting episode in the temple, when Jesus is 12. Tradition teaches us that Mary was widowed early on. Maybe, maybe not. What I do know to be true is that Jesus had a stellar role model in the man chosen to be his earthly father.

And that goes way beyond his lineage and heritage. Yes, he is in the line of David and that gives Jesus the traditional ties to his people that he needs to be recognized as Messiah. More than that, however, is the character of this man, which we see most fully in this short story, told only in Matthew’s gospel.

I think Joseph loved Mary. That verb is never used, of course. It was, in some ways, a foreign concept in 1st century Palestine, at least in reference to married partners. But he clearly respected her, valued her reputation, wanted to do the right thing, the best thing.

Trouble was, he truly didn’t know what that was. He assumed that the right thing was to let her down gently. To dissolve their legal commitment quietly, in essence, to divorce her behind the scenes. It took some divine intervention for him to see that his idea of the ‘right thing’ was wide of the mark.

So, how often do I get it wrong? How often do I make an assumption, based on cultural expectations?  And I mean church culture as well as ‘worldly’ culture when I ask that question.

Joseph was a good man. Matthew takes the time to tell us that. But sometimes, even a good man doesn’t know what the right thing is. Humility is called for, and an openness to the workings of God within us.

That dream of Joseph’s?

It was a life-changer and a life-saver.

But Joseph had to be willing to listen to it, didn’t he? Sometimes, our dreams are where we discover what is right for us to do, too. I firmly believe that God speaks to us in our dreams — the ones we have when we’re sleeping and the ones we have when we’re awake. What we’re asked to do is pay attention. 

Lord of our dreams, speak to us. Hearten us, encourage us with the dreams you raise in us, the desires of our hearts, the call you send to us through the vehicle of our longing. Help us to be more like Joseph – to deeply desire to do the right thing, but to be open to a new understanding of what that thing could be.

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Twenty-One

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“The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God. The earthborn is earthbound and speaks earth language; the heavenborn is in a league of his own. He sets out the evidence of what he saw and heard in heaven. No one wants to deal with these facts. But anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.”

John 3:31-36 -The Message

The One who speaks God’s language. And our own.

THAT is the wonder of the Incarnation, the coming of God to humankind. Bone of our bone, yet come from God. Who knows our frailties — and experiences many of them himself — yet rises above the pettiness and brokenness and sinfulness of our race, infusing us all with the DNA of heaven itself.

Jesus came to give it away. Did you catch that? To give gifts, to give life, to give himself. To GIVE IT AWAY.

And so often, we live right, smack-dab in the middle of scarcity, of less-than, of not-enough, of worry and discouragement, even despair. 

This is worth staking our lives on, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it?

We believe, Lord! Help thou our unbelief! Help us to live in the center of ‘enough,’ to trust that you are good, to know that you are with us and for us and in us. Teach us your ways, O Lord. YOUR ways.

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Twenty

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Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:1-7-NRSV

I believe this is the cri de coeur of every human who has ever walked this planet, even those who will deny it up one side and down the other.

Some of us are able to silence this cry when it rises; some are able to argue it away, at least in their conscious minds. But I think it’s still in there somewhere — this cell-deep desire to be saved, rescued, made whole, energized, sanctified. Whatever kind of language you might choose to use, the issue is the same.

Shine on us, O God. Rescue us.

I love that this psalm references the ‘face’ of God. The face, the visage, that which we see when we greet one another, that space within which can reside smile or frown, delight or dismay, joy or judgment. It’s that Face that we want to shine, to radiate, in our direction.

That phrase, and all that it means, is one reason why I love and use the Aaronic blessing so often. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

I prayed that blessing over my aunt as she lay dying last month; I offer it when I wrap my arms around another and ask for help from God for their dilemma, whatever it might be; I pray it over my husband and my children and my grandchildren, my mother and my friends; and I pray it over myself from time to time, too. 

I pray it for all of us, this 20th day of our journey together. May we each pray these words more fully as Christmas draws nigh.

“Let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

A Prayer for Christmas Eve

When I retired from pastoral ministry three years ago, I assembled a small booklet of prayers I had used in worship over the previous few years, a gift of thanks to the people God called me to serve. This is a prayer from 2008, which I have edited and shifted a bit, in answer to Faith Barista Bonnie’s invitation this week to choose a character in The Story that we relate to. Several of the characters are noted in this prayer, and with less than a week to go before Christmas, I’m not sure exactly which one is closest to where I am tonight.

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It’s Christmas Eve again, Lord, and here we are.

Gathered in out of the rain, our Christmas finery on,
our spirits eager – or weary
            our ears and our hearts open – or not;
            our families nearby,
            our dinners either digesting or awaiting us soon.
We’re here.

And for some of us, Lord, that’s just about all we can manage.

We’re just barely able to stand with those shepherds,
            tired and cold from their nighttime duties,
            confused about the strange singing in the skies above,
            wondering about that tiny newborn in the corner.
“So,” we wonder with them, “what’s the big deal with this little one?

Some of us come, willing only to stand at the edges, perhaps somewhere near those wise ones from the east. Because we’re searching tonight, Holy Friend, we’re searching for truth, for insight, for strange portents in the sky that will give us the answer to the mysteries of the ages. 

“Could this be the one?” we wonder with the oriental kings.
“Could this be the answer we’ve been searching for?”

And thankfully, God, there are some of us in this lovely room tonight who are a lot like Joseph.
            Steady and stalwart, well-versed in the traditions of our tribe,
            yet open to something new that God might be doing.
            We struggle to be obedient to what we think God is saying,
            to be sensitive to what we think God is doing.

But…it’s been a long, hard journey getting here,
            and, to tell you the truth – we’re tired,
            through and through.

“Here he is, at last,” we say to ourselves.
But we wonder…”What’s coming next?”

And, Gracious God, there are even some of us here tonight
            who might choose to align ourselves with Mary.
            We’ve just come through a tough task, but we did it!
            The baby is safely birthed, your promises have been fulfilled,
            something remarkable is just beginning and we can feel it,
            we can see it, shining in the unformed future ahead of us.

And mysterious as it seems to be now, we know, because of the grace we have already experienced in our lives, it is all going to be good news.

All of it.

And so, we gather tonight – like that amazing cast of characters
            gathering in this beautiful story
            we repeat every Christmas Eve.

The story that is at the center of who we are,
            the story that speaks to us of Love Unspeakable,
            the story that sings to us of Joy Unsingable;
            the story that tells us.

For all of us are welcome here.

That is the glorious truth we praise you for tonight.

All of us — weary shepherds,
                    searching wise ones,
                    faithful yet fearful fathers,
                    loving yet wondering mothers –
all of us are welcome here.

For that little one in the corner over there, that wee newborn,
            that tiny, weak and helpless One,
            is the same One who blew the breath of life into
            each and every one of us.

“How can this be?” we wonder.  “How can this be?”

And then, we hear again your words of love and promise and power:
            “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”
            “He shall be called Immanuel, God with us…”
            “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son…”         

And we sigh with relief, we sing with gusto, we remember with joy.

This is Christmas Eve – and we’re here!

Thank you for the story that calls us to this place.
Thank you for the Truth that sleeps in the manger.
Thank you for the chance to begin again at the beginning –

In the name of our remarkable and gentle Savior we pray together tonight. 

Amen.

 Joining this with Bonnie, very late on Thursday night:

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Nineteen

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Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

Galatians 3:23-29-The Message

Of the many good and great things wrought by the Incarnation, this passage in Galatians surely represents one of the most beautiful and most freeing. 

The Law is fulfilled, its purpose served. God has come among us and now, because of the birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, we are — all of us — in direct relationship with God.

These three short paragraphs are astoundingly beautiful and profound, aren’t they? We are ‘at our destination,’ as Paul puts it: in Christ we are all equal, we are all family. No divisions, no higher or lower than, no hard-and-fast roles to play. We are ONE.

Is that not amazing? 

So why, I wonder, can we not live this truth and enjoy it? Why do we resort to finger-pointing, labeling, categorizing, sublimating, separating?

Maybe this is exactly why we need to celebrate Christmas every year. To remind ourselves of who we are – our own selves, and all the selves who worship around us, who write blogs out in cyberspace, who write books and pontificate and theorize and stigmatize. We are all one . . . IN CHRIST.

Hallelujah!

Mighty Savior, will you help us to celebrate who we are because of you? Please remind us of this liberating truth: we are equal in your sight. There is no racial, gender, or ethnic distinction that amounts to a hill of beans in the life of the kingdom. Not.One. Praise your name!

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Eighteen

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Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said.“Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him,“Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”
Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”

But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.

When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. But when Jesus touched her hand, the fever left her. Then she got up and prepared a meal for him.

That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said,
“He took our sicknesses
and removed our diseases.”

Matthew 8:1-17, 28-34-NLT

Jesus was a very busy boy on this day, wasn’t he?

As I read through this particular series of healing miracles, I picture Jesus at the heart and center of them all, much like the rose window in the photograph above the scripture finds its center in that beautiful 8-sided star.

The center, the thing that holds it together, upon which all the additional beauty builds. Jesus. I can so easily be distracted by the gingerbread – the details of the healings themselves. The leper coming out of nowhere, the soldier with his no-nonsense approach to getting a few more years of work out of his servant, the mother-in-law of his close friend, the crowds that just.kept.coming.

Yeah, I can go there fast.

But I wonder if maybe Matthew, and those who selected this passage for our Advent reading — I wonder if they’re asking us to do something a little simpler: look at Jesus. 

Jesus, the steady center amid the swirling need. Jesus, the one who welcomes all. Jesus, the one who outspokenly applauds the faith of an enemy and warns those who share his faith tradition. Jesus, who lovingly helps an older woman get up and do what she loves to do. Jesus, who makes himself available to any and all who will come.

Oh, Lord. I can get so distracted! As the busyness builds over these days, will you kindly help me to come back to center? To keep my focus on you? 

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Seventeen

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Now he brought me back to the entrance to the Temple. I saw water pouring out from under the Temple porch to the east (the Temple faced east). The water poured from the south side of the Temple, south of the altar. He then took me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the gate complex on the east. The water was gushing from under the south front of the Temple.

   He walked to the east with a measuring tape and measured off fifteen hundred feet, leading me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another fifteen hundred feet, leading me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another fifteen hundred feet, leading me through water waist-deep. He measured off another fifteen hundred feet. By now it was a river over my head, water to swim in, water no one could possibly walk through.

   He said, “Son of man, have you had a good look?”

Then he took me back to the riverbank. While sitting on the bank, I noticed a lot of trees on both sides of the river.

   He told me, “This water flows east, descends to the Arabah and then into the sea, the sea of stagnant waters. When it empties into those waters, the sea will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, life will flourish—great schools of fish—because the river is turning the salt sea into fresh water. Where the river flows, life abounds. Fishermen will stand shoulder to shoulder along the shore from En-gedi all the way north to En-eglaim, casting their nets. The sea will teem with fish of all kinds, like the fish of the Great Mediterranean.

   “The swamps and marshes won’t become fresh. They’ll stay salty.

   “But the river itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won’t wither, the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”

Ezekiel 47:1-12-The Message

So. . . why is this strange, small passage included in our texts for Advent? Ezekiel’s visions are wild and strange and quite wonderful, but Advent? 

As I read through this lush and descriptive chunk of scripture, it helps me to remember that Advent speaks to all the ways and all the times in which Jesus comes to us — 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, as a tiny, vulnerable baby; right now, at this minute, as a living force and source within all those who carry his name; and somewhere out there in the unseeable future, when he will come visibly and powerfully, bringing with him the new heaven and the new earth.

Ezekiel is talking about that last time with his words. That time when the River will be vividly visible, when the Water of Life will be the clear source of all that is good and ripe and nourishing. “Where the river flows, life abounds,” the word comes to Ezekiel. And the Word comes to us in the same way.

Yes, we still wait the coming drama, the rending of the skies, the shouts of victory and joy. But even now, if we look for the River, we will find life, abounding. Abounding.

In the midst of death, there is life; in the midst of despair, there is joy; in the midst of darkness, there is light. Yes!

Give us eyes to see you, Lord, our life, our joy, our light. Eyes to see, hearts to rejoice and minds to imagine that great River, spreading its way to the sea, transforming everything in its path into flagrant, glorious LIFE. 

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