Archives for December 2013

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

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As the deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God.

I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
“Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged,
but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.
“O God my rock,” I cry,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?”

Their taunts break my bones.
They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!

Psalm 42 – NLT

I love this psalm — the back and forth between lament and praise, the sometimes dizzying roller coaster ride through the peaks and valleys of the life of faith. And threading its way through the entire, beautiful ride, is the glimmering thread of desire.  

What do I want? What do I really want?

I want more of God. I do. There are times when I hunger for God above all things, when I desire to experience God’s grace and love, God’s presence and comfort. And there are times when I experience the ‘goodness of God in the land of the living.’ 

But I also want to be comfortable; people to like me; my children and grandchildren to be whole and healthy; my mom to be more fully the mom I’ve always known; to be a stronger, more disciplined person; my life to be easier. 

And when those things are not happening, I can easily become discouraged. Like the psalmist, I hearken back to days of old, when I felt God’s presence, when everybody was well, when mom was mom, when my body was less creaky, when I had more energy.

So I cry out in those times, cry out to God for relief and for reminders.

And what I’m learning to ask for in the midst of these times of discouragement is the gift of remembrance, the ability to think back on ‘the good times’ without nostalgia. Why? Because I think that nostalgia, at its heart, involves regret. And regret — wishing for things that cannot be — is counter-productive to a life lived in gratitude and praise. Remembrance, which I define as reflection-without-regret, seems to naturally elicit exactly that — gratitude and praise, both of which help to lead me to peaceful memories of what was and joyous acceptance of what is. 

During this season of Advent, and its invitation to the quieter emotions, when I reflect on this favorite psalm, I try to picture the ‘streams of water,’ our source of refreshment and rest. And in my mind’s eye, I try to see the Rock which is underneath it all. The Rock, out of which the only true refreshment I know emerges.  And as that River of Life flows downstream, I pray that it will burble its way right into the likes of me.

Our Rock and our Redeemer, will you help us to desire you above all things? Help us to remember well, to let praise and gratitude flow right out of us as your loving presence flows right into us. Thank you. Thank you.

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

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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 1:56b-35-The Message

Have you ever tried to imagine what it must have been like to be Mary, before she got to the place where she could sing this powerful song? What must it have been like to have your life turned upside down by an angelic visitor, to have to explain to your fiance how you got pregnant, to continue to live in your small town while the whispers got louder and louder?

No wonder the angel told her about Elizabeth. She needed someone to talk to who understood something about miracle pregnancies!

Years ago, I met a friend who was (and is) a talented pianist, singer and songwriter. In fact, Ken Medema is one of the most talented people I’ve ever known in my life. And one of his earliest story-songs was about Mary and Elizabeth. For your reflection today, I’m going to paste in the words to that song and then give you a link to go over and listen to it. I think you’ll be glad you did.

So many things are happening to me that
   I don’t understand – 
Visions and angels and a baby named Jesus – 
   It’s not what I planned.
The plans I have made are like birds’ nests
   blown down in the wind and the rain.
And I’m scattered like straw, and I can’t quite
   tell where to find saneness again.

So, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,

For she’ll understand.
I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
She’ll hold my hand – she’ll understand.

“Go talk to Joseph.” Well I’ve talked to Joseph
and Joseph’s a man;

So many things that a woman can know that 
   a man never can.
Joseph is practical and Joseph is worried with
   things of his own.
And talking to Joseph is sometimes no better 
   than being alone – being alone.

So, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,

‘Cause she’ll understand.
Yes, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
She’ll hold my hand – she’ll understand.
Sometimes I wish I could wake up and discover it all was a dream;

I ought to be shouting for joy, yet I’m coming apart at the seams.
Mostly I’m quiet – I keep things inside me – It’s how I get by.
When there’s too much to handle, and I need someone
   near me to share a good cry – share a good cry.

So many things are happening to me that she’ll understand.
Now that she’s pregnant her life isn’t going exactly as planned.
The plans we both made are like birds’ nests
   blown down in the wind and the rain.
And we’re scattered like straw, and we can’t quite
   tell where to find saneness again – saneness again.

So, I’m coming Elizabeth.

‘Cause I’ll understand.
I’m coming Elizabeth.
I’ll hold your hand – I’ll understand.
Yes, I’m coming Elizabeth.
For I’ll understand.
I’m coming Elizabeth – I’ll hold your hand – 
I’ll understand.
        copyright, Ken Medema

You can hear Ken sing this wonderful song by clicking on this line, and then hitting the small photo next to the title. An arrow should appear.

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

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Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in theLord!
The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!

Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
    and those who stumbled are now strong.

Those who were well fed are now starving,
    and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
    and the woman with many children wastes away.

The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
    and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
    placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

1 Samuel 2:1-8 -NLT

I am pretty sure I know why this section of Old Testament scripture is included in this series of Advent texts. And that reason will show up in tomorrow’s post: the Magnificat, the song of Mary, the one she sings to her cousin Elizabeth, a song of power and rebellion and a prophetic word about what was to come in the ministry, life and death of the baby she carried while she sang it.

As we’ll see tomorrow, Mary’s song sounds a little bit like Hannah’s; these two women are soul sisters across the centuries that stretch from the time of the judges to 1st century Palestine. 

They know an important truth about God, a truth that we’ve been uncovering in surprising places all along our journey toward the Light this Advent season. And that truth is this: God is in the business of upsetting the apple cart, of confounding expectations, of accomplishing justice/righteousness/salvation/wholeness in ways that often seem upside down and backwards to us.

But Hannah sings right into the heart of it all:

For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

So as I continue to look for the light, I am asking God to help me let go of preconceptions, of culturally bound ideas of authority and power and wealth. I’m asking to see what Hannah saw, what Mary saw, and to learn to sing a song of my own. A song of praise and thanksgiving to the God of surprises, the God who comes in small things and cares about those who are least in the eyes of the world.

Will you help me to sing with my sisters, Lord God? To honor their faith, and to join them in acknowledging that you, and you alone, are in charge of this earth. That even when it doesn’t look like it to me, you have, indeed, ‘set the world in order.’ 

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

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But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
The Lord will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 145:5-10-NLT

So, Lord. About that “gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry” bit? 
Yeah, I’m struggling with that part.

Some days, the headlines point me straight to despair,
make me wonder where you are,
and question some of these grand and beautiful words in the psalms.
I want to shout at you,
poke at you and cry,
“Show yourself, mighty in power.
Step in! Intervene!”

I rant and I rave and I shake my fist in your general direction
(wherever that is), and I sigh a lot.

A lot.

And then, I remember.
I remember that you’re not about the ‘big move,’
the dramatic power play,
the thunder and lightning kind of thing.

You sent a baby, for heaven’s sake.
A baby.

And then that baby grew up and began to preach,
and hang out with the riff-raff,
and look out for the little guy.
And if we looked really carefully,
we could begin to see how it is that
you do this work of justice-giving,
and oppression-relieving,
and hunger-feeding.

You do it in small ways, surprising ways.
And you choose to do it through us —
us crazy, mixed-up, messed-up
human beings.

You invite us to take a look around,
to find the places where oppression
needs to be lifted,

and the hungry fed,
and then you encourage us
and you empower us,
if we are open and willing,
to live out the truth of this psalm in our world.

It’s a bit of a wacky scheme in my book,
and one I imagine I’ll question all my days.
And yet, I’ve seen it play out in remarkable ways,
not always, and not often enough (at least in my book),
but I’ve seen it.

And for what I’ve seen,
and what I’ve read,
I thank you.
And I am choosing to trust you,
to believe that are still at work in our world,
that you are still working through the likes of us,
even the likes of me,
to bring healing and hope to our world.

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

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

 

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My Aunt Eileen, me, my mom, circa 1968

Then she [Naomi] started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
    there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
    and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Ruth 1:6-18 – NRSV

Sometimes the ties between women in the same family can be remarkably strong and resilient. The Old Testament book of Ruth tells the story of two such women — tired, old Naomi, beat-up by life and loss, and her faithful, kind-hearted daughter-in-law, Ruth. It’s one of the most beautiful books in all of scripture and the story it tells is rich and layered. Pieces of it even show up in the lineage of Jesus, found in chapter 1 of Matthew’s gospel.

Many writers have told and re-told the stories of the women in that family tree — five of them altogether, each one a surprise. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. One taught a powerful lesson about faithfulness to a patriarch of ancient Israel, one was taken advantage of by a powerful king, one was commissioned to bear the son of God, and three of these women, Ruth included, were not part of Israel at all, yet here they are, on this all-important list, marked out for us to see, highlighted at a time in history when women’s names were seldom included in any genealogy. 

Ruth, the Moabite, became a mother in Israel, great-grandmother to King David, ancestor to Jesus. And all of that happened because Ruth chose to stick with the mother she knew, the mother of her dead husband, the woman who had taken her in and taught her about marriage and life and faith. Ruth commits herself to the older woman, and to her country and most importantly, to her God, the God of Israel. And she does it with some of the most beautiful words ever written in the pages of any book, anywhere. “Entreat me not to leave thee. . . ” goes the KJV, and the words that follow have found their way into more wedding ceremonies than can be counted.

It’s a promise, a pledge, a step into the future. And it’s offered in love and respect and full-throated, open-hearted commitment. The words of Ruth have worked their way into the psyches of much of modern christendom. But sometimes I wonder if we fully appreciate what they mean. Am I willing to leave everything that’s familiar and follow hard after the God of Israel? 

Oh, I hope so.

El Shaddai, Sustainer and Defender, thank you for the story of Ruth and Naomi, for their commitment to one another and to you. Help us, O Lord, to follow where you lead even when it feels scary and uncertain. Even ‘to the ends of the earth,’ O Lord. Even there. 

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

 

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The words of Jesus:

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.

“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”

Matthew 12:33-37, The Message

Can you sense the rage in these words? The warning?

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” has left the building in this passage. And if you read a few of the verses before these in the 12th chapter of Matthew’s gospel,  you get some idea why he’s feeling a mite bit testy.

They accused him of ‘black magic’ after he healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and deaf. And at their slanderous words, Jesus unloads one of the sharpest speeches recorded in any of the gospels.

And that speech is all about WORDS.

Such powerful things, these small sounds we make, these feeble scratches we write. According to Jesus, words = fruit. What comes out of our mouths, or out of the ends of our fingers, are words that are either rich, ripe and nourishing OR worm-ridden, malodorous and sickening.

Jesus makes it crystal clear that this is a heart matter, the center of who we are is the source of every word that spills out of us. And every single syllable is potentially explosive, hurtful, maybe even dangerous. As followers of this one who comes to us at Christmas, this one who knew the pain and confusion of accusations and lies — can we be especially prayerful and alert, aware of the power we’ve been given?

It was The Word, John says that formed the universe and all that is in it. Are my words creative, careful, directed toward building up rather than tearing down?

It is The Word who indwells and enlivens us as we inhabit this place that is our home. Are we listening, asking for wisdom-filled-words that invite and encourage rather than reject and discourage?

Are we ‘working out our own salvation’ with what we speak and preach and teach and write?

Are we inviting others to a place of warmth and welcome as we walk our way toward Christmas Day? Or are we too frazzled, over-scheduled, sleep-deprived, out-of-sorts to make the extra effort?

Strong and insightful Lord Jesus, we need a nudge or two right now, as we approach the halfway point on our journey. We want to leave enough space in the day for you, Jesus. Enough space in us. That’s the only way I know how to watch my words, you see: I need to watch you. And to do that, I’ve got to step aside for just a few minutes – in the car or in the laundry room or standing at the sink or checking my email – I need to just take those minutes wherever I can grab them and watch you again. And listen, too. Remind me, okay? Call me back to center so that the fruit of my lips will reflect a quiet heart. Thank you.

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

 

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I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

Romans 15:14-21 -NLT

“A special messenger to the Gentiles. . . ” It is the apostle Paul who picks up the thread woven into the fabric of the Incarnation by those wise men from the east, who came seeking a new king. I suppose this story is really more of an Epiphany tale than an Advent one, but here we are with this passage on the 10th day of our Advent journey.

Perhaps those who laid out this list of readings wanted to be sure this small, golden thread was right up front, where it would be noticed. Because, you see, we are the recipients of this particular gift of grace. We are the ones who walk in the shadow of those ancient seekers from the east; we are the ones who follow along with Paul as he rounds the Mediterranean Sea, leaving depositories of gospel grace everywhere he goes.

It’s a thread worth noting, an essential slice of the light we are seeking as we turn round one more bend in the road, journeying toward Christmas Day. We, too, are part of this story.

We, too, are marked by the Spirit as ones who are ‘full of goodness,’ simply because we know Jesus.

Humble Savior, will you help us to know you better as we travel this road? Shine your light on us, lead us into truth, help us to see your goodness shining out of our lives, even in the midst of the holiday crazy.

* As an added Advent bonus, I heartily recommend you click on this link and meander over to SheLoves fine post on Random Acts of Advent Kindness. I’m going to try and do this as often as possible and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves.

A Safe Place: A Deeper Story

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As I began to wade into the waters of the internet at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, I wound my way over to this remarkable place called “A Deeper Story.” I was in transit at that point in my life, moving into retirement, giving up an identity I had happily filled for fourteen years as pastor and leader in my church. I wondered what was next for me, where God would have me thinking and working. And the only thing I knew, in those early days, was that I had a clear and direct call from God to write, and that call had the word ‘stories’ in it.

I’ve done a lot of exegetical, theological, spiritual and psychological work to become the person I am at this juncture of my life. And I could, if I chose to, make a good ‘argument’ for what I believe and why I believe it. But I was increasingly convinced, as I read all around the blogosphere, that I did not want to argue; I wanted to tell my story.

All of my stories, to be more precise. The fun ones, the adventurous ones, the love-filled ones — of course, yes, hooray. But I also wanted to tell the stories of wondering and wandering, of doubting and wrestling. And I wanted to read stories like that, too.

And “A Deeper Story” was the very best place I found to do that. The reading part, at least. And I read them all. Every single one.

And then, lo and behold! Just over a year ago, an invitation came for me to tell my stories in that rich space — a gift straight from the hand of God, courtesy of Megan Tietz. And this place has been a good, welcoming, wrestling place for me.

And here’s why.

All the people who write regularly or guest post at this site are starting from different places along the journey. We do not all agree on theology or politics or child-raising or any other topic you might care to mention. We do agree that we’re following hard after Jesus, and some days that’s a lot harder to do than others.

And that right there has been a tremendous gift. We care about one another, we encourage one another, we listen, we welcome. And our regular readers do that, too. The entire experience has been gift.

Right now, the site is in the midst of a pretty massive overhaul. It’s a necessary part of the growing process. And Nish Weiseth, whose brainchild ADS is, has been paying ALL of the costs connected to keeping this site going up to this point. Now, however, we’re turning a corner of sorts.

We’re growing up.

And as any parent will readily agree, growing up is expensive. So we’re asking for some help.

There is a Fundly campaign going on right now, today. And the goal is $4,000.

I am confident that the readers of ADS will help us reach that goal and, in addition, will give Nish a nice, comfy cushion to keep us afloat for a good, long time. I’ve already made a gift and may very well do so again.

Can I invite you over to the website today to read all about this from Nish’s perspective? You’ll find a link to the campaign over there.

Thanks so much for being a friend of mine and of this blog — and for following me over to ADS when one of my posts is up over there.

 

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

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      One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.

Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.

      Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.

      Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

      If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.

      Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

      Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.

I Thessalonians 4:1-12  -The Message

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The psychological term is mirroring, learning from another by copying them, or saying back to them what you’ve heard, to be sure you’ve heard it right. 

I think that’s what Paul is talking to the Thessalonians about in this note. “Be sure you’re mirroring God in all your actions – how you treat yourself and how you treat others. Reflect back to God what you experience, what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing.”

There is a reason that ballet studios have mirrors on all sides. When  you’re learning a new dance, you need to see if you’re following the teacher, if you’re getting the steps right — yes, of course. But also, you need to know if you’re capturing the spirit of the piece, the joy of it.

Imagine that you’re dancing before the mirror, following after the Savior. Leaning over to help another stand tall, speaking softly to your neighbor, smiling kindly at yourself, when you catch a glimpse of your own face and form every now and again. The Christian journey is a dance, Paul says. Don’t let it solidify into something cold and lifeless, regimented and disciplined to death. 

Simply DANCE!

Lord of the Dance, help us to keep our eyes on  you, to do what you do, to say what you say. In our own unique way, of course, because that’s the truth of this life, isn’t it? When we look harder at you, we discover more about ourselves. Help us to dance well with you.

* As an added Advent bonus, I heartily recommend you click on this link and meander over to SheLoves fine post on Random Acts of Advent Kindness. I’m going to try and do this as often as possible and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves.

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

 

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Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of theLord.
He will delight in obeying theLord.
He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor
and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt
    and truth like an undergarment.

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
The cub and the calf will lie down together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
for as the waters fill the sea,
so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

Isaiah 11:1-10   -NLT

The Peaceable Kingdom, that’s what many call this passage from Isaiah 11. A picture of the future, where all of God’s creatures will live together harmoniously. Animals of every size and shape interacting peaceably with children; scorpions no longer lethal, cobras not to be feared.

And I love that imagery, too – although, to be honest — even though artists have rendered it repeatedly, I have a really hard time picturing all that wild animal/human conviviality. For me, it’s the picture in the first half of this passage that sings. That old Jesse stump, the tree from which David and then, Jesus, grew and flourished.

My spirit resonates with these lines, this picture of a righteous ruler, one who looks beneath the surface of things before pronouncing judgment. Righteousness and truth the garments nearest to his skin, closest to his person.

Yes! I love this picture. And in just the right light, I can see that this is a picture of Jesus. At least, this is one picture of Jesus. One that I like and look forward to, but one that is not yet fully realized. We still await the coming of this One, don’t we? A truly just ruler and judge, one who looks out for the needs of his people and will not abide cheating or oppressive behavior. 

Can I hear an amen?

Of course, I can. We all long for such leadership, if we’re honest with ourselves and with one another. And we’re all still waiting for him to show up, aren’t we? This is the deepest layer of Advent waiting, I think. We wait for the Just One to come and make things right; we wait for justice to reign; we wait.

Lord of Righteousness, will you help us to wait with hope? To know in the deepest parts of ourselves that you are always in the process of coming to us? Help us to see you in the small victories, the short, sweet moments, even in the little ones — those small human creatures that you give to all of us. And excuse my rudeness here, but could you somehow show us your undergarments – the ones that move right next to your heart, the ones that empower you to serve the least of these? Just a flash, that’s all we need. A reminder that you’re on the throne — and yet, you stand ever ready to help us little ones see and tell the truth. 

* As an added Advent bonus, I heartily recommend you click on this link and meander over to SheLoves fine post on Random Acts of Advent Kindness. I’m going to try and do this as often as possible and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves.

 

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