Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty-Five


1 Samuel 2:2-10
Genesis 37:2-11
Matthew 1:1-17

Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaphthe father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Yes, I have put them in bold print. The five ‘questionable’ women who appear, very intentionally, in Matthew’s lineage of Jesus. Foreigners, at the center of scandal of one kind or another, women who did questionable things — or had questionable things done to them. An interesting set of grandparents for this humbly born shepherd-king!

Tamar, whom Jacob treated badly and who dressed up as a prostitute to get him to do the right thing. Rahab, the lady of the evening or the local innkeeper (or both – who knows?) in the town of Jericho, a Canaanite (!!) — yet she helped the spies and saved her own skin and that of her entire family. Ruth, another non-Israelite, one we’ve talked about before in this series. And the unnamed, but clearly identifiable Bathsheba, the bathing lady King David took for himself, killing her husband to make it legal.

And, of course, Mary herself. The chosen mama, the clear-headed youngster who took upon herself burdens and blessings she could not begin to comprehend. I love that each one of these women is listed here! I love their mixed-bag stories, their strong personalities, their willingness to play a part, even when they didn’t fully understand or even know it, in the story that God has been telling over the ages.

We all have a part in that story, you know. Yes, even you. Even me.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty-Four


1 Samuel 2:2-10
Genesis 21:1-21
Galatians 4:21-5:1

Genesis 21:1-21

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Talk about your weird stories. This is one of the wildest ever. Abraham casts out the son of his heart and he does so in obedience to God. God . . . who seems to have listened to Sarah in this small story.

Yes, I get Sarah’s discomfort, even her jealousy. But. BUT. This casting aside business makes me distinctly uncomfortable! And yet I love the rest of the story. The lonely wandering, the mother moving away from her child, her tears. And God’s response? Strange, isn’t it? TWICE, the passage tells us that God ‘heard the cries of the boy.’ Yet the narrative itself mentions nothing about the boy crying, only his mother. And God converses with Hagar, not with Ishmael. Small details, ones I hadn’t noticed before. Yet they’re here. They tell us so much about the time, the emotional betrayal Hagar felt, the raw need of the young Ishmael. And they tell us about God, too.

God agrees that the primary begetter in the tree of Abraham will be Isaac. Isaac will take God’s dream forward. But Ishmael will not be forgotten. No, another ‘nation’ will rise from him. And we see the barest beginnings of that at the tail end of this little story.

The brothers are still at odds, aren’t they? All these centuries later.

God does not forget the children. ANY of the children. Ishmael is moved off center stage, but he is not abandoned. Chesed is shown to him, too. Lovingkindness, faithfulness . . . yes, God’s chesed extends to surprising people in surprising ways. Even to what might seem to us to be ‘the least of these,’ eh?

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty-Three


1 Samuel 2:1-10
Genesis 7:15-22
Galatians 4:8-20

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.

“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.”

My goodness, but today’s readings were an interesting set! I chose this psalm as the ‘easiest’ of the three to reflect upon, but somehow, it’s not all that easy! There are parts of this song that are hard to read, hard to hear. I don’t like reading lines like, “The Lord kills . . . he brings down to Sheol. . . ” No, I don’t like it.

But there they are – so – now what?

Well, I will take them in, wonder about their meaning, lay them alongside a bunch of other words that might seem to say otherwise, and prayerfully leave it up to the Spirit to decipher and use them as the Spirit sees fit. I believe I can do that in good confidence that God will use even the difficult words to teach and to shape me and others. 

How do you wrestle with the words of scripture that are tough for you? It’s at times like this that I am grateful for the dedicated work of Bible scholars over the ages. It is at times like this that I remember that the church in the sense of THE CHURCH, has not always agreed on interpretation of certain ideas/passages. In fact, the church in that sense has re-interpreted things lots of times over the past two thousand years. I believe that is the ongoing work of the Spirit, the ongoing revelation of God. No, words are not added to Scripture. Nor are words taken away. But they are read in differing lights, using all the truth that is revealed by history/science/psychology. All truth is God’s truth, right? 

So, I will take from this psalm the power and truth of the overall teaching it contains — that God is sovereign, that God hears and answers prayers like Hannah’s (although, not always in the same way), that God is holy and that God is ultimately victorious over evil. And that God is even now at work bringing those powers down. And that sometimes God might choose to do that by working through the likes of you or me. 


Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty-Two


Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Sunday as he moved to the pulpit to preach, our former pastor spoke that last line to us. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I cannot tell you how important those words became to many of us over the eleven years he was with us. They spoke to us of steadiness, of core truth, of centeredness, of hope . . . and, of course, of grace and peace.

This opening to the letter to the believers in Rome is so lovely, isn’t it? It distills the entire gospel into a few succinct words — something Paul was both good at and lousy at, depending on the letter! Not that his words are every ‘lousy,’ but sometimes they can be far from succinct! 

Here, however, he nails it. Read it out loud, if you can. Listen to each word. Let them roll around in your mouth and in your heart. There it is — this faith that we claim. Neat, simple, clear. Past, present, future — the work of the gospel! Oh, I thank God for Paul. And for these words!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty-One


Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
2 Samuel 7:23-29
John 3:31-26

2 Samuel 7:23-29

Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out before his people nations and their gods? And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people forever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified forever in the saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel’; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

Today’s passage is the closing part of a conversation that David the King had with God, through God’s chosen intermediary, the prophet Nathan. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. David wanted to build the temple and God said, ‘No.’ This is David’s response to that ‘no.’

Even though David’s character was far from spotless, there was much in him to admire, even to emulate. And this lovely passage illustrates that point well. It’s part of prayerful answer to God’s clear ‘no,’ and there isn’t one whisper of complaint, is there? God said ‘no’ to the temple, but God also said a resounding ‘yes’ to the ‘house’ — the lineage of David. And it is that very lineage that we celebrate one week from tomorrow. The Ultimate King comes through the line of David, fulfilling ancient prophecies and hopes. David could not dream of what that fulfillment would look like, but he chose to believe it anyhow.

Help me, Lord, to believe your word, even when I cannot imagine what that word might look like in the future that is unknown to me. Help me to lean into trust, to remember my history with you, even as David remembered the history of his people and his own personal journey with you. Help me to find center in those memories, those stories, that truth.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Twenty


Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
2 Samuel 7:18-22
Galatians 4:1-7

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

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.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.

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

This psalm is a fitting follow-up to yesterday’s glory, don’t you think? It’s a sober reminder that we’re not ‘there’ yet, are we? There is work to be done, there are divisions to be erased, there is gospel truth to be spilled out in gift and gratitude.

And as I noted yesterday, it is never easy to do that.

Thank God for the psalms of Lament! There are days — seasons, years, decades! — when we need them desperately. “How long, O Lord!” “Restore us, O God!” “Give ear!” “Stir up your might and come to save us!”

Yes! Yes! Come and save us . . . from ourselves, from those who would distort, even pervert, your truth, from the rigors of suffering and death all around us. Thank you, God, for giving us words to use when we feel overwhelmed and weary. Thank you for lament.

And now, let ‘your face shine, that we may be saved.’ Yea and amen!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Nineteen


Psalm 80:1-7
2 Samuel 7:1-17
Galatians 3:23-29

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Ah, yes! One of the sweetest passages of all! Paul does such amazing work in these few verses, honing down the gospel truth to this powerful statement. The law was necessary, Paul says — it served as a guard for us, a ‘prison’ of sorts, putting parameters around our behavior. But the law was imperfect. Until the Perfect came and lived among us.

The coming of Jesus brings a special kind of freedom to those who choose to pay attention. “In Christ Jesus, you ARE ALL children of God through faith.” There it is, plain and simple.

But never easy.

Taking in this truth is a lifelong process, learning to believe that we are now ‘clothed with Christ,’ that we are all one, that we belong. Do you catch the cataclysmic shift in thinking/behavior/worldview/attitude/disposition/rule of life that such thinking requires? 

So as I read these words today, in the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century, I still have to ask the Spirit of God to help me make the transition from the discipline/guardedness of the Law to the remarkable freedom/unity/equality found by living the life of faith in Christ Jesus. 

This is revolutionary stuff, my friends. And if we believe it, if we live it, everything changes. Everything. We can no longer tolerate abusive and disparaging language about any group — any race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, religious persuasion. If those of us who believe in Christ are one, then every other person on this planet has the potential to be one with us in Him. Period. There is no room for racism/sexism/classism/xenophobia/snobbery/prejudice of any kind. None.

I don’t think we’re there yet. Do you? But I have hope! And I count on the power of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of God’s people to help us move toward this picture painted by Paul’s words in the glorious epistle to the Galatians!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Eighteen


Psalm 42
Zechariah 8:1-17
Matthew 8:14-17

Matthew 8:14-17

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

I love seeing the references to Isaiah in the New Testament. There are some glorious sections in the Isaiah collection of that are among the most lyrical words in the entire Bible — words of hope and promise mingled with the more usual prophetic words of despair and disdain. The entire large chunk known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant (chapter 49-53) can be found laced throughout the stories of Jesus in our gospels and is implicit in the apologetics and systematic theology of the apostles Paul and Peter and John. 

The reference in our passage for today — from Isaiah 53:5 — is one of the earliest ones in the New Testament, only eight chapters into the first gospel, and is an interesting way to apply that line in Isaiah. Most often, we tend to think of Jesus ‘taking our infirmities and bearing our diseases’ as he was dying on the cross. But here we have a strong, clear reminder that it was not only Jesus’s death that fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, but his life. His life.

Which is exactly why we celebrate this holiday every year. Jesus is God come to earth, to live a human life. Yes, he was God. But he was also a man. The Man. The Human Ideal. And that is a key piece, a crucial ingredient in our own journey of salvation and healing.

Jesus came not just to save us from our sins, as wonderful and life-changing as that is. He came to teach us about living as well as about dying. To show us how to ‘bear with’ one another, to bring hope where hope is hard to find, to move forward in peace and kindness, to restore us to our most whole selves so that we can be about the business that is ours to do.

Peter’s mother-in-law was restored to her work, did you catch that? She was a gracious host, welcoming a gaggle of strangers to her small home — a place many scholars believe became a kind of  ‘headquarters’ for Jesus and his gang of twelve. And she was one of a long list of women who cared for that gang, who provided food, shelter, clothing and funds and all the while, drank in the teachings of the rabbi. Then, when the time came for the church to be born, they were all ready to go: a trained set of teachers, leaders, hosts and hostesses, bearers of the Good News to a world that needed it desperately.

Are you ready to be one like her? Has Jesus borne your diseases and taken your infirmities? Perhaps not literally (although maybe that is true, too), but metaphorically? What is the work to which you have been called at this point in your own journey? Do you need a season of restoration before you can more fully enter in? If so, take the time to ask Jesus to ‘touch your hand’ today.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Seventeen


Psalm 42
Ezekiel 47:1-12
Jude 17-25

Jude 17-25

But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

So how is it that some of the most glorious words in the entire New Testament — that closing blessing in the last paragraph — should be preceded by the weird words of the first paragraph?

Well, I remind myself, these early Christians really believed that Christ’s return was imminent, so they gave warnings to one another. “Get ready!” “Be blameless!” “Watch out for the bad guys!” 

And whoever the writer of this tiny letter may have been, he/she did want to pass along those words of caution! But sliced right into the middle are some pretty good suggestions for how to live well in a time of uncertainty, don’t you think? ‘Build ourselves up on your most holy faith,’ ‘pray in the Spirit,’ ‘keep ourselves in the love of God,’ ‘look forward to the mercy of Jesus Christ,’ — the mercy that leads to eternal life.

Oh, yes, I’d say that list is a humdinger! 

So, I’ll take the warnings to heart, but not too deeply. I actually haven’t a clue in the world what that last one means — ‘have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.’ Youch! What I’ll take from that strange statement is the idea of mercy, I think. Mercy even for those who frighten us, those who are different, whose lifestyles seem highly questionable. Even those.

After all, if we’re doing the things on that great list, there should be no room for hatred or judgment, should there? Yes, care should be taken . . . always. But, mercy wins in the end.

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Sixteen


Psalm 42
Isaiah 29:17-24
Acts 5:12-16

Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

If I had to pick a favorite psalm, this would be very near the top of the list. The beauty of the words, the images, the rhythm, the admission of uncertainty, the questioning of God’s presence and action, and then the gentle acceptance of whatever it might be that God would will for the singer. 

Have you ever been thirsty for God? It’s been a while, but I have. And this psalm was my go-to resource during those seasons. I’m sure there will be others, times when I will wonder where God has got off to, when my own soul will feel ‘cast down.’ 

How I hope that I will remember to ask that soul of mine, ‘why?’ ‘Why are you cast down? Don’t you know that God is the rock, that God has been right there with you through every previous difficulty in your life? ‘

Yes, I want to come back to that.

And it seems to start with two things: remembering and singing. Only this time, the remembering part falls on the psalmist . . . and the singing is God’s. Did you catch that? Right after those glorious words, ‘deep calls to deep,’ comes this beauty:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me. . .

‘His song is with me!’ If I listen very carefully, and if I do my part by remembering, then I can just catch the faintest glimpse of a melody, wafting by on the evening breeze. The Lord’s song is with me!