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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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Monday, December 22, 2014
Lectionary Scriptures:

Nativity of the Lord – Proper I (December 24, 2014):  Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96:1-13, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20

Nativity of the Lord – Proper II (December 24, 2014):  Isaiah 62:1-12, Psalm 97:1-12, Titus 3:4-7, Luke 2:1-20

Nativity of the Lord – Proper III (December 24:2014):  Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98:1-9, Hebrews 1:1-12, John 1:1-14

First Sunday after Christmas:  Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148:1-14, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40

 

This week I’m inviting us into a conversation about Christmas stories.  Some of us might want to look at stories about our Christmas memories.  Why are they significant?  What do they mean?  Then there are the stories in scripture about Jesus’ birth.  They are told from various perspectives, using a variety of images.  As time passed the stories sometimes turned into theological statements as Paul and others tried to express the meaning they found in this child, and the adult he became.  We are part of that continuing process, so looking at the stories we tell may include various stories about the significance of the meaning of Jesus in our own lives.  What are the Christmas stories we tell?

 

First, a story about a childhood memory of Christmas.  In our family, clothes were passed down from cousin to cousin.  When one of my cousins no longer fit into a shirt, say, it came to me.  I wore it awhile until it was passed on to a still younger cousin.  Lots of clothing, of course, never survived more than one transfer, if it made it that far.  I remember one Christmas I received my first dress suit as a gift, something seemingly beyond the reach or thought of a family in our financial situation.  My first question was, “Whose was it?”  It was inconceivable to me that it was new, but, in this case, the inconceivable became reality.  Why is this story significant?  What does it mean?  I suppose I cling to it partly as a reminder of the humble circumstances in which I was reared, of the network of family sharing in which I participated, and of the sacrificial generosity of my parents.  It doesn’t take much examination to notice the deeper truths it contains.  It’s a story of heritage, of gift giving, of love, of surprising newness, of realities that stretch our way of looking at things, etc.  All those elements have been associated with Christmas, the story of Jesus, and the theology and practice of Christianity.

 

Now, the biblical stories.  In some traditions there are a number of “Christmas” occasions of worship---as many as four on Christmas Eve (including one at midnight) and Christmas Day, as well as the two Sundays following.  Not coming from that tradition, I don’t fully understand the significance of the three sets of scripture for The Nativity of the Lord.  Whatever their meaning, they give us a variety of stories about Jesus, as well as Old Testament texts many have associated with him.  In this season, they all become “Christmas” stories for us, providing various perspectives on the meaning of this season and person at its center.

 

Luke, who regularly notices the outcasts and the lowly, tells us about a young girl who becomes pregnant in a mysterious (many would have thought “improper”) way and is now on her way to Bethlehem with the man who has married her despite the scandal.  The whole story underlines the humble origins in which love can be found.  The story tells us there isn’t even a hotel room available and Joseph and Mary certainly didn’t make reservations.  They end up in a cave or stable where their newborn son is placed in a manger, with the assumption (although not recorded) of smelly (and perhaps cute) animals all around.  (Luke 2:4-7)

 

The whole thing, of course, is set in the context of the power of Rome and the taxes it demanded of these poor folk.  (vss. 1-3)

 

Then there are angels and shepherds.  No announcement to kings here.  Instead “good news of great joy” comes to lowly shepherds “keeping watch over their flocks by night.”  The seeds of revolution are planted; the promise of the prophets who represented a God of peace and justice rises again.  (vss. 8-14)

 

The reading for the First Sunday after Christmas continues the story with the baby being presented in the temple.  (vss. 22-24)  Simeon takes him in his arms, speaking of this child as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel . . . destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel.”  He will be opposed and Mary’s soul will experience agony.  (vss. 28-36)  Anna also speaks about the child “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  (vss. 36-38)  We are left with a picture of a child “who grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”  (vs. 40)

 

In this story we have something great arising from humble circumstance, one who is to fulfill the hopes of many.  His birth rekindles visions of inclusion, justice and peace, the powerful being overthrown.  This birth is a sign of God’s favor at work among those who struggle in the midst of oppression.

 

Another reading for The Nativity of the Lord comes from the Gospel According to John, in which Jesus is seen as “The Word” with God from the very beginning.  In fact, “the Word was God.”  (John 1:1-3)  This Word “became flesh and lived among us,” full of grace and truth, showing forth God’s glory.  (vs. 14)  He is light that shines in the darkness and cannot be extinguished.  (vss. 4-9)  He offers the “power to become children of God.”  (vss. 11-13)

 

In this story we have one who puts us in touch with eternal power, makes us family, shines light on our lives and world.  It is all available right where we live---“among us.”  It’s still a story of humility and power, but quite a different take with different metaphors.

 

Then there’s Isaiah.  The church of my younger years majored in the misguided effort to see Jesus in every verse of the Old Testament.  My perspective now says that Isaiah and those who wrote in his name were not directly speaking about Jesus.  They were more likely talking about circumstances and kings and nations in their own time.  It is true that their visions contributed to understandings of a hoped-for Messiah (anointed king), some of which were applied, by early followers, to Jesus.  They have become part of the way in which we continue to tell the story of Jesus.

 

In the lectionary readings we find light in darkness (Isaiah 9:20).  We find joy as the oppressor is brought down.  (vss. 3-5)  We are introduced to a child who “is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” one who will bring “endless peace . . . with justice and with righteousness.”  (vss. 6-7)  His invitation is “Go through, go through the gates, prepare the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones . . . See, your salvation comes . . .”  (Isaiah 62:10-11)  We are told about the beautiful feet of a messenger who “announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,” who says, “Your God reigns.”  (Isaiah 52:7)  It is occasion for joyful singing.  (vss. 8-9)

 

The Isaiah reading for the First Sunday after Christmas uses the metaphors of clothing and gardening.  “ . . . he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”  (Isaiah 61:10-11)Isaiah4, 8-11, Psalm 1salm 126:o

 

When we use these readings in our telling of the Christmas story, we tell the story of a king, made most explicit perhaps in the Isaiah 62:3---“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”  When we tell this Christmas story we express our longings for rulers and leaders, for governments, who function with transparency and compassion so that justice and peace not only prevail but thrive and grow in life-giving soil.

 

The readings from the Psalms also sing the praises of such a king, giving us a perspective on the Christmas story that speaks of inclusiveness, of love and justice and choral outburst in which all of nature is heard.

 

The epistle readings offer short theological statements about Jesus, mostly in terms of grace and sacrificial redemption.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all  . . . we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”  (Titus 2:11, 13-14)  In this approach to the Christmas story, we know ourselves to be loved beyond condition, forgiven, “saved,” and called to a life of zeal for good deeds.  What a message to receive and celebrate on Christmas Day.

 

The reading from Galatians repeats John’s metaphor in which we are children of God.  (Galatians 4:5-6)  Hebrews tells us of a God who “in these last days . . . has spoken to us by a Son . . . He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being . . .”  (Hebrews 1:2-3)  This Christmas story reminds us that when we look into that manger, we see God.  It reminds us to look for God in humble places.

 

So---what is your Christmas story?  What is mine?  The perspective that means the most to me is the one that tells a story of grace.  Christmas reminds me that my life, all life, is gift.  Viewing life through that lens doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard, that I don’t have talents, a contribution to make in the ongoing building of a better world.  It reminds me to appreciate the tremendous contribution that comes from beyond myself.  Some talk about being “self-made,” “pulling themselves up by the bootstraps,” etc.  They speak with pride of their achievements.  I have always been deeply aware of how much I have received from others, the unexpected opportunities, the encouragement, the training, the sustenance.  There is so much in life that just comes, unsolicited, often unexpected.  It’s the way life is.  My prayers are always filled with thanksgiving, often specifically itemized.

 

Gift-giving is a most appropriate symbol for the meaning of Christmas in my life.  There are other perspectives that are important, to me as well as to the church and world---ones that emphasize peace and justice.  Even they, however, are connected with the greatest gift of all, the giving of oneself, in humility, in service to others---a giving embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.

 

I leave it to you to ponder upon how you tell the story of Christmas as it plays out in your life.
Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lectionary Scriptures:  Isaiah4, 8-11, Psalm 1salm 126:oII Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:46b-55 OR Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

 

We spent most of our breakfast discussion this morning reflecting upon Mary’s response when an angel came to her and announced her pending motherhood.  We are told, “She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”   (Luke 1:29)  Some of the women, remembering their first pregnancy, thought “perplexed” seemed too mild a word.  For me, it had been a verse that made Mary particularly human, confused, maybe a bit panicked.

 

Being a lover of words, the discussion sent me to the Merriam-Webster dictionary on my Kindle Fire to find out more about perplexity and being perplexed.  Perplexed:  “filled with uncertainty, full of difficulty.”  The encounter with the long list of synonyms was most enlightening and helpful, at times almost amusing:  “puzzled, baffled, confounded, hard-pressed, nonplussed, hard put.”  Mary was “nonplussed.”  She was “hard put.”  The list of synonyms for perplexity is even richer:  “bewilderment, entanglement, bamboozlement, befuddlement, bemusement, bewilderment, confusedness, discombobulation, distraction, fog, head-scratching, mystification.”  One is almost driven to leaf through the dictionary for further definitions.  Did Mary feel bamboozled and befuddled?  Was she discombobulated?  Was it a head-scratching moment for her?  What kind of entanglements was she getting into?  And “mystification” opens up a whole wide field for responding to this indeed “mysterious” moment.

 

At points the definitions and synonyms made me think of wonder, a word which is used to describe two, perhaps related, human feelings.  Wonder as a noun refers to “a cause of astonishment or admiration,” “rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience,”  but also to “a feeling of doubt or uncertainty.”  I was surprised to find “caution” among its synonyms.  To wonder, a verb, means “to feel surprise, to feel curiosity or doubt.”  Wonder is both a sense of awe and a way of saying that we want to understand something better.  “I wonder why this is happening to me.”  “I wonder what that is all about.”

 

I thought about titling this week’s blog entry “Oh, The Wonder of It All.”

 

Mary was in total turmoil.  She was frightened.  She didn’t understand.  Her life was being turned upside down.  Many would note that, in the end, she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  (vs. 38---Note a similar attitude in the story of the calling of the boy Samuel in I Samuel, chapter 3.)  I want to suggest this week, though, that Mary’s attitude, if it be understood in all the richness of the words “wonder” and “perplexity”, is an attitude to be commended to us as we continue to reflect on the meaning of the strange child in our lives and in human history.

 

Some of this week’s lectionary readings reflect “wonder” and “perplexity” more than others, but all have elements worthy of notice and contemplation.

 

The alternative Gospel reading is a longer response known to many as “The Magnificat” or as “Mary’s Song.”  (Is its inclusion in the readings for three weeks in a row now meant to suggest it’s importance?)  It is certainly the song of an amazed soul, singing in wonder at the work of “the Mighty One.”  “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things . . .”  (vss. 48-53)  We often wonder why bad things happen to good people.  We might also ponder on the wonder of it when good things arise from lowly places.  The Christmas story is set among the lowly, not among the high and mighty (except as a challenge to their abuse of power).  It is about justice, something always arousing wonder and perplexity.

 

The readings from II Samuel and Psalm 89 are significant in their focus on David.  The Gospel lesson (along with other Gospel and Epistle readings) makes the connection with “the house of David.”  (vs. 27)  Jesus was seen by many to be the long-awaited Messiah (spirit-anointed king) and the Messiah was expected to be the heir of King David’s legacy.  Both II Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 sing praises to King David and call attention to God’s promise to be with God’s people throughout history and eternity.  The rule of the ideals embodied in David is seen to be eternal.  “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”  (II Samuel 7:16)  “I declare that your steadfast love is established forever . . . You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one . . . I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”  (Psalm 89:2-4)

 

The mystery of ideals marching their way through history, what is passed from generation to generation through families, is reason for wonder and perplexity.  How can this be, especially when David had major blemishes in his personal life?  He was a murderer and an adulterer, yet God found ways to use him and continued to love him beyond all bounds of our understanding.  Is such love part of the wonder and perplexity of the Christmas message?

 

The reading from II Samuel, however, emphasizes another aspect of David’s heritage.  He has built himself a grand dwelling and begins to wonder about a place for God.  He engages the prophet Nathan in a conversation, saying, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”  (II Samuel 7:1-2)  Nathan, in effect, gives David the go-ahead to build a temple, but God has a different perspective.  “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord:  Are you the one to build me a house to live in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”  (vss. 5-6)  There are other stories which call into question our human obsession with buildings, our attempts to contain our spiritual expressions in a defined and limited space.  Wonder and perplexity call us, sometimes even force us, to break out, to notice God at work in the lowliest places, sometimes far from the stained glass of sanctuary windows. 

 

My wife and I have been reading a book by Brian Doyle, A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance.  At one point he writes,

“You know how everything seems normal and usual and 
orthodox

But actually everything if you look at it closely with all four eyes

Is utterly confusing and puzzling and mysterious and
astonishing?"

He also notes, “Sometimes we are starving to see every bit of what is right in front of us.”  Jill Pelaez Baumgartner, in her forward to the book adds, “It is not just that we miss the facts of our lives as they whiz by us . . . It is that we miss the true nature of reality---that which happens to us every day of our lives---which contains mystery, and if we miss that, we miss the reason for our existence.”  A Shimmer of Something---something to wonder and be perplexed about---something the season calls us to notice and bow down before, or lift our arms and voices in praise about.

 

That leaves the reading from Romans.  It is one of many benedictions in the Bible, including an abundance in the Pauline epistles.  A benediction is a good word, a blessing.  Sometime you might want to explore the benedictions of the Bible.  Someone noted that this one isn’t even a sentence, but then Paul was never known for his carefully constructed sentence.  Its sentiment calls us to take a long view of things, to see and experience God’s glory in all things---forever!

 

At breakfast someone observed that the encounter between Mary and the angel begins with a blessing, i.e., Mary is greeted as a “favored one.”  (Luke 1:28)  At the beginning of her song of response, in verse 48, she speaks of the Lord looking “with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  We often speak lightly of blessings.  When we notice the deepest blessings of life, we are “nonplussed,” “confounded.”  Blessings may even “entangle” us in all kinds of things, like love and peace and justice.  Is Christmas that kind of blessing---one before, and in, which we wonder and are perplexed? 

 

Rather than wishing you Merry Christmas, perhaps we all need to hear again the words of the benediction in Romans 16:25-27---"Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith---to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen."
Friday, December 12, 2014

Lectionary Scriptures:  Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126:1-6 OR Luke 1:46b-55, I Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

I’ve been reading Not Without Laughter, a novel by Langston Hughes.  I have known him as a poet, but didn’t know he had written a novel.  A “Note” at the beginning of this edition says that it is “a portrait of black life in small-town Kansas in the early 1900s” and that it “holds up a mirror to the writer’s own youthful experiences through the character of Sandy Rogers.”  As a young man Sandy discovers the pool hall with all its story-telling, and noisy, sometimes argumentative, camaraderie.  The title of the book comes out of his thoughts as he reflects on that experience.  “But underneath, all was good-natured and friendly---and through and above everything was laughter.  No matter how belligerent or lewd their talk was, or how sordid the tales they told---of dangerous pleasures and stranger perversities---these black men laughed.  That must be the reason, thought Sandy, why poverty-stricken old Negroes like Uncle Dan Givens lived so long---because to them, no matter how hard life might be, it was not without laughter.”

 

I want to sing in praise of laughter today, deep laughter from inside one’s being, and the kind of roaring ringing sound of joy that laughs in the face of hardship and evil.  It’s the kind of laugh depicted in The Laughing Jesus, a painting that appeared in Playboy Magazine, of all places, some years back.  In a search of the internet I discovered that there are a multitude of such portrayals.  Do a search for yourself and check some of them out.  There are even apocryphal stories of Jesus and his laughter.  There may be no more profound portrayal of the incarnation, a laughing God.  (I‘d place it right alongside a weeping Jesus.)  God must truly have a sense of humor in his/her gracious love of human beings.

 

While the line to this week’s lectionary readings does not flow directly to laughter, I believe that laughter flows from the deepest kind of joy.  Joy is in some of this week’s readings and joy is an attitude often lifted up in the Advent season, in our seasonal singing, and in related scriptures.

 

The other theme I see in the readings is that of dreaming big dreams, of hoping for visions to be fulfilled.  At this week’s breakfast discussion I asked, “What are your dreams and hopes for the world?  What ideals and values would prevail?”  Hopes and dreams and visions have drawn the human imagination and its outworking’s for centuries.  Jesus became a lightning rod in which many of those dreams and visions came to focus in a new way.  Along with joy, each Advent season calls us to celebrate and renew hope.

 

Rather than offer an overall interpretation of the texts for the coming Sunday, let me highlight a few verses in each to lift up dreams and visions and joy that may enable us to burst forth in gut-busting laughter.

 

Isaiah 61 may be the central vision of the entire Bible.  It is the one picked up by Jesus in his inaugural sermon as recorded in Luke 4:16-21.  I acknowledge the rich and varied history of the ideal of a Messiah, the various threads and interpretations in that tradition.  We’re talking here about Messiah (earthly king and hoped for savior), but today let’s take it as an expression of hope for society in which peace and justice reign.  As it reads in Isaiah 61:1-3:  The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion---to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.”  Notice the “oil of gladness instead of mourning.”  Do I hear a hint of laughter?

 

Psalm 126 expresses a similar hope---a hope of restoration in which “we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy . . . May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves."

 

The reading from Luke gives us Mary’s song upon her visit with her cousin Elizabeth.  Both are with child---Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John, the baptizer.  Elizabeth has just said, “ . . . as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy,” when Mary bursts into song.  Her vision is that her son will fulfill the ancient dream.  Her joyous singing is rooted in “the Mighty One.”  “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

 

The joke is on those who think they have power and proceed to use it oppressively.  Cue:  Laughter.

 

In I Thessalonians 5:16 we are told, “Rejoice always.”  It’s a favorite theme of Paul’s.  As severe as some of our images of Paul are, I can imagine a laughing Paul alongside a laughing Jesus.  In Philippians 4:4, he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  The rest of the reading from I Thessalonians lists some attitudes which might prevail in an ideal world, another way of expressing, and perhaps achieving, a vision.  “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances . . . test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:17-18, 21-22)  Doesn’t exactly seem like a life full of laughter, yet there again are the opening words, “Rejoice, always.”  Always.

 

The other Gospel reading brings us back to rough old John, the baptizer.  Pastor Rick did a great job, last Sunday, of giving us a flavor of this character who would have made most of us uncomfortable.  Mostly it’s a story of one who is pointing ahead to someone greater.  There’s stuff about identity and baptism (John 1:19-22, 25-27), but John is simply “a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”  (vs. 23)  With these words, John ties in again to the vision of Isaiah.

 

John is a voice of hope in the wilderness, a glimmer of light coming over the horizon.  Just on the edge of our hearing do we hear an echo of laughter from somewhere in the skies?  Is it too sacrilegious to call it a giggle, maybe even the cooing chuckle of a baby?  I hope not---and therefore I hope!
Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Thoughts on the Lectionary Passages for the Second Sunday of Advent (December 7, 2014)

By Jim Ogden

Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, II Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

We live in an age and culture which seeks instant gratification.  We want our internet to respond more rapidly.  We are constantly connected so that we don’t miss something the moment it happens.  See, here’s a picture of it!  Even food must be fast.  We can’t wait.  We don’t have time to wait.  They’ve tried to move Black Friday up this year.  (Who dared to make such an obnoxious use of that name to describe a commercial kick-off of the Christmas shopping season?)

It’s difficult to heed the call to be patient.  Yet, here I am approaching my 75th birthday and I’m still waiting.  I was one of those wide-eyed idealists that lived through the sixties thinking we were going to change the world.  On many days it’s difficult to identify much real progress and hope turns to depression.  We just keep on fighting the same battles.  Even the date of this Sunday reminds us of war, the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The battles never seem to end, even though years earlier Woodrow Wilson, borrowing a phrase from H.G. Wells, declared “a war to end all wars.”

Haven’t I, haven’t we, been patient long enough?  Yet here we are again in the season of waiting---Advent, we call it in the church.  At least the word, from the Latin, speaks of something which is coming.  There is hope; it is coming; be patient and wait.  In Christian theology, it is the birth of Jesus that is coming.  In the larger Judeo-Christian heritage, this time of expectation and waiting is attached to a messianic figure and a time when all will be set right, God’s reign of peace and justice, shalom, will be realized.

Perhaps it is a season to relearn patience.  God’s plans don’t seem to involve much instant gratification.  This week’s epistle reading from II Peter begins, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”  (II Peter 3:8)  As the reading continues, it looks not at our patience but at God’s patience.  What we hope for is slow in coming because God is waiting for us.  “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”  (vs. 9)  Some of us may have problems with the underlying notion that all this waiting leads up to a Judgment Day, but we can still find hope and comfort in the image of a God who is patient with us.  Is there a patience in the very workings of the cosmos?  Romans 8:22 speaks of “the whole creation . . . groaning in labor pains.”  (And then I follow my mind as it makes and unbidden leap to the song, This Is My Father’s World by Maltbie D. Babcock, and the phrase, “all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.”  Okay, my mind does crazy things.  Your guess is as good as mine.)

This week’s texts are full of images of what it is we’re waiting for.  “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.  Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.  The Lord will give what is good . . . righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.”  (Psalm 85:10-12)  “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain . . . He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”  (Isaiah 40:4 & 11).

I’m hesitant to suggest that all will be well, but that is the hope---that everything that is out of kilter will be put right again.  The images are comforting.  The reading from Isaiah actually begins with these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”  (Isaiah 40:1). The picture is one of tender and loving relationships.  (vs. 2)  God “will speak peace to his people.”  (Psalm 85:8). But still we wait!  “ . . . we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”  Part of the discussion in recent weeks has been about what we are to do while we are waiting.  Maybe we are just to keep at it.  Maybe we are part of the process of making it come, whether it be in a thousand years or in a day.  We are to lead “lives of holiness and godliness . . . Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace . . .”  (II Peter 3:11 & 14)

Whatever is coming involves preparation and preparers.  The reading from Isaiah looks ahead to one who will cry out, “In the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord . . .”  (Isaiah 40:2)  The Gospel lesson from Mark applies those words to John the baptizer, speaking of it as “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.”  (Mark 1:1-4)

Perhaps we are all preparers.  Maybe when some of us look back and wonder what we have accomplished, we should look at that time as years of preparation.  The task of preparation is not yet complete.  There are those still coming who will continue preparing the way.  Perhaps we can look at each day, or each thousand years, as a time of preparation.  John speaks of something greater still to come.  (Mark 1:7) 

Watch for it; wait for it; prepare for it!  It’s Advent!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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