Fourth Week of Advent – Hope on the way (The Psalm Passage)

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.” (Psalm 80: 1-3)

It would seem that not yet is the time to focus on the nativity of Jesus. If I had looked ahead in my own planning, I would have seen that the Psalm Passage is themed towards salvation. Ah well, it is a theme that is just as important as the nativity; and one that under scores the reason that Christ was sent to us.

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.” (Verses 4 – 6)

This is also a good reminder of what the Hebrews/Jews endured during their long history; a time spanning from the rule of King David to subjugation of the Jews under Rome. Of course, if King David was the writer of this psalm, the focus was his problems and struggles. But it is a common custom to appropriate the musings and writings of one person and apply it to other situations. So let us apply it to all the Hebrews/Jews. And maybe even extend it to ourselves. And what better time to ask for God’s face to shine on us than when we are waiting, anticipating, and preparing for the arrival of the baby Jesus. For this baby is more than just an infant child, but the hope that the world has been waiting for.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Verse 7)

May this hope for Advent be fulfilled for you, beloved reader. Selah!

Fourth Week of Advent – Jumping Ahead – For a Short Time (The Epistles Passage)

The theme of this lectionary year – confession, penance, and forgiveness – comes through in the Advent readings. Here the writer of Hebrews (thought to be Paul) has Christ explaining that it was his body that was offered as penance for humanity’s sin. That other offering did not satisfy humanity’s (or the Jews) long term condition of sin. And that this ultimate offering was foretold.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” (Hebrews 10:5-7)

The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain,

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first [offerings] in order to establish the second [Christ’s sacrifice and body]. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verses 8-10)

I have set up on the desk where I write the glass nativity set that I found several years ago in a second hand store. I am rather late (for me) in getting it set up, and I suspect I will leave it up longer than usual (for me) as a consequence. The writings of Paul stand in contrast to the nativity scene where the focus is the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph watching over their newborn child, and the wise men coming to worship and bring gifts. And do not forget the sheep. In fact the sheep seem to be the only thing that ties this idyllic scene to Jesus later life – reminders of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and being lead as a “lamb to slaughter.”

I was reminded recently that in one nativity story Mary is told (or it is hinted to her) that her baby son Jesus would grow up and be put to death. And it was a sword to her heart. The Mary of my glass nativity set looks like she is in prayer as she is gazing on her child. Perhaps she is praying that she might be a good mother, or that she can endure what the years will bring. Or perhaps just grateful that she lived through the delivery!

Although the church year does not give much space and attention to it, I am glad that it was at least 30 years between Jesus’ birth and his death. Let Paul keep his theory and theology; I want to focus on Jesus’ birth. I want time to prepare myself for confession and penance, assured in the knowledge that the means of forgiveness has been set in motion.

May you, beloved reader, continue to prepare yourself during Advent. Selah!

Third Week of Advent – God has a plan (The Pseudo-Psalm Passage)

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2 – 3)

As we come to the end of this third week of Advent and approach the third Sunday of Advent, the writer of Isaiah reminds us who God is (at least one of the aspects of God) to us. Whatever might have frightened us in the past, it is something no longer to be feared. When the angel came to Mary and appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angel came to dispel fear and announce good news. Perhaps you remember early in the year I brought your attention to the annunciation to Mary. In a sense, that is the more truer start of Advent, when God’s plan first started. That is an important thing to remember – even before we know of our needs, God is planning to meet them. And even before the fearful event becomes obvious to us, God is setting forth a plan that will assuage our fears.

And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

(Verses 4 -6)

With all that comes to you during the season of Advent, may not be one of them. And if there is fear, may God already be planning for your good and salvation. Selah!

Third Week of Advent – Good news for those who need it (The Old Testament Passage)

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.” (Zephaniah 3:14-16)

Can you imagine how this message might be received by a nation that felt it was being terrorized by outside forces, forces that sought to destroy it? I am actually talking about Jerusalem and the Hebrew nation and not the current global nations. While the book of Zephaniah is meant to be a warning and a corrective for a nation that has wandered from God, this passage of Zephaniah seeks to reassure the reader that the Lord has a plan to save it and redeem it. And that God has not utterly abandoned it. But how might it or could it be received by current nations? Would it be “good news”?

“The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.” (Verses 17-18a)

Maybe the message of relief would be well received; but not that it was a judgment against the nation. Although there are some instances, for some events and occurrences, that some people (please note all the qualifiers!) believe are the judgments of an “angry” God.

“I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.” (Verse 18b)

And there would be naysayers who would say that disaster has NOT been removed. And others would say that those who have who have suffered should have never been thought to be deserving of it. Applying Old Testament thinking to modern times is not easy, and often not applicable. But it is thought provoking.

I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.” (Verse 19a)

It is also interesting to consider who exactly are the oppressed . . . and who are the oppressors. Just as it is tricky to apply Old Testament verses and thinking, it is tricky to try to figure out who is who.

“And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.” (Verses 19b – 20)

The thing is, beloved reader, to God anyone who is oppressed is worthy of being saved; and anyone who oppresses is worthy of being punished. Here, in Zephaniah, Jerusalem and Israel are the victims and who will be saved by God. But who in our modern times needs to be rescued from whom? Tricky questions . . . especially during the season of Advent when peace and joy and good will to all people is supposed to be assured. But then . . . we have not had much peace and joy and good will to all people lately have we?

May your Advent season be all the the Lord intends for God’s beloved. Selah!

Third Week of Advent – Rejoicing in the midst of it all (The Epistle Passage)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

In four verses so much instruction and exhortation that is very worthwhile to pay attention to. Rejoice! If things look gloomy and dark, rejoice that you are not alone!

Be gentle! Be kind! Be this way with everyone.

The Lord is near! That is reason enough to rejoice and to be caring with everyone you meet.

And don’t worry about anything. Bring everything to God in prayer, because remember, the Lord is near!

And when you pray to God, ask the Divine for what you truly need. Open your hearts to God, because already knows what is in your heart, so you are not hiding . . . or fooling the Lord.

Finally, the peace of God will be yours! If you have committed yourself to God, God will undertake for you whatever the circumstances. That too is reason enough to rejoice!

Advent is the season of rejoicing, and as well as all the other things we do during Advent. And we can even preparing for rejoicing, thinking about all the wonderful things the Lord has in store for us.

Advent is a busy season with preparing and anticipating. But do not, beloved reader, get so caught up in the tasks of Advent that you forget to rejoice! Selah!

Third Week of Advent – Being worthy and ready for the Messiah that will come

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7)

John the Baptist was very plain spoken, and did not coach his message in soft and pleasing terms. This appealed to his audience, and while brisk and abrupt he was sincere in his message and the desire for people to be saved.

Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Verses 10-14)

If this sounds like the message that Jesus spoke, do not be surprised. John knew from whence the message came and who would be the ultimate carrier and symbol of this message.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 15-17)

But still, John is a fiery speaker and foretells a Messiah that will separate the good from the bad, and the wrong doer from the righteous. And it makes me wonder, beloved reader, what type of Messiah do you expect and are drawn to? And what kind of Messiah do you tell about to other people?

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” (Verses 18)

During this third week of Advent, may you think about the Messiah who is to come, and speak about this Messiah to others. Selah!

Second Week of Advent – Prayer and Blessing for You, Beloved Reader (The Epistles Passage)

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

I have not made it a habit to respond to each individual person when I get a notice that they have started following my blog. I do try to respond to each comment. But even if I do not reach out to each individual person, I am pleased and thankful each time someone new joins the group. From the first time you, beloved reader, read one of my posts the salutation of “beloved reader” includes you. Not because I know you but because you are beloved by God and by extension beloved by me. So I do thank God each time I remember you, beloved reader.

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart. . . “ (Verses 6 to 7a)

I do not know, beloved reader, what you think of me except and beyond the moment you decided to follow my blog. It is the writer of Philippians who has made this assumption, and even then he means only those he is directly addressing. If/when this letter was passed around, he may not have know who they are. But the second part of verse does note this qualifier.

“ . . . for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (Verse 7b)

The writer of Philippians (attributed by some to Paul) feels strongly the belief in a common God unites believers. And it is true; my assumption that by deciding to follow this blog you have found something here that feeds your soul and spirit. And that is enough for me to belief that your faith life encompasses belief in God.

“For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Verses 8-11)

I have deliberately placed this blessing and prayer from Paul (for that is what it is) on Saturday so that it might carry you into the second Sunday of Advent. Advent, in addition to preparation, is a time of anticipation of God’s blessing and gift to us. May you feel the blessing of God this season, and thank you beloved reader for deciding to read what I write. Shalom!