Third Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – When and where compassion blooms

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isaiah 35:1-2)

Usually when I sit down to write, I allow the scripture passage to define the theme. But this day I am hoping the theme I want to speak to is supported by the passage. The day I sat down to write this – actually the morning of the day – I was asked by someone walking through the parking lot of where I work if I had some spare change so she could get something to eat. She prefaced her request by complimenting me on my wardrobe choice for the day. And normally I would pass that off as just a “prelude” to the request. But something told me she was sincere in her admiration. I have long resisted giving handouts to people on street corners, not because I am hard-hearted and do not feel their pain and need. But because it seems like such a mindless/soulless thing to just shove money at someone. That’s not to say I have not offered money and food offerings to those who stand at intersections with signs, but this was an opportunity to really connect with the person in need, so I took the opportunity. Gave her some money, and engaged in real conversation. It was good for me, and it was good for her I think.

Now, how does this connect with this scripture passage? Not easily or well. But closer than the other selections. The verses allude to a time when things will be much people for humanity, with the focus of course being for the chosen people of God. But the God that sent the Messiah is not likely to keep out those who are in need simply because they were not part of the line streaming down for Abraham and Isaac.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” (Verses 3 – 4)

One of the ways this person and I connected was her admiration for my necklace; that morning I had chosen to wear my small colored cross and the safety pin that stands trying to hold the world together when it seems like things are coming apart. I felt good explaining the safety pin part which explained in a small way why I gave her money for food and an orange from my lunch bag. The cross, I just let that speak for itself.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Abundance, fertile ground, healing, and needs met – these things will happen when God comes to the world. Now, this coming may be Christ’s return. Or it may be the coming of the Holy Infant that softens the spirit and opens the heart – as my heart and spirit did this morning. But what I can only do in part, God can do in full. But let us not wait until God’s fullness solves all the woes in the world! No, do not wait! Act now!

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Now, who are these redeemed? As I said earlier, the God who sent Jesus as a baby is not going to force the need and the marginalized off of the “Holy Way”. And who decides who is “clean” and “unclean”? Is this judged by appearance only? No, not that way! God looks into the heart, and the spirit, and the soul. There is where “unclean” thought and attitudes that result in hatred etc reside. We cannot judge that inner place. We should not! And until that determination is made by the Lord, all are worthy and deserving of compassion.

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” ( Verse 10)

As children of God, we do what we can when we can for other children of God. Especially in this Advent season, let compassion bloom. And if compassion is not where you are, plant some and nurture it! Selah!

Third Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – John asks, and Jesus answers; and a little “music”

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2 – 6)

I am reminded again that John the Baptist was a cousin of sorts to Jesus. Perhaps John wanted to be sure that the relative he knew was also the Messiah that he proclaimed. I can understand and appreciate that. John was sitting in prison because he had not demurred to Herod, but had told Herod exactly what he thought of him, and why. He told the truth, proclaiming what was are real and actual. So he was looking for confirmation of what he hoped was real concerning Jesus. And Jesus affirmed John’s belief, not just with assurances but with scripture.

That, in a way, is what I try to do beloved reader; affirm and guide with scripture. Not on the strength of my own words, but bring to the forefront God’s words and Jesus’ teachings.

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Verses 7 – 11)

But I am no “John the Baptist.” I don’t wear “soft robes” but neither am I a prophet. Truth to tell, I am not sure what I am. Sometimes I feel like someone yelling and shouting in the desert with no one to hear me. I see things that I do not think others see; I perceive things in ways that others sometimes don’t. And if I am called “great” by some, I am far surpassed by others. But that is okay. I strive to do what I am called to do.

I remember in years past when I wrote other meditation guides for Christmas, I thought I was setting down profoundness in a way I had never done before, and would never do again. And later on, I thought I was “hammering away” at things I had said before and was saying again. Now I realize that I am merely adding to what has been said before, and has been said by others. It is like Christmas music that fills the air with melody after melody; when one note ends another begins, so that in the air all around is the constant sound of the melody of faith, belief, and spirituality. A good image I think for Christmastide.

May you, beloved reader, make your own “music” this year, however the Spirit calls it forth. Selah!

Second Week of Advent: The Psalms Passage Year A – O Come Christ our Lord God

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.” (Psalm 72:1-7)

We have come to the end of the second week of Advent, although it feels like we have barely tiptoed into the month of December. The weeks may flash by more quickly now, and the countdown to the actual day of Christmas may move too slowly for the young, and the young at heart. I wanted to pause now, here at the middle, to extend to you warm Advent wishes as you continue your preparations for the season.

I have started listening to Christmas music at the time of this writing, and that coupled with this passage from Psalm 72 just puts me firmly thinking of the coming of Christ. The psalm however speaks of the adult Christ the Messiah, while Christmas music is often focused more to the infant Christ. And I am keenly aware of the duality and conflict.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.” (Verses 18 & 19)

I am not sure, however, that is a conflict that I want to resolve. Last year I came across a version of “O Come, O come Emmanuel” and it has seeped into my soul. If you remember the words of that Christmas carol, it is addressed more to the adult Jesus, although the video that goes with it images a baby Jesus. In years past it was the image of the baby Jesus that captured my attention and focus. But this year, with all that the year has held, while we adore the innocence of a child, it is the saving grace of the Messiah that we need. Christ is with us, born as a baby but who grew to adulthood understanding the plight of humanity. May our deliverance come, in whatever form you need it, beloved reader. Selah!

Second Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Changes are coming! Are you prepared?

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Lineage. Ancestry. Heritage.

Who your family is and was, is important. Sons are called by their father’s name – ben Joseph was Jesus last name. Daughters are expected to bring honor to their family. But the family of Jesse, King David’s family, has lost status and stature since the time of King David. No longer rulers, but tradesman and workers, shepherds or whatever they turned their hand to. But the story of King David was not over. Not by a long shot, or shoot, as the case maybe.

But this was not due entirely to the lineage of Jesse. The Lord God also contributed to the rise again of Jesse’s family, as did the family of Mary who was found equally worthy. Do not count anyone or anything, because things change.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Verses 6 – 9)

We can change too, beloved reader. What ever the course of our life, we can change it – for good or for worse. The Advent season, while a season of waiting, is also a season of change. We put up decorations and make preparations. What had been a scowl on one’s face changes to a smile. The “magic” of the season can work on young and old. Things change. Watch for the changes! Selah!

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Verse 10)

Second Week of Advent: The Epistles Passage Year A – Taking time to hope

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:4-6)

I feel like I have been living in a rush these past few days. There seems to be so much to do, to attend to, and to monitor. There’s not enough minutes in the day to do everything I feel I should do, and not enough strength in my body and mind to accomplish everything.

These verses from Romans do not precisely address my flurry, but close enough for me to stop and ponder on them – which in itself is probably a good thing. Harmony is not a need of mine right now as much as peace and rest. Glorifying God with one voice is not much a challenge as stopping long enough to realize that there is much I can praise God for. Not the least of which is to be able to get through these next days. Which, thinking that, has me itching to rush off, hurrying and scurrying to accomplish. But the writer of Romans has more to say.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Verses 7 – 9a)

Everything within me wants to say, “Hurry, scurry, next task!” Next portion of the passage, move along. But I keep going back over these verses – welcoming takes time. It takes space and expanse to do it well and wisely, with compassion, love and acceptance. Servanthood takes time, and a willing heart and spirit. These things take time, I tell my self, and I must take the time to consider it all.

As it is written,
Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,“The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (Verses 9b – 12)

Hope – that is what I must pause and read in these verses. Hope that things will work out. Hope that I will accomplish all that I must do. Hope that if my strength and endurance give out, God’s strength will see me through. Hope takes time. Hope does not rush around but calmly says these thing will accomplished. Hope says I can put away my fears, and my “hurrying” and “scurrying” and rest in the Lord.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 13)

Selah!

First Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Cleansing our house of intolerance, hatred, and animosity

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” (Isaiah 2: 1 – 2)

In the days of Isaiah, and the time that the bible (both Old and New Testament) were being written, the believe was that at some point and in some place the Lord in heaven and humanity on earth would meet up and dwell together. That would be the place to be, the ultimate place that all people would want to be. It was, in a sense, a very naïve and innocent assumption.

Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Verses 3)

Being a called people meant that one should not chase after other gods or other beliefs. One should not worship any other god; why would one, when God was the best, the truest, the Only Living God? Why indeed? And yet, and yet . . . . there are other religions, other faith systems, other ways of believing in the Divine. There has been over the decades and centuries an ebbing & flowing of tolerance of other faiths. And that would not bother me so much if Christianity as it is practiced today reflected the same unconditional compassion and acceptance as the way Jesus Christ set it down and modeled it. Christians and Christianity are shamed when intolerance and animosity directed toward people because of differences and deviations from what certain mainstream groups believe is normative. (Isn’t that a gentle way of saying some people hate others who are not like them!) This is NOT what is taught in the hour of the God of Jacob. And should not be taught or tolerated in any household espousing faith in God.

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;” (Verse 4a)

Do not think, beloved reader, that certain nations are guaranteed to win favor with the Lord. Do not think that certain faiths, even certain and varying versions of Christianity, will be favored over other faiths. It is what is in a person’s heart and how they live their lives that will be judged, and not how closely they followed the tenets of their own faith systems.

“ . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Verse 4b)

I am speaking to you, beloved reader, straight and unabashedly. I am taking you to task for any hidden or cloaked prejudice or bias you might have against another person. There has been far too much meanness and hateful talk and action in our world lately. Swords and spears come in the form and shape of words, attitudes, and actions. As we entered into the Advent season, especially, we need to root it out and repent of it. And most certainly before we enter into the Lord’s house that is to be above such things!

O house of Jacob [and every other house in the world],
come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Verse 5)

First Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – Getting ready for . . . what again?

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36-39)

Cheerful. No, not really. Ah but Advent sometimes starts out with unusual passages and then warms up to the more Advent-y/Christmas-y season. Year A in the lectionary cycle usually has the theme of new life, new believers or coming to faith. So some exhortation warning is to be expected when you are urging people to believe for their own best interests.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Verses 40 -42)

It is not wise to dilly-dally, members of the early Christian church thought, because you never know when your Lord is coming. We know now that the return of the Lord was not imminent then. What we do not know now is how soon the Lord will return. So maybe you should not dilly-dally now.

“But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Verses 43 – 44)

But (you say) this is the season of Advent, and we know when Advent is coming, and when Christmas is coming! It is marked on our calendars! This is the season of waiting, not hurrying – you say. But . . . this is also the season of preparation! And what better preparation for the birth of Jesus than making sure the Lord God already has a place in your heart, soul, and spirit?!

Before you hang up the mistletoe, before you drag in the Yule log, before you start the first refrain of “Fa-la-la” make sure you already have the Lord God Jesus Christ residing in your life. Then the season is sure to be a jolly one! Selah!

 

 

P.S. For those of you who saw and liked this the first time around – something went wrong in the scheduling and it posted far too early! A week too early! This is its proper place in the lectionary cycle, the first week of Advent and not the week before Thanksgiving!