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!

First Week of Advent: The Epistle Passage Year A – Waiting in hope

I am very much relieved that the verses for Advent delicately touch on the season. It seems far to early to start thinking about Advent. Yet, Thanksgiving comes at the end of this week and this Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. The first candle in the Advent wreath will be lite, and soon will come (if it has not already according to the decorations in stores) planning for the holiday.

The year seems to have rushed away, and recent events may have blurred for a moment the coming of the season; but I am determined in my own way to reassert the spirit of Advent, and in good time, Christmas.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13: 11-14)

A little starker than I would have put it, but that is the writer of Romans for you. Writing to a people who lived squarely in the midst of politics and social upheaval, trying to carve out a Christian way of living in a society that at times seemed against them. No matter; they prevailed and so shall we. Because when it comes right down to it, the power of love and compassion, caring and acceptance, forgiveness and mercy is stronger than what is antithetic to Christian principles.

The season of Advent is a season of waiting; waiting in hope but knowing (really) what is to come. It occurs to me we are also in a season of waiting, waiting to see what will happen in current politics and the upheaval that is with us. So it doubly good that the season of Advent will help us move through this time with hope and the promise that salvation is resting firmly in the hands of the Divine. Selah!

Fourth Week of Advent – Christ now; but who then? And what of peace to all humanity? (The Old Testament Passage)

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,

in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:2-5a)

It was “foretold” that the baby Jesus would be born of Bethlehem. A minor city at that time, but one that was important in olden days. It was the city of David; but David was long gone and his kingship a memory only. Many things in the Old Testament “foretell” things of Jesus. But this foretelling is seen in the “hindsight” of Jesus’ coming, and all that Jesus was. What might the writer of Micah been thinking about when he wrote this; was he thinking of Jesus? It is puzzling because Christian commentators take verse 5b as figurative – that is, that we evil comes against God’s people, God will provide or has already provided a remedy in Christ. Verse 5a is literal; 5b is figurative. Wish I could talk the writer of Micah.

You see, beloved reader, the Jews were not expecting the type of Messiah that Jesus Christ was. They were expecting the type of Messiah-leader who would help “If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers.” (Verse 5b) So Jesus coming to the world as a baby was not the type of kingship that the Jews of that time expected. And I suspect, gentle reader, it is not the type of kingship many people today would like to have from their God. Let me dip my “pen” into political ink for just a moment; it seems many people what a God who will punish those who they see needing punishment, and be hostile against those they feel are the “them” that the “us” need to repeal and resist. I could go on, but I think (I hope) you understand what I mean.

We are in the last week of Advent, and the last day before we delve into the week of Christmas. Throughout the history of humanity the days and season of Christmas is when we set aside our hostilities and reach out to all humanity in peace and harmonious accord. I hope and pray that it is no different this season. May it be so in your part of the world. Selah!

 

P.S. I wrote a companion peace to this posting  on my other blog, Pondering from the Pacific. You can see it in about 10 minutes after this one has posted. The Christ who was born from a God of Peace, Love, and Compassion

Fourth Week of Advent – Preparing, and being prepared, for Advent (The Gospel Passage)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

You need to understand, beloved reader, what is meant “in those days.” Elizabeth’s, the mother of John the Baptist, pregnancy was firmly established. And Mary had just found out that she was pregnant – a very different type of pregnancy than her cousin Elizabeth’s. One that confused her and concerned her because unlike her cousin she was not married and had not tried to conceive. The conception was placed upon her, and while she willingly accepted it (“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. “ [verse 38b]) it still would be a difficulty and an embarrassment. But when Elizabeth greets her will understanding and enthusiasm, Mary’s fears were vanished. And the writer of Luke gives to her a “Song of Praise.”

And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; 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.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Verses 46-55)

I have at other times and on other occasions commented on the likelihood or unlikelihood of these being Mary’s (or Elizabeth’s) words. But during the time of Advent is not the time to stand on such ceremony. Who of us have been so blessed or called upon by God to be part of a divine plan? And who knows what we might say or reflect on such an occasion?

But really, is it so out of our experience to be part of God’s divine plan? Are we not, as followers of God, part of God’s divine plan? All of us have an important role in bringing God’s message to a hungry and needy world. Or living out the example of Jesus Christ to a world that is sorely in need of love and compassion. We may not carry a messenger of God or the child of God in our body. But God and Christ can be in our soul and spirit, and that alone might cause us to speak forth or act in ways that seem beyond ourselves. Indeed, I sometimes have that feeling when I sit down to write to you beloved reader, that something beyond myself is guiding and inspiring my words and writings. It is not so strange. It is not beyond the human experience to be used by God. And perhaps that is part of the mystic of Advent; that we are prepared and drawn into God’s divine plan.

May this Advent, beloved reader, be filled with God’s blessing for you. And may you be filled with God’s blessing. Selah!

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!