Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent, Week 2: Monday

Isaiah 11:1-5 (NRSV):

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.

We who are the body of Christ can take a profound lesson from this prophecy of his coming. How should we reflect the likeness of the Branch of Jesse? What spirit rests on us? How do we judge? How do we treat the poor and the meek? Are we clothed in righteousness? Is it by what we do with the might of our arms, or rather the justice of our Spirit-inspired words, that the wicked are rendered no longer wicked?

Such a comparison makes me hang my head in shame. I have so much growing up still to do, and such a shortage of time in which to do it! But if I am faithful, if I permit God full control, I will progress in this "going on to perfection" that is sanctification.

Today, Lord Jesus, just for today: I choose to be more like you. May your Holy Spirit rest on me and may I then reflect you in all that I say and do.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Second Sunday in Advent

For this week's full texts, visit the Vanderbilt Divinity Library's Lectionary page for this Sunday's readings here.

Old Testament: Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Epistle: Romans 15:4-13
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Text: 12th C. Latin, tr. by John M. Neale, 1851

Tune: VENI EMMANUEL, arr. Thomas Helmore, 1856
For more information and/or to listen to the tune, visit the Cyberhymnal.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent, Week 1: Saturday

Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV):

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.

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.

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.

This is one of the passages of Scripture that has given rise to some pretty awful concepts, such as cars suddenly having their drivers be "raptured." I find it amusing that so many Christians expend so much effort on "decoding" the apocalyptic portions of the Bible (especially the Revelation) and claiming to know for certain that we are in the "last days," while here Jesus makes it crystal clear that we do not know the hour or the day when Jesus will return.

My pastor occasionally makes reference to a bumper sticker she saw some years back: "Jesus is coming: Look busy!". It makes me laugh, but there's an ugly truth about it concerning how the church behaves. We are far more willing to engage in "busy work" than to be consistently, faithfully busy doing the actual work the Lord has given us. Some of us are extremely proud to picket abortion clinics, for example; why, Jesus would be so proud of our opposition to abortion! But just what are we doing besides a cheap protest that mainly just irritates people? Not much, at least not much that matters in the lives of women who seek abortions. We refuse to even consider educating our children and youth about human sexuality; we condemn and shun young women who become pregnant outside marriage; we piously condemn the government for doing for single mothers what the church refuses to do: provide them with some financial and housing assistance so that they and their children don't end up homeless and starving to death. Even more telling is our self-insulation from "that kind" of person: someone who's never known a stable family, perhaps infected with a sexually-transmitted disease, who has no stable job and who is now bewildered when faced with the consequences of settling for a sexual relationship while actually seeking love. Have we given her, or her partner, any love as the church? Sadly, no. We make fun of how they dress (droopy pants or pants that don't quite cover midriff and upper hips), we express our distaste for their music, we despise everything they stand for and make no secret of the fact. But hey . . . we get in their faces when out of desperation the pregnant women seek an abortion. (Actually, we get in the faces of any women who go to the clinics, because we don't know if they're there for abortions or for something else, such as contraception, HIV testing, or low-cost Pap tests. We just assume the worst and who cares if we're wrong?)

And that's just one example of how we're doing busywork instead of Kingdom work. Busywork means we never get our hands dirty. Busywork keeps us smug and self-righteous. Busywork is safe.

Kingdom work, however, involves risk. We actually have to get involved in people's lives and meet them where they are. It's messy, it's inconvenient, it's heart-breaking. But it's also the most glorious self-expenditure there is. Really, nothing else has any eternal value.

God makes it clear that our outward piety means nothing if we do not humble ourselves and walk in our Savior's footsteps. Christ loved us so much that he emptied himself, took on human flesh, was born into poverty, all so that he could become sin for our sakes on the cross. He was absolutely, vitally involved in our lives. How dare we settle for outward, meaningless forms of self-congratulatory piety when we're called to be the body of Christ, alive in the world, touching and healing and loving and teaching those Christ died to save?

That is what it means, in my opinion, to be ready for Christ. And isn't it interesting that when we do these things, we see the face of the Savior in those we serve?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent, Week 1: Friday

Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)
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.

I love the word "now" in this passage! That is so NOT how I tend to wake up! Wake, be ready, clothe and equip myself, and live a life that (literally) becomes the gospel of Jesus Christ (as it is phrased in my denomination's traditional baptismal vows).

This Christian life is not for the faint of heart. Or, if I am faint of heart, I have a Savior who has promised to be the strength in my weakness. Now. Not tomorrow, not in an hour, but NOW, I WILL be a disciple of Jesus Christ, proclaiming and eagerly anticipating his coming.

Advent, Week 1: Thursday (late)

Psalm 122:6-9 (NRSV)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers." For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you." For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good."

Peace...peace within. Within the city of God. Peace, which the Lord gives but the world cannot even understand.

Advent celebrates the promised coming of the One who is called Prince of Peace. Lord Jesus, whose reign is peace, rule in my heart, my home, my church, my city, my world.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Advent, Week 1: Wednesday

Psalm 122 (NRSV):

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

Psalm 122:1 is one of the first verses of Scripture that I learned as a child. Of course, as a little child I believed it meant that I should be glad to go to church, which makes sense because I always was glad to go to church. Church was one of the places where I knew I was loved and cared about, where I knew I belonged.

I've learned a lot more about the celebratory Psalms since my childhood. Now I marvel at how these dear, familiar words were almost certainly sung by pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem for the festivals. I'm also reminded, in verse 5, that Jerusalem was a new city in the time of David, in some senses a neutral one, designed specifically to be the capital, where all twelve tribes remembered their commonality and renewed their unity.

The coming of Christ as Messiah was not to the throne city, which was already reduced to being capital of a divided mishmash of a conquered, occupied nation. Instead, the Son of David came to reign among the poor, as one of them. From his borrowed makeshift feed trough of a crib to his borrowed grave, the King of kings' earthly life was marked by embraced poverty. What few possessions Jesus owned, he held very lightly. Even his clothes were taken from him and divided by his executioners. Jesus came in such a way that we could -- indeed, we must -- accept him as he is, not for what he has. He permitted nothing to come between him and people, and though he no longer walks this earth in his human body, there is still nothing in the way of approaching him.

As Michael Card put it in his song,"Jubilee," we can "look into our Judge's face and see a Savior there." Jesus is our Jerusalem, he is our Jubilee, he is our Salvation! I am glad whenever I hear, "Let us go to Jesus."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent, Week 1: Tuesday

Isaiah 2:2-3 (NRSV):

"He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!"

Again today, I find myself wondering how this text might read had Isaiah written it to a 21st century audience.

"God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples: they shall melt down their missiles into farm machinery, and transform their weapons of mass destruction into disease-ending vaccines; nation shall not invade nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

Not nearly so poetic, nor I suspect would it be very religiously popular. "But Lord! We NEED war. That's the only language these international bullies understand. We have to protect our strategic neighbors, or they'll import more terrorists and we'll have to defend our own shores."

Yes, Lord, we do need to walk in your light. This exportation of war is not your will; the soil on which we send our youngsters to fight is called home by brothers and sisters you died to save. I love my country, Lord, and my heart breaks that we settled so hastily for years and trillions of dollars of war instead of daring to humbly submit to your arbitration. Help my dear people seek your way of peace.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent, Week 1: Monday

Isaiah 2:2-3 (NRSV)

"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. 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."

I've been thinking today about what "Zion" and "the mountain of the Lord's house" means to us Christians in the West, at the close of 2007. It's not my intention to get into all the possible details of the historical context of Isaiah's message concerning Judah and Jerusalem, but simply to outline a few thoughts about how that message intersects with where and how we live now as Christians.

First of all, if we consider the actual city of Jerusalem, it 's interesting that nations do stream to Jerusalem. Peoples of three different world-wide faiths claim Jerusalem as a (or the) capital of their historic faith. Unfortunately, this has resulted in fierce contention for occupation of it. This is sadly ironic, considering the prophecy of verse 4 which follows. Some people come to the earthly, physical Jerusalem today to pray, some to see the sights, and some to learn. Some come, and even stay, to foment further discord among the very uneasy truce that often holds there. But when we think of Jerusalem, we don't see it as the supreme center of learning from the Lord that Isaiah prophesied it would be. It's simply an interesting, old, important, but mainly violent place that most people never visit.

So I began to wonder, what are the "jerusalems" of the world?

  • For "what happens there, stays there" naughtiness, we have Las Vegas.
  • For fashion and style, we have Paris and Milan.
  • For celebrity and conspicuous consumption, we have Los Angeles.
  • For the hub of world commerce and finance, we have New York and Tokyo.
  • For history and tradition (with a fair bit of funkiness in the mix), we have London.
  • For more history and tradition, especially religious-style, we have Rome.

There are many, many more "centers" and I'm certain my list could be improved. What I could not really come up with, however, was a modern-day equivalent of Isaiah's visionary city of God's own instruction. We have no one place where all the world knows they can go to learn from God.

What this tells me is that we have to settle for smaller, more intimate "centers" of godly learning. We grafted branches -- Christians -- have received precious instruction from God. According to Jesus the Christ, we are to "teach [all nations] to obey all that [Christ has] commanded [us]." When we've been taught, we're expected to teach others. (As with anything, learning that is hoarded and kept to oneself quickly becomes ingrown and does no one else any good.)

I believe that our churches, our communities of worship, learning, and service, are supposed to be "little jerusalems" to the world. We should be living, 24-7 examples of the teaching of God, reflecting the richness of God's wisdom and practicing the grace by which we have been saved.

As Advent begins, I hope to be that kind of beacon toward God for those who are dying for what only God can provide. I pray that I may be a channel through which God can work to draw others to the divine heart. The first candle is lit. I pray that I, too, may shine brightly for Christ.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

First Sunday in Advent

My format for this Advent season will be to list the readings for each Sunday, along with a hymn for the day, then refer to the previous Sunday's readings with meditations throughout the week. This was a blessing to me last year and I trust it will be again. If you find blessing from it, my joy will increase.

For the full texts, visit the Vanderbilt Divinity Library's Lectionary page for this Sunday's readings here.

Old Testament: Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm: Psalm 122:1-9
Epistle: Romans 13:11-14
New Testament: Matthew 24:36-44

Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying
Text: Philipp Nicolai, 1599; tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1858
Commonly sung to WACHET AUF, Nicolai, 1599; harm. by J. S. Bach, 1731.

For more information and/or to listen to the tune, visit the Cyberhymnal.

Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her Star is risen, her Light is come.
Ah come, Thou blessèd One, God’s own belovèd Son:
Alleluia! We follow till the halls we see
Where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee.

Now let all the heavens adore Thee,
And saints and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone;
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where we are with the choir immortal
Of angels round Thy dazzling throne;
Nor eye hath seen, nor ear hath yet attained to hear
What there is ours, but we rejoice and sing to Thee
Our hymn of joy eternally.