Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Psalm Passage – Hope comes to those who pray

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.” (Psalms 72:1 – 7)

During Advent and Christmas, so often, many scripture passages are used in furtherance of the season. Verses that would ordinarily, or during Ordinary Time, be used in the context that they were written are appropriated and applied to the season of Jesus’ birth or his ministry. These verses, according to historical exegesis, were written on the occasion of Solomon becoming king. But slipped in the notion that it might point to the Messiah. And the usage during the season of Advent confirms that thinking. However, if you read these verses they do not point to an Eternal King but a king of human origin. It grates just a little on my nerves that so often commentators imbue the passages with forward-looking prophecy instead of real time concerns and pleas. It is a pray/praise after all, and not a foreshadowing to the future. Remember too, the image and view of the Messiah was far different from what Jesus was actually like.

“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)

Regardless, though, those who pray find hope established and renewed. If the prayer petitions for someone or Someone to lead with righteousness and compassion, or celebrates the gift of good or Godly Leadership – it brings peace and calm to the soul and spirit. In fact, I would say prayer (and praise) is one of the best ways to bring hope and peace to the world.

May you, beloved reader, pray the things that will fill your deepest needs and praise the Divine when those needs are met. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Hope also comes from straight talk and a correction in living

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:1 – 4)

John the Baptist was, in some ways, a throwback to the older prophets who went their own path. Unique and controversial. But speaking truth without hesitation. I can imagine in a society that was strictly ruled by civil and religious authorities, it was refreshing to see someone through conventionality aside.

“Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume 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.” (Verses 5 – 9)

More straight talk; remember that Abraham and Sarah had a child well beyond the years that children are expected, and only through the blessing of the Lord God. It was God’s Divine ability and will that Isaac was conceived and born. But that does not mean that the descendants of Abraham are sheltered and protected, and more worthy of special treatment. “Mere” existence does not warrant salvation; it is entering into a relationship with the Divine and confessing one’s faults and failing that leads to repentance.

“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. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 10 – 13)

I reminded of the prophets major and minor again, who railed against the disobedience of the people and their wandering away from faithful worship. That John the Baptist was fiery is an understatement. John burned with a blaze that burst upon the season; then Jesus came to show what that better way of living was like. You know, it is kind of like treatment for some types of injuries – first use heat (John) when the injury is fresh, and that use cool to heal the wound.

May you, beloved reader, be convicted by the “heat” of the consequences of sin; then be soothed by the cooling refreshing new way of living. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Hope comes from peace and harmony

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, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:4 – 6)

I am assuming that Paul is talking about the Torah (Pentateuch in Greek) and the other writings that would have been used in the Jewish community. It was Paul’s belief (and a good many commentators that I have read) that Jesus the Messiah was predicted by the writings of the major and minor prophets, and the nature of the Messiah as revealed in the stories of the called and chosen people. In that I am not talking about the presumptions that were made about the nature and intentions of the Divine, but what actually transpired between the Lord God and humanity. Read carefully where Paul says “live in harmony with one another”. Many of the actions that were undertaken by the Israelites did not seem to promote harmony. I concede the consideration of that is a larger topic that I am not looking at taking up here. The point I want to emphasis is one voice glorifying the God and [Parent] of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Verse 7)

A refrain that is often heard is “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people” to slightly paraphrase for gender inclusivity. But that is the whole point, beloved reader, to make all people feel welcome! Listen to Paul!

“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. 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 8 – 12)

One may ask, who are the “circumcised” and who are the “Gentiles”. Paul still has a shade of “them” and “us”. Strictly speaking to Paul, WE are the Gentiles. Because we are not the first people that Yahweh called out. But as believers in Jesus Christ and beneficiaries of the Lord God’s outreach through the Messiah, we are the “circumcised.” And if we are both, beloved reader, how can we deny relationship with others. Either they are already within the family of God, or the Divine is attempting to reach out to them through us! So I say to you, beloved reader, which ever group you may be a part of . . . .

“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 and Shalom!

[P.S. This might be a good time to announce that as of November 26th I have taken up the invitation to post on Theology Corner. In the coming weeks I will say more about the transition to posting exclusively (not that I mean to leave anyone beyond or left out) on Theology Corner. Look for cues and clues to switch over to that new site.)

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Second Sunday of Advent: The Old Testament Passage – Hope comes from unexpected places, and in its own time

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.” (Isaiah 11:1 – 2)

We all know what this figurative image means – from the family of Jesse will come greatness. Jesse’s family already had King David, but someone else equal to or greater than David will come. But it is interesting that the psalmist says “from the stump of Jesse” and not a great branch in/of the family of Jesse. That is because, beloved reader, the greatest of Jesse’s family had come to an end. It is like saying that something unexpected can still come a source that others have discounted and dismissed. Now, did the psalmist mean the Messiah? Or a personage who would restore the hopes of Israel and Judah?

“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.” (Verses 3 – 5)

We understand that Jesus did (and more) fulfill this promise and hope. Last week ended our reflections taking about joy and hope, and the promise that hope gives to us.

“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)

Hope turns things upside down. Or more precisely, reverses what we had feared and gives new life to what was thought to be gone. The prophets, both major and minor, gave out warning and hope equally, along with predictions of scolding, discipline, and correction of faith gone wrong. Israel and Judah had to wait a long time however for that hope to come. Long enough that the family/clan of Jesse dwindled down to vague remembrances of better times.

“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)

Hope also brings peace; and peace is the theme of the second week of Advent. Hope was the theme of the first week – I am sorry I did not highlight that last week.

When we have both hope and peace, it is easier to wait for the fulfillment of prophecy. So this week, beloved reader I wish you both! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Psalm Passage – Time to raise up songs of praise

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 – 5)

My thinking lingers on the verse “Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.” I am pretty sure that verse described King David’s perspective. It might be that Psalm 122 is one that David wrote. I also think and remember how Jerusalem and the Israelites had problems in the years and generations following King David. The surrounding nations conquered and made captive of many Israelites and Judahites. Lamentations were raised, and prophets both major and minor attempted to raise and bolster the hopes of the Israelites.

It is interesting to me that when the fate of Israel (and Judah) reversed, it was blamed on the withdrawal of the Lord’s favor and protection because the people of Israel and Judah were no longer faithfully following Yahweh. Why is it, I wonder, that when bad things happen fault needs to be placed? Why might it not be just “bad luck” or events and circumstances that have nothing to do with those who find themselves at the receiving end. Grim thoughts, I know, for a praise passage.

But here is my take-away on this – praise the Lord no matter the circumstances.

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.” (Verses 6 – 9)

When the city of Jerusalem and the temple, the house of worship of the Lord, were in ruins – not one stone on top of another – did the people still left up praise to the Lord? I wonder. It seems that worship was not “true worship” unless it was done in the “proper” place and in the “proper” way. It seems be true, according to some. But not, beloved reader, according to the Divine. True worship is true when the True Lord is worshiped.

How, you might ask, does this relate to Advent? Again several thoughts occur to me. First, Advent and Christmas are traditionally a time when worship services get quite “colorful” and elaborate. I want to let you know that is okay. There are some who think that during Advent there should be a slow build up of color and pageantry in worship – I am not of that way of thinking. Remember if worship is directed to the Divine, it is good. Second, during the season it behooves all of us to set aside whatever theological differences we have, and come together as called and chosen children of God. Third, let the joy of the season lift your spirits no matter what your circumstances are. This is not only the season of joy but of hope as well.

One of the most powerful Christmas songs I have heard is “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”. If you do not know the background of this Christmas music I encourage you to look it up. Such a mingling of joy and hope amidst turmoil and destruction. Listen to it – I think you will be “glad” that you did! Selah and shalom!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Time to be ready to be raised up!

“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)

It is tempting to ignore the part where the Son of God does not know when the Lord God will return. But there is no use ignoring it; the Jesus who was speaking at this juncture did not have the information as to when the Divine would return. In other portions of the gospels Jesus seems to have that knowledge, but not here. Mayhap the rationale for Jesus’ lack of knowledge is so that his listeners would not assume there is time to prepare, or a safety net that if some sign or portent appears then it would be time to get their faith and spiritual affairs in order.

“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.” (Verses 40 – 41)

Back in my youth much was made of “one taken and one left behind”. It was chilling to an adolescent to think that suddenly the important people in their lives who were strong in their faith might suddenly disappear. Made for one or two nightmares I am sure – at least one or two scary movies! It also made for a rush to the front of the church to “get right with God” and make sure that you were not one of those left behind. And then some years later that concept became the title of a series of books. I tell you beloved reader, I had some flashbacks to some scary times in my youth! Even now if I think about it too long or too strongly, I start to worry about the people around me – not family and close friends but those I work with and have looser connections with such that I do not know the status of their faith life.

“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.” (Verses 42 – 44)

What I have found though, is that you cannot leave on the edge of that fear for long. At some point you just have to say that those near and dear to me have already become part of God’s family, and for others who are in my life . . . . I just have to trust they have made their own arrangements in their faith lives.

When times were simpler and communities were more close knit, you would know who had committed their lives to the Lord God. Now with global communities and the reach of social media, you have no idea where some people’s faith lives are. Moreover, with so many divisions in the Christian faith there is no conformity that one can take comfort from. I am not saying that some Christians are more likely to be “raptured” (there’s a term that is not used much anymore!) than other Christians – but Christianity is not the equal and “painted with the same brush” that it used to be.

Actually keeping this all in mind, it is even more important that each person is sure that they are ready for the unexpected return of the Lord God! It is no use saying I can do that tomorrow, or next year. I don’t mean for this to be a pulpit call. But in your own heart, soul, and mind check to make sure you are in alignment with the Divine! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Time to rouse up one’s self, and be ready

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.” (Romans 13:11 – 12a [Emphasis mine] )

Paul’s thoughts and theology bring to mind the 10 wise and foolish women; some were prepared for the coming of the master/bridegroom, and some were not. It would seem that Paul is saying that since time has passed since Jesus’ resurrection and being taken into heavenly, surely the time grows nearer for the Messiah’s return. And it is true, in a way; every day brings us closer to the return of the Divine. But when days span into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years. And then decades pass, and centuries. And we think, how long is the wait? It is a topic we have touched on many times, beloved reader. Salvation IS closer . . . . but we don’t know by how much.

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.” (Verses 12b – 13)

Here we are then, coming into another Advent season. And Paul’s advice does stand firm. In fact, for each year since our coming to faith, the exhortation stands firmer because we, beloved reader, are further from the initial exuberance of new faith. It is liken to coming to Advent AGAIN! We have been through it before – the waiting, the decorating, the worshiping, the lighting of the five candles. We strive to make it new, exciting, and different. But sometimes we are strained to do so. That is why, I think, Advent and Christmas are blessed through the eyes of a child who is not yet jaded by the mystery, lights, joy, and magic. And maybe, just maybe Advent and Christmas are blessed through the eyes of a new believer. A new believer, while new in the faith and learning what is good and right as a Christian, has the impetus and enthusiasm to find the season simply joyful.

“Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Verse 14)

Let us go back to my opening however – the women who had trimmed their candles and had oil for their lamps. One of the first tasks of Advent is to get ready. To inventory what we have for Christmas and consider what we will need for this season . . . . that seems both so secular and spiritual. It may be that the first thing we should really get ready is ourselves. Dust off our wonder of the season and remind ourselves of the gift that was given to humanity. Yes, the more I think about that, the better it sounds.

May you, beloved reader, enter into this season ready to partake of all the joy and wonders. Selah!