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 – 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!

Thanksgiving Day: 2019 Year C – Giving Thanks . . . . Again!

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 3)

I knew, as I looked over these verses, they sounded very very familiar. And I knew I had ponder on and written about them not that long ago – relatively speaking. Factually, they are the same verses from Canadian Thanksgiving. And, as it always does, Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings evoke strong memories from my past and my childhood. Reading this verses in preparation for Nov 28th brought to mind the same thoughts and emotion that I talked about Oct 10th. I am not sure I can think any differently about them.

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Since I moved to the United States in 1980, thinking about Thanksgiving has become a prelude to thinking about and planning for Advent and Christmas. When my children were younger we would start planning and decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. When I started to write spiritual/faith blogs and commentaries Thanksgiving marked the time I started planning my Advent devotions. Furthermore, Thanksgiving became the signal to start shopping for Christmas. It is that very rush from one to the other that made me think back to the wonderful separateness that my Canadian upbringing schooled me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. How I miss the chance and ability to give separate focus to those two important holidays and celebrations that are not and should not be mirrors to one another.

The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The calendars rules though, and the Lectionary gives little help in making a large divide. Funny, I had never considered before the seeming favor that the Lectionary gives to the U.S. marking of time. When I lived in Canada it was never part of my experience to plan worship in any meaningful way. Maybe if I had, I could parse out the experience of having time between the two holidays.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Verses 10 – 11)

Really, in the church year there are many occasions to give thanks to the Lord God the Divine. And it does not have to be a special occasion marked on the calendar; it can be an occasion marked in our hearts, spirits, and life experiences. The Divine, I believe, cares just as much about the occasions that may seem minor to others but are important to us. And I believe we should mark those occasions by special remembrances and of course thanksgiving. Whether those occasions are positive or negative, they are important because the Lord God is with us.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

After this day, Thanksgiving Day, we are poised to start Advent. We will be plunged into another season of waiting and rushing – both are part of the Advent/Christmas season. So let us pause and send up a pray of thanks for the occasions and blessing that have been given to us thus far, and what is yet to come. Selah!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

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!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – First Sunday of Advent: The Old Testament Passage – Timings & Ponderings

Titles and timings get tricky around this time of year. As I said very recently (just in the last few days maybe, or it might be something I will say/you will read in the next few days), Thanksgiving and Advent are racing in tandem. Thanksgiving usually gets here first but Advent is not far behind. Or at least, the first Sunday of Advent – which is my focus right now. You know, before Thanksgiving!

“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)

What is spoken concerning the Lord God the Divine is often spoken in terms of hopes and dreams – less often in terms of actual facts and tangible signs. As I have gotten old I have learned the value of making plans based on facts and tangible signs, but basing my hopes on dreams and insights.

“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. 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.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Of late I have been thinking about juxtaposition of current events and biblical insights. And how that can both inform and deceive the other. I find myself becoming more vocal on certain issues; not so much political issues but social issues. The times though tend to mingle and swirl the social and political. Ironically, that is sort of a biblical phenomenon. In the both the social (and political) realm it is important to know what you believe and believe in. And who & Who informs that belief. And before I go off on any tangent or digress, let me sum up my thoughts by saying . . . .

O house of Jacob [and the whole Christian community], come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (Verse 5)

Selah!