Welcome, friends! Advent is upon us. May this season spark faith, increase hope, stir up love, and surprise the world with joy. Click the video below and let us acknowledge the coming of the Christ child…
For the Scripture set to song…
And for a traditional Advent hymn…
May the light of Christ lead us to the joy of his kingdom, now and for ever.Amen.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10, NIV)
Christians believe Isaiah’s prophecy to speak of Jesus in whom all these virtues exist in wonderful perfection and practice. Jesus Christ has so clearly identified with us that we are in a vital union with him. He still exists here on earth in the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was sent by the Father. With the Father and the Son, the Spirit was sent to press the redemptive events of Jesus into the believer’s heart. This is basic Trinitarian theology. Yet these are not abstract ideas. Prayer, discernment, and listening are the pathways forward to discovering the wisdom, counsel, and knowledge we need to live and serve well as Christians.
In some quarters of Christianity, the church exists as a mere stump of its former existence. For many Christians, daily experience of the Spirit has been supplanted by individual ingenuity, hard work, and getting ahead through accumulation of more and more. Basic Christian spirituality then becomes a mere shadow of its former influence. If we desire the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon us, we will seek Christ as our foremost importance.
Indeed, it is when we are worn down to a stump and have no ability to grow or sustain life anymore that God enters, specializing in giving hope to the hopeless, justice for the poor, wisdom to the confused, and peace to all who desire a harmonious world.
In the awful feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, there is a faint sign of life. A fresh shoot becomes discernible. Could there be possibility amidst such impossible circumstances? Can there be life again? Do I dare hope again? Will things really change, and do so for the better?
The answer is “yes.” For where the Spirit of the Lord blows there is the force of resurrection power, spiritual energy, and fresh courage. Where others see only three-dimensional impossibilities, the believer has the capacity of faith to see multi-dimensional possibilities. The Spirit’s force generates possibility where none existed before. When the breath of God whispers to the sprout in the stump, pessimistic despair turns to optimistic hope, even joy.
Jesus Christ is the Christian’s hope. In Christ, there is security, well-being, and life. With Jesus, there is a vision of justice in which all persons receive what they need to live, thrive, and flourish in God’s world. Christ operates to our advantage and on our behalf without the personal greed and indifference of so many earthly rulers. The weak and vulnerable have a champion in Jesus. Renewal and restoration become very real possibilities.
I have lately taken a liking to a show called “The Repair Shop,” a British television series in which family heirlooms which have sentimental value for their owners are carefully restored by experts. What captivates me about the show is how one person can take an old broken-down item (and by all appearances now a piece of junk) and restore it to its once glorious newness.
There is more to my captivation of the show. I am struck by the sheer pleasure the restorers take in handling the old object, enjoying the process. Just by the looks on their faces, I can tell they consider it a privilege to be restoring such a precious object of the past.
I am sure this is precisely how God feels with us. Rather than envisioning the Lord as some reluctant deity who feels put out with having to rescue a bunch of dumb and wayward people, God is One who has delight in taking this old stump of fallen damaged humanity and restoring us to our original luster and beauty. Transformation is God’s specialty, and the Lord goes about the process of restoration with great care and delight.
The impossible possibility of God’s new creation is poetically described in the peaceful co-existence of animals and creatures who are inconceivably together without fear or violence. There is a time coming when death will be no more, and so, the necessity in this life of hunter and prey shall be forever negated. No more snakes terrorizing women and children. No more big fishes eating little ones. No more human fat cats preying upon and striking poison on the smaller and vulnerable.
The presence of the godly Ruler means the world will be governed rightly, detoxified of its sinful impurities; a place where the poor, the weak, and the little lambs will indeed be safe and secure forever. There will be peace because of the Prince of Peace. All creation will be full of God, and thus, free of all malice.
This beautiful prophecy from Isaiah envisions a deep, radical, limitless transformation in which there will be no more appetite to injure another; no more desire to devour another; no more lust for selfish control of another; and no more destructive passion for domination over others.
It is a thorough renovation of the human heart, human institutions, the animal kingdom, and even every blade of grass in creation. The Apostle Paul had this grand vision of God in mind when he wrote to the Church at Rome:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope thatthe creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23, NIV)
The implication for us as humanity was voiced by Paul to the Colossian Church:
Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:8-11, NIV)
The transformation is all-pervasive, impacting everything public while also being intimately personal. It is a gift from God; it is the impossible made possible. And it is this precise thing which we acknowledge, celebrate, and long for in the season of Advent. When the angel came to Mary and communicated that Isaiah’s vision was coming to reality through her womb, Mary astonishingly retorted:
“How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel, with supreme confidence, answered Mary as a matter of fact:
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…. For no word from God will ever fail.”
Mary’s response gives voice to our own desires and longings for the new order of things:
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:34-38, NIV)
This is our confession, too. I am the Lord’s servant. You are the Lord’s servant. May God’s word to us about the coming of Christ be fulfilled, just as Isaiah has said. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus on a bright starry night.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (NIV)
As we journey through the Christian Year, we have spent the past twenty-five weeks in the longest season on the Church Calendar: ordinary or proper time. It is only appropriate that the dog days of summer and the bulk of autumn should be within this time.
Most of the Christian’s life is lived in the mundane yet necessary work of mission. Small and seemingly obscure acts of kindness, careful yet often discreet acts of love, and graciously chosen words of encouragement which may not be noticed by many are what mostly characterize the daily pilgrimage of faith.
I am sure the ancient Jewish people felt that, for an awfully long time, they were plodding along as faithfully as they could with often little to show for it. Yet, they knew it would not always be this way. God’s people anticipated that a time was coming when their pedantic service would see the light of day.
I am sure we, too, have times when it feels as if our prayers are only bouncing off the ceiling. In such times, words of comfort and assurance come as a breath of fresh air. When we least expect it, God speaks to us tenderly and with compassion. The Lord steps into our weariness and exhausting work and says, “Enough!”
Whereas our walk with God may often feel like trudging up and down hills, sloshing through muddy valleys, and traversing hard terrain, the proclamation of comfort assures us that it will not always be this way. The way to God will be made level so that we can connect with the Lord post haste.
No matter how much our worldly circumstances break us down, even shattering our expectations and dreams, we carry with us an unflagging vision of wholeness, integrity, and hope. God is our true home, our polestar, our ultimate destiny. Feeling displaced, out of sorts, or like we just do not belong are signs that we long for our place with God.
And when we find our home with God, all might be going to hell around us, yet we are buttressed and sustained by living divine words. For those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts attuned to grace, there is John the Baptist, smoothing the highway to our Lord – preparing the way to Jesus. (Mark 1:1-4)
God, as both the warrior who powerfully fights our battles, and the shepherd who lovingly tends to our needs, firmly takes the initiative to bring us home, going out of the way to gently pick us up and carry us back to the place we belong.
The good news is that the world is changed by God. The world around us is no longer the way we thought it was or was supposed to be. Despair gives way to confident expectation, and discouragement is slowly replaced by consolation. The long exile is coming to an end. Jesus is coming soon. All will be made right; justice and peace will have the day.
Let your hearts be true and humble, as befits God’s holy reign. For the glory of the Lord is on the earth and will be from everlasting to everlasting.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of goodwill. We praise you; we bless you; we adore you; we give thanks to you for your great glory. Amen.
“Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace”. —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lord, you are my God.
I honor you and praise you,
because you have done amazing things.
You have always done what you said you would do;
you have done what you planned long ago.
You have made the city a pile of rocks
and have destroyed her walls.
The city our enemies built with strong walls is gone;
it will never be built again.
People from powerful nations will honor you;
cruel people from strong cities will fear you.
You protect the poor;
you protect the helpless when they are in danger.
You are like a shelter from storms,
like shade that protects them from the heat.
The cruel people attack
like a rainstorm beating against the wall,
like the heat in the desert.
But you, God, stop their violent attack.
As a cloud cools a hot day,
you silence the songs of those who have no mercy. (NCV)
These wonderful words of celebration were uttered not in a time of peace and plenty but in an era of hardship and loss. It seems the Jewish people have always faced a plethora of others who would rather see them wiped off the face of the map than existing with their own customs and religion. It was in one of those times of experiencing problems from Gentiles that this poem was crafted. It is precisely in the adverse times that we need to flee to the open arms of God and enjoy the divine embrace of security. In the sixteenth century, John Calvin reflected on these verses:
“When our minds are perplexed by a variety of uneasy thoughts on account of numerous distresses and afflictions which happen daily, we ought immediately to resort to God, and rely on his providence; for even the smallest calamities will overwhelm us, if we do not betake ourselves to him.”
God Almighty is the One who intervenes on behalf of the poor and helpless. The Lord God is the divine Protector who hears the voice of those overwhelmed with a crushing load of hard circumstances. The great “I AM” is the ultimate refuge and shelter for the vulnerable who possess no resources of their own. There is no bully, whether in the form of a person, an institution, or a government which can stand against the God who bends his ear to listen on behalf of the forgotten and the faint-hearted. Brutality and arrogance might touch our lives, yet it is the Lord to whom all those who exploit others must give an account. The violent, using cruelty and ruthlessness, shall not survive under the shadow of the Almighty God.
The poor and the needy may have no apparent chance against abusive persons and systems of the world. However, no power on earth can take on the Ruler and Sustainer of all creation and expect to have their way. God is the defender of the powerless. He specializes in tearing down the walls of oppression and lifting-up those in need of mercy.
So, then, I shall be explicit about the ancient and almighty God and our present circumstances:
Pandemic is a ruthless enemy which knows no pity from both rich and poor, the healthy and unhealthy; and, God is a merciful Deliverer who transcends all disease.
Poverty is a cruel master which is never satisfied; and, God is benevolent, bringing both spiritual and material satisfaction to life.
Patience is a virtue exemplified and amplified through the divine who desires to see all persons realize new life; and, impatience is a vice of the arrogant who demand their needs be met immediately without any regard to the common good of all.
Peace is a harmonious and wholehearted life gifted by God, even despite the surrounding storms of hardship; and, pride is the stance of the privileged who either cannot or will not see those who are underprivileged, and, so, they live in a constant state of unrest and disunity.
Wherever you find people speaking of their individual rights without emphasizing their communal responsibilities, there you will find a situation ripe for God to destroy the walls built by the selfish in order to create a safe place for the afflicted.
The Lord will silence the songs of the unmerciful; and, shall allow the shouts of the ones crying out for mercy to be heard. And he will do it in his own good time and grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that through your death on the cross you disarmed the powers of evil. Help us, we pray you, to enter your resurrection victory and to stand in your authority against all evil. Send forth your light and your truth. Bring to light the deeds of darkness and let plans of violence be revealed. Through the power of Holy Spirit, almighty God, disarm every evil power and influence in your good world; and, bring loving connection where there is hatred and cruelty. Amen.