Archive for December, 2016

Psalm 80

December 22, 2016

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.

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.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.

Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted. They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Psalm 80

Psalm 80 is a plea for help. As such, it helps us put Christmas in context.

Turn to a Bible commentary and it will probably tell you that Psalm 80 is a psalm of lament (a plea for God’s saving help) written in the face of a military defeat (perhaps written out of the north of Israel in the aftermath of the Assyrian conquest.) Wherever it comes from, whenever it was written, the refrain is familiar to any of us who have been around the block a time or two: Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Christmas is right around the corner. Today that word feels just a little bit polluted to me. I hear the word, close my eyes, and see this….

christmas-scene

And in seeing that, I’m afraid that I’m missing the point.

Today I needed Psalm 80 to remind me of centuries of pain, the cries of God’s people for rescue. The hope that God would do something, anything, to make life better. That God would save. That God would rescue. That God would restore. Those are the prayers of Christmas, answered in the birth of Jesus.

We have all prayed such prayers. We will again. And when we do, we will need someone to remind us that Jesus is right there beside us, joining us in our struggles, and leading us through them to life.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in every age, and certainly today, people are dying and crying for help. Every week we hear of lives lost to hatred, terrorism, war, and disease. Turn your face toward us and help those hurting know your presence. Our hope is in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Romans 1:1-7

December 21, 2016

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1-7

This is quite a sentence. I once preached for 25 minutes on the first three phrases. What does it all mean?

It means that, behind all of the chances and changes of life, behind mountains that rise and fall, behind lives that come and go, behind every tear and every laugh, every cell, every sunrise, there is a godly purpose being worked out. God is at work.

Paul understood his own life as having been caught up in what God was doing. He remembered well when he thought that he knew what that meant. It meant excellence in his ambition to be the best Pharisee he could be. It meant crushing his rivals. Until that fateful day when Jesus himself called his name and Paul experienced the blindness which helped him see just how blind he had been all along. Everything changed, beginning in his own heart.

Then Paul came to gradually understand that the “new thing” he thought God was doing in Jesus was in fact what God had been doing all along. Blessing the world with the promise of life as it was created and intended to be. Jesus had won the only victory that mattered so life was no longer about beating everyone else. It was about loving everyone else. Just as God intended.

Paul discovered that he was largely along for the ride. God was doing the heavy lifting. God was the actor, the director, the producer. God was the Giver of all the gifts that mattered.

And Paul wanted the church in Rome, and through them the church today, to know what he had come to know. We are servants of God and thus servants of one another. We each do our part toward the common good. We matter. We have been called, chosen, set apart. We have been named, claimed, and reclaimed. We have been given a peek behind the curtain to what is truly real in life. What is real is love.

But this will always be a supernatural love, never to be confused with fondness or lust. We are forgetful. We are selfish and we are self-centered. God wants to heal us of that but we will always live in the tension between the now and the not yet. We need God’s help to hear well the voices the appeal only to our selfishness for they deny the power of God’s love and in that, they deny the reality that lies behind all reality.

This Christmas, should you be blessed with a gift from another, may God give you the eyes to see through the gift to the person who gave it, and through that person, to God who is the giver of all gifts. This is what Paul was able to see, once healed of his blindness. This is what drove him to share the good news with others. It is what sustained him through trial and adversity.

It is what sustains and drives us as well. We belong to Jesus. We are both gift and gifted.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, today is a gift. You continue to work out your holy and eternal purposes, even through our small and common lives. You are both hope and healing, to us and to this broken world. Sustain us in our calling to be and share the love you have for the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:26-38

December 20, 2016

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38

The story just never gets old. It is always surprising. Even shocking. In every age, in every culture, no one would see this one coming.

The old barren woman suddenly gets pregnant with an important child due to God’s intervention” is as common in the Bible as “boy meets girl, girl not impressed, boy rescues girl from danger, girl comes around, they live happily ever after” is to a Hollywood plot line. Elizabeth plays that part just fine with the birth of John. But Mary?

A promised but not yet married young girl gets pregnant? That is and always will be (very common) very scandalous. Shameful. Impolite. Not the sort of thing you talk about. Exactly the sort of thing that parents (especially Dad’s with daughters) worry about. I get that. I was born under those circumstances.

And THIS is the way that God chooses to come into the world?

Today’s news tells us about so-called “honor killings” that are still very common in some parts of the world. Women, still considered property, second class citizens, little more than tools or property, live in fear of their own extended families. Stories of young girls killed because they looked at the wrong person the wrong way. Caught in the cross fire of male jealousy and territorial testosterone. Mary knew the rules. She knew the consequences. So did Joseph.

But Matthew tells us that Joseph hung in there. He took her as his own and welcomed their child.

Luke tells us that Mary surrendered to the news without a fight. I am yours, God, willing to do whatever you need me to do.

It is, and always will be, an amazing story.

The first life that Jesus saved was his mother’s.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, give us just a portion of Mary’s willingness to follow and we might yet become the people you have called us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:5-25

December 16, 2016

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’ Luke 1:5-25

‘Tis the season for childrens’ Christmas programs. Not just the standards that are broadcast on television but the classics that will happen in church basements, church gyms, day care centers, and Christian schools. Shepherds and sheep, wiseguys and angels, the angelic choir, Mary and Joseph, everyone will get a part.

But no one will play Zechariah, Elizabeth, or the crowd of people praying outside of the temple and that is a bit of a shame. God found roles for lots of people as God prepared the way for Jesus. So this morning you got to read their story again.

The angel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are about to have a baby boy. Then he describes what that child will do. “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” 

He will “turn the hearts of parents to their childen.” In every age, asking what is best for children is a pretty good guide to what is best for everyone. Adults need to be regularly reminded of that and willing to act on it.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, again and again you come to us, preparing our hearts for those moments when you once again become more real than real in our lives. Bless children and families who will lead us through the Christmas story once again this year. Turn us back around to what really matters, that our hearts are prepared to receive you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:2-8

December 15, 2016

And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”

But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he then said to the paralytic—’stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home.

When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:2-8

There are two things about this text that jump out at me. The first is the charge that the religious leaders level against Jesus. “This man is blaspheming.” And the second is the link that Jesus sees between a man’s physical infirmity and spiritual brokenness. I think they are related.

“Blasphemy” is not a word that we use every day. It certainly isn’t a word I use every day.  A quick dictionary check says it means “directing irreverent words or actions against God.” To curse God. Or it can mean to “the act of claiming the attributes of a deity to oneself.” In Jesus’ day, the penalty for such an offense was death by stoning. (Leviticus 24:13-16)

Notice that Jesus isn’t actually being publicly charged with blasphemy. The scribes aren’t yet ready to go public. The text says “Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” They are just thinking. They are still uncertain. If Jesus is who people are beginning to say that he is, it isn’t blasphemy. They are holding their thoughts in their hearts.

But Jesus knows what they are thinking. He perceives their thoughts. In fact Jesus sees that there is really little difference between the scribes and the paralyzed man. Both are spiritually broken (as are we all) which manifests itself in how they think and act. The man on the stretcher is physically paralyzed, the scribes are mentally paralyzed. They both need to be set free.

God’s answer to our spiritual brokenness is forgiveness. God forgives us. God comes to us, in Jesus, bearing forgiveness. Not spite. Not retribution. And certainly not a crowd with stones in their hands. We might do that to ourselves and one another but that isn’t God at work. Our lack of forgiveness for ourselves or others, in fact, is the real blasphemy. God is love and Jesus loves both the paralyzed man and these internally accusing scribes.

With a word, Jesus forgives the paralyzed man and tells him to take up his bed and go home. It happens. Healing brings wholeness. The crowd is amazed and rightly attribute the whole scene to God at work.

But what about the scribes? Where is their healing? The story doesn’t say.

Sometimes our spiritual brokenness is readily apparent. But far more often, it is cloaked behind the publicly acceptable curtains of how we look, what we wear, where we live, what we drive. We maintain appearances. But God always sees our hearts. God perceives our thoughts. God knows where we are drawing lines and picking up stones. And God stands ready, always, to remind us that we live in forgiveness. What about the scribes? What about us?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you know the connection between our heads, our hearts, and our bodies. You see the symptoms of our spiritual brokenness all around in the brokenness of our world, the brokenness of our lives. We surrender our lives to you. Heal us. Guide us. Use us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Matthew 9:27-34

December 14, 2016

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” Matthew 9:27-34

Watch what happens when we walk through the 9th chapter of Matthew…

It opens with Jesus in a boat, coming back to town. When he gets home some men come, carrying their paralyzed friend on a stretcher. Jesus heals him and the religious onlookers accuse Jesus of blasphemy.

Then Jesus walks by Matthew at his tax collector. Jesus invites Matthew to follow and then invites himself over to Matthew’s house for dinner. A crowd of Matthew’s friends, sinners and tax collectors, also show up. And the religious onlookers criticize Jesus for eating with such a crowd of ne’er-do-wells.

After dinner a few of John the Baptist’s disciples show up. They question Jesus too, asking why they have to rigorously follow religious disciplines that Jesus’ disciples freely ignore. Jesus answers: “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Then another religious leader shows up. Not to criticize Jesus but to seek his help. The man’s daughter just died and he is wondering if Jesus can do anything. Jesus starts walking to the house where the little girl lays but is interrupted by a woman who has been bleeding (and thereby rendered ritually unclean and socially ostracized) for 12 long years. By the end of the paragraph the woman is healed and the daughter is raised from the dead.

Only then does Jesus run into the two blind men in today’s Bible reading. He, of course, heals them. And the religious leaders, of course, criticize him for it.

So here are your two questions for today. 1) Why do religious people get so bent out of shape when scandalous people come to realize that God’s love is for them too and are then freed to stand up for themselves in fresh new ways? And 2) Who are the truly blind people in this chapter?

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, your compassion and your power take our breath away. Why are we so slow to bring our problems to you? Why do we try to do so much on our own power, in our own ways, rather than trusting you to take care of us? Why are we so blind? Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-7

December 13, 2016

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. Isaiah 61:1-7

Today we hear the voice of Second Isaiah, post-exile Isaiah. Today we hear the promises of better days after having come through the worst of all days.

Unless you have suffered horribly, and I mean horribly, these words will mean little to you.

I grew up poor but we were never dirt poor. We were never homeless. We almost always had something to eat. We had something to wear. I have no experience of life with nothing. No home. No family. No food. But plenty of people do.

We watch the horrors of the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Unless we have been there, hearing the bombs, hearing the frantic voices outside our windows, wondering if we are next, we can never fully appreciate or understand the devastation of war. But far too many people do.

From a distance I have watched the news about the pipeline protest in North Dakota. The voices of the powerless rising up, remembering the devastation of the past, and living in the deprivation of the present. To some it is just a pipeline. But to others it is about so much more than that. It is about shame and pride, about ancestors and memories, about the sacredness of the earth and visions of a preferred future. These are the people who can hear well the promises of a prophet.

We don’t read the prophets enough. We forget that their writings make up about a third of the Old Testament. We forget that the earliest church, seeking to understand Jesus and his ministry, didn’t look to the Pentateuch, but to the prophets. They found Jesus in the voice of the prophets. When they did, they saw him everywhere.

They saw his concern for the broken, the blind, the deaf, the lame. His hospitality to women, to outcasts, to the socially despised. They saw his condemnation of a temple that had long ceased to be a house of prayer and religious leaders (like me) who spend way too much time and attention acting like a temple priest than seeking out the suffering and dispossessed.

The earliest Christians understood persecution. They understood hunger, and homelessness, and war. They lived it. And because they lived it, they heard the words of the prophets and they were grasped by the ministry of Jesus. Perhaps, if we listen well, we too will be so grasped.

Let us pray: The suffering of the wider world seems so far from us, yet Lord we know that we are bound to those who suffer. That is what love does. That is what the Holy Spirit does. You connect us and draw us toward opportunities to repair, to rebuild, to restore, and to heal. Do this, we pray, in and through us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Malachi 3:1-4

December 12, 2016

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi tells us to expect a messenger to prepare the way for God to show up in a new, unique, and powerful way. This was a long held hope of Israel. But it was a hope with a lot of baggage. The expectation was that God would show up and magically make everything in the world better, and whoever was on God’s side (read, in every age: me and my tribe) was going to come out of it smelling like a rose with a sweet deal and a special place at the table.

He talks about purifying fire and cleansing soap. Specifically, this purification would be directed to the “descendants of Levi”, that is, the temple priests. Another big bag of expectations. The temple and its religious dance party would continue, business as usual, except without the self-dealing and corruption and sneaky idolatry which would be refined away. Once cleansed, the offerings of the people would again please God. Fat chance.

Let’s remember what Isaiah wrote in his first chapter:

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:11-15)

Given all that, maybe God might never be interested in solemn ceremonies and the ritualistic sacrifice of animals. Listen to what Isaiah said next:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

I wonder how surprised Malachi would be to learn the story of Jesus?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we continue our journey through Advent, this season of waiting, of preparation, of renewal, we pray that you continue to stir a holy restlessness in us. Enable us to reject and resist our own temptation to ignore the voices and the plight of the least, the lost, and the left out. Bring us to receiving Christmas from the bottom up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Hosea 14:1-9

December 9, 2016

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon. They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me. Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. Hosea 14:1-9

Hosea, writing in the same years as the early portions of Isaiah, lived through the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria. The poetry of the book reaches toward the suffering that was just around the corner at the hand of the Babylonians. He wrote out of a time of suffering and he suffered along the way. The prophet’s home life mirrored the betrayal of Israel.

Israel’s fundamental sin was idolatry. Chasing after gods who are not gods. Trusting in powers and forces that led people away from God and God’s will for their lives. Just as Israel was unfaithful to God, Hosea’s wife was unfaithful to him. Their children were living reminders of the unfaithfulness that marred their lives.

But Hosea comes out of that with strong words of promise and hope.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. There IS a way back. There IS a way home. But as if often the case, the cure will feel as bad as the disease. At least at first. And like an addict who isn’t going to suffer the pain of recovery until the pain of their addiction is even worse, Israel isn’t easily or quickly going to let go and let God. They are going to go their own way as long, and as far, as they can. Until they hit the brick wall that signals their repentance and their return.

When that time comes – and just saying that such a time is possible is an incredible sign of hope – God will be waiting with open arms and a loving welcome. So God always waits for us.

The richest irony of this tragic period in the history of Israel is how it all started. In 2 Kings 16:1-20, the story is told of how King Ahaz reached out to the king of Assyria for support. Seeking to preserve his kingdom, Ahaz asked for help and then sweetened the deal by sending gold that he looted out of the temple. Later, after the Assyrian king rescued Ahaz from his enemies, Ahaz visited him. He saw the altar before which the Assyrians worshipped and then made a copy of it for the temple back home. The irony is that the Assyrians, viewed by the king as their saviors, ultimately turned against them with devastating consequences.

And that is how idolatry always works. It looks good on the outside. It looks good to those who embrace it. But it always wants our hearts and more…until it turns around and bites us. We look up and wonder what hit us. We look up and wonder what happened. How did we get here? And then we realize that God is never the one who moves. God never leaves us.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we do love shiny things. We love power, money, fame. We think armies protect our freedom. We think putting the right people in the right offices will save us. We think that you care about us more than others. We find our security in our stuff. Hosea could write today and only the names would be changed. Help us find our way home to you. Help us come back to you, to trust only in you, and then to act out of that trust alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10

December 8, 2016

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. 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.

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. Isaiah 11:1-10

“What do you want for Christmas?” ‘Tis the season for such questions. I grew up in the days of ordering Christmas from a Sears catalogue. The wish list was often generated from hours of paging through the Wish Book. The whole process had to be done EARLY to make sure that things arrived in time. The agony of anticipation was prolonged.

Today we get irritated if our Amazon Prime order isn’t here by the day after tomorrow. Our expectations have changed.

For centuries, the people of Israel suffered through one calamity after another. God’s chosen people. That is so upside down compared to the ways of the world. We carry a sense that to be chosen, to be special, sets us up for a life where we always get to be the first hog at the trough. We always get the largest share of the cookie, and we believe we are justified in that. So knowing that the very people chosen to carry the promise were also targeted all along the way is hard for us to understand.

Just as hard to understand as the mindset, the steady faith, that someday God will make things right. Someday, God is going to show up and turn the world back around. Someday, the Great Day of the Lord will greet the dawn and those who deserve to get theirs will get theirs and all will be right with the world.

They looked at the Wish Book and chose “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”

But God’s ways are not our ways. “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…”

“What do you want for Christmas?” is a fine question. The gift game is a fun part of the Christmas season. But the real question and the better question will always be, “What does God want for Christmas?” – not just FOR us, but FROM us. The answer will always have something to do with peace, with justice, with righteousness, with equity, with enough.

The good thing is that God’s answer comes in “one size fits all” that actually fits.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, infuse these days of anticipation with a sense, not just of all the things that we have to do, but with reminders of what you are always doing among us. Align our wills with yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.