Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Day

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

I understand why we read this passage from John’s gospel every Christmas Day, but, I’m not always happy about. To me, it sounds bloodless, the abstract ruminations of a cloistered philosopher who comprehends the mysteries of the divine, but can’t find the eggs in the grocery store. 

Maybe I’m missing something but John’s message of the Word made Flesh doesn’t quite make it down to earth. His words to describe The Word betray his message.

After all, we’re here this morning not to theologize about the nature of the incarnation or to speculate about the inner-relationship of the Trinity.

We’re here to greet a baby. A tiny creature who cries all night and fills his diapers. We sing songs about mangers and barns, shepherds and angels, sheep and donkeys. 

And last night we heard stories so earthy that they have dirt on them and made our clothes smell. Today’s reading only leaves us lost in our thoughts.

So I worry about John’s Jesus. I worry that he can’t relate to me. Or to us. Or to anyone with a pulse and who bleeds red.

I worry about John’s Jesus. I worry that he might come across as human in name only, that he doesn’t understand the limitations of a mortal life. That he’s comfortably theoretical, afraid to touch our skin, uninterested in changing our lives or the world, except for maybe writing about it in a journal article. I worry that he came just to have a really interesting conversation.

“In the beginning...was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.”

Hmmm. Upon reading this again, I wonder if John might be up to something here. But I’m not sure what. It appears that he’s asking us to open up our bibles and turn to page one. What’s going on?

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 

Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

“And God said...” 

There were six more times “God SAID...”

Starting his gospel by saying “In the beginning...” might have been the first clue. But I missed it so many times.

Why is John asking us to re-read the creation story? What is John trying to tell us?

Is he somehow connecting Jesus to the creation story? Is he re-telling the creation story with Jesus at the centre? And if so, why?

It could be that John is telling a “New Creation” story, with the word that spoke creation into being in the beginning is now speaking something new into existence. Is “In the beginning...” now “In a NEW beginning...”?

A new beginning...through a Word.

It could be that John is reminding us that words have tremendous creative power, that words create a world, words shape us, words build a life. The words we use tell us who we are. Words fashion a people and form a community.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss John. Maybe John was on to something and I just didn’t see it. He knew the power of the Word to save us. 

If I was worried about John’s Jesus I had no reason to be. John knew that the Word made flesh did more than just think lofty thoughts. 

John was saying that the Word of God, the Word that spoke creation into being, speaks into our lives TODAY, shaping them, re-molding them, tearing them down and building them up again, John was saying that Jesus - the Word made flesh through whom all things were made, speaks us into salvation. This is a Word we could not speak for ourselves, but speaks on our behalf. This Word is not our word, but God’s.

This is why I’m suspicious of attempts to make Christianity intelligible to non-believers. This is were I part ways with the so-called “seeker-sensitive” approach to evangelism, or so-called “emerging church” leaders. They say that our job as Christians is to make it easy for visitors to our church to understand the message. That they shouldn’t have to make an intellectual or "cultural commute" in stepping into our churches and experiencing our worship. 

They say that we have to use the language of the culture for people to hear our message. That we have to penetrate the cacophony of competing voices to make OUR voice heard. Some suggest that it’s an act radical INhospitality to make non-Christians intellectually or culturally uncomfortable during worship.

And while, yes, we welcome all people to our church the way people welcome guests into our homes. We make sure they have a place to sit, we ask them their name. 

But there comes a time when there will be a disconnect between where the visitor is and where we are. There will be a gulf, a distance, between what we say and how a non-believer will experience it.

And that’s okay. It’s meant to be like that. After all we preach a message that does not belong to the world. Jesus may be the Word made flesh but even his own people didn’t recognize him, so what makes us think that people today would be any different? 

The distance between us and the non-believer is where Jesus does his best work.

It’s a holy discomfort where we realize that the Jesus’ message of new and everlasting life isn’t something that we create on our own, but it comes from far beyond us, yet also has taken up residence deep inside us.

I’ve heard it said that becoming a Christian is like learning a language. I really like that idea. When you learn a new language you are given a fresh lens in which to see the world. You’re given a whole new vocabulary to describe what you see.

Christmas. The Festival of the Incarnation. The celebration of the Word made Flesh is about God speaking a new world into being. It’s about God giving us a whole new language, a fresh set of eyes through which to see the world. No longer do we see the world through the darkness of sin and death, but God has given us eyes to behold the light of mercy and peace of new and everlasting life.

And the Word never stops speaking. The Word never stops becoming flesh. In us, as the Body of Christ, the Word speaks it’s message of life and salvation, so we can speak that Word.

In the love we give to the world, in the joy we have in receiving God’s mercy, in the tears we wipe dry, and the compassion we show to the hurting, the Word becomes flesh and lives among us full of grace and truth.

In the kind words that WE speak. In the whispers of healing. In the private caring conversations and public proclamations of forgiveness. In those words of challenge that make us grow. In the words of a story that shapes us.

In the words that guide us confidently down unfamiliar paths. In the encouraging words that support us as we trek out into unknown adventures. In the inspiring words that help go further and higher in life than we thought possible.

In the sympathetic words that soothe us when we fail. In the reassuring words when we are afraid. In the compassionate words when we grieve. In the resurrection words when we are dying.

These are God’s words. These are the words that give flesh to the Word - God’s Word that lives among us, full of grace and truth.

These are the words that create, the words that join our story with God’s story. These are the words that God speaks through us - through YOU, because God is always speaking words of hope, peace, joy, and love into a world.

We know that God - in Jesus - has the final Word. And that word is “Life.”

May this Word be always on our lips. May this Word always become flesh and live among us, full of grace and truth. Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent 3A

Leap frog a few generations from last week’s reading and you’ll land in this morning’s passage from Isaiah. During the past two weeks we were knee-deep in palace intrigue when King Ahaz of Judah buckled, making common cause with the enemy only to find the holy city in ruins.

A few kings later, and God’s people find themselves conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians. Unfortunately, this is, for them, familiar territory. Slavery and captivity has been their recurring national nightmare.

And, like last time, the people called to the prophet Isaiah for a word from the Lord. When will they be rescued from slavery? When will they return to the land that God had given them? When will they reclaim their national identity, and return to their former strength and glory? When will God finally fulfill all of the promises that God had made?

This Isaiah, whom many scholars call “second Isaiah,” doesn’t have any inside information for his people. This “second Isaiah” writing and preaching generations after “first Isaiah” doesn’t know the “when” or the “how” this is all going to happen. He can’t tell them at what time they’re supposed to pack their bags.  He only spins poetic promises. When “first Isaiah” proclaimed grand visions for the history of the world, this “second Isaiah” spoke a word that is more personal than that of his ancestor in name.

This Isaiah talks about how the land and the people will be transformed. Deserts will have swimming pools. Arthritic hands will open pickle jars, those with bad knees will run marathons, blind folks will paint murals, and deaf people will update their iTunes collections.

In other words, the physical consequences of slavery will disappear, and they and everything around them will be made new again.

Then, after all that has taken place, Isaiah says, a highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way...”

A highway? Really? Did he have to say highway? They knew about highways. They were the ones who went from place to place for 40 years looking for a spot to start over. They were dragged down the highways to Babylon to live as slaves. They built highways for their oppressors’ pagan festivals. A highway was something that they didn’t want. No matter how holy it was. All they wanted was to finally sit down and rest in a place they could call “home.”

But a highway was promised. And a highway they received. It was the only way out of slavery and into freedom. The highway kept them moving, despite their aching muscles and blistered feet. The highway kept them in motion, always on the look out for danger, always looking around the next corner for food, always looking past the horizon for a place to put up their feet. The highway was their teacher, giving them the wisdom of the road.

At least the highway was familiar to them. For better or for worse, the highway - the Holy Way - made them who they were. Whether they wanted to be or not, they were a people on the move.

This is a familiar story.

It’s been said that mobility is a sign of 21st life. That we leap from job to job, house to house, city to city. That we rarely sit still. That we are a people on the move.

I know that’s true for me. I’ve lived in two countries on two continents, three provinces, numerous cities, countless apartments, quite a few houses, and have logged hundreds of thousands of kilometres in too many cars, down far too many highways, and have boarded a myriad of airplanes. My travels have helped shape me into who I am, for better or for worse. It’s the road - the Holy Way - that God has put me on.

But that doesn’t make me any different from many people of my generation. We move around a lot. In fact, I’m surprised when I meet someone who’s lived in the same town their whole life. 

Very few people do that anymore. Especially here in Alberta. Most come here from somewhere else for work. After all, this is where the jobs are. Outside of this congregation, I’ve met very few adults in this area who say they were born and raised here.

Some say that we lose a sense of place by our wanderings. They say that we are deprived of an appreciation of a collective identity and shared history by moving from place to place to place. 

They say that we lack a rootedness, and lose out on the joys and challenges, that come from being committed to a community for a lifetime. They say that we’ve lost an understanding of “home.”

And so, they say, we grieve this loss of “home.” And we’re always trying to find it again.

I think they’re right. But that doesn’t mean that we wander around lost in the world. After all, as Tolkien noted in the Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all who wander are lost.”

But we do feel the loss. And we’re forever trying to recover it. Even though we celebrate the freedom that comes from cutting ties with the past, we sense that something is missing. Something that we yearn for, but may never find. 

From country western songs waxing nostalgic about the times in our lives when we felt free and secure, or retro-radio stations that play tunes that remind us of when we may have known a place called “home,” to high school reunions to re-visit those days before we set out on life’s highway to make our place in the world, we’re afraid that we’ll never find “home” again.

And if we don’t physically move from place to place to place, the vast changes in the world infringe on our carefully cultivated sense of “home.” Even when we lock the doors so that the world’s changes are kept outside.

Even the church is not immune. Once the last bulwark defending us against the massive changes in the world, the last fortress, protecting a rich and ancient tradition, is being asked to meet the spiritual needs that the vast changes in society is creating.

It used to be that, even when the world raged around us, even when everything outside seemed to be turning upside down, even when our lives and our world seemed to be in a constant state of upheaval, at least there was the Church, at least the Church was there to provide a sense of stability, where we could bath in the familiar, where we could come to regain a sense of quiet from an unchanging tradition mirroring the unchanging God, protecting us from the outside changes that made our feet wobble underneath us.

It was only a matter of time that the changes in the world demanded changes in the church. We were being asked to speak to new realities. To calm new fears. To bind new wounds. To proclaim good news in the midst of a bad news that had just revealed itself.

And so we in the church lost our sense of “home.” It was taken from us. The world and the church are not what they used to be. The ground has shifted underneath us. 

Through no fault of our own, we find ourselves looking around, and seeing very little that is familiar. And all of a sudden, the future doesn’t look as secure as it once did. All of a sudden, everything we knew to be good and true is disappearing.

And so, like the people of God so many thousands of years ago, we’re back on the highway. We are on the move, once again, not knowing when we will rest.

When the captives in Babylon took their exit off the highway and found their way to what they thought was “home,” they were deeply disappointed. They didn’t find what they were looking for. 

They didn’t find freedom and security waiting for them there. Only new sorrows and fresh oppressions. The highway didn’t lead them to where they longed to go.

So back on the road they went. Still searching for “home,” still hoping to find a cure for their restlessness, still looking for that final exit, but probably knowing in the backs of their minds, that they’d never find what they were looking for, they’d never stop wandering, they’d never settle into one place forever. The highway - the Holy Way - would be their “home.” God wanted them on the move.

So, as they would find out, they would change their understanding of “home.” To them, “home” was not a place. But a people. Their “home” was their relationship to each other and their relationship to God. It would be in those relationships and practices that they would recover who they were, and find a “home.”

They would re-tell the stories that shaped them, 

they would re-learn the prayers that brought them to God,
they would remember how to worship,

they would be restored into that deep fellowship of knowing who they were. That knowledge, the knowledge of their history and the knowledge of their God would be their “home.”

All that was taken from them would be returned. Their time in exile would be over. They would be strong. They would be God’s free people again.  They would, once more, be a light to the nations, bearing witness to God’s merciful love and renewing power, so that all the nations would assemble at the mountain of the Lord singing praises to the One who rules over heaven and earth.

They learned that home is not WHERE you are, but WHO you are, and to WHOM you BELONG.

And we may never again feel the security and freedom of “home” in the way a place does, but we do have a “home” together, when we gather as God’s people, receiving God’s love and giving it away to others.

When we tell the ancient stories, and share newer testimonies. When we pray the old prayers, and we sing fresh praises. When we remember our history, and we look ahead to what God will do in the future. That is our “home.”

We are a fresh light to new nations. Shining God’s newly re-lit lamp into the darkness of our time. Glowing with the radiance of God’s love where we are today.

Our “home” is not in a place but in a people. Our “home” is not in a building, but in a community. Our “home” is not only in our history, but in the future - the Holy Way - that God has prepared for us.

And never forgetting, that we are always in motion because God is always in motion. We say that God is unchanging, but that doesn’t mean that we know the fulness of God, or that what we know of God encompasses the vast expanse of the Almighty.

This “unchanging God” is always in the business of changing things. This God is always creating new from something old. Something fresh from something stale. Something buoyant out of something dormant. Something living out of something dead.

Our time of exile may be over. Or it might be just beginning. That’s for God to decide.

But we are a people on the move, sent out into the world on the Holy Way, and returning to the Lord with singing; and being sent on our way once again with everlasting joy on our heads, where sorrow and sighing flee away. And where death is swallowed up into life. Where no one will be lost.

That is our home.

May this be so among us.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent 2A

Against Isaiah’s counsel, King Ahaz of Judah rejected the calls for an alliance with the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Arameans to rebel against the Assyrian empire. And such a decision came with terrible consequences. The northern kingdom was destroyed. And Samaria soon followed. King Ahaz kept his crown, but his reign was effectively over. He lost his peoples’ trust. And so they turned their gaze to young Hezekiah, the heir apparent, who might be the righteous ruler they all longed for.

And this righteous ruler had quite the job description. If Hezekiah was the One, he had huge expectations on his shoulders.

“A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse,” they were told. Jesse, as they would have known, was David’s father. And the news couldn’t have been better.

But “stump” isn’t quite right. “Base’ is more true to the original Hebrew. From the base - from this one strong foundation - of the tree of Jesse, a shoot will spring out, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and the awe of the Lord...”

This leader will rule not according to his own ambitions, but from God’s Spirit. He shall be wise and humble, righteous and fair, strong and just. He shall be everything God’s people needed in a king. He would lead their people back into their glorious past which would become their future.

God’s people had a long and weighty memory. The stories about King David nestled snuggly in their DNA. Those were Israel’s glory years when the kingdom was united and expanding. Their enemies feared them. Their lives overflowed with abundance. The world was their’s to win.

And most importantly, they remembered their God. They remembered what God had done for them. They worshipped as a forgiven and free people. 

Ahaz may have led them to ruin, but Hezekiah - they hoped - would return them to their former glory when David was king.

Whether or not Hezekiah was this man of destiny was anybody’s guess. Isaiah knew that Hezekiah was Judah’s last, best hope. Because, if not him, then who?

It turns out that Hezekiah’s reign was more successful than his dad’s. While he oversaw a religious reformation, finally got tough with the Assyrians, and built a vast aqueduct to deal with the on-going water shortage1, he just wasn’t the messiah his people were hoping for. While life was better under Hezekiah, it wasn’t Isaiah’s vision of a new and better world.

The people knew what they wanted. So again, they cried out to God for a Messiah - an anointed one - to give them the life and the world they couldn’t create on their own.

They wanted a king who would judge their disputes according to God’s wisdom, who would defend the vulnerable, and protect them from their enemies. They wanted a king who would bring final peace.

We Christians usually say this king is Jesus, the branch of Jesse, who is the one Isaiah prophesied. We see Jesus as the answer to their cries and to the promises Isaiah made.

“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.”

This child who leads them, we say, is Jesus, vulnerable in human form, leading by gentleness, “new, bright, undefended, and free”2, immersing himself in the life of the world, transforming it from the inside out.

But that’s only the beginning. It doesn’t end there.

For those paying attention, the first part of this passage might sound familiar. We use this promise as a blessing in Holy Baptism. When I lay my hands on the head of the one being baptized, I pray this prayer:

“We give you thanks, O God. that through water and the Holy Spirit you give your daughters and sons new birth, cleanse them from sin, and raise them to eternal life. Sustain [this child] with the gift of your Holy Spirit; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the awe of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.”

Those who included this passage from Isaiah into our baptismal liturgy certainly knew what they were doing. They knew the gravity and expectations that those who were baptized, as much as the blessing and forgiveness.

While the people of Judah were waiting for a king, one man to lead them into glory and to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, instead, God created a people.

Instead of one magnificently righteous ruler to reign over a re-established kingdom, God re-united a family of nations gathered together as one body.

Instead of one heavenly hero fighting the forces of evil alone, God drew countries together to bear witness to, and work for God’s new vision of life and peace.

Instead of waiting for the ONE, God has drawn together the MANY, and knit them together as one body.

Instead of one divinely anointed Leader of leaders called to inaugurate God’s new world, God has appointed YOU.

In the waters of holy baptism YOU were crowned to reign with compassion over all creation, anointed by the Holy Spirit to rule with justice and peace. In holy baptism, YOU are called to lead with God’s wisdom.

As God’s people, YOU are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. YOU are the answer to God’s promise. 
YOU are the shoot that came from the base of Jesse’s family tree, 
YOU are the branch that grew from his roots. 
YOU are the answer to the cries of God’s people.

YOU are the body of Christ! YOU are the one through whom Christ lives! YOU are the living sign of God’s presence in the world!

Your reign is Jesus’ reign, 
a reign where war and conflict disappear into peace and friendship, 
a reign where grief and struggle are transformed into comfort and rest, 
a reign where violence and death blossom into newness of life.  

a reign where... wounds are healed.
...age-old grudges are reconciled.
...enemies become family.
...tears become joy.
...death becomes life.

This past week the world was saddened but not surprised by the death of Nelson Mandela. And as I heard and watched the tributes pour out, and listened to the words from the man himself, one thing struck me as a running theme through his work and his life.

Mandela, while emphasizing forgiveness for enemies, and peace between peoples, what seems to have gotten lost in the mythology of the man himself is his insistence that it’s not the great leaders of the world who change history, but it’s the everyday people who revolutionize the world. Those toiling day-to-day folks, whom nobody has heard of, working together, who have the real power transform everything. 

It’s like he’s echoing Isaiah. It’s people like you and me, who may never have the ear of those whom the world deems powerful, who may never be remembered by name in the history books, but who - together with sisters and brothers and empowered by God’s Spirit - can change this world from the inside out.

That’s because we serve a God who raised Jesus from the dead.  A God who defeated the power of sin and death. A God who desires above all else, that the world might have life abundant today and life eternal tomorrow.

The spirit of the Lord has rested upon YOU. Each one of you here. Everyone who has been died in the waters of baptism and raised to new life in Jesus. 

The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and the awe of the Lord, the spirit of joy in God’s presence has rested on YOU. 

YOU are the answer to prayer. YOU are the one the world is waiting for. This is YOUR time. Because Jesus and his life-giving Spirit has rested upon YOU.

The cries of God’s people have been answered. And we’re it. It is God’s presence in us, the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus, who calls us into this life. It is not our doing, but God’s spirit working within and through us, who blesses us to be the blessing the world needs.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Advent 1A

“Freedom” is a program I installed on computer. It helps me get more work done and to better focus. In fact I used Freedom to get the first draft of this sermon written.

Freedom has one simple task: to disable my web browser for as long as I want or need it to. In other words, if I set Freedom’s clock for 60 minutes, I can’t access the internet for one whole hour. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. No message alerts. No downloading sermons to listen to. No internet radio. Not even my beloved blog. Just cyber-silence. (do people still use the word ‘cyber’?) If I want to access the internet, I have to go through the hassle of re-booting my computer. So, for that one hour, I have “Freedom.”

It’s beautifully ironic that the program is called “Freedom.” After all, the internet was supposed to free us. Now we have to be freed from it. The internet was supposed to make us more productive, it was supposed to help us better connect with each other, it was supposed re-create our lives, giving everyone access to the world, a platform for even the weirdest and most extreme views to find an audience.

The internet was supposed to be democracy in action, where everyone has a voice if they chose to speak. The laissez-faire marketplace of ideas.

And it’s true. The internet is all those things. And more. But like most tech users, I let the medium redefine my life, at least what I call “freedom” The internet re-defined “freedom” on its own terms. And not only “freedom” but also words like “friends” and “connections”

We’ve also let it re-define “work” and “time.” I’ll respond to email while waiting in line at the grocery store. I cruise bible commentary sites while watching football. I’ll text in between hospital visits. I’m continuously connected, tethered to technology, always available.

It’s no wonder that I need “freedom.” I’m caught in a trap that was laid for me.

The people of Judah had the same problem. Well, not EXACTLY the same problem. But the longed for what they did not have. Their lives were being re-defined by forces outside themselves. They were caught in a trap laid for them. They longed for freedom.

They were in the middle of a war. The northern kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom of Damascus demanded an alliance with them in opposition to the Assyrian Empire. Judah (the southern kingdom) was backed into a corner when Jerusalem was attacked. Not knowing what to do, King Ahaz sent for the prophet Isaiah1. And I wonder if Ahaz wasn’t more troubled than comforted by what he heard the prophet say.

On the face of it, Isaiah sounds hopeful; “In the days to come,” Isaiah says, “the mountains of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

“In the days to come...” What days? When? How soon? How will we know when it’s about to happen? I’m sure Ahaz had questions. After all, his wasn’t a spiritual concern. His was a flesh and bone, blood and death emergency. His enemies were destroying the holy city. He was being forced into an arranged marriage with the Arameans. Everything he and his people had worked to achieve was being taken away from them by no fault of their own. They could no longer control their national destiny. They were the victims of other peoples’ ambitions.

They longed for freedom. To chart their own future as a people. But they didn’t know how to get it. Ahaz just wanted to know what to expect. And what God was going to do about the enemies at his gate.

And Isaiah brought Ahaz some good news. But he didn’t provide specifics. Isaiah just said, “In the days to come...”

But “in those days...” it wouldn’t be Ahaz who has the victory. It would be God. In those days all nations and people shall stream to the holy mountain. ALL people will come to the house of God to learn the ways of the Lord. ALL people. No exceptions.

And Isaiah doesn’t stop there. He says how this will happen:

“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 between 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.”

It’s a lofty vision. Some of you might even smirk at its naivete. But it’s God’s vision. And it’s God’s promise.

It is the word spoken by God that will make these promises come true. “For out of the holy mountain shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

We Christians say this word is Jesus. The instruction from the holy mountain and the Word of the Lord is the one for whom we wait. This word of the Lord is the one who will defeat the final enemy, the power of sin and death, and will rule over the whole of creation with justice and mercy.

“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord...!”

Ahaz may have learned the hard way that God’s promises don’t always match our immediate needs. We may find ourselves trapped in a life we can’t control. We may feel stalled by circumstance. Caught in a quagmire of competing demands. And we see things getting worse before they get better.

It’s often this time of year when pain and sorrow show themselves most fiercely. There’s something about the Advent to Christmas month that turns up the volume on peoples’ grief.

Suicide rates are highest this time of year. Family squabbles escalate into full blown wars. Loneliness deepens.

It could be the increasing darkness and diving temperatures wreaking havoc on our brain chemistry that makes all this happen. Or the longer nights and shorter days and colder weather simply bring out what is already there. 

It’s a living metaphor for the darkness and cold of our own lives. The darkness of loss, the darkness of broken relationships, the cold of failed dreams, the darkness of illness, the cold of an unknown future, the darkness of loneliness and lack of connection. The cold of grief. The darkness of our own mortality.

The darkness of a world in war, the cold of poverty in our communities, the darkness of environmental challenges, the cold of economic uncertainty.

And so we wait for the saviour to do what we can’t do ourselves: to free us from what keeps us trapped, to bring peace to our troubled lives and the conflict stained world, to bring newness when we are tired and discouraged.

We wait for the “...days to come [when] 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.”

We wait for the day when we are pulled out of the darkness we are drowning in, liberated from the traps the world lays for us, when peace will rule over our lives and our world. We wait for the day when all God’s dreams will come true.

We wait for the day when God will have the final victory. Indeed, God already has. The Word has gone forth from the holy mountain and become flesh in Jesus. In Jesus we are taught God’s ways and walk in God’s paths. In Christ, we are tomorrow’s children, claiming God’s resurrection promises today.

This Advent, I encourage you to ask God to give you eyes to see what God is doing because we don’t always recognize divine promises being fulfilled. It’s because we’re in this in-between time where God’s future touches us, yet is not fully blossoming around us. God’s future is here. But we’re still waiting for it. That’s the mystery of Advent.

And until that day comes when all people worship at the mountain of the Lord, the day when all people are freed from the power of sin and death, the day when God’s promised future arrives in all its fulness...we wait.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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