Week of December 17, 2017
Scriptural readings and meditations:
- Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 to provide for Zion’s mourners,
to give them a crown in place of ashes,
oil of joy in place of mourning,
a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness,
planted by the Lord to glorify himself.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
they will restore formerly deserted places;
they will renew ruined cities,
places deserted in generations past.
8 I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and dishonesty.[a]
I will faithfully give them their wage,
and make with them an enduring covenant.
9 Their offspring will be known among the nations,
and their descendants among the peoples.
All who see them will recognize
that they are a people blessed by the Lord.
10 I surely rejoice in the Lord;
my heart is joyful because of my God,
because he has clothed me with clothes of victory,
wrapped me in a robe of righteousness
like a bridegroom in a priestly crown,
and like a bride adorned in jewelry.
11 As the earth puts out its growth,
and as a garden grows its seeds,
so the Lord God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.
Thoughts for meditation:
This text is dialogical. It begins with an anonymous prophet proclaiming the good news to the poor. Verses 8-9 are spoken by the Divine, Yahweh, God. In Verses 10-11 we hear the City of Zion responding with joy. This dialog takes place when the Hebrew people are finally released from exile and preparing to restore the land and people of Israel, particularly Zion, the City of God.
As the state of Florida, especially the Florida Keys, are preparing to restore our communities, neighbors and economy how do these words resonate with you? How do you think they would resonate with your community? What difference can they make as we begin our journey of recovery?
This is the famous text that Jesus read in the synagogue of Nazareth. Of course, just as the people hearing Jesus read were impressed and fully behind him, we would be there with him. However, when he explained that God’s mercy reaches out further than even the church believed; they, and we, become incensed. Who might God include in these blessings that would be hard for you to accept? From whom would you have God withhold grace?
- Psalm 126
When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
it was like we had been dreaming.
2 Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them!”
3 Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
and we are overjoyed.
4 Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
like dry streams in the desert waste!
5 Let those who plant with tears
reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
6 Let those who go out,
crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts,
carrying bales of grain!
Thoughts for meditation:
After Irma left our communities in devastation, we came to the spaces we had called home and our hearts were wrenched with the pain of reality. Quickly clearing away the, literally, mountains of debris in the first 2 months we now stood in pain looking at the brown landscape but with determination that Irma would not win. Suddenly, God poured a week of clearing rain on us. Following the rain the most astonishing thing happened! Everything, I mean everything bloomed. No matter it was the wrong time of year. The trees not only grew new leaves but they were all blossoming with new fruit! I don’t know how anyone could have missed this, but did you notice? We sure did because we have 56 organic fruit trees (20% of which were devastated by Irma) and everything is still growing. In fact, today we picked an enormous pomegranate, the biggest one ever! Thank you God! Hope springs in my heart and bounces me forward with anticipation. Light green, dark green, flowers, blossoms, star fruit, figs, pomegranates, avocados, black sapote, purslane, moringa, red, yellow life … all life, all birthers of hope. What brings you hope today?
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, 21 but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. 24 The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.
Thoughts for meditation:
How refreshing! Can you imagine rejoicing always? Sometimes celebrating joy can seem so terribly out of place, like when your home is hit by a cat 4 hurricane. Certainly, most people can find no joy initially; however, as we struggle through the recovery we do begin to recognize reasons for joy. The fact that we are not alone. Even if people have become harsh, God will always be present and active in our lives. God gives us reason to hope even when hope seems to have gone away. When we see only monsters and walls, God is working for our good, bringing healing, hope, agape, peace. We won’t necessarily see it or understand it at first, but if we continually pray and seek the Holy Spirits activity we will begin to recognize it. This is when we become conquerors even in the midst of chaos. While we’re not the ones making all the good happen, if we allow ourselves to believe and see then we cease being victims to our circumstances. What is victimizing you today? Pray to God about it; tell God how you feel. Ask friends to pray for you too and don’t forget to watch while you wait. Watch for signs of creative, healing, saving, hopeful, reinvigorating love. It’s there and at work, but in order to see it we must look for it and pray.
- John 1:6-8, 19-28
19 This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”
20 John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
John said, “I’m not.”
“Are you the prophet?”
John answered, “No.”
22 They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied,
“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,[a]
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 Those sent by the Pharisees 25 asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
26 John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. 27 He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” 28 This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.
Thoughts for meditation:
Make the paths straight – a phrase we often hear this time of year. It refers to John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who was born to point the world to Jesus as the Son of God. However, in the book of John we are not given any of this information about the John in the scripture. In fact, there is no contextual information about John at all. We just find this scruffy, locust eating, loud annoying man pointing to the Light to come, that is Jesus. When asked who is was, instead, he refers to who he isn’t: I am not the Messiah, I am not Elijah. I am a voice … a voice to tell the world to focus on One they do not know, the Son of God. John refuses to focus on himself or on his own waiting. Rather he focuses on the One for whom he is waiting. What John is saying is that everything we have done to prepare, all the beautiful shinning best tableware that we have set in preparation for this One, the preparation that makes puts our best foot forward is torn away and devastated because it’s not about us, it’s not about pretending to be something we’re not; rather it’s about Jesus, the Son of God, the Baby in the manger, the Light of the World, the Christ, the Redeemer, the Word, the Salvific One, the One who sits at the right hand of the Creator, Emmanuel, God With Us, God Incarnate. How would your Christmas preparations be different if you truly focused on Jesus? How can you testify to the Light today?
Prayers and litanies:
In your Christ, O God, we discover salvation coming to all who need. Our past has been made new, our futures restored, the earth rejoices with your spiral of beauty – grant, we pray, that our lives be fulfilled in this your fulfillment for us; through Christ Jesus. Amen.
“We read, O Lord, of the people’s surprise when you were born in Bethlehem. They had expected a display of power, but were confronted by a picture of humility. They had looked for a mighty ruler, but were greeted by a lowly baby. Chasten our expectations of this Christmas with the realism of that first Christmas, so that when you come to us, surprise shall give way, now as then, to recognition, and we shall hail you as ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
When the Anointed One comes, what shall we see? The broken-hearted being consoled and captives going free. Open our eyes, that we may see the presence of the Lord! When the Anointed One comes, what shall we hear? The afflicted being lifted up and mourners made glad. Open our ears, that we may hear the presence of the Lord! When the Anointed One comes, what shall we feel? The oppressed being delivered and prisoners released. Open our hearts, that we may feel the presence of the Lord! When the Anointed One comes, what shall we say? The just are being vindicated and prophets made welcome. Open our mouths, that we may shout the presence of the Lord!
O Eternal God, we bow before you, our Creator, in awe and gratitude. The grandeur of your majesty overwhelms us. Yet we adore you even more for the constancy of your love. You do not need us as we need you. Yet you seek us before we seek you. Indeed, it is because you seek us that we seek you at all. So it has been from the beginning of time. And so it shall be until the end of time. For this, dear Lord, we thank you. Yet we come before you with mixed emotions. Guilt intrudes upon our gratitude, and we are moved to confession. Even though we know better, we insist on setting the terms for our relationship with you: we substitute our lineage for your love in drawing the boundaries of our community; we flatter those who praise us even though they may not praise you; and we recruit you in the service of our mission instead of enlisting ourselves in the service of your mission. Deliver us from our double-mindedness, O God, that we may pursue you with the devotion of the shepherds, praise you with the song of the angels, and present you with a gift even greater than the gifts of the wise men – the gift of ourselves. As we offer ourselves upon your altar, dear Lord, we do so for the sake of your mission and not ours. We are grateful for all those who bear your cross with us. They do not make the task easy, but they do make it easier. So we pray for the increase of laborers in your vineyard. May the coming of Immanuel so transform the members of Crhist’s body that you, through us, shall overcome evil with good; moving the well-fed to care for the ill-fed, the strong to rescue the weak, the devout to commune with the indifferent, the well to minister to the sick, the learned to teach the ignorant, the natives to accept the refugees and the haves to remember the have-nots. O God, as we await the coming of Christ into the world, we pray for the courage to embrace his mission in the world.
May the One born in Bethlehem – who joined divinity and humanity, love of God and labor for people – unite heaven and earth, in us as in him.
In the advent seasons, when the past has fled, unasked, away and there is nothing left to do but wait, God shelter us. Be our surrounding darkness; be fertile soil out of which hope springs in due time. In uncertain times, help us to greet the dawn and labor on, love, on, in faith awaiting your purpose hid in you waiting to be born in due time.
Eternal Creator, with you each moment of life is full of wonder and surprise. We pray you to make us watchful as we await the coming of the Christ. Grant that we may not be found sleeping in sin, but awake and rejoicing in your newness of life. Through the same Jesus the Christ our Savior. Amen.