Advent #6: Peace In The Pandemic

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10

2 Peter 3:8-15a (NRSV)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

FINDING PEACE IN THE PATIENCE

Do you ever wonder if the main lesson of 2020 is in learning to be more patient? We had no way of knowing how long the pandemic would last, so our patience has been tested as the weeks turned into months, and the months are nearing a year. I can be more patient when I have an “end date” available; I can bear difficult days if I know they will be over by a certain time. I just need to work hard until this deadline. I can handle my chemo for these final six weeks. I only need to carry this load for one more mile. Our burdens seem heavier when we do not know when we will be free of them.

Perhaps because our patience has waned, many of us have understandably begun our Christmas season traditions sooner than we normally do. I have seen several Facebook posts from friends who admit they decorated for Christmas very early this year. Jim and I normally wait until after Thanksgiving to decorate, and keep the outdoor Christmas lights off until Advent begins. Not this year! We needed the cheerful sights of the season sooner (and we may keep them up longer, too). The song lyrics, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute,” come to mind.

I have been thinking, Yes! Maybe we should bring Christmas into our Advent waiting, maybe we just “need a little Christmas now” to bring us peace, to help us get through these trying times. The wonderful news is that we DO have Christmas with us, all through our Advent season of preparation and all through our lives! For even as we keep our seasonal practice of watching and waiting for Jesus to be born, we know that he has already come, and that he remains with us for all time.

These beautiful verses from 2 Peter tell us that God’s time is beyond our comprehension, but we can trust God’s promise that a new heaven and a new earth will come. God is patient, and we must be patient in our waiting, too. Even so, as we are waiting, we are invited to “hasten the new day.” How do we do that?

What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?

While you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

One visible way we might “hasten the new day” is to ask God to help us notice and embrace God’s patience as our own. Recognizing the patience God has for us will help us to be more patient with others. Witnessing the patience Jesus had in his suffering will help us to be more patient in our own. Knowing the patience God has for our salvation will help us to be more patient with our imperfections. Understanding the patience God has with time will help us to be more patient in our waiting.

Our Advent peace is found when we ask God for the patience to endure trials, to bear with one another, to forgive one another, and to wait for a new and better day. With the patience that only God can give, we will live with greater peace, patience, and serenity, with greater holiness and godliness. In doing so, we will hasten the promised new day, because we will be living that new way – here and now.

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This Sunday we will begin Joy in the Junk. Our reading will be John 1:6-8,19-28.

Photo by DDP on Unsplash

Bible verses taken from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Advent #5: Peace In The Pandemic

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSV)

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,

    and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

(verses 6-11)

FINDING PEACE IN THE PRESENCE

Today’s passage from Isaiah describes the fragility of life. “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…” This pandemic has shown us how quickly life can change, how fragile life can be. Yes, we are like grass, we are like the flower of the field. When we face our own fragility as well as the fragility of loved ones, fear can often prevail. In these fragile and fearful times, we especially need the Advent peace of God.

We can find this peace in the additional verses of Isaiah, as God is described as both the God of strength and the God of tenderness. God comes to us with power and might, giving us strength and courage in our times of fear. God’s power gives our shaking feet a firm foundation and our quaking souls a safe shelter. God also comes to us with gentleness and tenderness, shepherding us with guidance, assurance, and comfort through our trials. God’s tenderness reaches for our trembling hands and gently calms and leads us.

“Here is your God!” God IS here with us; through Jesus we know this well. When we feel fearful or fragile, we can find our Advent peace by clinging to the loving presence of God. God accompanies and leads us with both mighty power and gentle care, all through this journey of life. With God as our source of strength and tenderness, we can become visible bearers – and sharers – of Advent peace for those who go with us.

May we patiently, courageously, and peacefully journey together through this temporary trial, always mindful that the word of our God will stand forever.

God’s power and love are forever; our fear and fragility are not.

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together.

(verse 5)

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Our reading for Thursday will be 2 Peter 3:8-15a.

Photo by DDP on Unsplash

Bible verses from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Advent #4: Peace In The Pandemic

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 6

Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

FINDING PEACE IN THE WILDERNESS

This pandemic has seemed like a time in the wilderness, hasn’t it? We have wandered through an unknown and unexplored territory, with no clear signs to guide our path. The distancing isolation has often felt like an empty desert, devoid of many of our usual routines and relationships. One definition from Merriam-Webster describes wilderness as “a bewildering situation,” which serves as a fitting description for the year. A vaccine is on the horizon, but for now, we must remain in our wilderness time.

Where will we find our Advent peace in this wilderness?

The story of John the Baptizer serves us well. As Richard Niell Donovan notes:

John was raised in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), was called by God in the wilderness (Luke 3:2), preached in the wilderness (Mark 1:4), and was most likely imprisoned and died in the wilderness… (Josephus, Ant. xviii 5.2). John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah—to make his paths straight (1:3). He did this by preaching in the wilderness, where he attracted great crowds, by calling people to repentance, by baptizing, and by heralding the one who was to come.1

And now John comes to us, calling us to prepare for this One who is to come.

God is so very present in our lives but can remain unnoticed because of our distraction, busyness, or complacency. This wilderness experience can become the barren place in which we may more clearly hear John’s cry. The wilderness may enable us to more attentively heed John’s call for repentance; to turn from those things that are not of God, and to turn to more of those things that are of God and our true selves in God. The wilderness is where Jesus chose to go before beginning his earthly ministry. Other saints have also chosen to practice this type of desert spirituality, leaving behind comfort, normalcy, and busyness in order to deepen in awareness and love of God.

We did not choose this wilderness, but we can choose to embrace it as a sacred time of desert spirituality. I have heard from others that the pandemic is changing priorities, clarifying purposes, and revealing the beauty of simpler lifestyles. We may discover more about ourselves and our purpose through our slower pace, simpler ways, and deeper compassion for others. We may discover more about God’s power and love through our surrender of earthly securities, self-sufficiency, and comfortable normalcy. We may become like the Israelites in Exodus 16:10, who “looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

Today we find our Advent peace in this wilderness, as we turn to God with greater awareness of God’s presence and love. We find our Advent peace as we invite God to make our paths clearer and straighter, to help our integrity become more God-centered and true. Christ Jesus is on the horizon – and thank you, God – Christ Jesus is already with us. We then find our Advent peace in knowing that even if all else is stripped away, the one who is more powerful remains with us, shows his love for us, and guides us through this wilderness and beyond.

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Our reading for Tuesday will be Isaiah 40:1-11.

1https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/mark-11-8/

Photo by DDP on Unsplash

Bible verses taken from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Advent #3: Hope In The Hurt

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

FINDING HOPE IN OUR CORRECTION

When I first read these flowery words of praise, I absorbed them as a beautiful blessing, a good word for all of us who are “in Christ Jesus.” Paul thanks God for the ways in which the Corinthians were enriched in speech and knowledge, not lacking in any spiritual gift, and being strengthened and perfected until the end. Yes, thank you, God, that we too, have been given all these gifts from you!

Then I read some background information and learned that Paul was readying the church of Corinth for further words of rebuke and correction. The Corinthians were growing increasingly arrogant, divided, and conflicted. Paul was writing to point out their sinful ways; they were falling short of who they were to be and how they were to act as followers of Christ. But first, he assures them of their God-given goodness.

I’m reminded of a recent episode of the series, “This is Us.” A father (Randall) looks tenderly upon his daughter with love, smiles with pride, and then tells her she is grounded for six weeks. He loves her completely, he is proud to see her learning and maturing, but he also knows she needs correction. Like Paul, he begins with the assurance that she is beloved, just as she is, before moving on to the corrective action.

2020 will be remembered for many reasons, but perhaps we can especially remember this year as a learning experience. This pandemic has been a first-time crisis for all of us. We have had much to learn about ourselves and one another. We have had much to forgive in ourselves and one another. Maybe we have had much to be corrected in ourselves and one another, too.

I don’t consider this pandemic as punishment sent from our loving God, but I do find that our trials offer us opportunities to invite God to lovingly teach and correct us. What might we learn from this time? What is being brought to our attention? What in our lives needs to change? How do our trials reveal our imperfections, or deepen our faith? How are we being made aware of our desperate need for the love of God? How might we help God make good come from this time?

Today we can find our Advent hope in Paul’s initial words of assurance to the Corinthians. What a gift we have in knowing that God has loved us from the beginning, God still loves us completely, and God continues to look on us with pride and joy. God even sends us Jesus, to show us how much we are loved – as is.

Our Advent hope is also found in God’s perfecting work in us. “God is faithful…” God never gives up on us. These are growing pains, but we find our hope in the One who loves us first, who sends us Jesus, who teaches and strengthens us, and who remains with us and perfects us, always.

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This Sunday we will begin Peace in the Pandemic. Our reading will be Mark 1:1-8.

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

Bible verses taken from https://classic.biblegateway.com/

Advent #2: Hope In The Hurt

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1

Isaiah 64:1-9 (NRSV)

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
    so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
    and do not remember iniquity forever.
    Now consider, we are all your people
.
(verses 1-2,6,8-9)

FINDING HOPE IN OUR RE-FORMATION

This Advent does not look or feel like any other I have known. In the United States, we recently had a contentious election during an already tense time of social unrest and the global pandemic. As our world and country are deeply hurting and struggling, I can imagine you are, too. I know I am often not at my best. The tension of our trials can certainly test our integrity as people of God.

Isaiah’s words are perfect for us in this time!

Isaiah first laments the way Israel is being threatened by its adversaries. He pleads for God’s presence to come down and intervene with the affairs of the nations.  Isaiah’s lament becomes mine when I feel threatened by our politics, our problems, and our pandemic. Isaiah’s plea becomes mine when I ask God to be present in this mess, to intervene and correct the troubles of the nations (that is, according to my way of thinking).

But Isaiah also laments how Israel has been acting. He pleads for God’s presence to be revealed, and for God to reform and reshape the people (like clay in a potter’s hands). Isaiah’s lament becomes mine when I recognize that I too, have behaved badly. Isaiah’s plea then becomes mine when I humbly ask God to reform and reshape me – according to God’s way!

This Advent is a perfect time to take Isaiah’s words to heart. We have ALL become like one who is unclean ~and~ Now consider, we are ALL your people. We are all broken. And we are all God’s. None of us are perfect, but all of us are loved.

Our Advent hope is found in Jesus, who comes to teach us and show us how to live as God’s children. Our Advent hope is found in Isaiah’s example of the potter and the clay. In these trying times, God is holding us. God is holding ALL of us together in love. Even amid our trials – perhaps because of them – we can become like soft clay. As we entrust ourselves into God’s warming and kneading hands, we become pliable enough to be reshaped and reformed into better people.

People who are more like Jesus.

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Our reading for Thursday will be 1 Corinthians 1:3-9.

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

Bible verses taken from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Advent #1: Hope In The Hurt

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 29

Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (verses 32-37)

FINDING HOPE IN OUR FOCUS

In the verses leading up to this passage, we learn that Jesus has told his disciples about the coming destruction of the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew then ask Jesus when all of this will happen (we know from the book of Matthew that the disciples’ question also pertains to his second coming and the end of the age). Jesus only advises them to pay attention, to be ready for hardship, to watch for signs, and to “keep awake.” Yes, Jesus would come again to make all things new, but in the meantime…

I wonder how the disciples felt. Were they excited, or were they afraid when they heard these words? Were they hopeful – or fearful – to watch and wait?

When I lie awake through a sleepless night, my thoughts usually are the worrisome, fearful ones. With no other distractions, my mind can quickly fill every space with hurts and concerns, leaving little room for peace or hope. I dwell on my troubles and anxieties while I wait for the morning to come. This type of “keeping awake” is not what Jesus has in mind.

In a recent podcast, Brian McLaren shared his story about participating in a visual exercise during a group event. The group was instructed to watch a video in which teams of people (dressed in black or white shirts) tossed balls to one another. He was to choose one person and count how often that person threw to another person on their team. Brian was very attentive, and he later learned that he had counted correctly. But he was surprised by the second question: Did he see the man in the gorilla suit crossing the stage during this time? He was so focused on the thrower that he missed a man in a gorilla suit!1

I lie awake and worry because I focus on our worldly troubles, my own mistakes, or my previous hurts, instead of seeking the One who makes all things good, all things new. Today we find our Advent hope in this reminder to watch for Jesus instead; Jesus, who also surprised us, not with a gorilla suit, but as a tiny baby born in humble surroundings.

“Keep awake,” Jesus says. Whether we are lying awake in the darkness or remaining aware in the daylight, we are to keep alert and watch for Christ. When we turn from watching the world to watching for Christ in the world, we can await the dawn of a new day, not with fear and worry, but with eager expectation and fervent Advent hope.

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The Bible passage for this Tuesday will be Isaiah 64:1-9.

1 https://cac.org/podcasts/5-what-you-focus-on-determines-what-you-miss/

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

Bible verses taken from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Gratitude and Grace

brown maple leaves in tilt shift lens

I hadn’t planned to write a Thanksgiving post, but a short while ago my daughter Jennie said some words that deeply resonated with me. I wonder if someone else may need to know them, too. So, here I am…

Jennie is a psychologist; she sees firsthand how difficult the holidays can be for people. This unusual and stressful year has made these weeks leading up to the holiday season even more difficult and depressing for many.

Through this pandemic, she has often told patients to carry gratitude and grace. She first suggests that they try to find reasons to be thankful each day. With the stress everyone is enduring, she also suggests that they try to extend grace to others, to keep in mind that everyone is struggling.

Then she adds one more suggestion. She suggests that they try to extend grace to themselves. None of us are at our best this year, yet we often find it easier to forgive or overlook the mistakes of others than to do the same for ourselves. This blessed me so much.

Have you disappointed someone? Have you snapped at a loved one? Have you forgotten something important? Have you been impatient with a customer service person? Have you felt weary of life? Do you feel as if you have failed in some way? Have you felt lazy or uninspired? Do you recognize that you are not your best self?

Today is the day to begin anew.
Today is the day to be thankful.
Today is the day to extend grace to others.
Today is the day to extend grace to yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

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An Advent for Hurting Hearts

INTRODUCTION

As I have been thinking, praying, and writing Advent reflections, I am mindful that this season will be an especially poignant time of watching and waiting. My longing for God has deepened during this unusual and challenging year; I have desperately prayed for God to give us answers, soothe our spirits, ease our cares, and solve our problems! I know many of you have done the same.

Our difficulties and our yearnings are nothing new. The Bible is filled with stories of great trial and sorrow. The Bible is filled with stories of people longing for a Messiah who would save them from their heartaches. We are not alone in our search for meaning in the mess, guidance for our steps, hope for our future. These are difficult times, but difficult times have been around since time began.

And since time began, Christ has been with us in every moment! God as Christ was – and is – in all of creation. Jesus Christ came to our world as the Word in flesh. The Spirit Christ is with us now. We have our Messiah, the presence of God in Christ for everything we need, in these times and all times to come. The Advent gifts of Christ are still waiting for us in this season, even in these unsettled times.

In this year’s Advent reflections, I pray you will be uplifted as we seek these gifts of Christ in our weekly themes:

~ Hope in the Hurt
~ Peace in the Pandemic
~ Joy in the Junk
~ Love in the Limbo

This season, may all the Advent gifts of Christ – the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love – once again be revealed within our hurting hearts. May all the Advent gifts of Christ – these same gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love – then be shared with the hurting hearts around us. May we keep opening our hurting hearts to the incredible goodness of God in Christ Jesus; the goodness that has always been with us, continues to remain with us, and will carry us into our future days.

God bless you, dear friends, this Advent season.

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(Advent will begin next Sunday, November 29th. We will use the designated passages from the Revised Common Lectionary for the four Sundays of Advent; the Gospel reading on Sunday, the Old Testament reading on Tuesday, and the reading from the New Testament Letters on Thursday.) 

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Five Minute Friday: Grief

I remember the humorous story of the young student, when asked to recite a Bible verse from memory, proudly stated, “Jesus wept.” This verse (John 11:35) is the shortest one in the Bible – and the easiest to remember!

But in these difficult and unprecedented times, I am claiming these two simple words as the most meaningful verse in the Bible. In our times of deepest grief, we have One who knows and shares our sorrow. In our times of unbearable trials, we have One who knows and bears our pain. In our times of frightening uncertainty, we have One who knows and goes with us through our fear. There is no hardship or sorrow that our God in Christ Jesus has not experienced, too.

Jesus wept.

In all of life, whatever our days may bring, we are in the good company of the One who understands us, hurts with us, and weeps with us. We are also in the good company of the One who will one day dry our tears, heal our hearts, and bring us incredible joy.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)

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(Five Minute Friday is an online writing community. Each week, we are given a one-word prompt and about five minutes to write. You may find other posts or add your own at the link above!)

The Bible verse was found at https://classic.biblegateway.com/

Five Minute Friday: Cancel

Our word prompt for today, CANCEL, has been with us too much this year. As our plans continue to be canceled or postponed, we can become increasingly discouraged, frustrated, or sorrowful. But in some cases, we can be relieved or even joyful, such as in the cancelation of a debt, or the cancelation of school on a snowy day. Our perspective on this word varies according to our circumstances and our reactions to them.   

Each cancelation brings a new invitation. We are given an unexpected space, an opportunity to respond and to replace what has been canceled in the best way possible. We can replace our initial disappointment with hope, as we reschedule our plans for a future time. We can replace our sadness with joy, as we consider the many blessings that still abound – even in this moment. We can replace our frustration with peace and patience, as we remember that God’s time is eternal and always perfect. And when our initial response is joy or relief, we can fill the new and unexpected space with acts of kindness that bring joy or relief to others.

We may hear this word, CANCEL, quite often for some time yet. May we come to see each cancelation as an invitation; an opportunity to keep growing, learning, and trusting in the One who holds all of us, through all of time… the One who invites us to grow in joy and love, no matter our circumstances.

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Five Minute Friday is an online writing community. Each week, we are given a one-word prompt and five minutes to write. You may find more information and other blog posts at the site under the image!