Welcome to my Advent blog. For the next few weeks I’ll be looking at how those involved in the Nativity narrative responded to God’s call. Please join me on this last journey of 2010 to see what God can say to us through the actions of Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and even Herod and the Magi.
We enter these 4 weeks of preparation for Christmas, called Advent, with a look at Zechariah. His story is found in the Gospel of Luke (1:5-25). Zechariah was a priest who served in the Temple. He and his wife, Elizabeth, “were both righteous before God.” Like another righteous couple from generations earlier (Sarah and Abraham), they were childless and “getting on in years.”
“Year after year, there the priest would stand.
An offering of blood held out in his hand
Before the curtain there He would stand in fright.
It hung there to hold in the Holy to keep in the Light.”
Zechariah had no way of knowing that this time something amazing, life-changing, and indeed world changing would happen. “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.” The angel addresses Zechariah with comforting, if seemingly impossible, words, “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.”
It is difficult to wrap our mind around things when God acts in ways that we don’t anticipate or that seem impossible. We have our little corner of the world all mapped out and we are quite content with life the way it is. True, it’s not paradise, but it could be worse. Then God comes in and turns everything topsy-turvy. A job change or new opportunity makes us pack up and move. An accident or illness interrupts our carefully laid plans. Change happens to our carefully laid plans, no matter what.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had long ago come to terms with the fact that they would not be parents. Now, in the twilight of life, God announces, ‘you are going to have a child’. Not just any child, either, but the prophet announced by Malachi who prophecies, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
“When the time was full, another Priest came to save
Came the power to make anywhere a most holy place
A new and living Way…”
Next week we’ll meet Mary, a young girl whose response to God was very different from Zechariah’s.
November 28, 2010
November 21, 2010
Wherever it started, Thanksgiving has only been an actual holiday since 1863, but the date of the celebration varied. It was established as fourth Thursday of November when President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law on December 26, 1941. Two years later Norman Rockwell painted what has become the iconic Thanksgiving picture as one of his Four Freedoms series. Entitled Freedom from Want, it was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and then was featured on war bond posters.
I hope you will have a lovely, blessed Thanksgiving, however you celebrate, and that you will find a way to offer a helping hand to someone less fortunate.
Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. During the season, I’ll be exploring how we ‘say yes’ to God by looking at the response of Mary, of Joseph, of the Magi, and of the Shepherds. I hope you’ll join me.
November 14, 2010
Baruch Atah, Adonai Elohenu, Melech Ha-Olam…
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…”
“We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God…but the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord…is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.” When we let go of control and are open to being blessed and to offering blessings for all things, we come closer to God than in the Cathedrals of the world. It is about how we live and are blessed by the One who imbues all things with Life.
A long time ago someone introduced me to the poem “Well” by G.A. Studdart-Kennedy. Studdart-Kennedy was a chaplain during WWI. He earned the nickname “Woodbine Willie” by giving Woodbine brand cigarettes to the wounded soldiers he ministered to. I've always been struck by Studdart-Kennedy's vision of meeting God after death and how that one word 'well?' sums up our response to God's blessings in all that happens, but esp. in our interactions with one another.
It seemed to me like years and years, But time out there's all wrong.
'E just were 'Im, that's all I knows. There's things as words can't say.
It seemed to me as though 'Is face, Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed, Like the sea beneath the sun.
'Twere all men's face yet no man's face, And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech, 'Ye did 'em all to me.
'Ye did 'em all to me,' it said, 'For all their souls were mine.'
All eyes was in 'Is eyes, – all eyes, My wife's and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd 'ow sad, With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi' the speech o' light, They said, ''Er soul was mine.'
The narrator, knowing he has failed to live a good life, asks to go to Hell, but
“'E answered 'No
'You know that you 'ave earned it, lad, 'So you must follow me.
(From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy--you can read the whole poem here)
From the ground we walk on to the people we meet, all are incarnations of the Holy. When we are blessed, we ought to live in a state of returning the blessings. Like the observant Jew and in company with Paul, we ought to try to ask a blessing on everything that comes our way. Some things won’t be easy to bless or find a blessing in. In the Hebrew tradition, a prayer of blessing for bad news is “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the Judge of Truth.”
It is up to me to be open and aware of the blessings in all things. L’Engle quotes H.A. Williams who says, “Justification by faith means that I have nothing else on which to depend except my receptivity to what I can never own or manage.” I ran across a gentle reminder of the importance of accepting each step as a blessing. Probably you’ve seen the “Daffodil Principle” since it circulates the email regularly. It’s the true story of a Rushing Springs, CA woman who annually, since 1958, planted daffodils on the hill near her home. Apparently tours ended in 2009 (at least according to the articles I found.) (If you haven’t seen it, one version is found on the internet here and a video of the garden here.)
At the end, the narrator says, “’It makes me sad in a way,' I admitted to Carolyn. 'What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!'
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. 'Start tomorrow,' she said.
She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, 'How can I put this to use today?'”
I hope this series of blog-meditations has left you with some thoughts about how to be receptive and open to the presence and blessing of God in all our routines. I hope this week I can remember to ask “how can I put this to use today?” Next week is Thanksgiving. See you then.
* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.
November 7, 2010
God is found in the routines of our lives. Whether we are hiking through a forest or plodding down a city street, God is with us. If we are aware of the sights and sounds and smells around us or if we are lost in numb repetition, the Holy lingers on the edge of consciousness waiting to be invited in. Finding God nearby can be as unexpected as coming across this squirrel I saw in a public garden in downtown Denver a couple of years ago.
It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls' teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know.
But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them
There is a way? There is a way?
A traveler is far away from home
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tell him that his chances
Are better out on the road...
But Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ…