Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Abundance of New Life

I know that my last entry bemoaned the adequacy of sending a baby to overcome powerful military enemies. I am having a problem getting past the sign aspect of this passage. I've been reflecting on Isaiah 7:10-14, the prophecy of a young woman who will bear a son named Immanuel, God with us. So, I'll continue... as I write this I think I already have an idea for tomorrow's reflection, but that will have to wait!

For tonight, I have been thinking about what the sign of a baby might point to. A sign is not the answer to a prayer, but it points the way to the answer. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say it points to a promise. For often prayers are not answered in our lifetime, but the promises of God are reaffirmed, the character of God is reasserted.

The baby would not end the war... but the baby would signal a better life, perhaps. A life where young women would once again be excited to give birth. It seems to be a promise of a good life for the child. A promise of a land filled with milk and honey. A land of peace and provision. A land where a child can learn the difference between wrong and right... no small promise given what so many children grow up in.

Children can still be such a sign. I realize that not all children are born in ideal circumstances whether it be violence, poverty, oppression, disasters, etc. Yet, when we embrace a child or ensure the best life for a child, it seems that we once again recreate this sign of God's promise to us and to the world. We once again point the way...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seriously... a baby?

I can just imagine what Ahaz might have been thinking. Vast armies arrayed against him. His neighbors turning on him. His fear that he won't be able to protect his kingdom. So, God decides to send him a sign of hope. Not a large army of angels to defend his territory. Not some newly developed weapon to defend his borders. No plague to wipe out the opposing army. Nothing powerful or mighty or deadly. Instead, God sends a baby. A baby! Seriously... what was God thinking? How was that suppose to bring comfort?

I mean, seriously, how was a baby supposed to bring comfort to anyone? How is a baby supposed to bring comfort to us today? What does it matter that God sent a baby into the world? Though, of course, God did not just send a baby. God came as a baby. God in little human vulnerable baby form. Did God really entrust god's self into our care for those few years of childlike vulnerability? Did God, the God separated by God's otherness and holiness and transcendence, really cross all of those chasms just to be with us? To walk among us? To take on our form? To save us?

A baby... a sign of hope in the midst of war torn times... Immanuel... God with us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Test or A Sign?

Isaiah 7:10-12
Again, the Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."
But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test."

"I will not put the Lord to the test." It seems like a reasonable response from Ahaz. I mean, really, who has the right to test God? And what test could be impossible for God to pass?
Ah... I guess that is the point isn't it. We don't test God. We have faith in God. We trust. We believe. Ahaz was a king who had just learned that his neighbors had aligned themselves with his greatest enemies. He was terrified. Afraid. About to lose heart. But he was not about to show that he was doubting God.

But thankfully God understands that at times we are fearful, afraid, that we lose heart. Did you notice that I said "we lose heart" rather than "we doubt God." I know... I know... semantics. They mean virtually the same thing. But I am not sure they do to God. There are times when I can logically say that I know that God is present, that God still cares, still loves, still provides and protects... but when all outward circumstances point to the contrary, at times I am not strong enough to hold onto my faith.

With Ahaz at his breaking point, God offers to give him a sign. "Go ahead," God says, "Ask for assurance. Let me remind you of my presence. Let me give you a sign."

Almost 15 years ago my sister and I began a cross country trek with my sister from San Francisco to Northern Minnesota via Nashville and Chicago. We chose to drive along the historic route 66. Nowadays, Route 66 seems to wind through the middle of nowhere. Just when you think you are lost in the desert, another sign pops up along the road to let you know you are heading in the right direction.

Every once in a while it is okay to ask God for a sign, to let God know that you are about to lose hope, to say, "I know you are there. I know you are real. I know how powerful and merciful and loving you are... but please, I just need a little sign of assurance today. Please remind me that you are here."

As you go through this Advent season, May God provide signs along the way... if you are winding through the desert, know that God is walking with you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prepare the Way!

Well... the Advent season has begun and it is time for me to once again start posting on this blog of mine. As always, it is a journey. May we enjoy it together.

This season, my congregation is preaching through the many prophecies in the book of Isaiah that point to the coming of Jesus into the world. We began with Isaiah 40:1-5 which begins with the familiar phrase "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." Comfort offered to a people in exile, bearing the weight of their own sin, fearing that God has abandoned them forever. But in the midst of their darkness, a glimmer of hope, a word of comfort, an assurance that God is coming and nothing can get in the way. Not the barrenness of the desert, not the low valleys or high mountains, not the bends or bumps in the road.

In my sermon this morning, I spoke about what we might need to do to get ready. Following John the Baptist's call to prepare the way with repentance, I spoke of the need to recognize our sin, or recognize that God can forgive all our sins, or recognize that God can even cleanse us from the sins of others.

I focused so much on what we need to do to make ourselves ready... what acts of devotion or service or forgiveness or reconciliation. But I realize there is another aspect of preparing the way that we need to attend to. How can we, during this Advent Season, prepare the way for others to receive the Lord so that, according to vs. 5, all people together may see the glory of the Lord revealed?

Where has the church failed to act justly or love mercy or walk humbly with our God? Where have we created valleys of doubt for those on the margins or struggling with those things that are beyond our understanding? When have we erected mountains of greed or prejudice? Where have we created curves in the road... those blind curves that allow us to fail to see the sorrow and struggle of others, so consumed as we are to stay on the road ourselves?

This Advent Season, let us take out the bulldozers and pick up our shovels. Let us fill in the valleys of fear, doubt, and grief. Let us tear down the mountains of greed and injustice. Let us... not just for ourselves, but for all the world... prepare the way of the Lord.