A New Heart

An Advent Devotion for December 9, 2017                                 Read Ezekiel 36:25-27

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you.” Ezekiel 36:26

Who among us does not need a new heart from time to time . . . one that is not tinged with resentment, envy, self-righteousness, greed or selfishness. We make mistakes. We do some really dumb things. We hurt people we don’t want to hurt, and neglect people who need our care. Negative experiences in our lives can harden our hearts. Not wanting to be hurt or be used again, we push people away. We turn our eyes from human need, ignore the cries of the world’s people and forget, that we too have a need for forgiveness and grace.

God, knowing our human condition, promised “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Daniel Schutte’s beautiful and powerful hymn, “Here I am Lord” is a response to God’s call in our lives. In one verse we hear God speaking to us echoing the words of Ezekiel,

“I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have born my peoples pain.
I have wept for love of them. They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them,
Whom shall I send?”

Chorus: Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.

Schutte’s hymn calls for a response from each of us. Will we go? Will we hold God’s people in our heart?

Prayer: Lord of Advent, as we journey to Christmas, may our hearts become more open, more generous, more kind. May we answer your call to go and hold your people in our hearts. Melt, Lord, our hearts of stone and give us hearts for you alone. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

A Garland Instead of Ashes

An Advent Devotion for  December 8, 2017    

Read Isaiah 61:1-4

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Isaiah 61:1-2a

The people of Israel remembered the days of King David when the poor were treated with justice. But those days of compassion passed and justice was sorely lacking. All was not well in Israel. People yearned for the return of justice. They yearned for a messiah who would change both the present and the future. Jesus turned to this passage when he first spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. Quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah he announced the fulfillment of these words.

He wanted the people of  his hometown to know that he did not intend to pursue any conquering of a foreign power, but the conquering of the human heart. There would be no warrior restoring the wealth and prestige of the nation. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted. He would also leave the unfinished work of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless to his followers.
Howard Thurman captures the essence of Isaiah’s words and Jesus’s call to us in his poem, “When the Song of the Angels is Stilled.”

“When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

Prayer: God of Hope, When we weary in our waiting, when our sense of justice goes unmet, when evil seems to win and all we have worked for is erased – grant us a sense of place. Grant us an assurance that you are still at work in our world. In this Advent, may we be people who feed the hungry, rebuild the nations and always seek to make music in the heart. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Angels Watching Over Me

An Advent Devotion for  December 7, 2017                                Read Matthew 18:1-7, 10

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” Matthew 18:10

Jesus tells us that every child has an angel in heaven whose face is turned to God. Angels show up all over the birth narratives about Jesus. They make announcements of impending births to parents of coming children. They stop an upset fiancee Joseph from ending his promise and relationship with Mary. They warn of danger to the Holy Family. They share the joy of Jesus’ birth with shepherds doing night duty.

Most of us would not make claim to having heard the voice of an angel. One of those mysterious messengers of God, who bring “good news.” Angels are charged with bringing the word of God. We make no claim to having heard angels, yet we are mindful of those messengers who have come to us in our need. Those moments the word of God was spoken to us and we had heard “Good news.”

“She’s going to be alright.”
“The tumor is benign.”
“Your children are safe.”
“He pulled through the surgery.”
“We got to him in time.”
“I’ll be here to see you through this difficult time.”
“You’ve got the job.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“ No one was injured.”
“I just wanted you to know that I’ve been thinking of you.”

At the sound of those words – we have heard angel’s singing. Our hearts have lifted. We have heard “good news.”

The old African American Spiritual reminds us of the words of Jesus.

“All night, all day,
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me”

Prayer: God, thank you for the angels you’ve put in our path, who encouraged us and loved us and whose voices have lifted our spirits. Thank you for the grace of these angels among us, you have blessed us with. May we open our hearts and spirits to love as they have loved us. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Advent – Emmanuel, God With Us

An Advent Devotion for  December 5, 2017                                        Read Isaiah 7:14

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

The word Emmanuel means “God with us.” Early Christians looked at this passage as one which pointed toward Jesus as the messiah. God with us means that there is nowhere in life we can go, that God is not present. God is with us when our world crashes and God is with us when our hearts are full of joy. God never promised a life without pain, anguish or struggle. There was no promise we would have simple answers to complex questions. We were not promised that we would not get sick, have an accident, or succeed at our every effort. God did not promise we could go through life without trouble, pain, sorrow, hurt or loss.

Today, you may be struggling in your personal life. Some hardship or loss has taken hold. You wonder how you will make it and if you will have strength for tomorrow or the day after. Sometimes you wonder if there is any use in trying. You may be asking where God is in all of this . . . the job, family issues, health crisis or painful loss.

While God did not promise to take away our pain, God did promise to be with us in it. The promise was, that God would be with us in the struggles we faced each day. Jesus came to walk among us. He came so we would know there was nothing in life or death we would ever face alone. That hope and certainty has sustained me in my most difficult moments.

It is the same hope that causes the early hymn writer to pray:
“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Prayer: Loving God, you know how the pain in our lives can overwhelm us. Our hearts break. Hurt and loss threaten to devour us. In those moments, remind us that you are near as a breath and a prayer. As we pour out our hearts to you, may we find both comfort and peace. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Yearning for the Perfect Christmas

Chihuly Glass - The Ceiling

Chihuly Glass – The Ceiling

For years, I only bought Christmas cards that had a picture of the three wise men on them. It was my strategy to make sure I was in the right season when they were sent. I knew that the likelihood of getting cards in the mail before Christmas was in direct proportion to the parties, programs, practices, presents and cookie making I needed to get done. My best intentions of having them sent in time were often thwarted. Throw in a pastoral crisis or two, and the cards waited till January.

Something in our hearts and minds yearns for a perfect Christmas. A Christmas that fulfills our expectations of what the day ought to be like, when all the pieces of life fall into place. Written into our hearts and souls is a yearning for a day when everything will be right. Justice will come on earth and will usher in a time of peace and harmony which spreads throughout the world. This yearning has existed, almost, from the beginning of time. In our personal lives we yearn for the spirit of Christmas to warm our hearts in some mystical, magical way, telling us all is well.

The book of Isaiah was written during a period when there had been a series of corrupt kings. Throughout those years, the nation had been under attack with great loss of life. The words of Isaiah carry both promise and hope. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his 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 fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1,2) Hundreds of years later, the promised savior does not come in Israel’s strength, but in it’s weakness. Not in the days of power but rather in powerlessness. When all seems lost, God works in that mysterious way of God to change the course of history.

Isn’t that the way that God most often works in our lives? When all seems lost, God moves in and around us, bringing life to dead and barren places. Just at that moment when we are ready to give up, God surprises us with grace and compassion. God works in our lives a miracle of love that restores hope and gives us a promise that there will be a future.

This Advent season is one to reflect on our faith, our lives and the one who enters our world in Bethlehem. It is written of him, that “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:3)

Our world is far from a perfect place. Wars consume lives of innocents. Systems of justice get corrupted. The wicked still prosper at the expense of the laborer. Good people grieve their losses. The promise of a day when all is just, peaceful and righteous continues to pull at our hearts, because it is God’s dream. The longing continues and will continue till God’s kingdom comes in all of its fullness. Meanwhile, there is Jesus, who came as Emmanuel, God with us, to walk with us through all the days of our lives in this imperfect world.

 

*Advent – Waiting With Expectation

*Advent – Waiting With Expectation

CandleFlame The dictionary defines “wait” as “to look forward expectantly.” Not all of our waiting is done with anticipation. From traffic jams and delayed raises, to family unrest, much of our waiting is experienced as impatience, frustration and a simple recognition that not all is well with our world. Advent reminds us that God is still working in this world.

We wait for our deepest hopes and dreams to come to fruition. We wait for answers to our penetrating questions. In our confusion, we wait for clarity of mind and purpose. We wait for ourselves to become the person we wish we already were.

Today I find myself waiting for God’s advent fresh over in this broken world. I wait for the lion and lamb to lay down together, for the misery of war to end, for voices of hatred to be turned from loathing into compassion. I wait for our world to become a better, kinder, more gentle place. I wait for the powerful to bend an ear to the powerless. I wait for a day when there are no refugees facing the terrors of the sea or fleeing the travail of ISIS. I wait for ancient ruins to be restored. I wait for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Howard Thurman echos my thoughts in his book “The Mood of Christmas”

“Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
and the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,

And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,

While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.
Christmas is waiting to be born
In you, in me, in all (humankind)”
— from The Mood of Christmas Continue reading

Do You Hear the Angels Song – “Be Not Afraid”

I’ve been needing to hear some angels singing. Some celestial visitors reminding me to “Fear not. Be not afraid.” December brings with it moments of reflection when we are reminded of the angel’s words. I’ve been walking through this Advent time with a mixture of events and reminders. From the awe inspiring St. Olaf Christmas Festival, to a musical at church, my grandsons’ school concert with its songs of peace, a granddaughter’s somewhat hokey Christmas play and my two young grandsons’ Sunday School program. Each spoke a part of the Christmas hope, reminding me of the songs of the angels. The angels of Christmas begin their assignments by addressing the fears of those they have been sent to. Mary is told, “Do not be afraid.” Joseph in a dream is called to trust, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Shepherds hear the words, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.”

It is difficult to every truly take in the whole message of Christmas. God’s gift of love born in Bethlehem’s stable forever challenges our understanding of God’s desire for humankind. God came to be among us. To live with us . . . to share in our lives, yours and mine. What causes God to love us with this love? What possible reason does God have, to enter our world?

Some days, when I look in the newspaper, I wonder about that. Certainly God was acutely aware that we needed help figuring out what to do with our lives and how to live with each other. There are times when I wonder if we have made any progress through these twenty centuries since Jesus’s birth. We make a mess of life quite easily. Our mistakes are legendary. Nations go to war without seeking peaceful solutions. And the “Prince of Peace,” is passed over, as one who is out of touch with the reality of our world. And so wars come, families are broken. Domestic abuse cripples families emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically. Life goes on as always . . . or does it?

The good news is that in spite of it all, God came. Not for a short season, but for all time. God came to dwell among us. For that very reason, lives can and do change. The message of Advent . . . this waiting time, is one of getting ready. Getting ready to hear the angel’s song, “Be not afraid.” Getting ready to let God into our lives. Getting ready to make the changes God would have us make. Getting ready for the adventure of faith, God is waiting for us to say “Yes” to.