Tag Archives: hope

Yesterday is today while old is new—and vice versa

No, this is no riddle I propose. Rather, it is a reality when studying literature; and for me, the literature I have been focusing on is Biblical as I continue the year-long Bible study.

I know I have shared before about my personal study, and it is not always easy.  I just completed reading the two books of Samuel.  To be honest, I should have read them after completing a course in ancient history that included the sociology and the geography of the Middle East.  These books were not easy.

Add to the historical, geographical, and the social-political intricacies of these books, the filter of Christianity that has been my upbringing and continued adult life.  The content seemed so distant, until I stopped and realized the above truth that I know is literature:  Yesterday is today; old is new.  This then translates as Today is yesterday; new is old.

While studying literature in college, the emphasis that any story, poem, essay that can withstand the test of time can be defined as classic literature.  The themes, regardless of the style, the plot, the setting, and the characters (aka the elements of literature), are as time-appropriate today as they were when first written—and anywhere along the timeline of humanity.

Therefore, the books of Samuel, continue to be literature which teaches today’s generations the themes of how to live within our earthly, human context.  The book is filled with human drama, political battles, jealousy, adultery, and more.  These are the very same conflicts that exist in our world today.

So what does one learn?  Over and over again, the lesson is to follow the Golden Rule:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  And love being an attitude between one and any other human (and dare I add, species).

But there is one other commandment that all need to remember.  We are to love God.  Not only that, we are to love God above all else. 

Remaining in a long-term relationship with God is not easy, especially with all the temptations that humanity has created throughout history.  And we all tend to be weak in the face of temptation or in the face of peril.

This week my thoughts have focused on the health needs of close friends.  One had bypass surgery and the other has been in chemo treatment for a rare cancer.  Recovery is not easy for either of them, and what can I do?

Pray.  I can on holy conversation with God.  The prayers are for them to have the strength and the resolve to do whatever they, their medical team and primary care providers can do to battle the health issues.

But maybe the most important prayers is that God uses these trials to reach into their own lives and let them experience his loving presence. 

Over and over the Old Testament stories share that bad things happen to good people.  We cannot explain this as humans, but there are the words in scripture that can advise us.

Today, the reading was Habakkuk, not a common book and one of prophecy.  But today, I heard God’s message that helps me to manage the earthly experience.

In the first chapter, Habakkuk asks two questions:

–v. 3 “Why do you make me see wrong doing and look at trouble?”

–v. 13 “. . . why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallowed those more righteous than they?”

Habakkuk has four more sections:  

  • “God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint”
  • “The Prophet’s Prayer”
  • “The Woes of the Wicked”
  • “Trust and Obey in the Midst of Trouble”. 

It takes reading through them and the study notes to make God’s answer clearer:

Under “God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint” is verse 2:5: “Moreover, wealth is treacherous, the arrogant do not endure.”

Under the section” The Woes of the Wicked”, there are a series of ‘alas’ statements, but hear v. 20:  But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!”  What a reminder to have no other god before him.

Then Habakkuk prays in v. 3:16:  

“I hear, and I tremble within;

   my lips quiver at the sound.

Rottenness enters into my bones,

   and my steps tremble beneath me.”

Even the prophet speaks honestly to God.  We can do the same.  Go to God in prayer to defend yourself from despair.  

Habakkuk ends with these words from v. 3:18-19:

     “. . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

       I will exalt in the God of my salvation.

   God, the Lord, is my strength;

      He makes me feel like the feet of a deer,

      and makes me tread upon the heights.”

In the introductory notes for Habakkuk, there is more clarification in understanding why bad things can and do happen.  In referring to Habakkuk 2:4 “. . . the righteous live by their faith”.  The notes continue, “The prophet’s vision emphasizes trust in God despite circumstances.”

John Wesley spoke to the same them in Sermon 119, as referenced in the introductory notes:

“. . .  judgments concerning good and evil, not to visible and temporal things, but to things invisible and eternal.  . . .hope [is] based not on visible circumstances but in God.”

These words from the Old Testament and the Wesley Study Bible are guiding me to fuller understanding and appreciation of how valuable my faith is in managing life in our earthly world.  And with that, I pray:

Dearly God,

Guide me along my journey.

Speak to me through scripture.

Teach me by the words of your faithful.

Then, let my words be your words

Sharing your grace, your promises

    and your love with others so they, too,

    feel your love and live to love others.  –Amen

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Done: The Chronicles of Narnia Now struggling with sadness Yet coupled with optimism

Time and again I am frustrated with how to manage all the thoughts that get tangled up in my brain after I finish reading a book, but that tangle is multiplied by seven after finishing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia,by C. S. Lewis.  I am left with sadness of the end, yet that is coupled with the optimism.

At the same time, basically, I have finished reading the Old Testament book of Numbersand the New Testament book of Revelations.  Maybe that has multiplied the tangled mess in my head.

I know I have said it before, but reading fantasy literature is difficult for me with all the invented names the authors introduce.  My dyslexic brain is so wired to read language that fits into my paradigm of spelling and meanings, that stepping into the fantasy world of unknowns slows down my reading and therefore complicates my ability to stay connected to the storyline.

Now add to the storyline of the seven chronicles the Biblical timelines of the Old Testament, the New Testament and then the future as outlined in Revelations and this brain is almost fried, if I may use a vernacular.

BUT.  And I do mean all caps BUT, the reading continues to fuel my understanding of God. I am more and more convinced of the reality that where I live here in the Midwest of the United States, a North American country of the globe we label Earth is just one tiny speck in a universe that God has established.

AND, yes an all caps AND, the speck in the universe that I am is as exciting and delightful as any speck might be anywhere in the vast unknowns—as long as we are part of God’s loving world filled with Grace, Love, Mercy, and more Love.

In one respect, I am thankful that I read the chronicles in the way the stories were packaged rather than in the order they were actually written.  I like order. And even though the chronicles always remind readers that today’s earthly definition of time and Narnia’s concept of time do not match, keeping the sequence of the stories in order helped my dyslexic-and probably obsessive-compulsive tendencies-aided in my comprehension.

That is a lengthy introduction to the tangled thoughts that are bouncing around in my head, but I beg your patience as I begin trying to sort out some of my thoughts.

1.  The Chronicles of Narniais much more than juvenile literature.  The truth that Lewis presents how to treat others just as they want to be treated—whether human or animal—is critical and I am thankful that it is the underlying theme for each of the adventures.

Loving one another as one wants to be loved is absolutely critical.  That rule of life has, is and always must be the measure of all actions whether in personal relationships, in community neighborhoods, in business decisions, in national and international decisions, even in decisions on how we treat the other living beings co-existing with us.

If every decision was made based on that principle, how could decisions have negative affects?

2.  The Chronicles of Narniaalso illustrates the basic sins of humanity that return over and over in literature and in our daily life, especially greed and power.  Lewis’ characters clearly identify the negative effects of the sinful behaviors in vivid descriptions of the characters’ features and faces, not to mention their actions.

The images literally caused me to shiver as the story took a turn for evil and challenged the forces of good.  I get the same reaction when the news shares some terrible event or even quote something or someone who is operating from the premise of greed or power over the well-being of others.

Reading the Old Testament book of Numberswas challenging because I could not comprehend the need for the itemized explanations repeated over and over for how to make sacrifices, nor for the different degrees of sacrifices or offerings for this or that purpose. Confusing.  Unnecessary.  Unmanageable. Of course, those descriptors come from the 21stcentury after God sent Jesus as the final blood sacrifice.

Which again brings up the discussion of timelines. As I read through the New Testament book of Revelationsalong side ofNumbersandThe Chronicles of Narnia, I had to face the fact that we continually need to be taught how to keep our life focused on God and the true commandments that Jesus taught during his ministry:

                  Love God.

                  Love one another.

As much reading as I am doing these months, I can turn almost any literature into a theological discussion on how to live the Christian lifestyle and how that combats all the evil in our lives.  I also can see though the various written words how essential it is to live in our current timeframe by those very commandments so that we are able to transition into any other realm at any time. 

When I read the final chapter of Lewis’s The Last BattleI wanted to scream, “NO!”  Over and over I wanted the story to continue and for the Eustace and Jill to return to their lives in England without any loss of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the evil ape Smith was just misleading all the creatures of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the donkey Puzzle was clever and the ape was dangerous trying to manipulate Puzzle.

I wanted to scream, “NO!” to Tirian as he drew his sword trying to fight against the impossible number of Calormenes.

But the lesson would have been lost if Lewis’s story had not continued to the surprising conclusion as each one of the Narnian squad entered the Stable door.

Then as the last chapters began to conclude the chronicles, the glory of Aslan pushes the reader forward, into a realm of new possibilities.

And, my personal readings once again intertwine. Remember, my personal reading has been included Revelations, which is filled with the wonderment of the New Jerusalem in vivid descriptions.

Why, I ask, did I find myself binge reading The Chronicles of Narniaalong side the year-long Bible readings?  As I said, now that I finished the chronicles, I am experiencing a sense of sadness, but it is coupled with optimism.

My brain is afire with thoughts, but then the final pages of The Last Battleand the chapters of Revelationsseem to be racing together to tell me one of the most wonderful truths that I have yet to experience:  Life with Jesus as my savior leads to life eternal in a world so unbelievably beautiful that there is nothing to fear.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving, gracious, merciful Father

As the words of your servants

Unveil the mysteries of our earthly lives,

May we shed all the fears

that clutter our lives

Muddling the beauty of life around us.

Lead us through the Holy Spirit

Who teaches us through the words

Of Holy Scripture written so long ago, 

but also of gifted writers since those days.

Open our hearts and our minds

So that we may take the words

And open our hands to serve you

In any way that we can 

So others may learn the promises

Of The Word shared by Jesus.  –Amen

Just a P.S. Words are powerful and I continue to read even when the ideas, the genres, and the timelines cause my brain to go into overload.  How often I find myself needing to step away and let my thoughts just float around before they fly out the fingers on the keys.  May God’s words enlighten me through the Holy Spirit so that my words are God’s tools.

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Advent concludes. Christmas is over, too. One thing remains: LOVE

Hard to believe that the week is slipping away and I failed to continue reflecting on Advent.  The season swamped me and the hope, joy and peace of Advent almost got lost in the last minute push.

But, I cannot tell you how excited I am to share that the final message of Advent isLOVE

Consider this: Week 1—hope.

                         Week 2—joy.

                         Week 3—peace.

Those who walk through Advent season and acknowledge how the weeks guide us in a review of one’s belief, there is only one word that can add all these themes into one more–love.

Returning to the Oxford On-line Dictionary, the definitions of love, as a noun, helps us to understand the immensity of this final week’s theme:

1.  An intense feeling of deep affection.

2.  A great interest and pleasure in something.

3.  A person or thing that one loves.

But it is the definition of loveas a verb that pulls all of Advent and Christmas together:

1.  Feel deep affection . . . for

Once one experiences the three concepts introduced through Advent—hope, joy and peace—the need to act develops.  There is energy that comes when there is hope, joy and peace that begs to be used and when loveis a verb, that energy becomes the force that gives the noun love.

The theme of love is repeated in so often in Advent studies and other devotions putting a new twist on it can be difficult, but as we have done the past weeks of Advent, review the origin of the word:

Old English lufu, of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit lubhyati ‘desires’, Latin libet ‘it is pleasing’, libido ‘desire’, also by leave and lief.

Interesting that all three different origins still contribute to the understanding of the fourth week’s theme of love. The verb love takes the noun and moves it into action.

Traditionally Christmas becomes a time when love is visible through the practice of giving gifts to family and friends.  The action symbolizes the relationship that has developed between two individuals.  The relationship has so many different faces:

  • Spouse to spouse
  • Parent to child
  • Child to parent
  • Friend to friend
  • Work peer to work peer
  • Cousin to cousin
  • Grandparent to grandchild
  • Brother to Sister/Brother
  • Sister to Sister/Brother

And the list continues to grow. 

Gift giving is a tangible way society has identified to express the intangible noun definition of love.  No, the giving is not necessary, but it is a tangible way to say to someone how they fit into you life, how loved you are.

But gift giving is an event, the lovethat fills our hearts moves into action in so many ways.  As an operating system, love fuels our lives to do for others, to give to others in all types of ways.  

The verse so often referenced is I Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  (NLT)

Even though this familiar reading is so often used in reference to weddings, think about how broad its scope really is if loveis translated into an action towards anybody.  No one would have an enemy.  No one would judge another person.  No one would . . . I am sure you can fill in the blank.

This leads us right up to the end of another calendar year and the beginning of a new year.  There is hope.  There is joy. There is peace.  And now there is love for one another.

During the coming year(s), move that hope, joy and peace into the energy to love others.  Love them just as you want to be loved.  

There is no better gift than to give love to others freely, with no strings attached.  Christmas as a traditional celebration is a spot on the calendars of our lives that remind us how to loveby giving.  But giving love is a verb that does not have a box around it with gift wrap and ribbons.  Love, the verb, is a lifestyle of loving others regardless of any distinctive, identifiable quality.  Loveis living life each and every day doing all that you can for all you can in any way you can at any times you can.  Love, the verb, is a lifestyle that exudes hope, joy and peace.

Text Box: May 2019 be fueled
by love
filling your life
with hope, joy and peace

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Loving God 

     the father, the son and the Holy Ghost,

Thank you for the greatest gift of love 

     you have given to each and every one.

You knew that we did not understand

     how to love one another

     so you joined us in the form of Jesus

     to teach us how to love.

The prophets tried to prepare us over and over

     keeping hope alive in the darkest of times.

The shepherds shared the news the joyously heard

      from the angels right out in the open fields.

The wise men came and saw, too, giving gifts

      leaving in peace not wanting to sound alarms.

Guide us to know that love is all that is needed

      To live in this world, 

      To experience peace,

      To be filled with joy,

      To fuel us with hope

      So we, too, may love one another as you love us.

In the name of you the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Common Lectionary Readings:

4thSunday of Advent:        Micah 5:2-5a

                                                      Luke 1:47-55

                                                      Hebrews 10:5-10

                                                      Luke 1:30-45

Christmas Eve:                      Isaiah 9:2-7

                                                      Psalm 96

                                                      Titus 2:11-14

                                                      Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Day                       Isaiah 52:7-10

                                                      Psalm 98

                                                      Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

                                                      John 1:1-14

December 30                          I Samuel 2:19-20, 26

                                                      Psalm 148

                                                      Colossians 3:12-17

                                                      Luke 2:41-52

December 31                          Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

                                                      Psalm 8

                                                      Revelation 21:1-6a

                                                      Matthew 25:31-46

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What happens when hope and peace come together?

Looking at the date, I realize how tardy I am into the third week of Advent and I am just now settling into my week’s blog notes. This sets off a huge warning in my head that maybe I am letting the holiday hubbub overpower my days.

Sunday the worship service included the children’s program.  As a cradle Methodist, the traditional images that greeted me seemed so familiar.  I know the story, I know the characters, and I recognize the costumes.  

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the significance of the Advent season because we become so accustomed to the entire hubbub: decorations, music, store sales, food, and family routines.  Then there are those moments when the proverbial “reason for the season” slams right into the middle of everything.

That is how I felt Sunday as I watched the kiddos putting the 2018 twist to the ancient Christmas story.  It was joy-filled.

Advent readings take us through the biblical story and we learn that the ancient people maintained hope for the arrival of a messiah.  Their mindset might have been described in any variety of ways:  downtrodden, tired, exhausted, victimized (as we might call it today), depressed, perplexed, questioning.

For generations, thousands of years, they maintained hope that their plight would be relieved when some one man would step in and fix things.  They hadhope.  

Even today, we can identify with these ancient Israelites.  Not one of us can live day in and day out without times of feeling the very same: downtrodden, weary, depressed, and so on.  We struggle to manage the daily ups and downs.  Yet when one has hope, those days are placed into a perspective as one discovers the value of hope plays in finding solutions.

During the second week of Advent, the theme focused on peace.  As one discovers that hope makes daily life manageable, one begins to realize that accepting God’s grace and living within that framework fuels hope.  

But what does having hope have to do with peace?  When we accept the reality of God and the relationship we have with him, we develop hope to manage the daily trials.  Turning over our need to control to God and allowing our lives to center on God, we discover peace within our personal lives.

As the kiddos were singing and managing their time on stage, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were filling the seats anticipating a performance filled with tradition.  A tradition that reminds us that when one has hope, all the rough times in life are of little concern and we are at peace.

But back to Sunday’s program:  The kiddos turned their backs on the crowd and as they introduced the various characters in the story, the audience broke out in a joyful reaction as the sound of the current kid’s hit, Baby Shark, became the refrain:  doo doo doo doo doo doo . . . Mother Mary, Father Joseph, Baby Lambs, Shepherds, Wise Men, and Baby Jesus doo doo doo doo doo.  [Check the You Tube video to get an audio-visual of the song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqZsoesa55w]

When we discover that we have hope and peace, we also realize that our lives are joy-filled.  We see this world through the filter of Jesus Christ and when we suddenly see the ancient story set to the music of Baby Shark, we experiencejoy.

Week three of Advent focuses on the theme joy. The season of preparation is also teaching us what it feels to be joy-filled.  Joy is an abstract noun meaning there is no way to touch, feel, taste, smell or see what it really is, but joyis real.

Returning to the Oxford Dictionary on line, joyis defined as:

     A feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

1.1count noun A thing that causes joy.

1.2British informal usually with negative Success or satisfaction.

     Origin

Middle English: from Old French joie, based on Latin gaudium, from gaudere ‘rejoice’.

Obviously this is a noun with no shape or volume, no concrete form to pick up and carry around.  But how we try.

Joycomes in a wide-range of colors, and during Advent one might think it is red and green while others may think gold and silver and some pick all the colors as the trees get decorated with twinkling lights.

Joy comes in all different scents as the ovens back those cookies, stove tops fix cranberry relishes, and the turkeys and hams bake in the ovens as meals are prepared.

Joycomes in the sounds of bells and chimes ringing, carols singing, favorite performers add their unique sounds to hymns and holiday songs, and all the laughter watching the traditional holiday movies over and over and over.

Advent reminds us that life with Christ is one filled with hope, peace andjoy.  The kiddos shared the story in a new and different way, but the joythat they demonstrated with each “doo doo doo doo doo” of Baby Sharkfame unleashed joy in all those watching and listening to the ancient story once again.

Let the Advent season rebuild all those qualities of your life that get drained down during the calendar year as we face the daily challenges of life.  

Let you discoverhopein the story of Jesus Christ.  

Let you experience the peaceas you turn over your life to God.  

Let you break out with joyas you experience God in your life, especially in these weeks of Advent.

Then be prepared for the last week of Advent to discover the next quality that the season unleashes in your life.  God’ gift is opening in your life as we return to the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Dear God,

As we move through this third week of preparing for Christmas, help us to rediscover the joyof the season in our lives.  

As we learn to manage our lives with hopethat you are will never abandon us through all our earthly challenges.

As we turn over our lives to you, the gift of peacesettles in, and we strive to share that gift with others so personal peace can lead to worldly peace.

Be with us as we move closer to Jesus’ birth so that we may join with the shepherds, the wise men, and the host of angels in celebrating a birth that created a world, changed a world, and continues to change the world.        –Amen

Common Lectionary readings for Week 3

  • Zephaniah 3:14-20
  • Isaiah 12:2-6
  • Philippians 4:4-7
  • Luke 3:7-18

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What can Advent teach us? Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.


Sunday began the second week of advent and all the traditional trappings are present for the season.  Christmas carols fill the air, decorations are full of red and green, glitter, lights, and so much more.  No one can escape the trappings of the season.

Yet, in all the hubbub of the holiday season, the purpose of the season becomes buried.  That triggered a question:  What can Advent teach us?  

Four weeks on the Christian calendar are to prepare one for the birth of Jesus Christ—as known as the Messiah, the Savior, Emmanuel, Son of God. The story is old and has been told and retold for over 2,000 years—according to our calendar.

So, what can Advent 2018 teach us?

I have thought about that this week and realized that maybe, just maybe we work so hard to celebrate Christmas, we ignore the significance of the four weeks before Christmas Day.  

This pushed me to think about the typical labels used within The Church for each of the weeks:  hope, peace, joy, and love.  One theme for each week, and last week I talked a little about hope; therefore, this week—if I follow expectations—I should talk about peace.

But, maybe I need to review this and think about the whole four weeks a little broader.  Why hope, peace, joy and love?  What makes these four abstract nouns so essential to the entire story?  What do these four themes teach us?

Looking at the common lectionary, the themes are woven through readings from the Old and New Testament.  Remember that reading the Bible is reading literature that deals with all the reality of human existence—the strengths and the weaknesses, birth and death, health and illness.  

So what can Advent 2018 teach us?

The answer lies in the big picture—Christ in the center of our lives makes life manageable.  Even more: 

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NLT):  

This scripture has carried me through many rough days.  As I look at the lectionary readings, I am reminded how the scriptures simply repeat themes.

Last week I referenced “hope” as the theme, but I am seeing how hope is a foundational piece to Christian faith.  Of course hope would be the first theme of Advent because without hope one becomes distraught, disillusioned, lost.

Without hope, one becomes frozen into a life pattern that is without purpose or focus. If life is identified as a color, life without hope is grey.  And as tradition has it, that is not an Advent color.  (I know, silver and white are popular right now, but dull grey just does not light up one’s eyes for decorations in my opinion.)

So what can Advent 2018 teach us?  

Hope becomes a driving force in our lives.  We need hope to keep us living life to its fullest.  Living with hope places us in the position to do or act. We are turned loose to live.  

Now think about peace.  Some churches celebrate peace as the theme for the second week of Advent, but again it takes understanding what peace really is. 

Consider the definition, according to the Oxford On-line dictionary:

PEACE (mass noun)

1. Freedom from disturbance; tranquility.

     1.1 Mental or emotional calm.

2  A state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.

     2.1in singular A treaty agreeing peace between

           warring states.

     2.2 The state of being free from civil disorder.

     2.3 The state of being free from dissension.

With such emphasis on global news in our current culture, an outside observer might think the second definition is the most common use of the word; but Advent focuses on the first definition as a foundation for Christian living.

Consider this:  with hopewe are living with the expectations that trusting God will give us the strength to manage all the highs and lows our lives encounter.  Having that trust is the level of hope that leads us to peace.

Peacein the Christian context is not a political arrangement; it is tranquility—personal tranquility.  The lectionary’s gospel reading for this week is about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus:

     Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

–Luke 3:4-6 referencing Isaiah 40:3-5

The verses do not speak specifically to peace,but reading the Life Application Study Bible’s study notes adds a new perspective:

To “prepare the way” means clearing aside the baggage of the past and the doubts of the present in order to let the King come into your life.  He’ll take it from there.  

Consider the tranquility that one will experience if Advent truly “prepares the way” for a life that centers on God, the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  That tranquility is in deed PEACE.  

And yes, the color blue is tranquil, it is the clear blue skies of all four seasons.  It is the blue of the Eastern Bluebird another symbol of happiness.  

What does Advent teach us?  

  • Advent teaches us the very foundation of a faith-filled life with God.  
  • Advent teaches us hope.
  • Advent teaches us peace.

Christians take four weeks to “prepare the way” for the celebration of God’s arrival as the baby Jesus Christ.  One learns hope and one finds peace as Advent continues.

Dear Giving God,

We turn to scripture to read the story once again.

We practice all the traditions of Advent

     hoping to experience Christ with us.

We mark off the weeks of Advent 

      learning a new peace because you are with us.

We anticipate learning even more 

     from the ancient words shared in scripture

     and from those who teach us understanding.

Through the week we thank you

      for being present with us

     as we anticipate the joy of Christmas.  –Amen

Common Lectionary readings for week of Dec. 9, 2018

  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Luke 1:68-79

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Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.

VERB

Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Icy morning thoughts on the Tree of Life

IMG_2086Since we had to cancel church due to the thin, but dangerous ice coating, I am thinking about my message concerning the Tree of Life.  The more I read and study scripture, the more I realize the significance of the symbolism.

Today, we are confined due to the ice, but that does not confine our hearts and minds.  The Tree of Life symbolizes two concepts:  The Church that continues to carry Jesus’ teachings on through time and eternal life.

The Church is not the denomination, The Church is the work of the faithful who see all the ways to love one another.  We were watching the news and caught an add from Massachuettes Mutual Insurance.  The entire ad clearly documented all the good that is done all around this country when one loves one another.  It was so impressive.

Sadly, the message had to be funded by a corporation, but the message is worth every penny spent in making and airing it.  Thank you to Mass Mutual for doing so.  We need a reminder of all the good that does exist in our world.

In the stained glass window now installed at Leawood, KS’s Church of the Resurrection, the Tree of Life is surrounded by all the saints that continued carrying Jesus’ message of loving one another throughout history.  The Church is alive and it is something that we are quick to forget or to overlook.

The Tree of Life also has a second symbolic message–eternal life.  This is a sticky subject for many, but as I step outside into the natural world of the ice covered yard, the birds singing, the sun trying to peak out, and the breeze (even when it is only 16 degrees), I am renewed with the knowledge that even in the depth of winter, new life does exist.

Eternal life is no mystery for me.  Eternal life is a life cycle.  There is birth, earthly existence, death and then eternity.  I cannot look up to the night sky and see all the possibility of life beyond my human understanding.  I cannot accept that when this human form dies, the spirit dies.  I believe.

The Tree of Life stands firm in my life.  I look at the Celtic images and see the unending knot woven into their designs and I feel a sense of peace.  I study the Celtic Tree of Life and understand how complex and promising the life cycle that it represents.  And I thank God for getting to live this life and for the promise that remains.

Lent begins this week and I find it difficult to see these next few weeks filled with depressive thoughts and sorrow.  I anticipate the renewal of life as winter ends and spring begins.  Still, I suppose, we all need time to reevaluate our lives and consciously reflect on how we have lived and how we can improve.  Therefore, I will work to prepare sermons based the Old Testament families who struggled to remain faithful and whose life experiences provide us today with lessons on remaining faithful to God and following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.

Winter has its grip on us today with the coating of ice, but the mind never has to be frozen.  Use today to add to your own understanding of God’s messages.  Look closely at the Tree of Life in all its visual representations shared on the web, and find hope.

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