Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ponderings for the Last Week in Advent

Sunday – December 19 – Isaiah 42. 10. “Sing to the Lord a new song…” Strange, some of the great art and music have come out of the poorest of soils. In Isaiah 42 the nightmares of the people had come true. Assyria, wild and violent had dragged the best and brightest of their people off into exile. Those old, infirm and helpless were left at home in a broken land to fend for themselves. This was the setting of Isaiah 40-55—one of the great pieces of literature. It begins in a wasteland, far from home: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…” Could God take the stuff of your life and mine—the hard things we face—and put a song on our lips even in a strange land? Like Israel we all wonder. Yet Isaiah 43 reminds us: “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you.”

Leslie Weatherhead, the great English preacher of another era wrote: "I can only write down this simple testimony. Like all men, I love and prefer the sunny uplands of experience when health, happiness and success abound; but I have learned more about God, life and myself in the darkness of fear and failure than I have eve learned in the sunshine. There are such things as the treasure of darkness. The darkness, thank God passes, but when one learns in the darkness, one possesses forever.” Maybe the best songs really do come from the hardest of places.

Monday – December 20 – Psalm 61 . This Psalm is a prayer. It begins with a lament and ends with a thanksgiving. Maybe this hard Christmas for so many people really is a wilderness. Little money, homes foreclosed on by the thousands, desperate people looking for jobs—boys and girls in Afghanistan and Iraq and their families scared back home. And we turn to a prayer that has helped believers through the ages. What helps move us from despair to hope? A picture of God we find painted here. Look at the words the Psalmist uses for God: refuge, tower, tent, shelter of your wings.

And then we turn to today’s scripture passage in Isaiah 11. One shall come, the writer says and wonderful things are promised: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” Whatever your condition today—put down refuge, tower, tent, and the shelter of his wings next to them. The promise of Christmas is for us all.

Tuesday – December 21 – Psalm 66. “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.”Later on in this same Psalm the writer reminds his people: “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you brought us out to a spacious place.”

If that is not enough the Psalm ends: “But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” As we begin to glimpse Bethlehem just a few days from our journey’s end—let us know deep in our hearts that here, under the shining star, surrounded by scruffy shepherds and kings from a foreign land we find the Psalmist is right. He really has done awesome deeds among us. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday – December 22 – Luke 1. 26-38. The tom-tom beat of Luke 1 is one phrase: “Do not be afraid.” Old Zechariah, world-weary priest heard the words when the angel came. Mary, a little slip of a girl heard the same words. And Joseph wondering what in the world he had gotten himself into—heard the same promise in another book. Shepherds heard it on a hillside: “Do not be afeared.” And like a silver thread it runs throughout out the Bible: Do not be afraid. Jesus said it over and over.

John Updike who left us just about two years ago once wrote, “Fear is the mood. People are bringing the shutters down from the attics and putting them back on their windows. Fences are appearing where children used to stray freely from backyard to backyard…Locksmiths are working overtime. Once we parked our cards with the keys dangling from the dashboard, And a dog could sleep undisturbed in the middle of the street. No more. Fear reigns.”

From then until now the demon fear is alive and well. Christmas says whatever your worry and anxiety and fear—God comes. Do not be afeared.

Thursday – December 23 – Psalm 146. 7-9. Strange isn’t it? Christmas first came to peasants, a poor couple, an obscure priest and his wife, shepherds of all people. The setting was a drafty barn where the animals stayed when the nights were cold. And today—we rich and middle class have captured Christmas. And the poor, outside the plate (and stained) glass windows feel shut out. Luke 4 told us what this Messiah would do. He opened the Isaiah scroll and read what his charge: “To bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4. ,18-19) His hearers were incensed.

Fighting for the rights of the poor has always been an uphill battle. Especially today. Christmas baskets may help some. Toys for Tots can certainly assure some child of a happy Christmas day. Yet Christmas never really will be fulfilled until we move over on our pews and welcome those to whom God first came.

Friday – December 24 – Isaiah 35. Remember the setting. They lived always on the edge of a wilderness. For forty years they have lived in a desert. And then—even after they made it to the Promised Land they fought the desert almost every day of their lives. The wind, the scorpions, the oppressive heat and the lack of enough water. Drought was an every-present fear. And here, Isaiah 35 says, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” But all this is prelude for the rest of this wonderful chapter. Read it for yourself. Put down today’s newspaper beside these wonderful words of promise.

I love the way that Buechner frames this promise: “A child on Christmas Eve…lives for the presents that he will open the next day, and in this sense we all live like children. There are so many presents to be opened—tomorrow, next month, next year—and in a way it is our looking forward to the presents that keeps us going. The unexpected friendship, the new job, seeing our names in the paper, falling in love, the birth of a child—all of these are presents that life gives us if we want them badly enough and if we are lucky enough, and in a way every new days is a present to be opened just as today was and tomorrow will be.”The waiting is almost over. Tomorrow is the day. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Saturday – December 25 – I John 4. 7-16. The writer John reminds of something we already know. Love really did come down at Christmas. Dear Paul Scherer (my favorite preacher of another day) said, “On the night of nights—God came down the stairs of heaven with a child in his arms.”

Bill Cosby expressed this wonder and this love on television yeas ago. He was trying to help a woman about to have a baby. Bill was stranded with this woman and her other two children in a terrible rainstorm which had knocked out the telephone and the lights. The woman had had her other two children by natural childbirth so there wasn’t much to worry about—although you couldn’t tall bill that. His attempts to be helpful, when he actually almost helpless were ingenious. He offered to get boiling water. He tried to smile at the woman but it wasn’t very reassuring. He finally ended up with this magnificently helpless look on his face, swinging his arms in the air.
The mother survived, the baby came and Bill, thrilled by the wonder of it all, walked out in the rain and with a voice colored with man meanings, simply repeated in thanks and wonder, “A baby! A baby! A baby!” Christmas is the time when, amidst power failures and with rain in our faces, we affirm the miracle of God’s love present with us. “A baby! A baby! A baby!”

I can’t leave this day without leaving with you this wonderful love-poem that my young friend Maura Capps wrote:

“…Song of the Magi
when we came
we came through the cold
we came bearing gifts of gold
and frankincense and myrrh
and there were trumpets playing
there were angels looking down
on a west bank town
and so he loved the world!
Wore we then our warmest capes
wore we then our walking shoes
opened wide the city gates
and let us through
a child is born
born in Bethlehem
born in a cattle pen
a child is born on the killing floor
and still he no crying makes
still as the air is he
lying so prayerfully there
waiting for the war
welcome home, my child
your home is a checkpoint now
your home is a border town
welcome to the brawl
life ain’t fair, my child
put your hands in the air, my child
slowly now, single file, now
up against the wall
wear we now our warmest coats
wear we now our walking shoes
open wide the gates of hope
and let us through
when we came
we came through the cold
we came bearing gifts of gold
and frankincense and myrrh
and there were lions laying down
with the lambs in a west bank town
and he so loved the world!”

And so we come to this day of days. Christmas! May this be the day you find that love that first loved the world and loves us all.

1 comment:

  1. maura sang it beautifully but the words belong to anais mitchell, a really incredible singer/songwriter that you need to listen to and often.