Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Is Like You?

Who can be a God like You?  You forgive iniquity and pass over the transgression of your remaining heritage? You retain no anger forever, because you delight in mercy and loving-kindness.  You will again have compassion on us; You will subdue and tread underfoot our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  -- Micah 7:18-19 (self paraphrased)
While the Prophet Micah lived a very long time before Christ (about 700 years before), and Micah was sharing God's encouraging word to a people decimated by the Assyrians and Babylonians, This Prophetic Word became flesh, dwelt among us, and brought to us the same true message 2700 years later.  This is an example of the longsuffering nature of God, as well as the long-enduring veracity of scripture teaching us to remain on track.

God has worked for thousands of years to get across the message that grace-filled saving is job #1.  God early on worked directly with humanity to "cast all our sins into the depths of the sea," to not hold an enduring grudge against the many ways we can find to err against God.  But this was not enough.  Then God closed the distance and sought us out in human form preaching the same message, demonstrating the same commitment, and lifting all humanity for healing and purification of our souls.

Look ahead into the New Year and beyond.  See there the continued leading of lovingkindness and feel the lure of transforming peace, security, and gentle shepherd-leading.  Who could be a God like this?  Adopt a new resolution of appreciation for this longsuffering God and be determined to follow in the steps of all the saints and martyrs who have gone before.  Each day of following, each day filled with the prayer: "Lord, have mercy on me," is another day embraced in the everlasting arms.

Sustain my faith, embolden my journey with you O God of the ages.  Embrace me as you have embraced all my ancestors and direct my feet into the life eternal.  Through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where is the Promise?

Scoffers say, "Where is the promise of Christ's coming?  For from the time our ancestors fell asleep all things remain thus from [the] beginning of [the] creation."
But let not this one thing be hidden from you, beloved, that one day with God [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
God does not delay the promise, as some think of delay, but is longsuffering towards you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  -- II Peter 3: 4, 8-9 (Darby, modified)
So, no small surprise: the Mayans' calendar had no catastrophic power over the entire earth.  No magical properties, no special influence - just a human-designed marking of time for their time and their culture.  Humans continue to strive to make themselves - their projects, their work, their goals, their opinions - matter more than any, even God's.  We have survived yet another hyped-up phony apocalypse.

We stand on the brink of observing another year of the birth of the Christ Child.  Scoffers and cynics say, "You Christians do this ritualistic observance every year.  Where is the promise of Christ's coming again?  When are you going to stop with this annual charade?  Why do you bother?"  The shortest possible response is because God is longsuffering towards us; God wants us to get it right and to BE right.  Secular society, merchants, and economists continue the clarion call to pull us into a rank materialism where we buy everything that we do not really need on some quest to find meaning, togetherness, and happiness.  The lie showing itself after Christmas when the wrapping is torn off and all the bells and whistles silent from the planned obsolescence built into the goods that you will  again next year have to race to the mall to get all over again.  Is THIS annual ritual any more fulfilling than the real reason we observe Christmas, any more fulfilling than the Hope of Christ's return?  The difference between God's Promise and a mall's Christmas promise is huge. 

God's New Covenant sealed through the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ promises eternal salvation, eternal peace, and eternal rest.  It is so important to God that all people receive this gift that God chooses to tarry awhile in longsuffering with human arrogance and ignorance so all can be embraced.  Another Christmas is here.  We have another Christmas to celebrate all the people who have come to a new understanding of the peace and healing Christ means for their lives.  We have another Christmas to long for the fruition of the Promise delivered by God's Promised One, Jesus Christ.  We have another Christmas to hope in The Everlasting Hope, the Everlasting Promise of Emmanuel, God With Us.  Do not be suckered into the false hype of shallow materialism, phony apocalypses, or avoiding fear of anything.  Jesus Christ is born!  Do not be afraid.  Hope!

Promised One, we surrender our fears, our misconceptions, our ignorance to You and ask that this Christmas Your Hope will fill us with the assurance and courage needed to walk another year, if that is what it takes, until all can be brought to You.  In Christ's precious name.  Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mary, Mother of God

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. -- Luke 2:6-7 (KJV)
Protestants have a short attention span for the "theotokos" doctrine.  Theotokos is the Greek title used for Jesus' mother, Mary.  It literally means God-bearer in Eastern/Greek Orthodoxy and Mother of God in Roman Catholicism/Anglicanism.  Mary is a powerful piece of the Jesus story.  The meaning of Christmas would be massively impaired without her faithfulness, her ability to adjust to a radical life departure, and her responsiveness to a new direction for her life that came flying in out of far left field.  How many of us would be able to get our heads around an angel appearing to us, let alone step away from our life plans and actually pursue the direction an angel handed us?  Most of us today confronted with such an event might instead conjure up the belief we were going schizophrenic and seek out medical help for the "hallucinations and voices."  Instead of  that Mary willingly became "God-bearer."  She bore the child, delivered the baby in the simplest unsupported means possible, wrapped the precious bundle in swaddling clothes and spent all the rest of her days supporting our Savior.  Like a million mothers out there Mary deserves respect for all the untold silent grieves she bore.

Yet, I do not think it is the borne grief of motherhood that makes Mary noteworthy, or that gives her the title Theotokos.  It is far more her receptivity and response to a faith event that she embraced almost without a thought, without a worry.  She wrapped the new baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and held Him safely to herself in the same way that I envision her often doing for me.  Life can be very hard -- painfully hard, and prayers and faith can go dry and feel empty.  "Is anyone out there listening?" we can wonder.  Our prayers sometimes look for an inn where they will be heard.  There are many times when no inn is found for them.  Yet, in a manger, in a stable/cave, in unlikely deserted corners Theotokos gathers up our "made in the image of God," and bears us, swaddles us, holds us safely and warmly to herself while we struggle with the sad silences and sharp emptiness.  Mary keeps us bound tightly, nursing us along until the thawing of our desolation.  That thawing DOES come because it is a promise from our Most High.

This Christmas remember Theotokos, Mary - God-bearer, Mother of God as she too awaits her deliverance from the curves life and faith throws.


Master of the Inn, hear our prayer.  In your great mercy accept our gratitude for Mary - her witness, her faithfulness, her courage, her presence with us even today.  Help her to hold us in safe places while You are working out the unseen details of our difficulties.  In Christ's name.  Amen.   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Holy Faith

But ye, beloved, build up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.  Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  -- Jude 1:20-21 (KJV)
Advent continues to unfold and time continues to march forward.  The time of awaiting and preparing takes on a sad and somber tone when news of mall shootings, wars, fatal car accidents and terminal illnesses whisk people out of this life in cruel unexpected ways during this season.  We talk about hopeful expectation during Advent, only to have hope assaulted by the plague of sadness and loss.  Hope in the throes of loss is true hope, true holy faith.

A suffering God - suffering under the weight of observing a world dominated by misery, violence, sin, and loss - put aside the mantle of Holy Transcendent Otherness and entered into a human connection.  God, who had stood outside of creation, comes down to earth to become part of the very humanity that had until this moment only been a spectator sport.  Emmanuel, God with us, is born into a living, breathing body capable of pain, hunger, sorrow, joy, pleasure, frustration... God came to know first hand what we all know: life is at times very hard and painful.  With God's coming new mercies, a new depth of prayer's meaning, an expanded new love, and a more vital holy faith were born.

Build yourselves up in this season of hopeful expectation through a reliance on the Holy Spirit who prays, with the God who loves, and in the mercy Jesus Christ offers.

Holy God, lead us into ever deepening hope and faith in you.  May this season infuse us with the sense of your presence, the light of your assurance, and the promise of our eternal life.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stand by Me

I love thee, O Jehovah, my strength. Jehovah is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge; My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower.  --Psalms 18:1-2 (ASV)

Winters in the Pacific Northwest bring surges of heavy rain and strong winds.  The ocean off the Washington coast gets storm tossed with high waves that crash in with a force that brings awareness of the power God has placed into nature.  Only the large rocks on the beach stand firm against the pounding waves.  I think of these rocks when I read: My God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge...

God gives us a fortress to hide within when the storms of life rage.  We can pull ourselves into a quiet place and hide ourselves safely held with an anchor and rock from whatever besets itself on us.  But more than just passive protection, God takes an active part in defending us with a shield and calling help for us with the horn of salvation.

When we find ourselves in the throes of anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed take time to cling to our stalwart God and hang tough trusting the help we need is coming.

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.  When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.  Amen.  (Hymn by Charles Albert Tindley, "Stand by Me")