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Rise and Shine

Photo by Irm Brown

Photo by Irm Brown

It’s more than likely that our use of “rise and shine” for waking someone up in the morning derived from this biblical reference. The history of the phrase found even more traction in the military and apparently, it’s use is around the world, although the British tend to add, “wakey-wakey” to it.

Arise [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you—rise to a new life]! Shine (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! [Isaiah 60:1, AMP]

Let us return to the biblical reference however for it is quite rich in meaning. I am particularly struck by the elaborated Amplified version which gives us more information about the original Hebrew; specifically, arise from depression and difficult circumstances to a new day, a new life, a new opportunity.

We choose to arise, whether it’s from our beds or from a dreary despondency (I’m not speaking of clinical depression here). Even those who are deep in the mire of chemical dependency are often told they will hit rock bottom before looking up. It’s a small moment, this turning with “I will.”

Along with that first instant comes the next: a promise to shine; not with our own power or light but with God’s power and light. When a person surrenders to the Presence, then light rises within and fills the “temple” (body/soul) [I Corinthians 6:9]. And with this light, we can truly “see.” Another word for this encounter is revelation (understanding).

Wakey-wakey!

Whom Shall I Send?

who will goThe scripture designated for this seventh day of Advent is the entire chapter of Isaiah 6. It is not for the faint-hearted. For my purposes, I have selected the most well known:

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”
I said, “I’m here; send me.” [Isaiah 6:8, CEB]

It all sounds so romantic. God calling out to the people and asking for a volunteer. In our minds’ eye, we imagine our hands shooting up in wonderful abandon. “Me, me, send me!” Or not.

I remember the first time I heard a missionary from Africa (I forget which country now, it was so long ago) telling his tales of serving in some remote villages. He told stories of wonder and miracles, even the raising of a dead man. I listened in awe. And then he asked the audience, who would like to return with me? Who will go? Some part of me wanted to go. Nothing was really in my way except for funds. I was single at the time and only just left New York and I was living back in Indianapolis. And yet, I sat and wept. He came to me after the service. We both knew I was to go, but he would not encourage me or discourage me. He simply asked why I cried. And I confessed, I could not face the fear of the unknown and the death of all the rest of my dreams, sketchy though they were. I still mourn that decision in many ways for I know that was a fork in my road.

All of this is not to say that I am sorry for the life I have lived. And I know, as we all know, that there have been many more turning points and many more forks in the path.

But let us not fool ourselves. Sending and going are serious business.

In Isaiah’s case, even moreso, because he knew from the outset that none would hear the words nor believe him. The language, in English, is confusing as it sounds like God is commanding the people not to hear. But that is not quite the sense of the meaning. It’s the outcome that is described: the people will not listen, they will not understand, they will not see the signs. And yet, Isaiah, knowing this from the beginning, went anyway.

For us, success in the things of God is not the outcome but the intent. Our faithfulness is to the mission, not the achievements. Another mystery in a culture of ambition and striving, accumulating the most toys, having the biggest house, or filling our closets with shoes and our garages with cars.

If Jesus had that ethos and taught his disciples differently, who would ever go?

Jehovah Tsidkenu

Painting by Will RainierApparently, this is a verse the academics love to tear apart and put back together again. A quick Google search threw me into all kinds of didactic sermons and instruction. Even Wikipedia took me beyond my desire to pursue all the ins and outs of the genealogies and implications of Jesus as the branch and fulfillment of the promises of God. What is left then?

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. [Jeremiah 33:14-16, CEB]

Simplicity is my choice. If I had to melt it all down into one tidbit, then it would be this: Jehovah Tsidkenu, The Lord our Righteousness. And yes, the discussion could amble about the meanings of righteousness but in the end I am at peace with my understanding that God knows best and all is within the working out of what is best. I have a belief in ultimate good whose source is God. And so, if God loves humanity as I believe God does (for the Creator loves creation), then all will be well.

It’s hard to look at the details to see the big picture because we interpret those details using our own limited framework. If my mind’s architecture believes that the peace of Jerusalem or Judah or Israel should have been played out by now, then I will be disappointed in God’s apparent unfulfilled promise. If I am looking for proof positive that Jesus is really in David’s line, scholarship may break my conviction. And so I say again, Jehovah Tsidkenu.

When bad things happen to good people, there are no explanations that can do justice to the sorrow except for our faith in Jehovah Tsidkenu. People die, children are hurt, families struggle, evil manifests, the earth groans.

Jehovah Tsidkenu.

Sidekick

There’s not much glory in being the sidekick, particularly if the person is true to his/her mission.

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. [John 1:6-10, CEB]

It’s an interesting story, this tale of John the Baptist, who made such a huge splash (pun intended) in Judea, living on the fringe of society, prophesying endlessly, drawing colossal crowds, and calling on the people to ceremonially cleanse themselves in preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He was all fire and determination. But he was also a catalyst.

John did not ride with Jesus and yet he was one of the key disciples. John moved things along. He challenged the norm; he challenged Jesus himself. (See Matthew 14.) John instigated the situation with Herod and knew that condemning a leader’s actions would get him put into jail. He was no fool. But he also knew he had to step away from the limelight in order for Jesus to take the reins of that moment in history.

Up until then, Jesus was doing a lot of teaching along with a few miracles and he built his team of twelve and even sent them out to try their hands at ministry, but he hadn’t really inflamed the leadership. But after John was in prison and eventually beheaded, Jesus began manifesting a series of fantastic unexplainable miracles from feeding thousands of people to walking on water and even transcending our three-dimensional world on Mount Tabor during his “transfiguration.” He stepped up his game.

John was the sidekick who was willing to sacrifice everything for the mission of Jesus. John the Baptist had been in the limelight and turned that light toward his cousin Jesus.

In our modern world, people are not always as willing to step aside or step down for the sake of the friend or partner or colleague.

I complain so often that my young adult children still believe the world revolves them. But perhaps I am no better. Can I learn from John and say, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29b, NIV]

Turn your eyes and look with me this day.

Advent: Day five.

Understanding Light

Word, God, Life, and Light. From the beginning, and yet misunderstood.

Art by Jenn Bowers

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome [or understood] it. [John 1:1-5, NIV]

Of course, the key here is beginnings. None can seem to agree when it all began, whether you are a traditional biblicist, big bang theorist, or some conglomeration of the two. But if we can simply agree that there was a beginning, sometime, then it might be easier to agree that “something” was there at the beginning. At the least: light, a manifestation of energy (but I am no physicist, so please, excuse my simplicity). I just like these ideas swimming around in my head.

Light, the spark of life then.

Now, the difference between an old believer like me and someone else is that I have made that leap of faith to believe in an intelligence at the beginning as well, an order, a motivation, or an intent from which sprang Word (or identity). For it is Word that establishes boundaries or describes a thing and thereby, gives it a name.

Most translations of this verse imply that darkness (what is that? Is it like anti-matter or the absence of light?) cannot extinguish or overcome it, as though it’s a battle of some kind. But if darkness is not light, how can it begin to understand? But I wonder, is darkness dynamic at all? I don’t think so. I believe I may have given the idea of darkness too much power and ability.

And yet another implication or long-standing interpretation of this verse is that the Word is Jesus, the son of God, the physical reflection of God, the ideal human, the template for the rest of us, present in the beginning in a form unknowable or understandable from without because, quite honestly, of the darkness. But Light is strong and the Word is astute and Life came forth all the same and whether we understand it or not, every human has the Light, for we were created from it. What we have lacked over the centuries perhaps, is the Word, the identification of Light – Jesus.

This is the time of year when the sunlight grows shorter and shorter for those of us in the northern hemisphere, but soon, as the Earth continues is lopsided rotation, the days will grow longer again. This is the time of year that we see the change in light. It’s a symbolic representation for the coming of light.

Let’s celebrate the coming of Light, God, the Word, and Life.

Watch!

Photo by  Cliff Vestergaard

Often used as a metaphor for the unknown timing of the return of Christ, but for me something else stood out: not just watching but the work of everyone in the house.

Be on guard! Be alert [some manuscripts, alert and pray] ! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back . . . [Mark 13:33-35a, NIV]

While contemplating this verse, I was reminded of Nehemiah and the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem; when they became aware of the enemy’s intent to disrupt their efforts, “. . . only half of my workers continued in the construction, while the other half held the spears, shields, bows, and body armor” [Nehemiah 4:16, CEB]. In both cases, each person had a job and not always the same one. In Mark, each person had an “assigned task” while another stood by the door to keep watch. In Nehemiah, they divided the duties between working on the wall and watching for attack. Today is no different.

It takes a village, as they say, to raise a child and it takes the same cooperative efforts to build and sustain an organization, whether it’s the local church or a business. We must trust one another and share the burden of the work but we must also respect the differences.

 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.”  [I Corinthians 12:19-22, CEB].

But clearly, some are called to watch! Is it you?

What does it mean to watch in today’s world? We have no ramparts and few of us have mountain views or apartments on the 96th floor. But there is an element of alertness no matter where the watching takes place. And in this I think we have fallen short. We take for granted the normal and oftentimes monotonous repetition of our daily lives. We stop looking. How many guys shave off their beards and people look at them and barely notice? How many women cut their hair and we know they look different somehow, but how? There is a theater game I used to play with my students in which they would pair off and one would look at the other one for about 10 seconds and then I would have them turn around back to back and describe what the other person is wearing. The results are pretty telling. (You can try this at the dinner table without warning.)

We are not alert about the world around us much less the deeper things manifesting around us through the workings of that other realm (We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12)

Too often, we depend on our pastors to do most of the watching but I think that’s unwise and unrealistic. Perhaps they are watching over the whole, but we must be watching in the smaller areas; we must watch for and with each other.

What are we looking for? Anomalies and brutalities, lies and deception, darkness and camouflage, pretense and counterfeits. The list is endless.

What do we do after we see these things? Identify and then pray. Oh, are you surprised? Did you think we would draw our swords and run into the fray. Not yet. Because we must be united first. All of our eyes must be opened. Evil is not vanquished in a day.

Take a Breath

Advent : Day Two

Image by RHADS

Art by RHADS

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. [I Corinthians 1:4-7, NIV]

I imagine what it would be like to have someone send me this message. There is so much promise in these worlds: the promise of someone praying on my behalf, the promise of God’s presence, the promise of God’s grace, the promise of God’s gifts, and the promise of a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. I am comforted and encouraged.

So often, I see myself sucked into a habit of self-condemnation and perfectionism. I feel inadequate and unable to accomplish anything. I am overwhelmed by the daily demands of my life, much less trying to add outreach and ministry to others. And in the midst of this comes the holidays and all those questions about trees and decorations and shopping. Even the church itself has its pressures to serve and plan. Julian of Norwich

If I could just hold on to this prayer for me. For you.

For this reason, I believe Julian of Norwich wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”  It’s the grace. Everything will work out. As a friend of mine has always said: worry don’t work.

And so, for this day, I will take a breath and do what I can. I have everything I need to accomplish what is needed today. And God has tomorrow.

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