Category Archives: Biblical Reflection

Without Darkness

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
[Isaiah 9:2-7]

Darkness. Deep darkness. Yoke of burden. Rod of oppressor. Boots of tramping warriors. Garments rolled in blood. These are not the words we want to hear on Christmas Eve. So often, they are edited out of this passage, so it jumps from a cursory acknowledgement of darkness becoming light to the wonder of a child given to us. We’d prefer it that way, I think. It is easier to avoid all that other stuff. We want to focus on the good stuff, especially on Christmas Eve.

And yet. How can we yearn for light if there is no darkness? How would we even know what light is? Even more, how can we know that we need a savior if we are not burdened, oppressed, trampled upon and bloodied. How would we even know what a savior is?

The key to the preparation we need during Advent is coming to grips with those things we wish were not a part of our living. We need four weeks to overcome our natural resistance to this task because it is something we would rather not do. Christmas Eve is an important time, perhaps the most important time to be in touch with these difficult realities. This, of course, does not mean that we do not experience hope, peace, love and joy throughout our lives. We do. And it is a great blessing. But that is only part of the story. There is darkness in the world. There is also darkness in our own spirits. If we don’t acknowledge that truth, we cannot truly appreciate our need for a savior. If we cannot acknowledge that truth, we can never truly experience that fullness of the wonder that comes to us on Christmas Day.

On this last day of Advent let us acknowledge the darkness in our living. When we are able to do that, we are at last ready to welcome the birth of the one who truly is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. When we are able to do that, we are ready to receive that Savior whose gracious, loving, redeeming presence with us we celebrate on Christmas Day.

Offered by Jeff Jones, pastor, author, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Four Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

ADVENT 2019

Readings: Luke1:46b-55; 2 Samuel 7:18, 23-29; Galatians 3:6-14

Ages reaching down to present.

All knowing seeking innocence.

Awaiting fulfillment of the Word,

generations to come and kingdoms

teeter on the brink of the response.

The complex mystery of the Alpha and the Omega

bending to purity and simplicity.

Combined breath of universe

and totality of holiness,

in stillness and silent reverence

listen for her answer……

and in a moment for all time,

in complete surrender to love,

She replies, “Yes……

Be it done to me according to Your Word.”

And we are forever changed….Peace has arrived.

Offered by Debbie Hill, artist, poet, musician, walking home to Bethlehem. 11/04/2019

[Four Rowhouses, (2018-2019) Colin Fredrickson, artist]

Jesus Saves

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 11:2-11

“She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1: 21 (The Message).

There was poor Joseph in a quandary. He had just discovered that his  young bride was pregnant and they were about to get married. He loved her so much that he went to work to quietly take care of things so she would not be disgraced. Still, though, what to do? Then THE dream. God’s angel cleared things up in no uncertain terms: “Get married, the child is from God’s spirit, name him Jesus.” This must have been a pretty convincing dream because Joseph followed these commands to a T.

 I’m told that Jesus was a rather common name for a boy in those days and in that region. But the name now takes on a special kind of meaning and eventually Christians grew to know Jesus as the one who saves us from our sins just as the angel told Joseph.

As a youth down in Tennessee, many of my Sunday nights at the old Broad Street Methodist Church were spent singing hymns out of the Cokesbury Hymnal and one of our favorites was Priscilla Owen’s classic gospel hymn “Jesus Saves”(she wrote the lyrics) which goes from a personal embracing of this message to one to which the nations and all of nature attest. The final verse proclaims:

Give the winds a mighty voice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Let the nations now rejoice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Shout salvation full and free, highest hills and deepest caves;

This our song of victory: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

On this last Sunday  of Advent, I also think of another song penned by Mark Lowry some one hundred years later:

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

May we all experience this new birth in ourselves during these Holy-days.

Offered by Bill Albritton, singer, teacher, traveler walking home to Bethlehem.

[Four Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

Restoration

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:23-29; John 3:31-36

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.  [Psalm 80:3, 7, 19, NRSV]

Restoration. As with a row house that’s seen too much neglect, restoration isn’t something that is self-generated. Someone needs to intervene, to put in the time and labor to mend what’s broken and refresh what’s faded. Not demolition followed by new construction, but a rescuing of what once was – restoration. Because what’s loved isn’t razed, even in decrepitude. What’s loved is brought back to life – restored.

God’s love for us must be infinite. Why else would God restore us rather than give up on us and start again? Why else would God come to us as one of our own?

Who Am I?

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:18-22; Galatians 4:1-7

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?  

[2 Samuel 7:18, NRSV]

Who am I? Why should you pay any attention to me and mine? What value did you see in me that prompted you to touch my life with such blessing?

I’ve asked these questions many times over the years, not because I expected an answer but because I needed to express my deep joy and grateful surprise. It’s a miracle to be alive; it’s a miracle to be loved, and to love. That this fragile, limited, holy life is mine to live -with all its joys and flaws – astounds me.

Thousands of years ago, half a world away, sitting before God, David must have felt the same. With all his flaws, he wasn’t so short-sighted that he lost sight of this among his accomplishments and acquisitions. That in itself is a miracle and a gift from God.

Perhaps that’s what Advent is about: giving us a time and place to ask these questions, and sight clear enough to recognize in Jesus the one to whom we address them.

[Three Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

House

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Galatians 3:23-29

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all of the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” [2 Samuel 7:1-7, NRSV]

Is it just human nature, this desire to project upon God what we ourselves value? Living in a lovely house of cedar beats tent living, so God must want a lovely house of cedar. In more modern terms: living in a gold filled, stained glass illuminated, marble columned sanctuary beats a single-wide trailer, so God must want one.

I don’t have a problem with ornate churches, with beautiful spaces set aside to worship God. Moving into such a space can foster my ability to appreciate God’s creation and to concentrate on seeking God and listening for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, God didn’t reject this impulse to provide a special place – after all, the temple was built just a few years later. But God’s question shouldn’t be lost on us, especially now when our houses of worship are at their most beautiful: Did I ever ask you for such a house?

I have grown in my faith because of the many beautiful sanctuaries that have provided me a place for praying, singing, preaching, and learning. But I don’t want to lose sight of an important truth:

God is pleased with these spaces not because God desires or requires them; God is pleased with these spaces because they are offerings of love made by beloved human hands. As any good parent knows, it isn’t the gift that counts: it’s the love a child put into it.

[Three Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

 

Don’t let the screen door hit you…

Readings: Psalm 42; Zechariah 8:1-17; Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”… When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the time?” Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood. [Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34, NRSV]

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Great advice for keeping track of off season clothes, Christmas decorations, and that apple slicer/peeler/corer used once a year for making applesauce. When things have a designated place, it’s much easier to find and use them. It makes life easier. Even if the organizing isn’t perfect, we resist changing it (even if the change is for the better), because changing the world we inhabit is uncomfortable. It isn’t such a big deal when we are dealing with material things: it’s a monumental deal when we are talking about people.

The Gadarenes were used to the two demoniacs blocking passage in a certain part of town; it might have been inconvenient, but everyone adjusted accordingly. Then Jesus throws everything out of whack by healing them – not something the townspeople expected or requested. The way is no longer blocked, but it cost everyone their comfortable routine. Everyone must face these questions: what happens now that the demoniacs aren’t taking up their usual place? What changes have to be made to help them find their new place in the community? This caused so much anxiety among the townspeople that they asked Jesus to leave rather than risk more changes to their predictable communal lives. In the end, they’d rather a few of their own live with demonic possession than disturb the comfortable routine of their communal life – a place for everyone, and everyone in their place, even if it’s killing them.

Jesus dwelling among us means things will change. We won’t be able to treat people like objects, consigning them to a particular place forever because it’s easier than accommodating the blessing of their release from the demons that tortured them. And we won’t be able to lie to ourselves, convincing ourselves that nothing can bring healing to our lives. When Jesus comes into our neighborhood, all kinds of things will change.

The big question: will we ask him to stay or show him the door?

[Three Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

Worldly

Readings: Psalm 42; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Jude 17-25

It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. [Jude 19-21, NRSV]

My friend Karen’s parents did their best to cause trouble between her and her brother, Chris. When Karen got a role in a school play, they asked Chris why he didn’t. When Chris got a summer job, they accused Karen of being lazy because she didn’t. The success of one was always the failure of the other. Karen and Chris were never allowed to be friends, to support each other and be happy in each other’s company. Even after their parents died, they didn’t become close: too much damage had been done.

I think that’s what Jude meant by worldly people: people who do their best to divide and diminish. He saw it as an indication that they were missing a connection with the Spirit; where there should be an abundance of love, there was a void. Perhaps sowing division is all that’s possible with a barren inner landscape. How else to explain parents pitting one child against another?

Until I read this passage, I hadn’t thought about Karen and Chris in years. Jude has given them back to me. In gratitude for this unexpected Advent gift, I’ll give them back to God in prayer.

Lord, bless them and keep them, bring them home to Bethlehem. Amen.

[Three Rowhouses, 2019-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

 

 

A Contemplation of Isaiah 29:18-20

Readings: Psalm 42; Isaiah 29:17-24; Acts 5:12-16

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be…

Isaiah 29: 18-20, NRSV

Our longing each Advent for Emmanuel to come and free us from captivity will be fulfilled. Isaiah tells us so over and over. But is it true? Gloom and darkness still persist. People still remain in desperate need of physical and spiritual sustenance. Tyrants still reign. Scoffers and benders of truth still push their lies.

The poet Robert Frost knew despair and the beckoning of a snowy woods, lovely and deep, where he could escape from what had become for him a never-ending darkest evening of the year. Frost’s solution wasn’t easy. It was the resolution to continue on with life because he had promises to keep. There is no fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies, of the promises the Holy One has given all generations, unless we keep the promises we make to each other, those promises we deeply need: love us, listen to us, lift us when we fall, forgive us when we fail.

Yes, the ancient promises are genuine. They are gifts. But no gift can unwrap itself. It takes resolution—and faith. We have miles to go before we sleep; but if we follow the Advent lights and journey together, we become the promise. And that’s cause for exultation.

Offered by Peter Trenouth, tai chi instructor, author, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy EveningRobert Frost’s Poems, New York: Washington Square Press, 1971, p. 194 (among other anthologies…]

[Three Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

Patience

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; Ps. 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of Lord is near. [James 5:7-8, NRSV]

Back in my Corporate days, I would sometimes interview 8-10 people in a day for various jobs we had available. A really ineffective question to avoid asking (I thought) during an interview was what is/are your weakness(es)? One interesting response before I stopped asking this question was “Kryptonite.” I mean, really. If a candidate were truly honest in response to that question you might want to question their judgement.

Whenever I was asked this question in an interview, my response was usually “patience.” I figured it showed that I was a real go-getter. Who wants a bunch of patient people in the rough-and-tumble world of competitive business? Our motto was: don’t wait for your ship to come in – swim out and get it!

The Jewish faithful were anxious for the Deliverer to deliver  the messiah/king who would restore the glory of Israel and its people to the days of King David. In today’s gospel,  even John the Baptizer sends an inquiry from his prison cell: are you that one, Jesus, or should we look for someone else? 

People were tired of being patient, and who could blame them? But it seems our Lord has a different timetable, and all our anxiety and impatience seem to have little effect on anything other than our own peace of mind.

Advent features opportunities to practice patience. It was amply rewarded back then, and it still is for us now.  May we use this time wisely to patiently prepare our hearts for his coming. Who knows what precious crop it may produce?

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Offered by Bill Albritton, student of the Word, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Rowhouses, 2018-2019, Colin Fredrickson, Artist]