Family Christmas 2013

Fam Christmas 2013Family Christmas for the Peterson-Fouquet-Hokama family arrived at the end of Advent this year. Every year we celebrate Christmas together as a family some weekend prior to Christmas. We started this tradition when I was still in church ministry. Christmas Eve is THE biggest church event of the year and I was obviously not available. My sister is a nurse and often was scheduled to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All of us with families had multiple commitments, so gathering at an off-time allowed all of us, for the most part, to be together.

Saint Sam and I hosted Family Christmas this year. I planned to continue writing and posting my Advent blog posts real-time, as opposed to writing and scheduling them to publish. After all, our faith and spiritual practices are lived out through regular life. Well, I was able to write and publish a post the first day everyone was here. Now they are all gone and here I am, alone with my computer and my thoughts. It is Christmas Eve.

It was truly an awesome blessing hosting Family Christmas. We have loved being closer geographically to my family this year. Since my youngest son Luke and his family were staying with us, my parents stayed with my sister. My parents have stayed with us so many times this past year, they now have their own chores. As I tell anyone who stays at Chateau Fouquet, you get treated as a newcomer the first time you come and stay. After that, nos casa y tu casa (Our house is your house. I need to learn the French version!)

It is impossible to capture all the precious moments so I will just share a few that I’m thinking about right now.

Details matter because they are part of the magical moments. When everyone was here for Thanksgiving, our three granddaughters left little surprises for us to be discovered after they left. We found they placed flowers where my brother died outside. They also hid flowers in the Christmas tree. Angels were placed at each of their favorite places throughout our house. Anticipating their arrival, I choose each of their favorite angels and placed them on special doilies in their room. That was the very first thing they noticed when they put their things in their room. Seeing the delight, surprise, and wonder in their eyes was priceless.

Sparkle magnifies everything. We don’t go overboard with gifts. The adults draw names for one other adult. Most of the gifts under the tree are for the kids, but we still don’t go overboard. My mission is to make each package I wrap a gift of anticipation itself. A beautifully wrapped gift, no matter what it’s price tag, means it is given with love and chosen carefully. Sparkly tulle and a hand-crafted bow are my secret.

Family traditions are treasured. My grandmother would always make cinnamon rolls, fudge, and divinity for Christmas. You can imagine what a treat that was for us when we were children! Since my son’s family and I are all gluten and lactose- free I tackle the gluten-free cinnamon rolls and my Mom makes the regular cinnamon rolls. After making them for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t sure I would be up to it for Christmas. My oldest granddaughter, age 8, must have intuited my thoughts because she asked if there would be lots of cinnamon rolls when they came for Family Christmas. That’s when you know it’s a tradition. Besides, cinnamon is good for your bones!

Trust your meat thermometer. Traditionally we have prime rib for our Family Christmas dinner. We are a family of carnivores, but not everyone likes their meat rare like me. My roasting pan barely fit in my vintage 1967 avocado green oven. Two MIT educated men help calculate the exact and necessary roasting time. But, when a thermometer check was performed an hour before the calculated completion time, it indicated the roast had reached its ideal internal temperature. A great discussion took place as I took it out as to whether we should trust the time or the thermometer. I made an executive chef decision to trust my tools. It was beyond perfect. Yum-yum!

It’s never too early to wake up in the morning. Especially when three precious little girls are climbing into bed with you. Their father told them they have to wait until 7:00 to come in. They listen for the clock chimes to strike 7:00, but what can it hurt to peek in a little earlier on their way back from the bathroom? They are so excited we are already awake because then it’s okay for them to come in before 7:00. Those moments being all snuggled together are some of the most important conversations of the day.

The Christmas story is our story. My son and his family may not attend church or follow any prescribed doctrinal tradition, but that doesn’t mean pieces of what he was introduced to in his upbringing are missing. They do not have a traditional nativity scene in their home, so our nativity set is a novelty. They love playing with it, weaving tidbits of the traditional Christmas story with their own stories. Isn’t that what God intended when God entered into the human experience? To become a part of our story and invite us becoming a part of God’s story?

The birth of a baby. From nowheresville Nazareth. A refugee in an occupied country. Born to a mother who was pregnant before she was married. A simple carpenter agreed to help raise him, later to become apprenticed as a carpenter himself. A family who struggled to understand him and his purpose. Loved and reviled because he didn’t meet people’s expectations. Friend to the oppressed and marginalized. God with us.

Aliya, age 3, put everyone to bed for the night.
Aliya, age 3, put everyone to bed for the night.

December 22 ~ God with Us

Advent 4Advent is a time of waiting and wondering – this God with us. We are at the point in Advent when we are looking back and looking forward at the same time. Matthew tells the story surrounding Mary’s pregnancy and the difficulties presented in her relationship with her fiancé, Joseph. It is in a dream that both revelation and resolution come.

Dreams are often discounted, ignored or forgotten in our culture. But in our Advent Scripture passage, and elsewhere in Matthew’s narrative, dreams are often a basic source of revelation from God about matters of great import. Somehow, when our active minds are stilled, the fragments of anxious thoughts and feelings and what we have learned of God all come together in a compelling harmony that offers a living word from the living God.

This God is with us – the One who speaks to us by whatever means available to show us the next step. This God is with us – the One who invites a respectable man to receive a child not his and the child’s pregnant mother as his spouse. This God is with us – the One who chose to become vulnerable to the decision of a man thus placed in a difficult predicament. This God is with us – One who trusted Joseph to choose love and life over honor.

Advent Scripture

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. ~ Matthew 1:18-25

Advent Action

There is a practice in Yoga, and a variety of stress therapies, of tightening every muscle in your body for 30 seconds to a minute, and then quickly releasing the tension. The Advent Action will be a variation of this practice:

Stand; take a deep breath and tighten all of your muscles. As you are tightening, become aware of everything that is tightening in around you and all that you want to do about it. Then, as you release the tightening, commit all of those things and you bodies to God.

Advent Prayer

In the closing days of Advent, may I be ever more aware of You being this God who is with me. You are this God who trusts me and makes Yourself vulnerable to me, trusting me with choices that are love and honor for myself and those I love around me. Amen.


December 21 ~ Nativity Scene or Reality?

Advent 3I stood in front of the nativity scene and realized there was nothing realistic at all about the scene. The figures had alabaster white complexions. Mary and Jesus had blond hair and blue eyes! Everyone has a beatific smile as if they haven’t a care in the world. Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus are all in royal blue robes which are what nobility would wear. I guess it’s called a nativity scene because nativity reality would be too much for people to bear.

A young girl, pregnant by another than the one she is engaged to. Traveling 70 miles to register in their ancestral towns for a census required by the occupying Romans at the end of her pregnancy. Then, having to give birth without her mother or even family women there to help. Birth is messy by itself, but a first birth, not at home or even in a decent dwelling? Not a beatific moment.

Joseph has signed on to stick with Mary, but only because he too had a visitor. He must have been confused and angry finding himself now stuck in these circumstance, but to have to help with the birth definitely not knowing what to do? Not how he expected to start his married life.

Lives of real people are not picturesque or sanitized. They aren’t plays or pictures. They are the daily, hourly, moments of real-ness … of hope and fear, beauty and filth, belonging and alienated. The reality of the nativity is that God chose to enter into our experience – with all that comes with it. God never leaves us alone or abandoned, even as we wait.

Real people in real circumstances with a real God. That’s nativity reality.

December 20 ~ Sanitized Christmas

Advent 3There is nothing sanitized about Christmas. At least not in the Christmas story I know.

My [non-religious] sister came over for dinner last night. She is my most faithful blog follower and usually reposts most of what I write. She calls my Advent series the Adventure and was telling one of her friends that “we’re getting to the good stuff.” I bust out laughing! Even our outlaw family drama has nothing on Mary’s reality drama!

My sister is right: we are getting to the good stuff. And it’s not Thomas Kincade lit cottages and coziness. It’s not Away in the Manager sweetness either. It’s certainly not Silent Night “all is calm.” Nope. It’s not the sanitized, saintly version we celebrate with peace, comfort, and belonging. Instead, it’s a story of fear, pain, and alienation. That is the good stuff God knows something about.

Advent Scripture

I’ve decided to mix it up a bit with Amy Grant’s classic Breath of Heaven. The pictures throughout the song are from the movie The Nativity.

Advent Action

It may be hard to find a nativity scene, but someone in your neighborhood must have a plastic replica in their yard! Your Advent Adventure Action is to visit the nativity scene. I’d love to hear your thoughts or experience. I’ll share mine tomorrow.

Advent Prayer

Breath of heaven, hold me together.
Breath of heaven, help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.


December 19 ~ The Double Standard: Pregnant Mary and a Pregnant Modern Girl

Advent 3The double standard is alive and well during the Christmas season. I just returned from my first shopping venture in a shopping mall in many, many years. It still is not a pleasant experience. What made it even more unpleasant was overhearing a conversation between two Christian women. I think they didn’t get the memo about God mixing everything up in the birth of Jesus. If their judgmental conversation was any indication of the status of their hearts, they are missing out on the joy and good will toward all that usually softens most hearts.

Apparently, a prominent church family’s teenage daughter is pregnant. If that wasn’t bad enough for them, they are even more appalled that she is considering an abortion. Now, “she is going to be a murderer on top of being a girl with no moral compass whatsoever. And what does that say about her family? Should her father really be in a position of leadership in the church?”

I wanted to throw up.

Advent Scripture

More than thousand years ago, another teenage girl found herself pregnant.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. ~ Luke 1:26-38

Advent Action

Double standard is defined as “a rule or principle that is unfairly applied in different ways to different people or groups.” We know double standards exist everywhere. God, however, doesn’t have double standards and has been working through humanity for over two thousand years to eradicate the double standard.

Pregnant, unwed Mary is key to the Christmas story. What about this modern-day teenage girl who was the subject of gossip? What about her?

Advent Prayer

Sometimes I forget that the Christmas story is rooted in the real lives of real people. God inserted God’s self into the nitty gritty of their lives. I know I’m supposed to want God in the nitty gritty of my life, but do I? Help my ponder that in my heart. Amen.

December 18 ~ What to Do About Pregnant Mary

Advent 3I’ve been thinking about Mary this week. Actually, I’ve been thinking about girls who are in Mary’s position, but haven’t had the good fortune of being visited by the angel Gabriel. And I’ve been thinking of the wisdom and insight of Mary in what is known as Mary’s Song of Praise.

Let’s just consider her wisdom and insight today.

Advent Scripture

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” ~ Luke 1:44-55

This is Mary’s response to the deeply moving encounters she’s had with the angel Gabriel and her cousin Elizabeth. (Here is the whole context.) Her powerful poetry isn’t simply religious, although she does draw upon a personal faith. It also has not-so-subtle social and political overtones. It speaks about a great reversal, almost like a social, economic, and political revolution.

Mary’s neighbors and country-people knew exactly to what she was referring. The Jewish people were oppressed and living under the occupation of the Roman Empire. To speak of a King who will demote the powerful and rich and elevate the poor and humble meant only one thing: God was readying and moving toward setting them free!

Advent Action

It’s hard to imagine a young woman – a girl really, since Mary was probably about 14 years old! – speaking with such wisdom and insight. But to get the full impact of of Mary’s situation, her words, and the context in which Jesus came to be born, we must immerse ourselves into her historical and cultural context. What do you imagine it to be? What would Mary’s experience translate to today?

Advent Prayer

I am humbled and amazed when I think of Mary’s courage and fortitude in the midst of her difficult circumstances. May I too be open and receptive to the bigger picture when presented with things I don’t understand. Amen.

December 17 ~ The Season of Advent is also the Season of The Nutcracker

Nutcracker Keana 2013The Nutcracker ballet is synonymous with the holiday season. Nutcracker performances start about the time Advent begins and end about the time Advent ends. Probably the only reason Santa doesn’t have more competition from the Nutcracker is because it is a ballet (smile).

Our oldest granddaughter recently danced in her first Nutcracker. She is relatively new to ballet, so to audition and receive even a small part, was momentous. It was an enormous undertaking for her parents with rehearsals, costumes, makeup, and performances on top of an already busy family life. Her sisters are already looking forward to when they are old enough to audition.

The Nutcracker is like a rite of passage for girls in ballet. It’s often the first and only serious ballet they will ever perform. Most girls take ballet classes for a few years before moving on to other activities or having to drop out because of the financial commitments. It’s expensive enough for one child, much less multiple children in a household.

Keana has blazed the trail for her two younger sisters. I’m sure we have many, many years of The Nutcracker ahead of us, along with the wonder of anticipating their roles and experiences.

Advent Scripture

Advent is a sort of rite of passage too. Auditions and rehearsals prepare the dancers for their performances and our spiritual preparation and reflection prepare us for Christmas. We may know the story of Christmas and have our own traditions we do every year, but it is making opportunities to reflect and ponder what the coming of the Christ Child means to us that makes it truly meaningful.

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.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God. ~ Isaiah 35:1-2

Advent Action

Expectantly waiting for the coming of Christ in your life may not be as exciting as anticipating the Sugar Plum Fairy, but we we can at least relate to the anticipation the beauty of blooms and blossoms after a drought and birdsong after a long , cold winter.

What are you anticipating, from the deep wells of your being, this coming Christmas season?

Advent Prayer

As I get more and more caught up in the traditions of the holiday season, may I also take time to reflect, wonder, and enjoy the little gifts presented in this Advent season. Amen.


December 16 ~ The Unexpected

Advent 3Jesus didn’t follow John the Baptizer’s plan for ministry success. He didn’t even subscribe to the same mission statement as the other religious leaders. John told his followers the axe was lying at the root, ready to chop down the unworthy trees. He had promised the chaff would burn with unquenchable fire. But Jesus didn’t seem to be pointing the finger of judgment. There was no smoldering woodpile of sinners.

This must have meant more than mild disappointment for John. He was sitting in prison because he had dared to stand up and challenge King Herod for Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law. If Jesus were looking for some chaff to burn, he could start by lighting a match to King Herod, and get John out of prison.

Like John, each of us has our own expectations of the kind of Messiah we want. We don’t want a Jesus that does something unexpected. Some may want a fire-and-brimstone Jesus who points out where everyone else is wrong. Some want an advocate Jesus who will champion our favorite cause and demonstrate God is on our side of the issue. Maybe we want the gentle shepherd Jesus who will not demand anything of us, only assuring us the we are loved no matter what.

Advent Scripture

Sooner or later our expectations of Jesus will collide with the reports of what he is doing either in Scripture or in the world through his followers. And it will be unexpected, like this:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. ~ Matthew 11:28-30.

Advent Action

Because we’re surprised by the unexpected, could it be that you’ve counted on your own version of what to expect? Like those who have made Jesus into an idol of their own making?

Advent Prayer

There is so much freedom in letting go of the expected. Wonder is allowed to percolate up when we let go of the outcome. Awe happens when we experience the unexpected. May that happen to me. Amen.

December 15 ~ Not What Was Expected

Advent 3Have you ever invested yourself in something, only to find out it wasn’t what you expected? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? I remember the first time I saw Plymouth Rock, the famous Plymouth Rock of pilgrim fame. I was expecting a huge landmark-type rock jutting up out of the Atlantic that the Mayflower would anchor near. I was not expecting a small boulder – if you could even call it that -smaller than some rocks we have in our yard!

Our Advent Scripture harkens back to our old-on-the-fringe-of-society friend, John the Baptizer. At this point in his life, he is languishing in prison, and has been since the shortly after Jesus began his public ministry. It seems no one likes to be called an incestuous adulterer, especially the ruler Herod, so he put John in prison.

John has lots of time to think about his life and he’s been hearing a lot about his cousin, Jesus. In fact, he’s beginning to wonder if he missed it about Jesus. He was waiting for the Messiah and had even preached all about him. John was expecting someone who was going to be to a little more kingly, a political ruler setting people free from oppression and all that. Instead, he’s his cousin Jesus socializing as one of Jerusalem’s most popular dinner guests, healing people and talking about the poor and meek being blessed.

Since he can’t go ask Jesus directly about all this, he sends his disciples.

Advent Scripture

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ~ Matthew 11:2-11.

Advent Action

Our focus for this third week of Advent will be all about our expectations and God’s answers to those expectations. The answer Jesus gives to John’s disciples is almost a non-answer. He asks the disciples of John to look around them and see what’s happening—blind people seeing, lame people walking, deaf people hearing, lepers being cleansed, dead people being raised, poor people getting good news for a change. Tell John what’s happening, he says. Let what’s happening be the answer. Not the answer John was expecting, I’m sure.

What is your expectation for God’s role in your life or our world?

Advent Prayer

As I look around and see what’s happening, help me be open to being used by God in God’s answer to the questions being asked. Amen.


December 14 ~ What Does Tragedy Change?

two candlesLast year on December 14, my family was wrapped up in the memorial service for my brother, himself a victim of gun violence. Family from Oregon had arrived the day before. My youngest son and his family came in from Fresno. My parents had arrived the day they learned their son was gone. Sam and I arrived earlier in the week from Texas. We were all navigating the unchartered territory of grief and disbelief.

It was the next day before I even heard about what happened a continent away in a Connecticut elementary school. A tragedy occurred that no one should ever have to face. Lives forever changed by tragedy; citizens shocked that gun violence would once again claim the lives of children and teachers. An occurrence that, as unbelievable as it was, was becoming much too familiar.

While families and friends were frozen in shock, lawmakers immediately vowed to make the changes necessary to make our schools and neighborhoods safe. A year and over 35,000 gun deaths later, they have failed. In fact, more gun restrictions were loosened than tightened!

Advent Scripture

It was into this kind of darkness and because of this kind of darkness that God stepped into human history in the birth of Christ; to shine a new light and light a new path. In the meantime, we wait and listen and turn to God.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
    when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent forever,
    find refuge under the shelter of your wings. ~ Psalm 61:1-4

Advent Action

Guns are a public health issue like wearing a seatbelt and not driving when you’ve been drinking or text while driving. Keeping this relevant to commemorate lives lost because of gun violence: Do you really need a gun? If your answer is ‘Yes’, you must write out your response, including why, and post it on your refrigerator in order for it to count as your Advent Action.

Advent Prayer

While I wait in this season of Advent, help me to look into my heart’s recesses for motive and intention in the things I choose to do. May we be motivated to truly change our ways as a way of redeeming tragedy. Amen.

December 13 ~ O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

two candlesO Come, O Come, Emmanuel is Advent’s most famous hymn. Even us low-Protestants know it (smile), which cannot be said of most Advent hymns. It’s low, haunting tune resonates. The words woven from the rich texts of the Old Testament telling the story of “God with us”.

The words to this compelling hymn were penned by some anonymous monk during the Dark Ages. Civilization was despairing, sliding further and further into chaos, ignorance, pestilence, and warfare. The Dark Ages were the bleakest of wildernesses, resembling more a circle of hell than a wilderness.

The Bible was not accessible to most people in the Dark Ages. The monk who composed this song must have had a full and rich knowledge of Scripture.  The song is built on phrases from Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah. For those living in Medieval Europe who did not read or have access to any Bible, this song was a teaching tool, expressing the hope, truth, and fulfillment of prophecies in the birth of Christ.

Advent Scripture

Here are is the English translation to this hymn with biblical references:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
(This first verse appears to be based on Psalm 137 where the people of Judah are lamenting their captivity in babylon.)

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
shall come to thee o Israel!
(The text is based on the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel, God with us. Also referenced in Matthew 1:23.)

O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain.
(The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. ~ Isaiah 11:2.)

O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe. Refrain.
(From Exodus 19:16-20 when Moses brings the Israelites to meet God at Mt. Sinai and God summons Moses to meet on the mountain.)

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain.
(Another reference from Isaiah 11: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”)

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh. Refrain.
(“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” ~ from Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7)

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Refrain.
(From Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after the death of Moses, Numbers 24:17).

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace. Refrain.

Who knew that words penned before 800 A.D. would stretch across the ages and speak to the hearts of those in the 21st century?

Advent Action

Advent Prayer

O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.

December 12 ~ The Righteousness Wilderness

two candlesWhen exactly did the righteousness war on Christmas begin? You know. When the righteous declared you were censoring Christmas if you said “Happy Holidays” and bemoaned that traditional Christmas carols were deleted from the mall Musak.

Righteousness has nothing to do with saying “Merry Christmas”, putting up a nativity scene in the town square, or singing carols anywhere. Righteousness, however, does have a lot to do with right behavior.

Advent Scripture

As Isaiah continues his vision of the peaceful – and righteous – kingdom on earth:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins. ~ Isaiah 11:4-5

Advent Action

Is this righteousness?

Supporting overspending and mass consumption messaged by the spend, spend, spend culture? (Americans will spend more than $450 billion on Christmas.)

Creating Hallmark moments instead of a hallmark lifestyle. (Searching for sentiment versus a distinctive life of excellence.)

Equating love with the price of the gift. (He loves me. He loves me not.)

Dropping off a bag of canned goods for the Food Pantry with no thought to the hungry the rest of the year. (The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in eight worldwide were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012.)

Worrying about finding the best bargain when millions worldwide are without clean water, medicine, or are homeless. (There are 22,000 homeless children in New York City alone.)

Buying cheap products without concern about the person who made it, their working conditions, their pay, or even their age. (An estimated 211 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working around the world, including the United States. 120 million are working full-time to support their families.)

Advent Prayer

Before I point the righteousness finger at someone else, help me to first look into my own heart. Amen.

December 11 ~ Detours in the Wilderness

two candlesDetours. That long or roundabout route to avoid something OR to visit somewhere along the way. Most of the time we see detours as a nuisance, a road closed for someone else’s convenience – like the pothole fillers. Sometimes detours are our own because we don’t know where we’re going and our GPS routes us according to its software. And then are the detours we choose because we want to see or visit something specifically. Those are the spontaneous detours that usually delight and surprise us. And we’re glad we took them.

I like to think of Advent as a delightful detour to Christmas. It’s a time to listen; a time to enjoy the scenery. It’s a time to pay attention to the guideposts along the way and look for something new as you wander through the wilderness. There is beauty, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to be found even in the most desolate of places.

Advent Scripture

Isaiah painted a picture of a peaceful kingdom when the people would return to their homeland from their detour of exile, and God would dwell among them.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear; ~ Isaiah 11:1-3

Advent Action

The rest of that Isaiah passage mentions wolves, leopards, lions, bears, asps. Oh my! A reminder that there are dangers in the wilderness. As one Eternal Scheme reader reminded me, the holidays are full of landmines. And indeed they are.

How can you make your Advent a delightful detour that is full of wonder and opportunities to listen?

Advent Prayer

I know You are here with me on this detour I am taking. While wandering, may I discover more of who I am, where I am going, who I am with, and what I must do. Thank you for the wonders along the detour. Amen.


December 10 ~ Justice Not Only Up to God

two candlesJustice is a big reason God broke into human history in the person of Jesus. It wasn’t the first time God called on a person to do something to accomplish God’s purposes. God used Moses to lead the people of Israel out of bondage and exile and through the wilderness detour into the Promised Land. God later used Jesus to raise up a movement to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. But here we are, still in the wilderness.

Just as the Israelites couldn’t blame God for wandering in the wilderness for forty years, we cannot blame God for our own wilderness experience. We are still wandering in the wilderness because we have failed to do our part of justice. Certainly not a message we want to hear during the festive holiday season!

Justice is based on a fair-minded, equitable system for all members of the community. Justice does not guarantee equal outcomes, but it does promise equal opportunity, that everyone deserves the opportunity to walk out the wilderness, not because they were born into a wealth or privilege, but because of their effort in pursuing the opportunities available.

The opportunities available in just the United States are in peril when:

  • Productivity goes up 90-percent but the average income increases only 8-percent in the past 35 years.
  • The top 10-percent take home half of our income. CEOs earn 273 times more than the average worker.
  • A family in the top 1-percent has a net worth 288 times the average family.
  • 1 in 6 Americans experience food insecurity, meaning they miss a meal because there is not enough food.
  • A general overview of household income in the U.S.

Justice is access to a way out of poverty: affordable housing, quality education, healthcare, and food. A child born into the top 20-percent has a 2 in 3 chance of staying near the top. A child born in the lower 20-percent has a 1 in 20 chance of making it to the top and is 10 times more likely to remain in the bottom 20-percent … and it’s not because they are lazy, are having more children, abuse drugs and alcohol more, and want to stay on welfare.

Advent Scripture

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor. ~ Psalm 72:1-4

Advent Action

Celebrating Advent is to remind us of the glowing vision of God’s righteousness and justice, and to inspire us to join it here and now. God, through Jesus, began a new way of relating to the world. God’s justice and righteousness call for all of our relationships to change. God isn’t calling us to be like John the Baptizer, but does challenge us each individually to consider what our role might be. Well?

Advent Prayer

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to consider justice and even more confusing to know who to listen to or what to do. When that happens, may I be reminded of the simple Golden Rule; treat others the way I want to be treated. Forgive me when my response to human suffering is making sure it happens to someone else somewhere else. Amen.

December 9 ~ Hope in Exile

two candlesExile is nothing new. All throughout history, and certainly today in most of the war-torn areas in Africa and the Middle East, people have been forced into exile or have fled for safety, finding themselves exiled from their native countries. I think of exile as the ultimate wilderness experience. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to be uprooted from everything familiar and thrust into a completely foreign country or refugee camp with barely enough to survive.

During the exile, God’s exiled people longed for freedom. The psalms from their sacred scriptures began to take on new meaning as they looked forward to a coming ruler from the line of King David who would usher in an eternal kingdom and perfect peace. That hope was fulfilled in Jesus and that’s why the earliest followers went back on these scriptures time and again.

Advent Scripture

The entire Psalm 72 can be read here. My favorite section from this Psalm is:

For [God] delivers the needy when they call,
    the poor and those who have no helper.
[God] has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence [God] redeems their life;
    and precious is their blood in [God’s] sight. ~ Psalm 72:12-14

While exile may not be avoided or may be beyond someone’s control, this passage is designed to give hope to those in exile; they are not abandoned and not forgotten by God.

Advent Action

While most of us will never experience true exile, from time to time we do find ourselves in a wilderness of sorts. How have you kept hope when in the wilderness?

Advent Prayer

Just as You heard the cries of one in the wilderness centuries ago, may You still hear my small cries when I am in my own wilderness. May I know Your presence is with me. Amen.

December 8 ~ Oh No! Not the Wilderness!

two candlesComfort, warfare, iniquity, wilderness, prepare. That’s how Handel’s oratorio Messiah begins. It’s Messiah season and a good time to reacquaint yourself with the words of this beloved masterpiece. The oratorio covers the purpose of the Messiah from beginning to end, starting with the wilderness.

Now who is the most famous ancient, wilderness dude you can think of? You got it: John the Baptizer. John is all about wilderness. He lived in the wilderness. He subsisted on a wilderness diet. He wore wilderness clothes that made the thrift store clothing look like haute couture. He was the original fire-and-brimstone preacher, taking over where the Old Testament prophets left off. Makes you wonder why anyone in their right mind would listen to him, but they did!

Advent Scripture

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” ~ Matthew 3:1-6, 11

The only good thing about being in the wilderness is the exodus out of the wilderness! That’s our theme for this week. Think of it as a nice diversion from all those wacky holiday songs about the reindeer running over grandma.

Advent Action

Pull out your favorite recording of the Messiah, or you can listen here. Fear not. The part that relates to today’s post is in the beginning, right after the overture.

Advent Prayer

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart! ~ Charles Wesley, 1744.

December 7 ~ Discovering Advent by Jasper Bunny

Jasper and CordsDiscovery is like an epiphany. (I now know it’s Advent and Epiphany comes in January.) I have been a very busy bunny discovering all sorts of things! I discovered new places in my bunny territory. I discovered that I’m creative. And I discovered Advent.

You can probably tell by the picture the new place and creativity I discovered. Everyone had gone to bed. My kitty siblings get to sleep upstairs in a cozy bed with flannel sheets with our human Mama. I, on the other hand, have to stay in the same old downstairs. Most of the time I don’t mind too much because they all sleep and nighttime is my most creative time. It’s actually kinda nice not having all those other beasts around.

I was starting to get complacent. That is never a good sign for anyone, bunny or human, so I decided to explore the outer edges of my confinement. I’d been practicing moving things around and testing my strength with my house and litter box. I was able to move my fence and discovered a whole corner of the room I hadn’t explored!

Oh my! A bunny’s delight! Cords!! Lots of cords! Not only were there lots of cords, there was a virgin territory of carpet I hadn’t explored. I was is bunny paradise! I got busy because my Mama gets up at 4:30 to go save lives as a nurse at the hospital and I had an idea she would make me leave my new playground. (How do we know these things?!?)

Luckily for all of us, it’s Advent. We are not a formal, religious household and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in this house who didn’t know about Advent. My Mama says she leaves all that up to her sister.

 Advent Scripture

Then, oh then, a tiny shoot cultivated and nurtured by the Eternal will emerge new and green, promising beauty and glory. And it will be a resting place, protected from the heat of the day, a place of shelter and retreat amid storms and rain. ~ Isaiah 4:2, 6

Anyway, I’m discovering that Advent gives us hope and allows us to begin again in a new way. I also discovered there is a God (Yes. I did not get made into a rabbit glove for my misdeeds.) and God fulfills God’s promise of constant presence, provision, and protection. I experienced God’s protection first-hand because I didn’t get fried when I chewed on all those cords. My Mama says it’s because they were unplugged, but that could have been God’s presence, provision and protection; my discovery, expressing my creativity as a creature of God, the unplugged cords, and living to see another day!

Advent Action

This Advent stuff is new to me, but it has got me to thinking. How do you see God’s presence, provision, and protection in your own life?

Action Prayer

Thank you, God, that I can discover new things about myself and You every day. Amen.

December 6 ~ One Year Anniversary

Dec2Today is the one year anniversary when we learned my brother, Vic,  had taken his own life. It’s been a rough year. Death is inevitable. Grief is necessary. Time tempers the pain. Deep reflection heals. Everything changes.

The coroner told my sister, Janet, when he arrived at my brother’s house that Vic most likely died on December 2. Janet, Sam and I had our own little memorial this December 2. We wanted to honor him and acknowledge the sacred place he chose. We burned some sage, scattered a few of his ashes, and shared some quiet thoughts under the stars. Janet and I were surprised that we remained dry-eyed! It hasn’t always been like that this past year. And then we laughed as we recalled some of our adult escapades, which is exactly what we’d be doing if Vic was physically present.

Grief is an interesting phenomena. The trauma of loss is so great that our psyche shuts down, something like going into shock – like the physical body does when traumatized – to give it time to absorb the impact and reality of death. It’s like realizing you’ve been holding your breath.

For me, Advent is like that. You’re settled in your seat. You’ve looked over the program. The concertmaster comes on stage signalling the musicians to tune to his violin. Then the conductor comes on stage to applause. Everything quiets as she turns to the orchestra and raises her baton. And then you realize you’ve been holding your breath. Advent is the name of that moment.

Advent Scripture

There’s a wonderful phrase tucked into only a few places in the Bible.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent [God’s] Son, born of a woman.
~ Galatians 4:4

I believe there’s a fullness of time moment for each of us. One thing I’ve come to understand through the passage of this last year is that my brother had his own sense of his fullness of time. I don’t need to, or may not understand it. I don’t need to, or may not be able to make sense of why. It’s not even my place to make judgements or excuses or apologies. The fullness of his time had come.

Advent Action

We are never prepared for unexpected, horrifying, accidental, or much-too-soon death. Even when someone has had a long, full life, we’re not ready to let them go from us. And there are no shortcuts through grief. When going through your first anniversary of a loved one’s death, when do you realize you’ve been holding your breath?

Advent Prayer

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears. ~ Psalm 39:4-4, 12


I’ve been holding my breath for one year. It’s time to breathe again.

December 5 ~ Pennies for Heaven

I was in Home Goods looking for a roasting pan for my 20-pound turkey. Since I hate to shop, I am very focused on getting what’s on my list and out of the store as quickly as possible. Surprisingly for the week before Thanksgiving, it wasn’t very busy in the store. Not long after I started my hunt, the Christmas music was interrupted by, “Thank you to the angel at register 4 for her very generous donation of $5. We have the best friends who are going to make a real difference for Kiley at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.” Well, I thought, it is the season for giving. I guess everyone is getting in on the action and I went back to hunting for a roasting pan.

Advent Scripture

[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” ~ Luke 21:1-4 

While the religious elite were keeping tabs on who was giving what, Jesus’ ears perked up to the tink, tink of the two pennies the little old lady dropped into the donation box. The cockles of Jesus’ heart was warmed by the sacrifice of love and her hope that her tiny gift would make a difference to someone with greater need.

Sacrifice isn’t something we like to talk about even if we’ve been sacrificing because of tough economic times. Many of us have already been counting our pennies for things like food and heat and fuel. We’d love to be able to be generous again, able to donate to our favorite charities who are facing tougher challenges because of the struggling economy and so many un-or underemployed. And when we do give, it feels like our small pittance isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever.

Times are tough. If you are trying to figure out how you’re going to manage this season, you’re not alone. If you’re trying to find the balance between giving and surviving, you’re not alone. If you are trying to scrape together your pennies to share hope and joy with others, you are not alone. God sees what you are doing in secret and will multiply your sacrifice with the sacrifice of others for greater blessing and love.

In the 20 minutes I was in Home Goods, lots of angels donated $5 or less because the last amount I heard when I was at the register was $1,000.

Advent Action

Your Advent adventure for today is to scout out or act on an opportunity to give. You might only have two pennies, but shared together with all the other pennies in the Salvation Army ringer’s bucket, you know you are making a difference to others in greater need. Oh, and if you think about it, let me know how it goes!

Advent Prayer

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by my need and the needs of others. I wonder how any sacrifice I make will make any real difference in my life, much less the lives of others. Help me to be thankful for what I do have and may I be open to being a blessing to others. Amen.

December 4 ~ Death, Resurrection and Advent

We usually decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. The family gathered at our house for Thanksgiving and our granddaughters were so excited that we were putting up our tree. They’d never seen our tree or ornaments or decorations.

Of course, we didn’t get everything decorated. After they went to bed, I unpacked my various nativity sets and set them up. The next morning when they got up they discovered the figures of Mary holding baby Jesus, Joseph, the shepherds and their animals, angels, and the three wise men and camel. They were amazed.

The wonder of three little girls – ages 3, 6, and 8 – was like Christmas for me! They had questions and their own stories about the people. The connection clicked between the nativity set representing the Christmas story and the Advent calendar revealing little snippets of the same story.

We collected the angel figures I had throughout the house to add to the nativity scene. That sparked a conversation about death. Of course, my brother who died about this time last year was often in our conversation throughout Thanksgiving, and the girls wanted to know where he died, and about the angels, and Jesus, and death, and life after death.

Advent seems like an odd time to talk about death and resurrection, but then part of the mystery of God is how it all comes together in its own purposeful way.

Advent Scripture

Jesus said to them, “Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. Now [God] is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to [God] all of them are alive.” ~ Luke 20:36, 38 

A group of religious leaders who did not believe in resurrection came to test Jesus. They wanted to pick apart the “hows” of the resurrection in their desire to know and control. I love his answer which is our Advent Scripture above. God is God of the living, and all are alive. His answer was more than the religious leaders could or wanted to get their heads around! The whole passage is here and I encourage you to check it out to get the context.

That is so like God! Invite the questions, listen to the intent, and then frame the answer as a clue to peek still further into the mystery.

That’s why children are so wondrous. There is so much they’re discovering and learning, and making connections between what they’re discovering and learning. We learned that about Keana who was 7 years-old when she shared at my brother’s service. We saw that over Thanksgiving weekend when she and her 6 year-old sister, Maia, asked where my brother died, and then later found flowers from the yard and placed them in the spot where my sister found my brother. I saw that in their play with the nativity set and angels. Their Christmas story included birth and resurrection and a new life in heaven.

I think they got it right.

Advent Action

What new insight about Advent or Christmas is swirling around inside you?

Advent Prayer

Help me enjoy the wonder in waiting. Help me see the clues discovered on my path. Help me peek further into the mystery that is life. Amen.

December 3 ~ Swords into Plowshares

I think of Advent as an in-between time. Advent is in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Doctrinally it’s the time in-between the first coming and the second coming of the Messiah. Advent symbolizes the time in-between the Kingdom of God being at hand and preparing for the Kingdom of God. The Church sure can make something intended to be simple very complicated without much effort!

The prophet Isaiah had a vision that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.” In other words, since there is no longer a need for swords, iron smiths would refashion swords into plows. Spears would be remade into pruning hooks.

And why not? Why couldn’t instruments of war be destroyed and remade into tools for agriculture? Why couldn’t military installations be used to solved the world’s housing crisis? Why couldn’t military bases be turned into summer and science camps for children? Nuclear fission projects that were accelerated for World War II weapons needs have been repurposed for civilian use in generating electricity and medical radiopharmaceuticals.

Advent Scripture

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more. ~ Isaiah 2:4

Advent isn’t just the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas or us marking time until we can open gifts under the Christmas tree. It’s the time of waiting and preparing for the kingdom of God on earth. It’s a time of wondering and pondering how the truths of Christ coming and coming again, of being here in our midst are lived out practically in a world torn with division and poverty and war.

Advent Action

We all have tendencies toward violence and retaliation in our relationships – some more overt than others. How can you break that cycle of violence and retaliation and turn it into peace and reconciliation in your relationships?

What are some creative ways nations could turn their swords into plowshares?

Advent Prayer

Gracious and loving God, I confess that my own self-interests often clouds my perception and views toward others who are different from me in thought, word, and deed. Help me to welcome the Prince of Peace into my life so that I might be reshaped more and more by Your kingdom. Amen.

December 2 ~ Sharing the Gospel of Ourselves

I was a student at UCLA in the mid and latter part of the 1970s. Campus Crusade for Christ members were rabid in their efforts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I could spot them a mile away and would anxiously look about to hide from them! They didn’t think my salvation was secure even though I was leading a Bible study in the dorms. It was offensive.

No one hears the Good News of the Gospel, or anything for that matter, when you’re assaulted with dogma and barraged with shoulds, oughts, and have tos. The wonderful message of grace, forgiveness and restoration seems forced and inauthentic when they come from a deeply wounded, overcritical, and bitter soul. There is so much more to communicating and sharing the Gospel than getting the facts right.

The Gospel is a story that’s intended to be lived out. It’s a narrative that is meant to be embodied in our attitudes, our behavior, and our involvement in the lives of others. It’s incarnational.

After the death of Jesus, a devout, highly educated, politically-inspired Jewish man named Saul encountered the Good News while traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians. It was such a dramatic encounter that he changed his name to Paul and began sharing how the Gospel changed him. Besides visiting places where Christians gathered, he wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to churches. Many of those letters are part of the New Testament.

Advent Scripture

In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica – the modern city of Thessaloniki is the second most important city of Greece – Paul wrote this:

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:8 

As Paul reminds the Thessalonians, the Gospel is more than a story to be told. It’s good news to be embodied. When God was ready to share Good News with us God didn’t simply write an e-mail or tell a story. Instead, God sent Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The power of the Gospel is God sharing God’s life with us.

Advent Action

The power of the Gospel in our own lives is us sharing our lives with others. How will you embody the Gospel in your life this season? How will you tell the Christmas story of God sharing God’s life with you?

Advent Prayer

Part of the wonder of the Gospel is that it meets me exactly where I am. I do not have to have it figured out or even completely understand all that it means in my life. Help me to hear Your Good News for me with an open heart. Amen

December 1 ~ Walk with Me

I’m usually a little behind when it comes to media crazes. I didn’t start watching The West Wing until the show had run its course. A serial political drama with complex, interesting characters was right up my alley. One of the things President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, would say when he wanted to talk privately with one of his staffers was, “Walk with me.”

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and our Scripture passage is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a Hebrew prophet who lived in the Kingdom of Judah during the 8th century B.C.E. During the time of Isaiah, prophets were recognized as astute observers of the events of the time. They spoke what they understood God’s message to be for the people and expectations God had, especially the actions, from the people. Prophets did not hold back and often the message was harsh and not well received. After all, who wants their less-than-compassionate behaviors and actions to be revealed!

Advent Scripture

Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

~ Isaiah 1:10-20

Most of us will read that passage and think that it is harsh; that Isaiah was alienating his audience right out the gate! But what God is really saying through to Isaiah is, “Walk with me. Let’s walk and talk. Let’s work this out.”

Advent is a time of waiting for God to show up and wondering what God is going to do. But it’s not just waiting and wondering on our side about what God is going to do. God is waiting and wondering too. God is waiting on us and wondering what we’re going to do.

Now that’s something to get our heads around: God waiting for us. God wondering about us.

That’s exactly what this passage is about. God is telling Israel that God has had enough of sacrifices and burnt offerings. The rituals they practiced and festivals they celebrated had become an empty burden to God. What God wanted from them was their faithfulness, their devotion and love. God was waiting for them, in their faithfulness, to reach out to the oppressed, defend orphans and care for widows. In other words, God wanted Israel to look beyond themselves and see a hurting world that needed their help.

Advent Action

Maybe it’s time to take up God on that request; let’s walk and talk. How are you waiting for God to show up in your life? What are your wonderings about what God is doing in the world? Likewise, God is waiting for you to show up to be a presence in the world around you – maybe your home or school, or work. Maybe God is wondering what you’re going to do. What is your answer?

Advent Prayer

During this time of year, especially in this season before Christmas, it is easy to get caught up in things that are good, but still miss the things that are important. Help me to be faithful to You, myself, and others around me. May I be ever mindful that You continue to seek those who are lost, using even me to bring Your love to those around me. Amen.