Between water and fire

I have shared before how, at the age of 14, a word of prophecy was spoken over my life which left me a little skeptical, and a lot afraid:

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:

‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV)

Today, as I was reflecting on the foundation of my faith story as part of a six-week in-life retreat, I had an epiphany: that it has often been in the most difficult moments of my journey (the desolation) that I have grown the most in faith and humility and obedience.

The image above came into my mind of how God has held me through it all; for there have been fires and floods aplenty.

So … for those who – like the Wise Men that we remember today – are setting out on an adventure, answering God’s call, or just taking life’s journey step by small step with little or no certainty of how they are going to get through today, let alone tomorrow, a promise and a prayer:

God of Israel, God of Jacob,
God who creates, who names,
who forms, and transforms,
let me live this day in the space between
the blazing fire of Pentecost
and the cool waters of baptism.

When life’s flames threaten to burn,
and the floods to sweep me way,
keep me from fear –
for I live here:
safe in your hand.

Hold me in this place –
despite the discomfort:
here where the fire tests and purifies and refines me
but can do no harm;
here where the waters wash me clean and smooth out my rough edges
so that I rise reborn but never undone.

And may I live through all –
the light and the dark,
the joy and the sorrow,
the searching and the knowing,
the wrestling and the growing –
to proclaim Your faithfulness
to all generations,
Great God who never lets me go.

Day Eleven: Get Ready

Psalm 27
Malachi 2:10-31
Luke 1:5-17

The book of Malachi is the last in the Old Testament. Written after the return from exile, one might expect to find it full of the good news that the people of Israel have finally grasped the fullness of God’s love for them and are sticking with their covenantal promises!

But it’s the same old story …

… treacherous dealings by a corrupt priesthood,
intermarriage with unbelievers,
broken vows,
fragmented families,
God’s love for sinners wrongly interpreted
as permission to sin ….

You know whose story is not the same? Zechariah and Elizabeth’s. We read in the Gospel of Luke that he was an upstanding priest, an honourable man; that they both walked in truth and righteousness, according to God’s commands.

They were faithful – to God and to one another. Yet Elizabeth was barren.

In those days, her inability to bear children would have been interpreted as a curse from God, a judgement for some secret sin.

For years, she would have been a subject of gossip and speculation – as though the pain of being childless and the strain upon her marriage was not enough!

But, as God had done with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah before, an unexpected miracle occurred – the news of a son who would be a joy and delight to them and to many …

… bringing the people of Israel back to God, yet again;
softening hearts in the style and strength of Elijah;
kindling devotion and understanding, even among the sceptics;
getting the people ready for God
(Luke 1:16-17).

Well, Zechariah wasn’t ready for this news! As much as he had walked closely with God for all those years, he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe what he was hearing (read a bit beyond today’s text to the end of verse 20).

I wonder if the Israelites were ever truly ready. They were ready for liberation, ready for restoration, ready for land and blessing … but were they ready for the demands and obligations of a covenantal relationship with their Saviour?

Are we?!?

This season of Advent is the time in which we get ourselves ready for the coming of the Christ-child and the coming-again of the Christ-King.

That getting ready has very little to do with stocking a pantry or putting up a tree or working out what time Christmas lunch should be if we want to attend a church service first.

It’s all about keeping the promises we make. To God. To ourselves. To others.

And it’s about praying in faith over and over and over again for the places of barrenness and brokenness in our lives and in the lives of those we love.

It’s about making time for “lost causes” – through time gained not listening to or spreading gossip maybe?

It’s about believing in miracles and being God’s good news to someone who needs a little hope, a little help.

It’s about thinking beyond Christmas to what it means to live in an everlasting covenant with the Maker, the Saviour, the Sustainer of our lives.

Today, do something to help yourself or another get ready for the gift of Christ’s coming.