Food for the Road 16: heaven and earth

Picture it. 

The setting is a field near Bethlehem. It is a summer’s night; a good time to be out in the open after the day’s scorching heat. Shepherds are tending their sheep; this is their workplace – away from the hustle and bustle of city life and city conveniences. Jesus has just been born in a stable not far away.

Suddenly, they are flooded with light, an angel announces Jesus’ birth, and then – then an incredible thing happens: a great choir of angels appears, singing praise to God in heaven and peace to us on earth.

The Saviour has born in the town of Bethlehem – the Messiah, the Lord. He is the crocus in the desert, the water in the wilderness, the way of Holiness through which God’s people can enter into Zion with everlasting joy on their lips as sorrow and sighing flee away (see Isaiah 35). 

And the response is a greeting that spans the the entire range of creation from the angels’ song in heaven to the shepherds’ welcome on earth as the highest and the lowliest join in the wonder and welcome of Jesus born for us.

In this time of drought and devastating fire,
of deep dissatisfaction with politicians and climate-change deniers,
of unprecedented levels of domestic violence and depression
it is highly significant that the prayer that Jesus will one day teach his followers to pray – on earth as it is in heaven – is made manifest in this moment of his birth, out on the periphery, among the am ha-aretz:
the people of the land – for they are the ones who know most deeply the fragility of life and the hard work required to survive, let alone flourish in the dry places ….

May our thoughts today express all the melodies and harmonies of heaven as we ask for the open hand of God to bless the land and all the creatures on it.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:14

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.

In overwhelming waters

Isaiah 43:1-2 But now this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and 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.”

Here lies who I am –

the measure of my worth.

I am precious, honoured,

beloved in the eyes of God.

God created me for God’s glory.

God formed me and made me.

God redeemed me.

God called me by name.

I belong to God.

Though the darkness presses heavily upon me

and the chaos threatens to overwhelm me;

though my feet are so often knocked out from under me

and I feel like I am losing my way;

though, at times, I can barely keep my head above water;

though I am battered and broken,

bruised, burned, and sometimes burned out …

nothing can separate me from the love of God.

I belong to God.

Oh loving God, in my belonging may I find strength.

In my belonging, may I live out your love.

In my belonging, may I know no fear.

In my belonging, may my life overflow with generosity, compassion, and joy.

In my belonging, may I step through the fires and through the waves

for I am never alone.

I belong to you.

Amen.