Day Twenty Four: The Morning After

Psalm 148
Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15
Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-60

It’s the morning after ….

For some that means headaches,
or hangovers,
or a house to clean up;
for others something entirely more dire
as we weigh up what happened last night
and what needs to come next
to get ourselves out of (the mess we have made)
or into (the life we have imagined and planned);
for others, still, it is just another day
in the ongoing and endless cycle
of work and rest,
of play and pray ….

Yet, with the rising of the sun on this new day,
we are reminded that the Light has dawned –
the Light of Life, the Lord of Love;

that just yesterday we received the Good News
of God-with-us:

a light-seed planted within us
that love may rise graciously to life –
both in us and through us.

Our readings this day may seem a little unexpected for the morning after the wonderful proclamation of
“Christ is born!”

Yet both give us clues for holding onto and living out that powerful message long after the Christmas decorations have been packed away and life has resumed its usual routine.

Through the prophet Jeremiah comes the warning that if we fail to listen to the words of the Servant who he has sent to us so urgently, our lives will become places of desolation and despair (Jeremiah 26:9).

He makes it clear to us that in order for the light-seed that we have been given through Christ’s coming to bloom and burst forth in the deepest places,
we need to:
change the way we’re living;
mend our deeds;
listen obediently to the Message of God
(Jeremiah 26:13).

I must point out that this message was preached in the court of the Lord’s house to all who had come to worship and not to the unbelievers!

For Stephen, full of Love-inspired grace and power, the message found expression in the miracles and wonders that he was able to perform among people desperate for a little love, a little light;
in a countenance as radiant as an angel’s;
in the imitation of God’s all-embracing love even at the moment of excruciating death as he beseeches God on behalf of those that he had just named a stiff-necked people – resistant to the Holy Spirit:

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” (Acts 8:60).

As we move towards a new year with its usual resolutions to lose weight, spend less,
spend more time with family, stop smoking, learn a new skill etc., today’s word is both encouragement and caution:

to consider carefully, prayerfully, that which truly needs to change in our lives; that, rather than relying on our will or self-discipline, we may move with the Spirit and grow with the Message that we have received –
a Message of affirmation
rather than criticism,
a Message of belonging
rather than the need to perform/conform,
a Message of joy in every moment rather than the vague pursuit of “happiness,”
a Message from God rather than the promotion of another personal brand ….

Where might the Spirit be moving you in the days that lie ahead,
that the light-seed planted in you may grow and bloom?

Day Twenty Two: Home

2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This year was a tumultuous one for my family and I as we sold the house that we had dreamed of, built, and lived in for fifteen years; packed a lifetime of memories into 52 boxes; and immigrated to an unfamiliar land with the hope and the promise that God would go ahead to prepare a place for us ….

In the midst of all the uncertainty and anxiety lay this grace: that we had a home to go to, a place of our own where we would be sheltered and safe while jobs, schools, church, furnishing etc. slowly fell into place.

Home. Our home. From the moment we inserted the key in the lock and opened up a welcome space, all of the unfamiliarities and inconveniences and heartaches suddenly seemed manageable.

Home.

King David had found one in the conquered city of Jerusalem. All settled in, he was suddenly conscious of the fact that while he enjoyed the comfort and protection of his cedar house, the Spirit of the Lord had been residing in a plain tent since the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in the land of Egypt.

Yet even as he ponders building a dignified sanctuary for the Lord, God declares:

“ I shall build you a house.
I who took you from leading sheep to leading my people,
who raised you from a humble shepherd to a conquering king;
I who have been with you and gone before
and granted you victory after victory over your enemies –
I will appoint a place for my people
and ensure that your family and your royal kingdom are permanently ensured”
(2 Samuel 7:11-16, paraphrased).

Home.

A home worthy for a king: the King of Creation, our Prince of Peace.

And so God sent the angel Gabriel to a small village called Nazareth, in Galilee, to a young virgin named Mary who was engaged to be married to a man from David’s line.

And Gabriel appeared to her and said:

“Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you,”
(Luke 1:28, The Message).

Mary was perplexed – and probably more than a little shaken – to receive such a greeting from this divine messenger.

As we may well be when we realise that God does not want to be housed in an ornate temple that we visit on sacred days or even relegated to the mysterious heights of heavens …

but God chooses to make God’s home with and within us.

God is with us:
settled into the ordinary and the everyday of our routines,
present  for our wonderings and our worryings,
sitting in on our questions and our conversations,
welcoming the visitors to our door
and walking with us through the neighbourhood …

… God is home

… we remember and we celebrate – particularly this night.

Light a candle or leave a light on this night as a symbol of welcome and invitation to God who longs to make home with you.

“I am with you”

But the Lord says, ‘Zerubbabel, be brave. Also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, be brave. And all you people who live in the land, be brave,’ says the Lord. ‘Work, because I am with you,’ says the Lord All-Powerful.
Haggai 2:4

Without God at the centre of our lives, we are merely going through the motions of being alive: nothing is good enough; nothing truly satisfies; nothing is of lasting significance.

Yet it seems to fly in the face of human reason and instinct to stop scratching for survival in order to first establish God’s place and trust that all else will unfold in place. There seems to be within us some unspoken yet commonly-held belief that we must work, and then God will reward and bless us; yet in springing into self-centred, self-determined action we deprive ourselves of the blessing of God’s presence in every choice, in every action.

Can it be that we are keeping ourselves in places of drought and scarcity by not comprehending fully the wealth and extravagance of God’s simple promise: “I am with you?”

“I am with you,” links us to thousands of generations of people brought through wilderness and barrenness, exile and slavery through God’s presence and activity so that we can know with certainty what God makes possible.

“I am with you,” gives us the courage to face all that the day may bring – despite our fears and hesitation – in the knowledge that when we are weak, God is strong.

“I am with you,” harnesses all of the power and creativity of God in our work, connecting us with vision and energy and purpose.

“I am with you,” invites us to a present experience of the future promise of the full glory of God’s reign and peace: heaven on earth, here and now.

May you know this day, the immense blessing of the Lord All-Powerful, the God of Angel Armies, with YOU.

 

 

 

 

Beyond Christmas

Over this season we celebrate not some distant, historical event, but the recurring truth through which we live each day with hope and courage:
God is with us!
In the midst of our joys and our triumphs:
God is with us!
In bread broken with family and friends, and stories shared of the good times – and the hard times that we have come through –
God is with us!
In the quiet longing of homes in which children do not play because of fertility issues or custody arrangements,
God is with us!
In boisterous celebrations centered more around booze and food and presents than Christ’s coming,
God is with us!
In disheartening table-talk about corruption and governance and the falling Rand and the unfallen rain,
God is with us!
In bushes and under overhangs where a table is an unaffordable luxury and the ground makes a welcome bed at the end of each day,
God is with us!
In the rising rays of sunlight that break the dark of night and begin a new morning with new possibility,
God is with us!
In the valley of the shadow of loss and death and inconsolable grief and utter aloneness,
God is with us!
 
This is the true gift of Christmas-time; a gift that endures beyond a single day!
In a tiny city, in a dim and grimy “stable,” a faithful girl and a devout man participated in God’s great plan to show us that we are never alone: that God is never far from our circumstances nor our cries.
May the preciousness of this great gift and the sense of God’s nearness be an abiding one – this day and every other day.