Day Eighteen: Where Loyalty May Lead Us

Psalm 125
Malachi 3:16-4:6
Mark 9:9-13

Our readings from Malachi and Mark today both make mention again of the prophet Elijah:

  1. Malachi, in preparing the people for the Day of Judgement in which all evil will be destroyed while the faithful enjoy the warm sunshine of God’s deliverance,  refers to a powerful prophet (Elijah) who will come to call future generations to love and respect one another in accordance with the laws and decrees given to the nation of Israel by Moses so many years ago;
  2. while Jesus, in coming down the mountain from a miraculous moment of affirmation and transfiguration, explains to his bewildered disciples that John the Baptist had already done Elijah’s job of heralding the Messiah … and suffered for it –
    “But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him,” (Mark 9:13).

Elijah …

… on the one hand, a powerful prophet who defied kings and foreign gods, who walked closely with God, and who was taken up into heaven …

… on the other hand, a man always on the run, reliant on God’s divine provision for water and for food in a prolonged time of scarcity and struggle; discouraged, exhausted, wanting to die ….

John the Baptist: the messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord in the spirit and the strength of Elijah (Luke 1:17), promised to be a blessing to his parents and a source of joy to many; arrested, imprisoned, beheaded for speaking truth and holding on to what was right (Matthew 14:10) ….

There are definite benefits to having our names recorded on Malachi’s scroll of remembrance as one of God’s faithful followers:
eternal life with God,
victory over sin and death,
God’s protection and provision,
the Holy Spirit as our constant companion,
true and lasting transformation – from the inside out,
a sense of purpose and significance etc.

But the choice of a Christian life and a lasting legacy is not without cost!

Just ask the bearers of the good news like Elijah and John, or the martyrs of the early church; or reflect for a moment on the piercing question that Jesus asks,

“Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” Mark 9:12

To share in the exaltation of Christ is to share in his suffering;
to share in his resurrection is to willingly enter into the place of death and emerge as a new creation;
to share in his message of all-embracing love is to open ourselves up to the probability of mockery, rejection, and persecution.

Today’s response is based on a poem by Herbert Brokering and Scott Noon about a people who were longing to be new and in tune with their souls so, at least once a year, they would lie down on the ground, curled up and small, and picture themselves returning to the centre of all that is God’s.

As we enter the song of the Spirit, we are challenged to do so knowing that the life we will lead will not always be an easy one; that we are, in fact, opening ourselves up to the possibility of brokenness and pain, as Christ did for our sake.

Today, I invite you to curl up on the floor in a little ball, to lie quite still, and then – as you offer to God your worries, your objections, your doubts, your questions, your surrender, your prayers for protection and guidance – to allow God to “unfurl” you into the promise and power of rebirth, of new life.       

Day Eight: Open Up The Way

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

During the first week of Advent, our call to watch and wait for the coming of Christ found expression in our lament for God to turn us again:
~ from the busyness that dulls our aching need for a Saviour,
~ from the pain of the world that makes us wonder where God actually is at times,
~ from the hopelessness and despondency that comes from seeing the “wicked” prosper time and time again,
~ from our apathy and inactivity in the face of the immensity of the world’s problems,
~ from our fair-weather faith and half-hearted commitment to live in loving relationship with God,
~ from the rubble and ruin of our plans and ambitions,
~ and from those who exercise authority over us in destructive and debilitating ways.

Which “turning from” was of most significance to you?

Which will be the hardest to maintain?

The readings throughout this second week give us a glimpse of what we’re headed towards as we invite God to open up the way to the good fortune and forgiveness, love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness that are characteristic of God’s coming shalom community (Ps. 85).

Today, in particular, we immerse ourselves again in the familiar story of John the Baptist who came, as the prophet Isaiah had said, to prepare for God’s arrival (Isaiah 40:3-5, Mark 1:2-4).

The message he preached was simple: forgiveness was possible; the old could be washed away; and One was coming with such power and presence that all could be transformed from the inside out.

We claim both the hope and the truth of that message through the sacrament of Baptism: that outward symbol of our inward turning from our old way of life to a new way of kingdom-living.

As a Christian, I have no memory of my own baptism as I was a toddler at the time; and as a teenager and young adult, I struggled to understand how something I could not even recall was supposed to be so significant.

But as a mother who has placed her children into a minister’s outstretched arms and entrusted them into the care of Christ and his Church, the imagery of Isaiah has special significance:

“Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture”
(Isaiah 40:11, The Message).

This is the One of whom John the Baptist spoke with such reverence: a Gathering God – the Good Shepherd – who bundles us up in his arms and hugs us to his heart as he carries us and leads us to good pasture ….

On a large piece of paper express what the words “good pasture” may look like in your life – you may want to draw, paint, put together a collage, use words. Feel free to add to it over the course of the week.

***
Alternatively, you may want to remember your baptism. Ask a parent or family friend to share any memories they may have. Look through family documents for a picture or a certificate. If you have children, tell them the story of their baptism and why it’s significant. 

If you are not yet baptised, you may want to explore this further with your pastor and/or faith community.