Day Twenty Eight: A Word to The Wise

Psalm 148
Proverbs 9:1-12
2 Peter 3:8-13

We are just two days away from 2018 and social media is full of (and has been for a while) sponsored ads for:
~ the diary/day planner/goal visualiser that will help you achieve all of your targets and desires;
~ the not-a-diet-but-a-step-to-better-health program that will enable you to wow your
co-workers and friends with a slimmer, better you;
~ early-bird discounts on motivational seminars and quasi-professional courses to help you get ahead of your peers – and stay there!
~ the best apps on the market for those lacking in willpower and accountability, featuring personal trainers and life coaches who will be with you every step of the way (virtual steps, of course) in helping you realise the change you’re after ….

more money,
a clear head,
better sleep,
a smaller waistline,
a graduation,
zen-like peace,
more patience,
a complete makeover,
a relationship do-over –

the prospect of a blank slate unleashes within many of us a frenzy of unfulfilled desires and hopeful expectations that the new year will be our best one yet –

that this time round our resolutions will be ticked off as realised;
and failures or mistakes or crises or general unpleasantries will just not feature – at all!

Deep down we know it’s folly;
that those “with our best interests” at heart are simply calculating the interest that they will earn as we buy the book, the app, the sweat gear that will lead to “our best self” or “our best year.”

In today’s readings, Wisdom warns us to leave the company of the simple and walk in the way of insight –
which begins with the Fear of the Lord
and leads into a life of (and from) knowing a Holy God (Proverbs 9:10).

Over the entirety of the Advent and Christmas season, we have received the invitation to base our lives on a different Message to those that the world constantly inundates us with:
a Message of sufficiency and abundance,
of affirmation and belonging,
of expansion and opening up,
of grace and salvation,
of forgiveness and compassion,
of hope, joy, and peace.

As we look forward, it’s not just to a new year;
but to the new heaven,
the new earth,
the home of righteousness which we have been promised (2 Peter 3:13).

It’s to a new self:
a God-imagined, God-made, God-breathed, God-given self;
rather than a better self, or
a self-made man- or woman-self.

Read again the beautiful words from Proverbs and receive God’s freely-given promise of provision for the year ahead (verses 4-6, The Message):

 Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place, and invites everyone within the sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,  roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

As you reflect on plans or resolutions that you have been making for the year ahead, ~ is there any particular area of your life in which you are experiencing a sense of scarcity or confusion?
~ how do your goals/dreams contribute to a life with meaning?
~ what is the grace that God is offering you?

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 One: Origins

Psalm 89:1-4,19-26
Judges 13:2-24
John 7:40-52

There has been a shift in interest in recent years among avid readers and movie-goers from the stories they love to the stories behind the stories they love.

From films like X-men Origins and Batman Begins which explain how iconic superheroes got their powers and what motivated them to use to, to behind-the-scene glances into the lives of authors like Jane Eyre (Becoming Jane) and Beatrix Potter (Miss Potter), to prequels to popular books like Anne of Green Gables and Red Dragon, there seems to be a  deepening desire in our time to understand more fully the context from which a character or plot emerged.

Yet origin stories have been around for as long as we have – in every culture, and religion.

Our reading from Judges 13:2-24 tells us of the origins of Samson; the champion raised up by God for the people of Israel in a tumultuous time of invasion and onslaught by the Philistines.

His beginnings are similar to those of John the Baptist: his birth was foretold to a barren couple by an angel with strict instructions that he is never to drink wine (nor shave his head) for he has been set aside for a specific purpose – to begin the deliverance of Israel from her enemy.

In a similar fashion to Zechariah, his father – Manoah – is unable to believe the news until he witnesses God’s messenger ascending into heaven.

I wonder what sparked his disbelief.
An inability to recognise the divine in the form of a seemingly ordinary person?
Failure to comprehend or fully trust the power of God to bring about what was promised?
Such as sense of insignificance that he couldn’t embrace the idea of being chosen to be part of God’s special plan?

In John’s gospel, Jerusalem is buzzing with speculation:
Could Jesus be the Christ?
Is he not, perhaps, just another prophet in a long line of prophets?

The crowds begin to argue about his origins and the origins of the promised Messiah, but the temple guards who had been sent by the Pharisees and chief priests to arrest him come back empty-handed.

When questioned about their failure to carry out their instructions, the argument about his origins does not even come up, though the Jewish leaders clearly believed that nothing good or powerful could ever come out of an insignificant place like Galilee (see verse 52).

Yet, these soldiers simply say: No one ever spoke the way this man does
(verse 46).

Manoah’s disbelief in the message because of the ordinary appearance of the messenger, the ruling council’s dismissal of the Christ because of where he came from, even our own preoccupation with the origin of our stories (and ourselves) may be a sign of …

… how lost we are in terms of understanding our own significance …

… how sceptical we’ve become of the motives of others …

… how deeply we’ve bought into the societal measures of another’s worth – their profession or skin colour or marital status etc. – which, in turn, influences how we measure our own worth.

As children of God, our origin story is vital, not only to who we are and are becoming, but also to how people will receive the message of love and peace that we bear – in our words and our actions.

As we enter into the meaning and the message of Christmas, spend some time today remembering the back story – not just the story of Christ’s birth, but the ever unfolding story of God’s love for us since “in the beginning ….”