Food 4 the Road 7: The way of hope

This week we have entered into the way of hope. It is the prophets who show us how as they hold firm to who God is and what God has promised in the midst of difficult and devastating life circumstances.

Hope does not set us free;
it binds us to the hard places,
to the dry places,
to the burning places,
watching and waiting for the bud to blossom,
for the river to run,
for the promises of God to become a present reality.

Sometimes, we may wish that God would release us and allow us to wallow in self-pity; to throw up our hands in despair and declare, “There is nothing to be done!”

Yet hope catches the lie between ours lips and counters,
“Just wait and see what God can do.”

As we journey with your living Word
and deeper into the eternal Mystery of God-with-us,
may you come to us
like a bud on a long-dead branch,
like a quiet stream in the desert,
like the warm hand of a child,
reaching out to lead us.

Amen.

Food 4 the Road 3: The Stump of Jesse

For our first Christmas in Australia, I insisted that we find a living tree we loved that would grow, like us and with us, in this new land.

Spruce me up for Christmas.

After several futile trips to garden centres and nurseries, we finally found the perfect little Norway Spruce and planted it in a big red pot and surrounded with poinsettias to mark the season. The tree itself was so small, however, that we had to hang the lights and few ornaments that we had held onto on a metal frame around the fragile branches.

Hmmm … I think the moose are multiplying in the Christmas closet.

This morning, as I braced myself to lug it from its sunny spot by the front door into the lounge, I realised that it is actually as tall as I am – and I’ll probably need a few more muscles to get the job done.

Seeds of hope

The lovely little leaves and acorns that I bought as decorations will probably also just disappear among the branches but they are symbols to me of the living hope that we honour and nurture in the time of Advent.

Yesterday, we read in the words of the prophet Micah, a reference to the Promised One coming to a little and unlikely place. But we also read that this One still to be born will have ancient roots.

Isaiah, too, writes of these old, old origins blending the promise that is to come into a past in which God has always been faithful:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
 from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:1

This is a great mystery of the Christian faith: that both past and promise inform our present hopes, dreams, and choices in life-givng, creative tension.

I’ll elaborate on that a little more tomorrow, but today I’d simply like to link you to a song by Heather Price entitled “Seed of Hope” which is a prayer for our environment in a time when we celebrate new life and beginnings and also recognise the ongoing hardships of those threatened by drought and bushfire.

Click on 07 Seed of hope on the website: https://heatherprice.com.au/downloads/carols-in-the-sun/

Food for the Road 2: Little and Unlikely

These beautiful advent calendars are two of my favourite Christmas decorations. Aren’t they lovely? Don’t you just want to peek inside at the mysteries they hold; mysteries to be revealed one by one each day in the journey to Bethlehem and the Christ-child in his cradle?

I can tell you right now that if you did slide out one of the drawers to discover what lies within, you would be very, very disappointed.

Each Christmas, with great intentions I declare that this will be the year that I find 24 (times two!) little treasures to point the way to what it most important (which is what good prophets do) and – every year – I simply don’t get around to it because of: lack of time, or lack of money, or a total lack of inspiration!

But, this year, thanks to a small prophet writing about a small place being of great significance to the whole, wide world, I’m inspired to do things differently.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Micah 5:2

The words of the prophet Micah are spoken to the people of Israel at a similar time to those of the better known prophet Isaiah, and the message itself is quite similar (though very brief in comparison). But Micah writes from a very different context: from a tiny village in the countryside where the life and death of the marginalised and the poor are determined daily by distant and greedy rulers, judges, priests, and even prophets. It is because of them that all will be destroyed, he warns.

Yet God’s future plans will not be ruined by the desolation of God’s people.

One day, the greatest of all kings will be born to a small family in the small town of Bethlehem. God will use the little and unlikely to change the world.

So, today, I labelled my lovely advent calendars: “Little” for the tree (which is very miniature in comparison to the Norwegian fir tree that we’ll decorate this week), and “Unlikely” for the reindeer-moose-thingy because – though undeniably cute – he seems completely inappropriate for our Australian context.

Into “Little” I popped a small scroll of something little that I can do that will make a small difference to another person’s life in some way. The first task was inspired by a very particular person and a very particular need but I’ve generalised the idea: Reach out in a sensitive way to someone who usually keeps others at a distance.

Into “Unlikely” I popped a small scroll containing a big prayer. With today being Cyber Monday, I prayed for the cancellation of debt and a financial breakthrough for individuals and families who are victims of our consumer culture. It seemed like a pretty impossible thing to ask for but … “though you are small ….”

Each day in Advent, I plan to add a scroll to both, detailing a little task that can make a difference in another’s life and a big prayer that seems so unlikely of coming true that we may not think to ask for it. And each day, I plan to offer both.

At the end of the Christmas season, the boxes will be full instead of empty.

So next year when each drawer is opened (whether with my family or my church community), there will be inspiration of simple gifts that we can give one another, and huge hopes to hold onto, and even – I hope – opportunities for thanksgiving and celebration as we discover that God is working in our world in marvellous and unlikely ways.

Note: even if you don’t have fancy advent calendars that you’re trying to put to good use or want to do this in a different season, you could label two jam jars and fill them with colourful post it notes.

Food 4 the Road 1: Prophets

At the start of the Advent season, we light the candle of the Prophets.

Prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important.

Jerome Berryman, Godly Play

Generally speaking, prophets are not popular people.

It’s understandable really. Either they are throwing out some quite confronting warnings about where particular life choices might lead us (generally ending in despair, destruction, and death), or they’re painting such impossible pictures (like wolves lying down with lambs or an-all-you-can-eat-banquet at no cost or dry bones coming to life again) that you have to question their sanity.

It’s important to note as we celebrate our “prophets of old” in this month that prophets are not just people of the past.

Have you ever met a prophet?
How do you know?
How were they received?
What difference did their words make?

An important task of the Church today is, in fact, to exercise a prophetic voice in the communities and societies and countries in which we gather. In other words, part of our calling as Christians is to offer warning about where particular life choices might lead us and/or to paint seemingly impossible pictures of God’s future for the whole world with great hopefulness and expectation.

These are not to be our own desires or judgments ill-wrapped in “godly language” to suit our own causes or sense of what is good and right but pointing people to the One who promises the renewal and reconciliation of the whole earth.

During Advent, when we are particularly aware of God coming close to us in Christ, we have the opportunity to come so close to God that we know what is most important, that we have something to say in the world that can make a dramatic difference.

How can you come close to God over this special season?

Over the next six days we will enter deeper into the mystery of God-with-us through the prophets, beginning with Micah who sets us firmly on the road to Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Micah 5:2

Prayer

God of Promise,
we hear, in Christ, your greeting
to the universe as we enter into this season of mystery:
“Hope to you:
hope for healing,
hope for refreshing,
hope for a world made new!”

We confess, today, how hard it is to pay attention to the signs of your presence with us –
or within those who are radically different from us.

We acknowledge, today, how easy it is to speak criticism
or judgment or bad tidings
above good news and affirmation and promise.

We turn away, today, from the past that holds us captive
in the place of pain and despair,
as we turn in the light of your revelation
and the movement of your Spirit
to your vision for this new day,
for a world made new.

Open our hearts to the words of the prophets – past, present, and future –
as we seek to be signs of Your hope in this season.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Day Seventeen: The Legacy We Long For

Psalm 125
2 Kings 2:9-22
Acts 3:17-4:4

One of the most sobering realisations for me as a parent is that I’m leaving my greatest legacy behind right now in the way I influence my children, for bad or for good.

How I pray and make time for God,
speak to my husband,
respond to authority,
encourage responsibility for household tasks,
spend my money,
articulate my values,
behave in a crowded parking lot,
admit my struggles and weaknesses,
say I’m sorry …

… it all has a monumental impact on
the adults that they are growing into,
the relationships that they will pursue,
and they way in which they, in turn, will raise their children.

Legacy. It’s not as much about what we leave when we die, as it is what we instil in the world around us while we are living.

And that impact, though small or seemingly insignificant at the time, can be passed down from generation to generation to generation.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the powerful prophet, Elijah, is asked by his younger travelling companion, Elisha, for a “double portion” of his spirit as an inheritance when Elijah is taken away by the Lord (verse 9). He is asking, in essence, for the blessings and privileges of an eldest son: permission to carry on Elijah’s ministry.

In his reply, Elijah indicates that he has no right or power to give God’s gift to someone else, but he knows that should Elisha witness his ascension into heaven, it would be a sign that God had, indeed, passed the prophet’s mantle on to this young man (verse 10).

“Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Elisha asks, striking the river Jordan with Elijah’s fallen cloak.

“Resting on Elisha,” the water replies with its parting (verse 14).

“Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” the people of Jericho ask as they point to the foul spring water that is poisoning their land.

“Resting on Elisha,” the water replies as it is purified by salt and a powerful proclamation of healing which holds true even to this day (verses 21-22).

Likewise, the words of the apostle Peter on trial before the ruling council for performing an act of healing outside the temple are about choosing the legacy that they long for.

On the one hand is the legacy of ignorance through which they disowned and killed the author of life; on the other, the legacy of prophets and of the covenant that God had made with their forefathers: to be a blessing to all people by turning from their wicked ways (verses 17 and 25-26).

We, too, are heirs of the prophets; recipients of an ancient and eternal covenant with a Holy and Mighty God who will, one day, restore everything to order.

The choice, too, is ours: to shroud ourself in blissful ignorance, or to take up a prophetic mantle and become agents of liberation and healing in this generation and the next and the next ….

Today, if possible, throw a few pebbles into a pond and watch how far the ripples reach ….

Reflect on yourself as a pebble cast out into the centre of your family, your community, your country, your world.

What is the legacy you are leaving? What is the legacy that you long to leave?

An Advent Candle Poem/Prayer

For use in congregations/communities who light a candle each Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas following the traditional pattern of prophets (hope), Mary and Joseph (faith), shepherds (joy), angels (peace) and Jesus (love) … a simple poem/prayer in five parts with an additional “verse” to be said as a conclusion to the prayer time until the final verse is offered on Christmas Day.

A candle for the Christ-King
For whom the prophets said to wait;
He may seem slow in coming
but we know God’s never late …

This one is for his parents
On their trip to Bethlehem
For they believed the promise
That God would be with them …

The third is for the shepherds
Whose hearts were full of joy
As angels came to tell them
About a special baby boy …

Oh! How those angels worshipped
and their song rang through the air:
“Glory be to God on high:
His peace be everywhere.”

And now, with great excitement,
We light the final flame –
For Love has come into the world;
Christ Jesus is his name.

***

This verse is to be said on weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 to explain the presence of the unlit candles. On Christmas Day it is replaced with the final verse.

These candles still are waiting
For their chance to shine –
they remind us to be ready
for a very special time ….