Prayer for the Third Sunday in Advent

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Lord, as we light another candle around the Advent wreath, we continue to pray for your light to shine in this season of darkness.

We pray that our fear would be pushed back as your light scatters the darkness.

Remind us of your strength so that we would not fear our affliction.

And in your strength, may we empower our afflicted brothers.

Remind us of your salvation so that we would not fear our brokenness.

And in your salvation, we may save our broken sisters.

Remind us of your comfort so that we would not fear our distress.

And in your comfort, may we comfort our neighbor in distress.

So that the shadow of fear may continually be scattered by your strength, your salvation and your comfort and the world would witness the arrival of your light through Jesus.

Amen.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.

Missing the Path (Advent Lectio Luke 1:69-78)

Lamp of Wisdom

Lamp of Wisdom, Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire, Britian.

On December 2nd, our TV’s and social media feeds were flooded with the news of the shooting in San Bernardino. A day in which two people chose violence over peace. The week before, a man killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It was just another day in which somebody chose violence over peace. A religious leader stood up and declared that people should arm and prepare themselves for violence.

People regularly choose violence over peace.

It seems to be the way the world works. Violence is normal, expected and sometimes deemed rational.

Last Sunday was the Second Sunday of Advent. For many, the candle that was lit symbolized Peace. As this candle was lit, many read the words of Zechariah prophesying over his son John.

“Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.
Luke 1:69-78 (CEB)

The Jews in Zechariah’s time were well acquainted with violence as well. Rome was well-practiced in exercising peace through violence. The much promoted Pax Romana was maintained by Roman authorities quashing any hint of an uprising or disturbance. As the Roman occupation of Judea wore on and the Jews grew increasingly unsettled by their presence, more and more Legions showed up the help keep the peace. Crucifixions were regular and the threat of violence generally kept things from boiling over. For the Jews, Rome was the enemy. Many devout Jews hated the Romans, their occupation and their polytheistic, emperor worshiping ways. The Jews dreamed for a day that, like Zechariah says, “we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live.” Many hoped for a Messiah that would come, like King David, and slay the Goliath of Rome. The Messiah would raise up a holy army, cleanse Jerusalem and Israel of the unclean, Gentile Romans in order to restore and sanctify right worship of God at the Temple and in the land.

The Messiah would battle unjust, pagan violence with justified holy violence.

It’s the same story repeated again and again. Violence for violence so that some pale shadow of peace might come.

The problem is, when violence is the norm we are in danger of missing the true peace and salvation that God sends through Jesus. We look for salvation, rescue and redemption to come through violent and dramatic means. We have, for the most of human history, believed that violence is the means for peace. So, when an alternative shows up and tries to direct us down a different path for peace we are often unable to recognize it. Or, the worst of cases, we will flat-out deny the path revealed to us.

“Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.

The “path of peace” revealed in Jesus is not through dramatic strength or violence against the oppressors. It lead’s people away from darkness and the shadow of death. The “path of peace” is shown in a scandalous birth witnessed initially only by animals. Then, those who testified to this birth were typically untrustworthy shepherds and pagan astrologers from the East. This is the signpost of God’s path for peace and many missed in then, and I think we continue to miss it now. Spending too much time looking for our own vision of peace we miss out, “on this day what would bring you peace” (Luke 19:42, NIV) and continue our march towards darkness and the overwhelming shadow of death.

We light candles during Advent, not floodlights. We have to take care that we do not miss the faint light of peace that flickers when the flashing of bombs and smoking of guns dance across our screens and in our minds.

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

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Lord, as we light the second candle of Advent, for many this may be the hardest candle to light.

We pray for your light to shine, we hope for your kingdom come.

But we are reminded that there is still much pain and suffering in the world.

While two candles are lit, there are those that remain unlit and extinguished.

Open our eyes to the moments when we can catch a glimpse of your light.

Of the faintly flickering candle.

Open our ears to hear the cries of pain in the world.

To the dark corners of our neighborhoods.

Open our hearts to carry your light wherever we go.

To those who sit in darkness, may we shine your light.

By your mercy God, Amen.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

Just Wait (Advent Lectio – Jeremiah 33:14-16)

Reading by Eduard von Grutzner, 1889.

This past Sunday began the season of Advent as many of us, whether in a church service or at home, lit the first candle of Advent. This is a very important time in the Church as we start a new year in the Christian calendar and begin to turn our hearts and eyes towards Christmas in expectation of the arrival of Jesus, the light of the world. With that in mind, I begin my annual walk through the Sunday readings of Advent. If your unfamiliar with the hows and whys of Advent, I encourage you to go back and read this introduction I wrote last year. I’m going to kick things off this year with the Old Testament reading from Sunday.

“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.”
Jeremiah 33:14-16 (CEB)

The prophet Jeremiah is speaking these words to the nation of Israel as they sit in exile in Babylon. Having experienced the conquering of their nation, the destruction of Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple, the Jews have to come to grips with what it means to be a people absent from their home. They have suffered utter defeat at the hands of a pagan, Gentile nation and they have begun to question whether the god they worship, YHWH, is good and if he is able (or willing) to keep the many promises he has made to them. Were they still YHWH’s chosen people, was their land still the Promised Land, would the line of their king David indeed “endure forever” (2 Samuel 7:16)?

This is the context Jeremiah speaks these words into.

“I will fulfill my gracious promise…”

“I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line…”

“Judah will be saved…”

“Jerusalem will live in safety…”

To the people of Israel sitting in exile, this must have been exciting words to hear. God would indeed fulfill his promise, David’s line would continue and their land would be restored and safe. They were not forgotten in this foreign, pagan land. God was still good even though the land of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. But, like many of us, I imagine they began to wonder, “What’s the next step? What must we do?”

This seems typical of our human nature. We want to know the next step. What’s our “action items” or when can we get this party started? What does the blueprint look like so we can start planning? When should we save the date? We like to live in the future, planning ahead and figuring out where we need to go and what we need to do to get there. This is what ultimately seemed to trip up the Pharisees. They believed in following so closely to God’s law so that they might be considered righteous and holy when God finally showed up with the Messiah. But, I think this verse is asking for something else.

Wait.

If you read the verse closely, God is doing all the acting.

“I will fulfill…I will raise up…”

Judah is not responsible to save, instead it will be saved by God.

Jerusalem will not create peace and safety itself, God will secure its peace and safety.

We are not responsible for our own righteousness, instead we will be identified as, “The Lord Is Our Righteousness”.

God going to fulfill his promises and he is also going to take the responsibility to raise up the one who will help bring about the fulfillment of these promises. It is not the responsibility of Israel to bring about the fulfillment or to raise up or even be involved in the choosing of this “righteous branch” who will bring about the promised salvation and safety.

God’s got this thing under control.

The Lord Is Our Righteousness”

Wait and watch just like Abraham who, “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

This is the underlying theme of Advent. Waiting and expectation are central during this time in the Church calendar. It’s tough for us in our fast-moving, on-demand, culture to sit, wait and patiently light candles. Can’t we just light them all on one day and be done with this thing?

No.

To quote the great and wise Yoda:

All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing. Hmph!

We can get so wrapped up in the future and what we need to do to get there that we rarely look around and see where God may have already been paving a path. We shouldn’t light the first candle of Advent just so we can get to the second. We should light the first candle and take a moment to enjoy the time spent with that first candle. Recognizing who we are with, where we are and what God is trying to speak into that moment. During this season of waiting and expecting, we should remember that we are not the ones responsible for our own righteousness. We are not the ones doing the saving.

We are a people waiting for a good and gracious God to fulfill his promises at just the right time.

Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

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Almighty God,as your kingdom dawns,

turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness,

that we may be ready to meet you

in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Prayer for Christmas Day

The Nativity by Jacques Stella, 1639.

The Nativity by Jacques Stella, 1639.

Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Savior and our eternal God.

Advent Lectio: Finding New Life

Our family after spreading Zoey's ashes near the Golden Gate.

Our family after spreading Zoey’s ashes near the Golden Gate.

My Advent Lectio series this year took a very abrupt turn after the initial post. Shortly after that post my wife found out that the child she was carrying, and we were eagerly expecting, had passed away in her womb. Thus began a long process of waiting, doctors office and hospital visits, and grieving. You can read about some of that process in the last two posts here and here. Today I’m probably wrapping up my reflections on this process in a neat trilogy of posts, but this does not mean the process has been neat or that we have stopped grieving. Quite the opposite actually. Which is what I want to explore a bit in this post.

After we found out that the heart of our little Zoey Grace had stopped beating, I wrote about in my first post how we entered a sort of liminal space. There was this small body in my wife who we knew was dead, but she had not been born yet. We were caught in an odd moment between the realities of life and death in our child’s life.

It was probably one of the hardest weeks of our lives.

Since then, my wife has given birth to Zoey and we held her small body. We worked with a very gracious and understanding funeral home to have her cremated. After receiving her remains, we traveled to San Francisco where we spread her ashes over the bay at the Marin Headlands with some close family. We said some prayers, read a bit of Psalm 139 and, as my wife said, “we returned Zoey Grace to God and nature.” Yesterday we also held a small memorial service with friends and family at our house. We shared some prayers, quotes and verses that have been meaningful to us during this time. We enjoyed some birthday cake for Zoey and revealed a shadowbox of memories from the events around her birth and death.

With all those events behind us, our family takes the first steps into this new life both with and without Zoey Grace. It’s an odd place where we know we really have two daughters, one who is with us and one who is not. Because Zoey is not with us, that does not mean we live as if she never entered our lives. She is now an important and necessary part of our story so we move forward with our new family into a new life.

I think the interaction between Mary and the angel Gabriel from this Sunday’s Gospel reading is appropriate for us during this time:

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her
Luke 1:38 (CEB)

Zoey entered our life and left us much as the angel Gabriel came in to Mary’s life. Zoey came in and, even in her short time with us, she transformed our lives. Her time with us was brutally short and we still have many questions, our hearts still ache and they days ahead will not be easy. But, ultimately we accept that we are the Lord’s servants and we are thankful for the time we did get to spend with Zoey. We do wish it could have been much longer because we had great dreams and hopes, but as with Mary (and the Beatles) we are beginning to be able to say, “Let it be.”

One thing my wife has been saying during this time is that we can not treat our time with Zoey as a “Nevermind.” She was not a mistake, this was not an accident and there are no apologies to make. We have welcomed her as our daughter and felt her passing as deeply as any other family member. We are moving forward as a family, into a new life as new people into a new part of our story.

Our tiny angel Zoey, our tiny messenger of love and life, has left us.

We are the Lord’s servants. Let it be with us as the Lord has said.

And, along with Mary, we will never be the same.