Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Every Day, a Door Opens

December 1, 2010

This is the day that children can begin opening up the little doors of their Advent calendars. In case you never had an Advent calendar as a child, you should do yourself a favor and get one. They resemble a giant greeting card decorated with a traditional scene of Christmas nativity, winter woodland, or quaint European village. The really secular ones have Santa flanked by reindeer and elves. Every day in December, the child gets to open the tiny "door" and see a special picture or Bible verse to help them wait for Christmas while learning a bit more about the meaning of Christmas. Think of it as a kind of an Advent blog, only without the computer or smart phone.

My son, Sean, used to love the calendars as a little boy. He loved hearing the stories of shepherds, angels, and the long trip Mary took to talk to her cousin Elizabeth. Of course, part of the reason he loved the calendars was that I discovered the kind with a small chocolate candy hidden behind the tiny door. I would tell him the story for the day while he enjoyed the chocolate.

Why not put your feet up and enjoy a little chocolate or a cookie right now? Or just take 3 deep breaths to relax and begin.

Prayer: "God of Jerusalem and all other places, thank you for being our God in this place and this time. Open my heart to hear deeply your word for me today."

Isaiah 54:1-10 (New International Version, ©2010)

The Future Glory of Zion

1 "Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,"
says the LORD.
2 "Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.

4 "Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the LORD Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The LORD will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected," says your God.
7 "For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,"
says the LORD your Redeemer.

9 "To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,"
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

The other day when we read from Isaiah, the chapter we looked at was from his early warnings to those in power. That was signature Isaiah, that was. But here in Chapter 54 the prophet nears the end of his pronouncements, and it is time to reassure the people of Judah that the Lord has promised peace to them, that God will remember God's covenant and in time bring about all good things. If you miss this part of Isaiah and focus only on his warnings, you risk missing one of God's best promises.

God makes great claims, you see, but it's appropriate. God can turn history on its head and culture inside out. We can take it in (barely) but through Isaiah he gave us about 750 years to accustom ourselves to the idea of the complete remaking of the world in Jesus Christ.

It could be argued that we ought to have chocolate-filled calendars for every month of the year, not just December, because the magnitude of living in relation with God is so great that we humans find it staggering to take in more than a kernel of its truth at a time. It's a constant struggle to wrap our minds around what God intends for the world. We could do a little bit each day, as we are able. But, oh, wait. We have a way to do just that.

That's what prayer is for. To enter into an intimate place every day and, like the people of Israel heard from Isaiah, be reassured that on God's watch, peace will reign. God will be in charge in the end, as at the beginning. The radical promise is there, and we can count on it.

So, don't tell Sean I told you this, but when we were out shopping last week, he made me buy him another one of those chocolate-filled Advent calendars. So what if he's 19. If it takes opening one little door at a time to take it all in, fine. I'm glad Christmas is only 24 days away instead of 700-odd years.

Closing Prayer: "God of Prophets, Days, and Years, we give thanks for waiting and listening to you. Help me this day to remember your promises to your people and the peace you bring. Help me to bring peace today to those with whom I interact, so that through me a little door is opened to you. Amen."

Grace and Peace!

The rest of today's readings are:

Psalm 124

Matthew 24:23-35

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