Advent devotion – Dec 8

Isaiah 35:1-10 

Who’s going on the way? 

“… the redeemed shall walk there” (verse 9) 

She stood at the back of the crowded downtown Ottawa church. In a quivering voice, she told the assembly that Pam was not her real name. Pam told us that she had been Anglican all her life. After therapy to deal with a host of problems, she was doing much better. 

It wasn’t until she went to a sweat lodge for the first time, however, that she discovered who she truly was. When she embraced her Indigenous identity in a community of compassion and spoke about it to people who just listened and validated her – she was made whole.

In Advent the image of a highway – a Holy Way, as Isaiah puts it – denotes the path on which God’s people journey through the desert of waiting and preparation. On the surface the text appears exclusive, reserved only for the ‘in’ crowd. An alternately better translation of verse 8 has it: “the unclean shall not pass it by, but it shall be for them.”

This turns it on its head! God’s Holy Way is meant for all people, including those on the fringes of mainstream society. God’s Way is made for people who know their suffering, and are not afraid to be vulnerable with others who will walk with them.

Creator God, open our eyes to see and listen to our co-travellers on your Way. Amen.  

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Advent devotion – Dec 7

Matthew 12:33-37 

Words matter 

“… on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (verse 36). 

In a popular book about near-death experiences, people reported on how they saw a review of their life — the cliched ‘life flashing before your eyes’. 

The people who had momentarily died detailed every single encounter they had had with another human being throughout their life. They not only re-lived it, they were able to feel what the other person had felt. (1) In that life-review the near-dead person knew what others felt because of their words in that particular encounter.

You may be able to imagine how surprised some were to realize what they said actually affected other people, positively or negatively. We may not think how a gracious word or an angry outburst could affect someone else’s day — let alone their life.

A friend recently suggested to me that this is what they thought judgement day would be for us — to understand and feel fully what effect our words had on people around us.

God speaks a word of judgement, too. Yet God’s judgement is always about restoration. The judgement may very well pinch, at first. Yet the outcome is always acceptance into a restored relationship with ourselves, with others and with God.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable unto you, O Lord. Amen.
(1) Raymond A. Moody, “Life After Life”, HarperCollins, New York, 2000, p.55-65 

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Advent devotion – Dec 6

Isaiah 40:1-11

The God who waits 

“… when the breath of the Lord blows upon it” (verse 7) 

In Jewish tradition only the consonants for Yahweh were printed in the Hebrew text – YHWH. As such, this most holy name for God was unspeakable. 

Interestingly, even the Hebrew consonants used in YHWH do not allow you to close your lips when you try to speak them.

We cannot confine God to words alone! And don’t dare try to close our lips around it and pretend we have God all figured out! Identifying with God since ancient times was simply the intake and exhalation of breath. The great “I AM” was the breath itself.

It is the great mystery we observe in waiting: that God is always beyond us but totally around us, within us and outside of us. And we all share in that same air and that same breath. It is the first thing we did coming out of our mother’s womb, and there will come that moment when we will do it for the last time.

But in between, we continue to take in the breath of God and exhale the breath of God – the totally accessible One, the totally given One, who like breath just waits to be received.

Ma-ra-na-tha, Come Lord Jesus (Sit in silence and stillness for twenty minutes. Gently, interiorly, and intentionally repeat the same prayer word, paying attention first to your breath) 

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Advent devotion – Dec 5

Psalm 8 

The gift of a child 

“Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark …” (verse 2) 

I heard a soft rap on my office door. After Sunday worship many like to enjoy a coffee and mill around in the nave and narthex visiting. And it is not uncommon for folks to stop by the pastor’s study to chat.  

 Four year old Dee stood clutching her stuffy and looking up at me with her big, bright eyes. Her mother leaned over her. “We have a problem.” I crouched down to eye-level with Dee. “What’s wrong?” Dee’s saucer eyes fixed on mine.

Mother explained, “The Sunday School did not finish in time today to come upstairs for Holy Communion. And church isn’t church without Communion. We have an unhappy girl, here.”

The elements were still by the altar, so I invited Dee and her mother back into the sanctuary where she is used to receiving the sacrament with the assembly. Dee stood at the railing and held out her free hand; her other pressed stuffy even closer to her heart.

In this Advent time, we anticipate God coming to us as an infant. God chose to communicate God’s truth and grace through a Child. As we wait for Christ to come, what can children teach us about God?

O Lord our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Thank you, for the gift of a child. Amen. 

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Advent devotion – Dec 4

Read Matthew 3:1-12 

Recovering sight 

“… the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (verse 12) 

Although blue is my favourite colour, I didn’t see it in all of the paintings by the late Ottawa artist, Leonard Gerbrandt. Blue appears in all of his art. When Ute, his widow, first asked me what I thought was his favourite colour, I saw only the orange, green, red and brown. 

Approaching this cold and darkening time of year, I felt unsettled because I was desiring golden sunsets, sand-packed beaches and warm coastal waters. My disquieted inner state prevented me from seeing the truth.

It was only when my gazed fixed upon a blue-dominated water colour featuring the South Saskatchewan River in winter, did Ute ask me again: “Now, do you know his favourite colour?”

I suspect we easily get distracted by things that are really not essential to who we are and what is most important to us. Not that camel’s hair, leather belts, and a diet of locusts and wild honey are irrelevant to the John the Baptist story.

And yet, what is central here is the purification that occurs in our lives. Repenting – making an about face – will result in a changed life. What is blocking that change? Is it an attitude or a long-held opinion? Is it an addiction – mental, material or chemical? Is it a lifestyle that is going nowhere? Have we been honest, and confessed these openly?

Advent waiting is a good time to take stock, and be honest. Inner peace and loving support wait on the other side.

Patient God, walk with us through the changes of our lives when we are called to be honest, and repent. Amen. 

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Advent devotion – Dec 3

Read Romans 15:4-13 

Waiting together 

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you” … (verse 7) 

Advent is the season of waiting. I find it hard to wait, especially after texting someone who doesn’t respond right away. I ask a question, send a note of encouragement, make a comment – and their response is slow or ignored altogether! Sometimes I’m surprised when they do eventually get back to me days later. It’s always a pleasure when I don’t have to wait long for a response. 

Paul had to teach the early church to get accustomed to waiting. The early Christians lived with the expectation of the immediate return of Jesus at his second coming. Of course, after two thousand years of waiting, Christians are still learning how to live in anticipation when we don’t know exactly when that time is. We may still need to wait for a long time to come!

So, perhaps there is value in the waiting itself. And when we get impatient or perplexed, perhaps there’s something we are not seeing in the here and now. Perhaps Christ is coming back to us all the time, in the faces of people we encounter in our daily lives.

What are the glimmers of grace, the rays of hope, the good that you see in others? Where is Christ present for you, today?

Advent God, help us to wait with one another in the patience and love of your son Jesus. Amen. 

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A Poem from Rainer Maria Rilke

“My eyes already touch the sunny hill

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

It has its inner light, even from a distance —

And changes us, even if we do not reach it,

Into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, “A Walk,” quoted by Robert Bly, Iron Man (Cambridge, MA: DaCapo Press, 2004), p.49

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