Exposure to Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 (Advent 1C)

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.  11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

In a way, these few verses almost sound a little sappy to our sometimes-cynical ears.  Are we ready for the big group hug?  But, seriously, you have to think about this in light of the environment in which these believers lived.  It was not easy.  There were always other powers pulling them away, cultural norms into which it was so easy to fall once again.  So, Paul’s exhortation to the church at Thessalonica was not a sappy, feel-good letter.  It was a reminder that there is something more, something better up ahead.  It was a reminder to hold on, to persevere, and to open one’s eyes to the signs of God’s Presence that surround us even in the midst of all these things that get in the way.  It was a call to allow oneself to be strengthened in holiness as one comes nearer and nearer to God.

Perhaps these words are something we need to hear.  After all, these times are tough.  There is a pandemic still running rampant, a pandemic that last Advent we all thought would be long gone by now.  There is greater division in our country than any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.  The world around us seems to be slipping into something that we don’t recognize sometimes.  In a way, our lives are reminiscent of those early Thessalonians.  And, so, we, like them, pray for strength, pray that God will strengthen our hearts in holiness that we might know the Hope that is always offered.

This season of Advent IS a season of hope.  But sometimes that hope is terribly hard to see.  It often calls for an adjustment of the light exposure in our picture.  That may be an elusive notion nowadays with all of our automatically-adjusting cameras on every electronic device we own, but the shutter cameras that we used to all have (you know, the ones with the film) sometimes required an adjustment that would allow more or less light through the shutter, depending on the photo itself.  That’s sort of what Advent does.  It’s not a “beginning again” in that we start over but rather a time to adjust our picture, change the way we look at things, shift our lives just a bit so that we can see the Light.  God will guide us as we prepare to do that if we will only listen, if we will only allow ourselves the gift of being changed.  Just focus, make the adjustment, and bathe in the Light that illuminates your way.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you. (Maori Proverb) 

Grace and Peace,


Trees and Branches

Lectionary Scripture Text: Jeremiah 33: 14-16 (Advent 1C)

14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

“The days are surely coming…”  These words attributed to the prophet Jeremiah are spoken into a world filled with uncertainty and despair.  They are spoken at a time when Judah was literally being squeezed between the powerful and foreboding Assyrian nation to the north and Egypt to the south and the west.  The faithful were on the verge of losing their society, their culture, and their faith.  They were forgetting who they were.  Hope was fading fast.  The words were not a promise that things would be repaired or would go back to the way they were before.  The promise was of a future hope, a New Creation beginning to rise just on the horizon.  

The scripture talks of a righteous branch that will spring forth.  It is a New Creation.  It is that New Creation for which we look in this season of Advent.  For us, the coming of Christ points us toward this New Creation.  But branches do not grow alone.  They are attached to the tree, sharing food and source with other branches.  The branch is nothing by itself.  If it somehow becomes detached from the tree, separated from its sustenance, the branch will die.  It cannot exist alone.  Sometimes we forget that.  We begin to think that our way of being and our way of thinking and our way of understanding God is all there is.  But this branch springs forth from a tree whose roots reach deep, roots that connect us all.

We are that branch, that righteous branch.  But righteousness is not being “like God” or even better than most.  Righteousness is holiness.  It is realizing who and whose we are.  It is knowing that this branch is nothing without the tree to which it is connected.  It is understanding that our source and our sustenance is not made by us but comes from the God who created us all and from whom we spring forth, much like the branch that springs from the tree.  Righteousness is being and growing in the way one is called to be.

This season of Advent is not situated in linear time.  It is not a sequential season through which we cycle each year.  It is a mystery, a season rooted in the past as we remember the promise of hope made to those so long ago, a season placed in the present as we prepare ourselves to fully grasp the meaning of Christmas, and a season that thrusts us toward the future, toward that promise of a New Creation.  In this season, we realize that we are part of that branch, growing out of the sustenance and source that has existed all along and, as the righteous branch, growing forward as we reach toward the Light.  Our stems and leaves may intermingle with other branches, even growing around them until they become indistinguishable.  All of these branches growing together are part of a whole, part of a tree whose roots reach deep into time, sustaining everything, part of a network that always grows toward the Light.  So Advent is not merely a season of waiting; it is a season of finding the Light.

Faith is not something to be grasped; it is a state to grow into. (Mahatma Gandhi) 

Grace and Peace,


Flashes of Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Luke 21:25-36

25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

We begin again.  The Christian calendar cycles around and starts again today and Advent begins.  And we wait.  We wait for what will come.  We wait for the promise to be fulfilled.  We wait for the Light.  And we look for the signs.  You see, there are always signs.  Even here in the darkness, before the birth, before the manger, before the coming of God into our world, there are signs.  Even in this unsettling time when confusion prevails, when divisions escalate, when the world topples a little as it spins, there are signs.  You know the ones.  They are flashes of light in the darkness that come when we don’t expect them, that appear when we’re not ready to see them, perhaps when our eyes are not adjusted enough to encounter them.  And so, they hurt.  And we push them away.  And we wait in darkness.

This is not new.  The Hebrew Scriptures are often inherently dark in timbre.  They carry stories of a people waiting for God to come, sometimes hurting, sometimes wanting, always hopeful.  But in the midst of the darkness, over and over and over again, there are flashes of light, flashes of a great light to be seen by those who walk in darkness.  But the light can only be seen by those who are looking for it, who are prepared, who do not push it way as a nuisance for which they’re not ready.  That is the lesson of Advent—not just that we must wait, not only that we must not “jump the gun” before the season of Light comes, but that we must learn how to wait.  Advent waiting is anything but passive.  It is instead a season of preparation.  It is a time of preparing oneself to see the Light.  And the signs and flashes help us know where to walk—if we will only pay attention.

This Advent is different for me.  My dad passed away in September.  Those “high days” are always hard at first after losing someone.  But, for me, THIS is the day I was dreading.  For many of the last couple of years, I have tried to post daily to this blog during Advent and Lent.  I thought about not doing it this year because I knew it would be a little painful.  See, my dad was probably my most engaged reader.  He would read it every morning and often he would text or email me or we would talk about it.  He would engage with the writing and with me.  Last winter and early spring, I had to spend some time “camping out” at their house after what I have chosen to call the “great flood of 2021” after the Great Texas Freeze froze my pumps in the house in which I was living.  Each morning when I was there, while I was still in that groggy state of morning sleep, I would often hear the song that I had included with the blog as I often have done.  It was coming from my dad’s iPad.  At that moment each morning he became part of what I had written.  And as I remembered that, I took it as a sign…

Advent is a lot like that.  We enter it a little a groggy.  After all, it’s hard to wait.  It’s hard to know what life holds.  It would be easier to push it away, to wait until we are ready.  But there are flashes of light and carefully-placed soundbites that draw us in, that remind us that the waiting is not for naught.  They are signs that invite us to engage.  That’s what Advent calls us to do—to engage, to be alert.  Those signs of light that we see along the way are not for us to smile and pass by.  They are drawing us in, inviting us to become a part of them, to live with them not as sign of what’s to come but as chapters of the story itself. This is the way we walk toward the Light.

So, this Advent, remember to stay alert to those signs.  They are for you.  Engage with them in the way that you are called to do.  Do not wait passively.  Do not put off encountering them for later when you think the time is right.  This season is not “pre-Christmas”.  It is, rather, the season of holy waiting.  I hope what I write will be helpful.  I hope in some small way it will hold flashes of light for you.

God did not wait till the world was ready, till nations were at peace. God came when the Heavens were unsteady and prisoners cried out for release. God did not wait for the perfect time.  God came when the need was deep and great. In the mystery of the Word made flesh the maker of the Stars was born. We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, or to share our grief, to touch our pain.  God came with Love.  Rejoice!  Rejoice! And go into the Light of God. (Madeleine L’Engle) 

Grace and Peace,