A Path For His Steps

Advent 2B Lectionary:  Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13

8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

We like the image of God making a path for us to walk, giving us some sense of the direction in which we are called to go.  It just makes it easier, as if we’ve sort of been handed a holy GPS that we can turn on when we get lost. But this psalm presents it a little bit differently.  Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.  What does that mean?  Are WE being asked to prepare that path?

This Psalm was probably originally sung in response to the return from the Babylonian exile.  Think about it.  Their land was being returned to them, their lives were beginning to get a little better, sort of fall into place, and there was a sense of a sort of national forgiveness.  There was hope that had not been present for a long time.  But hope also calls one to take a good hard look at oneself.  And the people knew what had happened and what wrongs they had done to each other.  They recognized the pall of systemic sin that was present, a certain acceptance of poverty and injustices and divisive fractions in their midst.  This Psalm is a lament that is spoken to the past and a reminder to listen to God and then look through the lens of righteousness to the beautiful path before them.

Yes, Psalms are uncomfortably timeless.  They tend to point to the perils and beauty of humanity that happens over and over again.  We, too, have wandered in a sort of exile this year.  The Covid pandemic has forced us away from each other and, for some of us, have taken away so much.  And for our society, this time has uncomfortably shined an all-too-bright light on things that we didn’t really confront in ourselves, in our community, in our nation, and in our world.  Nationally, this pandemic has had more of a dramatic effect on those in our society that were already victims of injustices.  But this time has made it worse and it forces us, like those post-exilic returnees of centuries ago, to look at ourselves and how we participate in allowing poverty and injustice and the isms that exist in our society.  It’s a hard lesson for us.  We cannot separate ourselves from each other.  We are on this pathway together.  And when one person is treated unjustly, when one person has little to eat, when one person doesn’t have fresh water or a safe place to live, when one person is hurt because of racism or sexism or any other type of exclusion, we have to open our eyes to the part we play in that.

Think about this.  God HAS laid a pathway for us.  But we’re not programmed robots.  The pathway winds and turns.  There are often multiple ways to go on it.  Parts of it are drowned in weeds and undergrowth that make it difficult to see and treacherous to travel.  Parts of it are too rocky for comfort or too wet and slippery for safe travel.  The point is that the pathway IS there; but maybe we’re called to pave the way, clearing away the debris and making the way not just for US to travel but for everyone who walks with us.

That’s the way that, as the Psalmist sings, God’s steadfast love and our faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will be inseparable.  It is that perfect love, hesed in Hebrew.  And it is in clearing this pathway, readying it for others to walk easily, without the hindrances that we allow to exist, that we will also find our way.  In this Season of Preparation, we are told to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”  Have you ever really thought about what that means?  The path is there.  It’s been traveled before.  But it needs some of our work to make the Way visible, to make the Way that all of us can travel together.     

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Grace and Peace,


As If It Is

Advent 2B Lectionary Passage:  2 Peter 3: 8-9 (10-15)

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

Now as patient as the writer of this passage sounds, it is likely that he or she (yes, I think there could have been some she’s writing!) probably assumed that Jesus’ return was imminent (as in weeks or months). In fact, my guess is that most of those that walked the earth in the time of Jesus and the years after would be absolutely stunned and perhaps downright flabbergasted that you and I sit here today having the same discussion.  They assumed that Jesus was returning in their lifetime and that this return entailed Jesus just showing up and making everything right.  But if that had happened, think about what humanity would have missed!

I used to really wonder what Jesus’ return would look like.  I mean is he going to return to Bethlehem?  Maybe this time he’ll show up in Paris or New York City or Moscow, Russia.  Maybe Australia.  Or Tahiti.  Or perhaps he’ll go for a bit of drama and plop down in the middle of the Super Bowl or something. OR…(and hear me out here) what if the “return” that Jesus spoke about has already happened?  I mean, have you read the account of Pentecost?  Remember the rush of violent wind and the Holy Spirit that filled all who were there.  Remember the quote from the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…”

The truth is that we don’t know what will happen or when it will happen or, for that matter, if the Coming that Jesus talked about has already happened.  The full transformation of all of Creation will happen when it will happen.  And it will look EXACTLY like God envisioned it will look.  God’s time is God’s time.  And in God’s time, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. And for us?  We wait. 

But lest you think your waiting is just sitting around dreaming of redemption and re-creation and twiddling your thumbs, you need to remember that you are Spirit-filled.  And as those who are Spirit-filled, we need to realize that WE are the ones that God is calling now.  WE are the ones that God is filling and gathering and sending.  WE are the ones that are supposed to be peacemaking and justice-building.  WE are the ones that are called to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.  WE are the ones that are called to wipe out racism and welcome those who are excluded. WE are the ones who are called to be Christ on earth.  So while you wait for God’s time for the full redemption of Creation to come to be, as one who is Spirit-filled, you are called to live AS IF it’s already here. 

In this Season of Advent as we practice holy waiting, when we both remember those who looked for the coming of the Messiah so long ago and look ahead for Christ’s coming into our own lives, we are also reminded to live as if it’s already come to be.  Because if everyone lived AS IF it was here, as if the world was transformed into what it was meant to be, then it would already be.  The truth is, this IS God’s time.  It’s ALL God’s time.  And we are smack dab in the middle of it.  We wait for the darkness to be pushed away by the light but in the meantime, we need to do a little of our own darkness-pushing.  God is waiting for us to respond, for us to proclaim God’s love and mercy, for us to live “as if”—as if the coming of the Lord is now, as if God’s Spirit has already spilled into the earth, as if justice and righteousness was the only way, and as if we knew no other way to live.

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God;  But only [they] who see, take off [their] shoes—the rest sit around it and pluck blueberries.   (Elizabeth Barret Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”)

Grace and Peace,


Wilderness Re-Creation

ADVENT 2B: Isaiah 40: 1-11

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40: 3-5)

First of all, with all due respect to Mr. Handel’s presentation, this passage was probably not originally written with us or our tradition in mind! This really is talking about the people of Israel. It really is talking about bringing comfort to a people who have wandered in the Judean wilderness. Probably written toward the end of the Babylonian exile, this writing offers a vision where a highway (a REAL man-made highway) through the wilderness will be made level and straight. If, as most assume, this part of the book that we know as Isaiah was written after the exile, it would have been soon after 539 BCE when Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and, not really caring whether or not the Israelites stayed, allowed them to return to Jerusalem. So imagine a highway that, typical of the ancient world, would have originally been built to accommodate royal processions. And so God is depicting a highway made for a grand procession led by the Almighty.

The just-released exiles are returning. But to what? Their city and their way of life lay in ruins. They can’t just go back and pick up where they left off. They have to feel that God has deserted them. They are looking for comfort. They are looking for solace. They are looking for God to put things back the way they were before. But God has something different in mind. Rather than repair, God promises recreation; rather than vindication, God promises redemption; and rather than solace, God promises transformation. God is making something new–lifting valleys, lowering mountains, and ultimately, when all is said and done, revealing a glory that we’ve never seen before.

So 2020 has handed most of us a new understanding of this passage.  (Wow! Thanks 2020!)  As a community, as a country, as a people, we sort of have our own little wilderness thing going right now. Now we haven’t been conquered by Babylonians yet (and for that we ARE thankful!), but our life has changed—probably, if we’re honest, forever. And in this season that so quickly elicits traditions and memories of past years, it is easy to start to feel like we are truly walking through an unknown wilderness, full of masked strangers, distanced friends, and communication via these little boxes of faces on Zoom.  The wilderness sometimes seems to be closing in on us.  And the pathway out seems to be murky at best.

But think about this passage.  We are given a vision.  We are not promised solace. We are not promised that Emmanuel, God With Us, is coming to put our lives back together. In fact, can you feel it? The world has begun to shake. The valleys are rising; the mountains are leveling. Something incredible is about to happen. The light is just beginning to dawn. Life as we know it will never be the same again. Soon the fog will lift and we will see that the road does not lead back to where we were. It instead leads us home. But we’re going to have to be willing to leave what we know–forever.

When we prepare ourselves in this Season, we’re not looking for the Messiah to come and put all the pegs back where they were.  We’re not preparing ourselves to go back to the lives to which we’ve become accustomed.  God is not going to “fix” it.  I mean, think about it.  God’s not usually in the “fixing” business.  God is more into making all things new.  So we have to open ourselves to the new creation that God promises and here in the wilderness, God will re-create us too.  So, open your eyes, learn to wait, prepare your hearts for something new, for the glory of the Lord to be revealed.  And, in the meantime, wear your mask!

The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask. (Nancy Wynne Newhall)

Grace and Peace,


You Start at the Very Beginning…

Dawn in the wildernessScripture Text:  Mark 1: 1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Do you remember the song from “The Sound of Music”?  “You start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.  When you read, you begin with A-B-C; when you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi.  The first three notes just happen to be Do-Re-Mi. Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti…..oh let’s see if we can’t make it a little bit easier…”  (Yeah, I’m a Sound of Music dork.)  We’re used to that…starting at the beginning, learning our A-B-C’s before we jump headlong into reading Tolstoy or something.  But, the writer of the Gospel According to Mark seemed to just sort of want to get this show on the road.  We’ve become so accustomed to the beauty and poetry of the nativity that somehow that becomes the season for us.  But here…”The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  That’s it.  That’s all you get.  No announcement of Jesus’ birth, no birth story, no stable, no inn, no manger, no Mary and Joseph and the babe, no shepherds, no magi.  Just that.  It’s sort of like the Gospel writer is saying “refer to the previous volumes”.  But, of course, most Biblical scholars will tell you that there WERE no previous volumes of the Gospel but that this one was the first.  So, what is that beginning?


Then it goes on:  As it is written….Essentially, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is everything that came before–all the prophets, all the judges, all the Wisdom, all the kings, Elijah, Moses, Ruth, Jacob, Abraham, Sarai, all the exiles returning home, all the burning bushes and parting waters, all the covenants, all those generations upon generations of people who wandered in the wilderness.  And now…now appearing in the wilderness is this wild, somewhat unkempt, bear of a man who clothes himself in camel’s hair and eats what appears to be whatever crosses his path in the brush.  There were certainly those with “proper” upbringing and “acceptable” expression of their religious beliefs that probably would have been a bit embarrassed by the display.  I mean, maybe it would have gone down easier if it had been someone a tad bit more “traditional”.  (But then, really, was Jesus all that status quo?)  And yet, I’m fascinated with this character of John the Baptist.  He knew who he was.  He knew his place.  He was called to prepare the way.  He was called to BE the voice crying out in the wilderness.  He was called to prepare the way of the Lord.


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Here we are, in the wilderness of our lives, wandering a little aimlessly at times, trying our best to connect to God, to feel God’s Presence in our lives.  And yet, we know that God did not plunk down in the middle of the bustling city of Jerusalem.  God did not come in the way that was planned or imagined.  The Son of God emerged into the wilderness that was already there, already so full of God that the very earth shook.  The truth is, God had been there all along.  The good news of Jesus Christ was always beginning.  The same is true for us today.  What we are living is not some sort of prelude of a life to come; it is the very beginning of the story.  Maybe that’s our shortcoming.  Maybe we live lives limited by the chapters surrounding us.  But God…God came and comes over and over and over again, beginning, recreating, starting us over.  Advent is the season of beginnings–the beginning of the church year, the beginning of us, the beginning of what comes next.  Advent is not a preface to the high holy day on which we celebrate the Savior’s birth.  Advent reminds us that we, even now, are the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  The truth is, the story ALWAYS is at the beginning!


When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly. (Edward Teller)


FOR TODAY:  How are you called to prepare the way for Christ?  How are you called to begin again?



Grace and Peace,




Holy Patience

PatienceScripture Text (Advent 2B): 2 Peter 3:8-9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.


I must admit that I am not the most patient person I know.  I think it’s safe to assume that, really, few of us are.  The world just moves too fast.  The patient ones, the ones who wait, tend to get left behind.  And yet, those of us of us who are always on the move don’t really get there any sooner.  What is that about?  And then we read this passage that describes God as patient.  Have you ever thought of the Divine, the Holy, the Creator, the One who is always and forever on the move, compelling us to go forward, to live into this glorious Vision that God has, as “patient.”  I suppose the impatient ones of us want God to get this show on the road, already.  After all, where IS peace?  Where IS righteousness?  Where IS this promise of no poverty, no hunger, no suffering?  But wait, it doesn’t say that God is sitting back on the holy laurels and being slow about things happening.  God is not slow to fill the world with glory; God is waiting for us, patiently waiting for us, to catch up.


So perhaps our impatience, our living life full-throttle, without stopping, just stopping to see what God is doing, to hear where God is calling, is what is slowing this whole thing down.  After all, God knows where God is going.  God is waiting for us, waiting for our response, waiting for us to perhaps wait to see, wait to hear.  Oh, shoot!  It’s back to that waiting thing.  We CAN’T hurry this along.  We CAN’T live for the next thing.  We CAN’T live as if we are in a season that is not quite yet.  God is waiting for us to stop, to wait on God, so that we can catch up to what God envisions us to be.  It’s back to the Sabbath ideal.  God created times for us to stop, to wait, to let ourselves sort of regroup so that we could move forward down the way we are called to go.


You’ve heard the story of the American traveler on safari in Kenya.  He was loaded down with maps, and timetables, and travel agendas.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies, luggage, and “essential stuff.”  On the first morning, everyone awoke early and traveled fast and went far into the bush.  On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far into the bush.  On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went even farther into the bush.  The American seemed pleased.  But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.  Their behavior incensed the impatient American.  “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”  The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”


This Advent time is a time of waiting for God.  But it is also a time when God waits on us–patiently and lovingly waits for us to awake to God’s Presence, awake to God’s beckoning, awake to finally see where we were meant to be all along.  We cannot do that if we are too busy impatiently moving through life, always reaching and grasping for the next thing and missing that God is waiting for us now.  If we would be a little more patient, if we could just for a moment stop and breathe in that Holy Patience of God, perhaps God would no longer have to wait another day or another thousand years for the promises to come to be.


Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only [they] who see, take off [their] shoes—The rest sit round it and pluck blueberries. (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”)


FOR TODAY:  Stop moving so fast.  Be patient.  Look.  Listen.  Take off your shoes and be.  God is waiting.


Grace and Peace,