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Archive for December, 2012

There are 12 days of Christmas. They begin on December 25th and end on January 6th which is Epiphany.

Epiphany means a manifestation or “to show” or “to make known” or “to reveal.”

The basic gist of Epiphany in the broader Christian tradition is to celebrate (via the coming of the magi) that Jesus was revealed or made known to the world. Not just the Jews, but also the Gentiles.

But Christmas and the Christmastide is about God incarnate. The arrival of Emmanuel – God with us.

It’s about presence.

Which is why in this Advent and Christmas lectio series of readings we now turn to the theme of “presence.”

The Message version of John 1:14 reads, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

The first week of advent while my boss was preparing his sermon on the book of Matthew he shared with me something that my own pastor pointed out that Sunday during his sermon on Jesus as Immanuel. The book of Matthew both opens and closes with the presence of God.

In Matthew 1:23 the gospel-writing disciple recalls Isaiah’s words and reveals that Mary’s son is Immanuel, God with us.

Then in 28:20 at the close of the book, Jesus leaves us with these final words, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Presence.

What was meant to be all along, what we humans messed up with our sin, God restored and is restoring until one day we (who do not reject this gracious gift God offers) will once again abide fully and forever in our Creator and Redeemer’s presence.

As God pointed out to me earlier this year, the old hymn highlights the wonders of God’s presence:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

This is a presence we can seek and can abide in.

Let us do so…

Here are this week’s lectio divina verses:

  • Tuesday – John 1:14-18
  • Wednesday – Matt 1:20-24
  • Thursday – Luke 1:67-68
  • Friday – Isaiah 60:1-5
  • Saturday – John 14:18-20
  • Monday – Exodus 33:13-17
  • Tuesday – Psalm 16:9-11
  • Wednesday – Isaiah 60:18-19
  • Thursday – Titus 2:11-14
  • Friday – Revelation 21:22-26
  • Saturday – Psalm 73:23-28

(Read here to learn about the method of Lectio Divina.)

The Word become flesh,’ wrote John, ‘and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is  unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity, it is the way things are. ~ Frederick Beuchner

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(I’m even later on this one. But no sense in not finishing what I started…)

The truth of the matter is, hesed doesn’t mean “love” any more than qavah means “hope”.

The basic meaning of the word is “goodness, kindness, faithfulness”.

It occurs 248 times in the Old Testament.

One of the most prominent occurrences is in Psalm 136 where it is part of the “refrain” after each line of the psalm.

The New King James reads, “for His mercy endures forever.”

The NASB reads, “for His lovingkindness endures forever.”

The NIV: “for His love endures forever.”

The New Living Translation: “for His faithful love endures forever.”

The ESV: “for His steadfast love endures forever.”

When I discovered hesed several years back, it was similar to my discovery of shalom; the meaning runs far deeper than our simple English translation seems to let on. There is an enduring quality here. A faithfulness. And, yes, a love.

Gesenius’s lexicon describes it, “in a good sense, zeal towards any one, love, kindness…” and in relation to God “the grace, favor, mercy of God towards [humans]”.

See, we often find hesed translated “loving-kindness” because the faithfulness and mercy of God are inexorably linked to His great love.

Hesed has come to mind throughout this year because God has constantly been reminding a friend and I of his faithfulness.

Enduring faithfulness.

Enduring love.

Shown to us again and again in mercy and kindness.

Hesed.

So when I think of the fourth week of Advent and the theme of love, as we prepare to celebrate God incarnate, this Jesus who left his throne and his glory, emptying himself and taking on human flesh with its frailty, living amongst us and saving us because God “so loved the world”… well, why wouldn’t hesed come to mind?

Here is this week’s lectio divina verse:

  • Monday – Jeremiah 33:10-13

Incidentally, hesed is found here in Jeremiah 33. There in verse 11 the prophet points to the day when voices of joy and gladness and praise would again be heard saying “Give praise and thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good; for His mercy and kindness and steadfast love endure forever!” (AMP)

Again, we find this expectation. God’s hesed does indeed endure forever. Even when we don’t see it yet.

What I find most fitting, however, is that our last Advent lectio goes back to the verses just before our lectio scripture for day two, during week one: hope. It is all connected. Advent and expectation and hope and joy and peace and love. With God as the author and fulfiller of each.

(Read here to learn about the method of Lectio Divina.)

The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love… To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth. In the Christians sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone.

~ Frederick Beuchner

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I found peace.

By the end of the week last week I was indeed more peaceful – as well as more intentional about not worrying, turning my stresses over to God and hiding in the arms of the One who is our peace. Then yesterday pastor preached out of Isaiah 9:6-7, speaking of Jesus as Sar Shalom, Prince of Peace.

This week is joy.

And really, if you stop and look at things from a worldly view, how can there be joy? Even with eyes of faith joy can seem a struggle…

Horrific tragedies in the news, political chaos and worries and fears, people persecuted, people victimized, people grieving, people hurting… on a personal level, in communities, in nations… privately and publicly.

How can one look to joy now?

A friend wrote wise and deep considerations concerning the Advent Ache for Joy.

And I am also reminded of my discovery in the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel in how we rejoice in welcoming (hope, peace, joy) in the future.

And then there’s chara.

When I first realized that words like qavah and shalom which are dear to me and which God has been speaking through this year matched up with Advent themes, I ran the other themes through my head and wondered if I knew the Greek or Hebrew for them.

I did.

Chara came the instant my mind turned towards joy.

Chara was skillfully tied to charis and eucharisteo by Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts that the ladies’ Bible study I am a part of began reading at the beginning of the year.

Eucharisteo means to “give thanks.”

The root of eucharisteo is charis which means “grace.”

Because, you see, we give thanks for gifts. And when we give thanks we begin to see the gifts. And then there is the invitation to see them for what they really are – grace.

Grace is the root from which thanksgiving grows.

And then from there joy blossoms.

Ann writes, “Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy.’ Ah… yes. I might be needing me some of that.”

Grace and thanksgiving and joy are all connected.

And I began along with the other ladies’ in my study this challenge – this dare – to write down and record one thousand gifts. One thousand things – big and small – for which I am grateful. Seeing them as gifts. Seeing them as graces.

This morning I recorded gift #7,843.

And you know what, joy does come with that.

When we recognize the graces all around us, joy blossoms.

So in the same way that hope involves waiting and peace can be had even in chaos, so to joy is found even in sorrow and pain and grief.

Not a bubbly joy or some Pollyanna happiness.

But a deep – sometimes somber – inexplicable joy that is present when we give thanks for the graces we do see and receive, large and small.

Look at this video to see an example what I mean (or look again if you got there from Sam’s blog post).

Joy.

Chara.

We might be needing us some of that…

Here are this week’s lectio divina verses:

  • Monday – Isaiah 2:3-4
  • Tuesday – Luke 2:8-10
  • Wednesday – Isaiah 55:10-13
  • Thursday – Luke 1:42-49
  • Friday – 1 Peter 1:8-12
  • Saturday – John 16:20-22

(Read here to learn about the method of Lectio Divina.)

In the Gospel of John, Jesus sums up pretty much everything by saying, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15:11). He said it at the supper that he knew was the last one he’d have a mouth to eat. Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it. ~ Frederick Beuchner

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It is week two. My apologies for the post delay. The flights to and from SoCal last week/end took more out of me than I expected.

Interestingly enough, last week I spent every day focusing on hope. On qavah. And I was yearning and I was waiting and as my flights and doctor’s appointment approached I began to grow concerned, fearful even. What if I was wrong for hoping the protocol would work this time?

But there was no need to fear missed flights or long lines and my doctor’s appointment went terrific and I’m doing great this time around and I had really wonderful days on Friday and Saturday. Hope seemed tangible.

Now I enter week two and here at the beginning of the week I am feeling at dis-ease: sickly, anxious, moody, jittery, exhausted and in the throes of chaos. I find myself yearning for peace.

Peace.

Shalom.

It’s Hebrew. Shalom.

It’s often used as a salutation… or a valediction.

Its basic translation is peace.

But it means so much more than the absence of war… or anxiety… or fear.

I remember a speaker once saying that to say to someone “Shalom” was in essence saying, “May the fullness of the kingdom of God be upon you.”

Israel yearned for peace and in both the first advent of Christ which we celebrate and the second for which we yearn, God gives a more encompassing, more profound peace than we could even dream.

A peace that surpasses understanding.

A peace that guards hearts and minds.

And this week… this week with its chaotic start wherein peace seems light years away… this week I yearn.

For the fullness of God.

For peace.

And I pray that as I walk through the week, that it, too, will become more tangible.

Here are this week’s lectio divina verses:

  • Monday – Genesis 3:11-15
  • Tuesday – Micah 5:2-5
  • Wednesday – Isaiah 32:15-18
  • Thursday – Luke 2:25-32
  • Friday – John 14:25-28
  • Saturday – Isaiah 9:6-7

(Read here to learn about the method of Lectio Divina.)

Peace has come to mean the time when there aren’t any wars or even when there aren’t any major wars. Beggars can’t be choosers; we’d most of us settle for that. But in Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness, means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself. ~ Frederick Beuchner

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Immanuel.

God with us.

Adam and Eve experienced that in the Garden in a way we cannot fathom.

What was it like to hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day? What was it like to walk with Him and talk with Him and have unbroken fellowship in His very real presence? Unhindered by sin and fear and doubt?

Adam and Eve knew the meaning of Immanuel.

God with us.

But Genesis 3 changed all that.

Oh, sure, God revealed and manifested Himself in various ways throughout the Old Testament and the Spirit was at work among various kings and prophets and judges.

But it was different.

Which is why Isaiah’s foretelling words of “Immanuel, God with us” strike much deeper than the political and spiritual turmoil that was facing the people at the time.

They strike at the very core of who we were meant to be.

Matthew recalls Isaiah’s prophecy in the opening chapters of his Gospel, announcing their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Immanuel has arrived.
God is with us.

Or as John words it in his Gospel,

And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Gospel writers spend many chapters telling us what it was like when Jesus walked the earth. This God-man who came into our broken world to be with us. To save us. To show us the way.

Matthew opens his gospel by announcing the fulfillment of Immanuel – God with us.
He closes his gospel with the words of Jesus – who is about to ascend back into Heaven – promising us of His continued presence.

I am with you always…

We see and experience the hand of God, the working of the Spirit, the presence of Jesus differently – more intimately – than those in the Old Testament.

What gift!
What grace!

Yet it is still not as it was in Eden.

But it will again be.

Revelation 21:3-5 assures us of this.

There will be a time when the dwelling of God is again among humans. He will dwell among us and we shall be His people.

There will be no more tears, no more death or sorrow or pain.

For those things cannot exist where the fullness of God dwells.

John was instructed to write these words in Revelation. This hope.

And we can hope.

Because those words are faithful and true.
Because the One who spoke them is Faithful and True.

Immanuel.
God with us.

Immanuel was. Immanuel is. And someday Immanuel shall be fully and forever.

Oh, how I qavah that!

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Immanuel shall come

O come, O come, Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exhile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, O come, Emmanuel has been a favorite song of mine for years.

For the same reason that Psalm 130 is a favorite.

It expresses deep longing.

So the other day I was driving along in the car, singing passionately along and I got to the refrain, “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

And I suddenly realized what I was singing.

See, growing up I had always thought we were saying “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.”

After all, we sing that song at Christmas.

Christmas is when we celebrate that Jesus, Immanuel – God with us – has indeed come!

Which is probably why the David Crowder Band has a bridge in their version of the song where they break out into emphasizing “has come”…

But that’s not the original.

The original instructs Israel to rejoice because Immanuel shall come.

It hadn’t happened yet.

They were still waiting.

Longing.

Expecting.

Hoping.

How can you rejoice when you’re still waiting?

Then I recalled the lectio scripture upon which I had meditated just days before.

Hebrews 11:13-16

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Me being me, I looked up some of the key words in the Greek and I noticed that when it says “welcomed them from a distance”, the word “welcomed” there means to “receive joyfully”.

I pondered and I questioned.

How does one receive something joyfully from a distance?

Do I have that kind of faith?

Then I drove to work and the rain that fell at my house when I left turned to snow as I drove towards my place of employment. I had taken my new favored scenic route and I was really enjoying the drive that day as the white came down and settled in upon the ground. I found it beautiful.

Thing was, it wasn’t really beautiful. Not yet. There wasn’t enough snow to blanket everything in fresh and clean and white.

Yet I was excited. I was… joyful. Because I could see the coming beauty. Even before it was fully there.

And then I realized that I did understand how the people in Hebrews 11 could joyfully welcome a promise from a distance.

So as I rounded out another verse and refrain of “O come, O come, Emmanuel” those few days later, I recalled the Hebrews verse and the not-yet-beautifully snowy drive and I knew that the call was, indeed, to rejoice… for Immanuel will come.

We look ahead in faith.

We see the coming beauty.

And we rejoice.

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Ten Twenty-Three

The following are thoughts I jotted down a few weeks back when doing Lectio on Hebrews 10:23. I finally got them typed up and figured that since Advent week 1 is on hope, it was appropriate to post now.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Let us…

We are not alone. In our beliefs. In our struggles. I am not alone.

… hold fast…

Hold fast. Don’t let go. When I think of “fast” I think of “fastened” or “stuck fast.” Not moving.

Don’t let go.

But the Greek seems to emphasize “don’t let it get away” rather than “don’t let go.”

Like the difference between letting go of a jump rope versus losing hold of the leash of a squiggly dog.

Hold fast. Don’t let it get away.

…the confession…

Confession. Other translations use profession. The Greek uses homologia.

Which is counterpart to the verb homologeo which literally means to “speak the same as.”

It means to agree with.

Confessing our sins means that we agree with God that we have missed the mark, fallen short, done wrong.

Confessing our hope means that we agree with God concerning his promises.

…of our hope…

I hope to get to bed on time. I hope for a good night’s sleep. I hope for healing.

The Greek here is elpis, meaning an expectation of good.

Getting to bed on time, a good night’s sleep, healing… those are all good things.

We hope for things.

But we hope in Jesus.

That’s the only way we can “say the same thing” as God regarding his promises.

That’s the only way that “hope does not disappoint” as Romans 5:5.

Because it’s less about what we hope for and more about where our hope is found.

True hope is found in Jesus.

… without wavering…

Not inclining.

Firm.

Unmoved.

It seems to reemphasize the holding fast.

Don’t let it get away. Don’t even waver.

… for he who promised is faithful.

He who promised is faithful.

Enough said.

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