Foreboding Joy

Foreboding Joy

Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem marks the culmination of the whole middle movement of the Gospel of Luke “toward Jerusalem.”  Popular anticipation built from “all the deeds of power” along the way now unleashes in celebration. The proclamation of the multitude—“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”—is adapted from Psalm 118:26, which may have been used as a greeting to pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover. As they “praise God joyfully” it rings with relief, possibly not only remembering Israel's deliverance from Egypt, but also joyfully anticipating the overthrow of the new Egypt—Rome.

Such Fine Stuff

Such Fine Stuff

I have always been fascinated with the lives and habits of writers—especially poets and novelists—people who bend over a page and pour themselves out. Some are methodical and disciplined, others unpredictable. They often live the kind of lives that look prodigal and impractical from the outside. But in the act of writing, each is weighing out the world as well their own soul, losing and discovering themselves in the writing and the written.

Cynicism or Celebration

Cynicism or Celebration

“They couldn’t have been more different.” I had heard it said of siblings before, but as my wife and I draw near to the birth of our second son, it sunk in closer to home this time. We sat after dinner with a couple whose two sons are now adults, and as our own son explored their home, they reflected on how their first as a child had been so easy and peaceful. The second: “holy terror."

The Rock Was Christ

The Rock Was Christ

For the Jewish worshipper, desert language in the psalms would conjure images of the Exodus and exile, times of wilderness, weariness, and want. Paul reflects on these annals of Hebrew wandering and the way God guided and provided: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them.” Paul may be referring here to a Jewish tradition that the rock from which God brought water was actually carried by the Israelites as they journeyed.

Dead Set

Dead Set

“Keep death before your eyes daily."

This is one of the “tools of good works” listed in chapter four of the Rule of St. Benedict. Though it is only one of over seventy, it jumps off the page. It is how we begin this season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, being reminded “that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Lent has death at the start as well as the destination.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Every time I officiate a wedding, I warn the couple that if their ring bearer and/or flower girls are under 6, they are almost guaranteed not to make it down the aisle by themselves. (It's not a bad thing; I just want to make sure they know.) I share this from experience not only as a pastor but as a former toddler. At three or four, I was ring bearer in a family friend’s wedding. The story goes that my parents told me so often not to “wander off,” that by the time the reception came I looked at them and groaned, “Can I wander off now?"

Face to Face, Glory to Glory

Face to Face, Glory to Glory

The small town in Illinois where I went to college had an inexplicable wealth of thrift stores, and I quickly developed a thrifting habit. (“Habit” sounds better than “problem,” right?) I shared this secondhand lifestyle with my roommate, and we would do the rounds at the local shops at least once a week. For me there was (and still is) something deeply satisfying about the treasure hunt, the searching and discovery. During one of our forages among the dusty shelves, my friend found a light therapy lamp—one designed to mimic sunlight and shine on your face to combat seasonal depression.

Beautiful Frustration

Beautiful Frustration

Jumping into Genesis 45 feels like dropping in at someone else’s family reunion right around the point when everyone has “drank freely” (43:34) enough to start a tearful trek into the past. We are left to catch up. This passion has patiently waited over the twenty years that have passed since Joseph’s brothers jumped him, threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, and lied to their father that he was dead. Joseph is known for his dreams and interpretations of dreams, but I wonder how he slept those long years. 

Fish and Dishes

Fish and Dishes

I was by myself taking care of a particularly overflowing sink of dishes on what I believe was a Tuesday night. On the mission style armchair behind me was a copy of Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, my seminary reading that I had just put down to go about some housework. One blessing of such ordinary tasks is the space they leave for the mind. Mine began to wander.

Here Are Your Mysteries

Here Are Your Mysteries

Today, we usually imagine “reading” as a primarily private act and “reading the Bible” as the definitive devotional act. Such has only been the case for a few hundred years. In the ancient world especially, for the vast majority of people Scripture was something spoken. Setting Scripture within its original context of the worshipping community, we are poised remember something central about what Scripture even is.

Always Too Much

Always Too Much

Since beginning at Peachtree, I have come to delight in officiating weddings. Few events are so paradoxically weighty with meaning and light with joy. All the preparation and anticipation is released in a moment. All rise. The doors open and there stands the bride. Fanfare builds and climbs to a breathless rest. And she enters. While all eyes are fixed on the bride, mine move to the groom.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

With all the yearnings and warnings of the prophets in your imagination, read today from the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel:

Luke 1:5–2:38

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Our Rest and Consolation

Isaiah 66:7–11

Before she was in labor
 she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
 she delivered a son.
Who has heard of such a thing?
 Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
 Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
Yet as soon as Zion was in labor
 she delivered her children.
Shall I open the womb and not deliver?
 says the Lord;
shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?
 says your God.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
 all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
 all you who mourn over her—
that you may nurse and be satisfied
 from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
 from her glorious bosom.

Our Rest and Consolation

In a 12th-century Advent sermon, Bernard of Clairvaux taught that there are three “advents” or “comings” of the Lord. We are certainly familiar with two: his birth in the flesh and his return to restore all things. The whole tension of Advent is that we live in between these two arrivals, but Bernard of Clairvaux proposes a third arrival in the meantime:

“The intermediate coming is a hidden one…Listen to what our Lord himself says: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”

by Rev. Nick Chambers

Holy Hush

Isaiah 42:10–18

Sing to the Lord a new song,
 his praise from the end of the earth!
Let the sea roar and all that fills it,
 the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Let the desert and its towns lift up their voice,
 the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy,
 let them shout from the tops of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the Lord,
 and declare his praise in the coastlands.

The Lord goes forth like a soldier,
 like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
 he shows himself mighty against his foes.
For a long time I have held my peace,
 I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor,
 I will gasp and pant.
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
 and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
 and dry up the pools.
I will lead the blind
 by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
 I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
 the rough places into level ground.

These are the things I will do,
 and I will not forsake them.
They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame—
 those who trust in carved images,
who say to cast images,
 “You are our gods.”

Listen, you that are deaf;
 and you that are blind, look up and see!

Holy Hush

The Advent season provides us a time to “be still” and know that God is God. Verse fourteen states, “For a long time I have kept silent.  I have been quiet and held myself back.” Perhaps we should step back and realize there were four hundred years of “silence” between the last of the prophets and the appearance of John the Baptist in the desert proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Amazing how we tend to rush toward Christmas. By November, lights are already appearing in various places. Halloween stuff is being replaced by Christmas décor and shopping for just the appropriate gifts for those on our lists. But Advent reminds us to contemplate the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity, his one and only Son. John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” May we pause and reflect, even meditate on the first great doctrine of the Christian faith: The Incarnation. Yesuah/Jesus, whose name means “YHWH Saves,” is unique among all the “founders” of the world’s three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I first came to Peachtree under the ministry of Dr. Jim Collins. One of the things I recall he often said, “At Peachtree, we are not about “religion.” Religion kills people. Jesus brings people together.”

As in many ways we rush toward Christmas, Advent provides a “holy hush”—a time of introspection, illumination, and reflection as each candle of the Advent wreath reminds us of the entry of the Light into this sin-darkened world. Isaiah entreats us: “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth. You who go down to the sea and all that is in it, you islands and all who live them. Let the desert and its town raise their voices rejoice….let them shout from the mountain tops, Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his name…he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.”

by Rev. Bob Tyler

A Covenant Remains

Jeremiah 31:31–34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

A Covenant Remains

One of the foundational principles throughout Scripture comes into view in understanding the difference between a covenant and a contract. Whereas a contract is voided if one party violates the agreed terms, a covenant remains. God’s covenant with Israel emerges as a promise that endures despite Israel’s repeated follies. The text of Jeremiah 31 plainly acknowledges that the people have broken their promise—their covenant. And yet, here again, God acts to renew his promise that had been made in the past. God will be faithful even still. 

In renewing this covenant promise, the text of Jeremiah speaks of what it would look like for Israel to take its pledge and promise to heart. With prophetic urgency, now is the time for the people to live with unwavering commitment. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, the intent is for this renewed covenant to be: “as readily accepted as breathing and eating. Israel will practice obedience because it belongs in Israel’s character to live in this way.”

In the end, the fact that the “new covenant” is not to be like the “old covenant” is not a word about God having given up on his people. God has always been faithful—the point is for the people to stay true to their word in their next iteration. Jeremiah’s text is a declaration that imagines what it would be like for the people to keep up their promises—to live out their love of God and neighbor in ways that are earnest and heartfelt. 

Let us take Jeremiah’s proclamation to heart in our own age. Let us, too, renew our promises to be faithful in what we say and how we live.

by Rev. Jared Wortman

A Woman in Labor

Micah 4:8–13

And you, O tower of the flock,
 hill of daughter Zion,
to you it shall come,
 the former dominion shall come,
 the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem.
Now why do you cry aloud?
 Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
 that pangs have seized you like a woman in labor?
Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion,
 like a woman in labor;
for now you shall go forth from the city
 and camp in the open country;
 you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued,
 there the Lord will redeem you
 from the hands of your enemies.
Now many nations
 are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be profaned,
 and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
But they do not know
 the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
 that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
Arise and thresh,
 O daughter Zion,
for I will make your horn iron
 and your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples,
 and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
 their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.

A Woman in Labor

As I read the writings of the prophet Micah, the echoes of salvation are heard beyond the groans of lament. I envision, Mary, the mother of Jesus responding to Micah with these words.

Micah: “Is there no king in you?” 

Mary:  “But, oh yes there is!” 

Micah: “Has your counselor perished that pangs have seized you?”

Mary: “These pangs that seize me are needed to save you.”

Micah: “Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion!”

Mary: “My groans give birth to rejoicing!”

Micah: “For now you go shall go forth from the city and camp in the open country!”

Mary: “We have left our home in Nazareth to go to Bethlehem. In the country, God has met me!”

Micah: “There you shall be rescued!”

Mary: “Yes, there we have been rescued”

Micah: “There the Lord will redeem you.”

Mary: “The Lord will surely redeem us.”

Micah: “They do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan.”

Mary: “His plan is that the salvation of all must come from the suffering of one.”

by Kim Bolden

God's Got This

Isaiah 12:2–6

Surely God is my salvation;
 I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
 he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
 call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
 proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
 let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
 for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

God’s Got this

The prophet wrote these words at a time when the people of Judah lived under the might of the conquering Assyrian Empire. He reminds the enslaved people that earthly powers cannot defeat the power of God. “I will trust, and not be afraid.”

Today, whether we are worried about national and global news or something personal that is devastating and life changing, we know that it is no small thing to stare uncertainty in the face and say, “I will trust, and not be afraid.” 

Verse three reminds us that God's “got this,” whatever the problem. God’s “wells of salvation” makes it possible to choose trust instead of fear when the day brings situations and events beyond our control. My mother knew this, and she often went to God’s
“wells” that sustained and fortified her spirit of joy. When Mother faced death, she did not waver. She said, “I am not afraid.” She calmly passed over into God’s embrace.

During Advent, we wait for the day when God's salvation will come to us in all its fullness. "Do not be afraid," the angel will say, "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord”. 

As we look toward Christmas, let’s all go to the “well” just as those who went before us. We will trust God and not be afraid. We will “shout aloud and sing for joy” and together proclaim to all who would hear: “Great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel."

by Rev. Nancy Oliver

The Earth Will Be Full

Isaiah 11:1–9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
 and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
 the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
 the spirit of counsel and might,
 the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
 or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
 and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
 and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
 and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
 the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
 and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
 their young shall lie down together;
 and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
 and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
 on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
 as the waters cover the sea.

The Earth Will Be Full

This has long been for me one of the most moving visions of the prophets. A few years ago, my wife actually did a couple paintings inspired by Isaiah 11. One of a cow and bear grazing together was given to a friend. Another of children playing with snakes hung unfinished in our dining room for a time, startling nearly every new visitor to our home. The sight of something delicate delighting in something dangerous.

It seems an absurd dream, but prophets are not strategists. What they offer is not a ten-step plan but tantalizing poetry. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it, “The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.”

Prophets bend and break our expectations for what is possible. Hurt and destruction seem inevitable. Predator and prey are locked in an unending dance. We not only accept but expect headlines of another mass shooting, another kidnapped child, another public scandal. We do not know a world without hostility, violence, and death. But we shall.

Isaiah has already envisioned weapons of war being beaten into farming tools (2:4). Human violence will end. Now, even the animal world is turned upside down. The dynamic of death that seems to sustain the natural world will disappear. 

This vision reminds us that the “judgment” dimension of Christ’s coming is not a narrow matter of sorting out sins and punishments. It is about filling the whole earth together with the incredible peace and complete knowledge of the Lord. May his kingdom come.

by Rev. Nick Chambers

Fast and Feast

Amos 9:8–15

The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
 and I will destroy it from the face of the earth
 —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,
says the Lord.
For lo, I will command,
 and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
 but no pebble shall fall to the ground.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
 who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”
On that day I will raise up
 the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
 and raise up its ruins,
 and rebuild it as in the days of old;
in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom
 and all the nations who are called by my name,
 says the Lord who does this.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
 when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
 and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
 and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
 and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
 and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
 and they shall never again be plucked up
 out of the land that I have given them,
says the Lord your God.

Fast and Feast

For the better part of Christian history, Advent has been seen and practiced as a season of fasting. Just as Lent is a period of preparation for Easter, so Advent was a fast before the feast of Christmas. It has even been called a “little Lent.” We have obviously lost hold of this pattern in our own culture, but the rhythm of this passage invites us back into it.

Yesterday’s passage predicted famine—not of food but of God’s Word. But here Amos assures us that this famine will not last forever. Feasting will return; our tables will be filled. Just as “the time is surely coming” for wandering and fasting, so “the time is surely coming” when wine will flow. God’s Word will not only be spoken. it will take on flesh and blood.

Such a mystery—Word of God made flesh—is so beyond our capacity to comprehend and control that it is indisputably “the Lord who does this,” not us. The Lord is clear: “I will restore the fortunes…I will plant them upon their land.” Restoration, joy, and fruitfulness come as a holy surprise in the midst of our fasting, a surprise to which we can only respond with gratitude. The Incarnation of God interrupts injustice, sorrow, and hopelessness to bring new life out of the ground.

The time is surely coming when we will fast.

The time is surely coming when we will feast.

by Rev. Nick Chambers