Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Lord Has Comforted His People -- A Christmas Message

In the quiet of the night, in lowly estate, the Lord bared forth his holy arm before the eyes of the slumbering nations. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In the darkness of the darkest night, in poverty, in humility, in the womb of a virgin mother, the Creator of the Cosmos came, and entered into our humanity so that all the ends of the earth might see the salvation of our God.

And on this morning, as the shepherds return to the their sheep, and the angels’ glorias fade into the waning night, as a young mother comforts her newborn child, we know that the Lord has indeed comforted his people.

Comfort – comfort in our weakness. He came, for those who could not come and kneel at the foot of the manger – he came.

Comfort – comfort in our sorrow. He came, for those who had lost hope that God could ever be with them in their despair – he came.

Comfort – comfort in our darkness. He came, for those who had turned from the goodness and mercy of God – he came.

He came to his own and they knew him not. But those who were weak, those who were sorrowful, those whose spirits were clouded by darkness – he came also to them.

He came to a man whose child had died, who called to him in confusion and despair with the words, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” He came to a Samaritan woman at a well, who had been ostracized by her people who, in spiritual thirst, uttered the words “Give me some living water.” He came to a blind beggar, who, though he could not see healer, still called out “Son of David, have mercy.” He came and they received him and they received power to become children of God.

He has come. And as with those of old, so it is this Christmas: He comes to us. The creator of the world, the heavens and the earth, and indeed the cosmos, comes to us. And we behold his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This grace and truth, in the Word made flesh, in Jesus our Lord, is the light that lightens this dark world, and not only the world at large, but lightens us, at the core of our very being as individuals created in his image and likeness. It is a life-giving light that illumines the darkness of our weakness, our despair, and our sorrow.

In our darkness, it is the light of the presence of God amongst us that never leaves us, that never forsakes us. In our darkness, it is the light of a promise that we are children of God. It is a light that shines this very day. It is a light that will never be extinguished. It is a light that burns for each one of us and for all of us as a people, as a human race. Jesus our Lord is born among us, and by his Spirit he abides with us still, uttering these words, “follow thou me.” So that even in a troubled and saddened world, in the ruins of Jerusalem, the children of God break forth with singing, “The Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations: and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

O God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ became man that we might become the children of God: Grant, we beseech thee, that being made partakers of the divine nature of thy Son, we may be conformed to his likeness; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and forever. Amen.[1]

[1] “Collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas,” Book of Common Prayer (Scottish Episcopal Church), 1929, p. 113.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Imagine -- An Advent Reflection

A reflection for Advent from the fortieth chapter of the Prophet Isaiah

The Word of the Lord endures forever. Even though we wither like the grass, God goes ever unchanging on, ruler and Lord of all. And in the unending faithfulness of God, he is ever working to reconcile us to himself and to each other. The season of Advent is about us becoming reconciled to God, it is about waiting on the moment that God himself entered human history and called us back to his heart as a shepherd leads his flock. In the time of the Second Temple, John the Baptist was making this very call, telling people to turn back to God and be made ready for his coming – Make straight a pathway for our God.

John’s words evoke another time spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, a time when the Temple had been destroyed and the people of Judah had been taken into captivity by the neo-Babylonian empire. Imagine yourself there. It is very much like the time of the Exodus – it is a time in the wilderness, a time that will apparently never end.

But then, IMAGINE, a voice calls out: “Make straight a pathway, for your God is coming!” You are told that you have suffered long enough for your sins. And God speaks to his prophet, “Speak tenderly to my people, be comforting – be comforted O my people, your time of suffering is ended.”

And then, as if by a miracle, your line of vision is cleared – the low valleys are lifted up, and the high mountains are flattened, and the rough places are smoothed over, and your cloudiness, and despair, and hopelessness give way to clarity. You, and all those who have lived under the shadow of foreign domination, in captivity in a foreign land, for you, the horizon clears and you behold the glory of the Lord. You can return to your beloved Jerusalem. It matters not that it is in ruins, for you have beheld the Glory of God.

IMAGINE, God calls you out of your place of darkness, out of your captivity. Get up he says, get up to the high mountain. Return to Jerusalem and call out to the cities of Judah, call out to all the nations: “Behold, your God!” Shout, shout for joy that God has reconciled his people to himself, and to each other.

IMGAGINE, God calls to you and his people who have wandered in the wilderness of captivity, that he will lead you, not into battle, not into hardship, but will lead you like a shepherd, and he will nestle all the nations against his bosom, like a shepherd leads his sheep.

Now, IMAGINE, lo these many years later, a voice calls out to you – you who are captive in your own wilderness; you whose vision is clouded by high mountains and dark valleys; you whose way is made difficult to navigate by rough pathways. IMAGINE, a voice calls out to you: “Be comforted, my people, be comforted my friend. Make straight a pathway in you heart for me and I will make the low valleys of your despair rise and the high mountains of you fear recede. The rough pathway that you cannot walk will be made smooth… Be comforted and make me a pathway, and at the horizon you will see me, you will behold your God.

IMAGINE, from that horizon, God will reach out to you, and draw you unto himself and lift you up to a high mountain from which you can call to others “Behold your God” and witness to his gentleness and care.

My friends. You do not have to imagine. It is so.

To read last year's Advent reflection, click here.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This text may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.