Archive for the ‘Isaiah 40’ Tag

Devotion for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  U.S. Highway 93, Near Ely, Nevada

Image Source = Google Earth

Disappointment with God

DECEMBER 10, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Isaiah 40:1-10

Psalm 85 (LBW) or Psalm 19 (LW)

2 Peter 3:8-14

Mark 1:1-8


Stir up in our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. 

By his coming give us strength in our conflicts

and shed light on our path through the darkness of the world; 

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13


Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son

that at his second coming we may worship him in purity;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 11


The assigned readings for this week, taken together, are more positive in tone than last week’s readings.  God forgives us, both individually and collectively.  In Isaiah 40, the focus is on the impending end of the Babylonian Exile, followed by a second Exodus.  Yet none of this absolves us–individually and collectively–of our obligations to God and each other.  The seeming delay in divine actions is to our advantage, we read.  We–individually and collectively–need to use this gift of time well.  And, when God does act, the manner of that action may not be what we–individually and collectively–expect.  So, we may miss it if we are not properly attentive.

Expectations can be tricky.  They establish a standard of human satisfaction or disappointment.  This standard may be unfair.  We human beings are entitled to our informed opinions Alas, many expectations flow from uninformed opinions.  Therefore, we may unwittingly set ourselves–individually and collectively–up for disappointment.  Then we complain to God, as if God is responsible for our disappointment.

Arguing faithfully with God is my second favorite aspect of Judaism.  (Monotheism is my first.)  I, as a Christian, embrace arguing with God as part of my inheritance from Judaism.  Yet I grasp that arguing faithfully differs from merely arguing.  Merely arguing can function as a distraction from admitting how little I know.

Isaiah 40:8, in Robert Alter’s translation, reads:

Grass dries up, the flower fades,

but the word of our God stands forever.

The “word,” in this case, means what God says, not any particular canon of scripture.  The word of God, whom we can describe partially and never fully understand, stands forever.  In other words, God is faithful forever.  And God refuses to fit inside any theological box.

Does that disappoint us?  If so, it is our problem, not God’s.

I know an Episcopal priest who deals deftly with people who tell him they do not believe in God.  He asks these individuals to describe the God in whom they do not believe.  They invariably describe a deity in whom the priest does not believe either.

God created us in the divine image.  We have imagined God in our image.  Then we have become disappointed with this false image of God while mistaking it for God.  This is one of those forms of “unperceived guilt” (Psalm 19:13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures) of which we need God to clear us.

By grace, may we perceive and frolic in the gracious surprises of God.












Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA



Devotion for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Preaching of St. John the Baptist, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Image in the Public Domain


DECEMBER 10, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8


The readings, overall, have toned down and become less daunting since the previous Sunday in the Humes lectionary.  Not everything is all puppies and kittens, though.

The readings from the Hebrew Bible flow from the theology that sin led to collective suffering–exile in Isaiah 40 and drought in Psalm 85.  Isaiah 40 announces pardon and the imminent end of the Babylonian Exile.  Psalm 85 prays for both forgiveness and rain.

Apocalyptic expectations are plain in the reading from 2 Peter.  Believing in the return of Jesus Christ is no excuse to drop the ball morally, we read.

The pericope from Mark 1 contains two major themes that jump out at me.  The text, which quotes Isaiah 40 and relates it to the Incarnation, indicates the call to repentance and makes plain that St. John the Baptist modeled humility, but not timidity.

Repentance is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.  Many devout people are aware of their need to change their minds and ways.  Being aware of that necessity is relatively easy.  Then the really difficult elements follow.  Can we see past our cultural blinders and our psychological defense mechanisms?  Are we humble enough to acknowledge our sins?  And, assuming that we can and are, changing our ways is difficult.  We need not rely on our puny, inadequate power, however.









Devotion for Monday After the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Road Through Desert

Above:  A Road Through a Desert

Image in the Public Domain

The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part II

DECEMBER 6, 2021


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming give to all the world knowledge of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 126

Romans 8:22-25


When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then we were like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

They they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great thins for us,

and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go our reaping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

–Psalm 126, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Hope–even that of the well-placed variety–can be difficult to maintain.  Periods of exile might be long, fear and uncertainty might be daunting, physical and/or emotional suffering might be terrible, and daring to aspire to a better future might seem foolish.  Yet God is faithful and generous, and many unlikely and seemingly unlikely events occur.  Samuel L. Clemens, who wrote as Mark Twain, commented, fiction, unlike non-fiction, is, according to many people, supposed to make sense.  Yet I have noticed that many expect non-fiction to make sense, according to their expectations, and reject reality when it contradicts confirmation bias.

This is a devotion for early in Advent, the time of preparation for the twelve days of Christmas.  December should be a time of contemplation, assuming that one observes a spiritual holiday or holidays during the month.  (It is a month full of holidays.)  I, as a Christian, observe the seasons of Advent and Christmas while wishing others happy holidays in their traditions, for having a firm opinion need not lead to hostility and/or intolerance toward those who are different.  I observe Advent so enthusiastically that I wish people a holy Advent until very close to December 25, finally yielding to “Merry Christmas” somewhere around December 23.  Then I wish people “Merry Christmas” until January 5.  I, without becoming lost in theologically minor details, ponder the central mystery of Christianity, which is that God entered into the human story as one of us.  That Jesus was a human being is the first important statement about him.  The incarnation is foundational, for, if that assertion is not true, other essential doctrines, such as those related to Good Friday and Easter, fall apart.  Other ancient religions proposed their own saviors of the world, but those figures never existed as historical figures.  How can a figment of human imaginations save the world?

Was it ever too much to hope that God would become incarnate?  No, but it was wonderful.  And, since Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin, there is even more hope for us than we would have otherwise.  Dare we to live in that hope?









Devotion for Saturday Before the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   5 comments


Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., March 26, 1964

Photographer = Marion S. Trikosko

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsc-01269

True Liberation

DECEMBER 3, 2022


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

John 1:19-28


Give your king, justice, O God,

and your righteousness to the king’s son;

that he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice;

that the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,

and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people

and shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

–Psalm 72:1-4, Book of Common Worship (1993)


Triumphal highways were symbols of Chaldean/Babylonian imperial power.  Thus they were, for exiles, symbols of oppression.  But the highway in Isaiah 40:3-5 is one of liberation.  It is the highway of Yahweh.  It is the road exiles will travel to their ancestral homeland.

John 1:23 draws on this imagery in reference to Jesus.  Instead of Chaldeans/Babylonians, with their highways, there are the Romans, with their network of highways.  Although Jews live in their homeland, they are not free.  No, they live under foreign occupation.  Liberation, St. John the Baptist tells people, is nigh.

But it was not a political liberation, as history attests.  No, it was a spiritual liberation.  The Temple system, in cahoots with the Roman Empire, was corrupt.  Purity codes marginalized the vast majority of Palestinian Jews and reassured an elite population of their imagined sanctity.  The destruction of that corrupt Temple system, with its purity codes, accomplished violently by Roman forces in 70 CE, was a crucial event in Jewish and Christian history.  And the Romans were still in power.

Jesus defined discipleship as following him–taking up one’s cross and following him.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior placed him beyond any human power.  What more could anyone do to him?  So, as St. Paul the Apostle wrote, if we die with Christ (literally or metaphorically) we will rise with Christ.  In Jesus there is life which no power on the planet can take away from us.  We have new life–eternal life–in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

This is not merely for individuals.  No, it is a collective liberation.  May we refrain from imposing anachronistic worldviews on texts.  Holiness was for the community in the Law of Moses.  Liberation is for the community in Jesus, for what we do affects others.  As Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us prophetically,

Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

Likewise, true holiness and liberation are inherently communal.  How can they be otherwise?







Devotion for December 20 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Above:  Baal

Idols and Icons

DECEMBER 20, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:18-41:10

Psalm 18:1-20 (Morning)

Psalms 126 and 62 (Evening)

Revelation 8:1-13


Some Related Posts:

A Prayer for Proper Priorities:

A Prayer to Relinquish the Illusion of Control:


John of Patmos interpreted natural disasters as calls to repentance.  As I tire of writing repeatedly yet think I must do anyway, repentance is changing one’s mind or turning around.  It is active.  Apologizing is part of repentance much of the time, yet let us never mistake it for all of repentance.

Back to my main thread….

John of Patmos interpreted natural disasters as calls to repentance.  As I wrote in the December 18 devotional post in this series, sometimes we interpret disturbing events (natural or otherwise)  correctly; at other times we add two and two, arriving at a sum of five.  But let us remain focused on the main point:   God desires that we repent.  This indicates that God has not given up on us.  Otherwise there would be just destruction.

God’s self-description in Isaiah 40-41 repudiates idols.  An idol is anything which distracts us from God. We all have a collection of them.  We might not call them statues of Baal or another ancient imaginary deity, but we might have an excessive habit of watching television or playing video games.  For many people the Bible itself is an idol because they treat it as one.

An icon, in contrast, is something through which we see (or hear) God. An icon can be religious artwork, a loved one, or the Bible, for example.  The Bible, in fact, is properly an icon.

May we repent of our idolatry and replace our idols with icons.







Devotion for December 19 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   7 comments

Above:  Tall Wild Grass

Waiting for God

DECEMBER 19, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-17

Psalm 50 (Morning)

Psalms 14 and 16 (Evening)

Revelation 7:1-17


A Related Post:

The Church’s One Foundation:


All flesh is grass,

All its goodness like flowers of the field:

Grass withers, flowers fade

When the breath of God blows on them.

Indeed, man is but grass:

Grass withers, flowers fade–

But the word of our God is always fulfilled.

–Isaiah 40:6b-8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

The exiles of Judah will go home.  The martyrs in Heaven glorify God, who has sealed the faithful for survival during the great tribulation.  Tough times will follow in the near term but those of God will emerge in one piece–not necessarily unscathed, but in one piece.

Most of us dislike suffering for obvious reasons.  We refer good news to bad news, pleasure to pain, good time to different ones.  And we want the deliverance to arrive sooner rather than later.  Immediately would suit us fine.  I know these feelings well.

Yet we must wait sometimes.  This is an Advent devotion, so the theme of waiting fits well.

O come, o come, Emmanuel,

an old hymn says.  There is a great sense of longing there.  And, from “The Church’s One Foundation” (words by Samuel John Stone, 1839-1900, a priest of The Church of England), we read:

Mid toil and tribulation,

and tumult of her war,

she waits the consumation

of peace for evermore,

till with the vision glorious

her longing eyes are blessed,

and the great Church victorious

shall be the Church at rest.

Waiting can be very difficult, for our schedule is not that of God.  Yet, if we wait faithfully long enough, we will know from experience that God is faithful.







Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   10 comments

Above:  Clouds at Sunset

Image Source = Fir0002

The Call of God, With All Its Responsibilities

FEBRUARY 4, 2024


Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me?

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

My way is hidden from the LORD,

and my right is disregarded by my God?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2  The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3  He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4  He counts the number of the stars

and call s them all by their names.

5  Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6  The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8  He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares the rain for the earth;

9  He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10  He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11  He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12  But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

21c  Hallelujah!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!  For if I do this on my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  When then is my reward?  Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free if charge, as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him,

Everyone is searching for you.

He answered,

Let us go on to the neighboring towns , so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

Isaiah 40:

Mark 1:


In the Autumn of 1991, during my first quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, my father was the newly appointed pastor the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  I did not know it yet, but I was on the cusp of converting to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, on December 22, 1991.   In the meantime, however, I was still a United Methodist.  One Sunday morning, while teaching adult Sunday School, I offended someone by accident.

You, O reader, might wonder what terrible thing I said, what utterly offensive comment I made.  I will tell you.  I was discussing grace, especially the prevenient variety, by which God brings us into the Christian fold.  God does beckon us, after all.  I offered a scenario:  God is beckoning a non-Christian man, who responds favorably and obediently to God’s prevenient grace yet dies before making a profession of faith.  Does the man go to Heaven or to Hell?  In other words, will God be faithful to this man, who had responded favorably to him?  Most people said that the man would go to Heaven.  But two visitors, a daughter and son-in-law of a member, said that he would go to Hell, for he had not made a profession of faith and been baptized yet.  I made clear in a polite and civilized way, in a pleasant and conversational tone, and free of any insult or hint thereof, that I disagreed.

That was my offense.  I disagreed.  I learned after the fact that the visitors had taken offense.  I was unapologetic then, as I remain, for another person’s thin theological skin is not my responsibility.

And I remain convinced that we human beings ought to admit that the only limits on grace and divine forgiveness are those God imposes on them, and that only God knows what those limits are.  Or, as David said in 2 Samuel 24:14,

…let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.  (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

Grace is of the essence.  With that summary, let us work through the readings for this Sunday.

The lesson from Isaiah 40 predicts the liberation of Jews from the Babylonian Exile.  This is a chapter of comfort, as it begins with these words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

The God of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 is the Creator, the judge who also shows mercy, looks favorably upon the faithful, and is infinitely wise.  The chapter, which begins with “…comfort my people,” ends with the promise that God will grant “power to the faint.”

That power enabled Paul the Apostle to persist faithfully through death threats, beatings, imprisonments, and a shipwreck, all the way until an employee of the Roman Empire cut his head off.  Grace moved Paul from the “right side of the law” and placed him in risky situations.  This was not cheap grace, that which demands nothing of one and is therefore useless.  No, it was costly grace–free in so far as Paul received it freely–but costly in terms of what it demanded of him.  The restrictions of Torah law no longer applied to him, but the law of the love of Christ demanded his all.

Jesus, of course, was perfect as well as fully human and fully divine.  Yet even he needed to get away, find quiet time, and pray.  A day full of healing will take a great deal out of a Messiah, I suppose.  He was grace incarnate.  It was Christ whom Paul preached and followed from his conversion to his execution.  It is Jesus whom we ought to follow, if we are not doing so already, and to whom God beckons people.

And if even Jesus needed to be quiet and to pray, how much more do we need to do these?  I live in a technology-soaked society, where many people are never really “away from it all” (except when sleeping) because somebody can contact them the rest of the time.  This is not healthy.  We need to nourish ourselves with peace, quiet, and God.  Otherwise, we will nothing constructive to offer anyone else.

Paul had a vocation as an evangelist and ultimately a martyr.  I have my vocation, and you, O reader, have yours.  The details of our vocations will vary according to various factors, but the principle is the same:  to glorify God, to be a light of God to others, to encourage our fellow Christians in their discipleship, to attract others to our Lord and Savior, to understand that there is no distinction between evangelism and positive social action.  As Shirwood Eliot Wirt, a close associate of Billy Graham wrote in the final chapter of The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (1968):

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air is cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concern be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.  (Page 154)

If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I cannot say honestly that I do not care about the injustice he or she endures, that he or she does not earn a living wage, that a flawed justice system convicted and sent him or her to prison unjustly, that he or she suffers under the weight of undue stigma, et cetera.  Grace demands me to care about all this and to act accordingly as well as whether my neighbor has a positive, growing relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are some of my responsibilities.  They are also yours.

God’s hands are my hands–and yours.  God’s voice is my voice–and yours.  May they be useful and eloquent, respectively.


Eighth Day of Advent: Second Sunday of Advent, Year B   42 comments

Above:  The Roman Colosseum in Early Morning

It is neither dark nor light; the light will come.

Image Source = Diliff

We Wait…

DECEMBER 10, 2023


Isaiah 40:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that she has served her term,

that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:

In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,

make straight in 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.

A voice says,

Cry out!

And I said,

What shall I cry?

All people are grass,

their consistency is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;

surely the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades;

but the word of our God will stand for ever.

Get up to a high mountain,

O Zion, herald of great tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

Here is your God!

See, the LORD God comes with might,

and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,

and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  You have been gracious to your land, O LORD,

you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.

2  You have forgiven the iniquity of your people

and blotted out all their sins.

8  I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9  Truly, his salvation is very near to those fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10  Mercy and truth have met together;

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11  Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12  The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13  Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

2 Peter 3:8-15a (New Revised Standard Version):

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.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?  But, in accordance with his promise, we waiting for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Mark 1:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

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 the 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.

The Collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Waiting is hard.  I do not refer to pacing and foot-tapping while wondering what is taking somebody so long, although that is difficult.  No, I mean purposeful, patient waiting.  The conquered and exiled Jews living within the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had to wait for the Persian army of Cyrus the Great.  These being Advent readings, however, most waiting is for the coming of the Messiah.  In the meantime, people near Jerusalem listened to an eccentric ascetic.  And, a few decades later, members of a nascent faith called Christianity awaited the return of Jesus, with advice to live at peace with God and each other.  Time, the author of 2 Peter writes, works differently for God than for us, so we ought not to become impatient.

Listen to a really good and chanted version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  The haunting  sense of longing will be evident there, as will confidence that Emmanuel will come, and God will indeed be with us in a different way than is true now.  Until then, we need to hang on.

This requires stillness.   But we cannot be still while rushing and flitting about from shopping trip to shopping trip and Christmas party (office, neighborhood, church group, etc.) to Christmas party.  December is a hectic time for many people.  Yet this is the time that the Church, in its wisdom, has set aside as Advent, a time of faithful preparation for Christmas.

I write these words in early June 2011, a very hot time in northern Georgia, U.S.A.  Slowing down long enough to type the readings and to ponder them, and hopefully to grasp the spirit of them, is a valuable exercise.  During this time I have played a variety of YouTube videos of Advent carols in the background, to get into the proper frame of mind.  Focusing on these readings has been a great blessing for me this day, and I hope that they are for you, too.

Dominus tecum.




Eleventh Day of Advent   15 comments

Above:  Yoked Oxen

The Yoke of Faith



Isaiah 40:25-31 (Revised English Bible):

To whom, then, will you liken me,

whom set up as my equal?

asks the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens;

consider the one who created these,

led out their host one by one,

and summoned each by name.

Through his great might, his strength and power,

not one is missing.

Jacob, why do you complain,

and you, Israel, why do you say,

My lot is hidden from the LORD,

my cause goes unheeded by my God?

Do you not know, have you not heard?

The LORD, the eternal God,

creator of earth’s farthest bounds,

does not weary or grow faint;

his understanding cannot be fathomed.

He gives vigour to the weary,

new strength to the exhausted.

Young men may grow weary and faint,

even the fittest may stumble and fall;

but those who look to the LORD will win new strength,

they will soar as on eagles’ wings;

they will run and not feel faint,

march on and not grow weary.

Psalm 103:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Bless the LORD, my soul;

with all my being I bless his holy name.

Bless the LORD, my soul,

and forget none of his benefits.

He pardons all my wrongdoing

and heals all my ills.

He rescues me from death’s pit

and crowns me with love and compassion.

He satisfies me with all good in the prime of life,

and my youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

The LORD is righteous in all he does;

he brings justice to all who have been wronged.

He revealed his ways to Moses,

his mighty deeds to the Israelites.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,

long-suffering and ever faithful;

he will not always accuse

or nurse his anger for ever.

He has not treated as our sins deserve

or repaid us according to our misdeeds.

Matthew 11:28-30 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus said,]

Come to me, all who are weary and whose load is heavy; I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to wear, my load is light.

The Collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Freedom can exist only within the context of rules; to deny this reality is to commit the error which resides at the heart of anarchism.  Yet one must be careful about the rules to which one submits, for there are just laws and unjust laws.  I know this as a student of history.  So I consider the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made aiding and abetting the escape of slaves a federal crime within the United States while I praise those moral giants who violated it, thereby making themselves criminals.   They obeyed the law of God.

The yoke of Jesus is the yoke of faith.  It is a yoke one assumes voluntarily, not a yoke anybody imposes on another.  Obedience to God can lead to suffering and/or death, but even then it guides one to life eternal in this life and the next.  God, who gives us true life and helps us to live into our potential, directs us into paths of righteousness.  And, if we are wise, we obey.  When we do this we start on the path which leads to soaring like eagles.

Yet first we must recognize and admit the fact that God knows better than we do.  Yes, we must be humble and surrender our illusions of control.  It can be difficult, but is wise.

The law of God is love-sometimes tough love.  Divine law demands that we love ourselves and each other as bearers of the image of God.  This ethic rules out exploitation of our fellow human beings.  Grace is free, yet not cheap, for it accompanies the law of God, which requires that we surrender all our idols, all that distracts us from God.  Such is the way of life.

Thanks be to God!


Written on May 31, 2010

Tenth Day of Advent   19 comments

Above:  Sheep

The Enduring Love and Justice of God



FIRST READING (YEARS A AND C):  Isaiah 40:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

Comfort my people; bring comfort to them,

says your God;

speak kindly to Jerusalem

and proclaim to her

that her term of bondage is served,

her penalty is paid;

for she has received at the LORD’s hand

double measure for all her sins.

A voice cries:

Clear a road through the wilderness for the LORD,

prepare a highway across the desert for our God.

Let every valley be raised,

every mountain and hill be brought low,

uneven ground be made smooth,

and steep places become level.

Then will the glory of the LORD be revealed

and all mankind together will see it.

The LORD himself has spoken.

A voice says,


and I asked,

What shall I proclaim?

All mortals are like grass,

they last no longer than a wild flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

when the blast of the LORD blows on them.

Surely the people are grass!

The grass may wither, the flower fade,

but the word of our God will endure for ever.

Climb to a mountaintop,

you that bring good news to Zion;

raise your voice and shout aloud,

you that carry good news to Jerusalem,

raise it fearlessly;

say to the cities of Judah,

Your God is here!

Here is the Lord GOD; he is coming in might,

coming to rule with powerful arm.

His reward is with him,

his recompense before him.

Like a shepherd he will tend his flock together;

he will carry the lambs in his bosom

and lead his ewes to water.

FIRST READING FOR YEAR B:  Amos 5:18-24 (Revised English Bible):

Woe betide those who long for the day of the LORD!

What will the day of the LORD mean for you?

It will be darkness, not light;

It will be as when someone runs from a lion,

only to be confronted by a bear,

or as when he enters his house

and leans with his hand on the wall,

only to be bitten by a snake.

The day of the LORD is indeed darkness, not light,

a day of gloom without a ray of brightness.

I spurn with loathing your pilgrim-feasts;

I take no pleasure in your sacred ceremonies.

When you bring me your whole-offerings and your grain-offerings

I shall not accept them,

nor pay head to your shared-offerings or stall-fed beasts.

Spare me the sound of your songs;

I shall not listen to the strumming of your lutes.

Instead let justice flow on like a river

and righteousness like a never-failing torrent.

PSALM FOR YEARS A AND C:  Psalm 96 (Revised English Bible):

Sing a new song to the LORD.

Sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD and bless his name;

day by day proclaim his victory.

Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvellous deeds to every people.

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

For the gods of the nations are idols every one;

but the LORD made the heavens.

Majesty and splendour attend him,

might and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, you families of nations,

ascribe to the LORD glory and might;

ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name.

Bring an offering and enter his courts;

in holy attire worship the LORD;

tremble before him, all the earth.

Declare among the nations,

The LORD is King;

the world is established imovably;

he will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad,

let the sea resound and everything in it,

let the fields exult and all that is in them;

let all the trees of the forest shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice

and the peoples by his faithfulness.

PSALM FOR YEAR B:  Psalm 50:7-15 (Revised English Bible):

Listen, my people, and I shall speak;

I shall bear witness against you, Israel:

I am God, your God.

Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,

your whole offerings always before me;

I need take no young bull from your farmstead,

no he-goat from your folds;

for all the living creatures of the forest are mine

and the animals in their thousands on my hills.

I know every bird on those mountains;

the teeming life of the plains is my care.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and all that is in it are mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls

or drink the blood of he-goats?

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and fulfill your vows to the Most High;

then if you call to me in time of trouble,

I shall come to your rescue, and you will honour me.

Matthew 18:12-14 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus said,]

What do you think?  Suppose someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them strays, does he not leave the other ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the one that strayed?  Truly I tell you:  if he should find it, he is more delighted over the sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.  In the same way, it is not your heavenly Father’s will that one of these little ones should be lost.

The Collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Divine judgment and mercy are two sides of one coin; one goes where the other does.  The Hebrew Scriptures  and the New Testament condemn economic and judicial injustice repeatedly.  So it follows naturally that divine mercy for the exploited entails judgment on the exploiters.  This is as matters should be.

So we read on this day of Advent about grazing animals–and not even the brightest crayons in that box.  We read that God desires righteousness and social justice, not the sacrifice of animals or grains, and that all these creatures are precious to God.  In fact, we have a parable in which Jesus likens us to lost sheep in great peril.  The shepherd will seek and locate such a sheep then rejoice.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, of course.  This is an unexpected analogy for a figure of exaltation, for shepherds were smelly and toward the bottom of the totem pole.  Furthermore, they depended on the sheep for their livelihood, much as the animals depended on the shepherds for their safety.  So, as I reflect on this parable, I conclude that it says that God needs us, just as we need God.  And, when I bring in the other readings, I see that God’s shepherding of us entails a degree of discipline–not for vindictive punishment, but for instruction.  Tough love requires some pain at times, but the alternative is worse for us.


Written on May 31, 2010