pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Arise, Shine

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

At times, things can seem dark.  For individuals, sudden and unexpected loss can make the world heavy and can make it hard to get through the day to day.  And at times, even the normal day to day life can be a bit hard at times.  One only has to spend a little time watching or listening to the news to develop a sense that the world is bleak and gloomy.  Story after story brings more bad news.  This was the feel of the times into which Isaiah writes.  The exiles have been gone so long it seems like they will never return.  Things in Jerusalem have continued to erode – the walls, the food, the hope, …

Isaiah opens this writing with hope – glorious hope – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”.  These words contain much hope.  God is returning!  Into all of this darkness comes the Lord Almighty.  It is such good news that Isaiah repeats it again in the next verse.  He goes on to write of the return of sons and daughters from exile.  Then he writes of how other nations will see the glory of God in Israel and will come with camels, gold, and incense.  Lots of good news is on the way!  Praise the Lord!

Within this chapter of joy for Israel, we too can find hope in our day to day.  If we are in the midst of a difficult time, like Israel was, it can feel like God is not there or is distant at best.  The good news is for us too – we too can find strength and hope in God.  If we seek Him, we will know God’s presence, for God is always near.  For those not dealing with a personal trial, may we arise and shine forth the glory of the Lord, for all the world to see.  May the light shine so that all may be drawn to the Lord.

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Hope and Promise

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

In many places winter is settling in.  On the coldest of windy days, one just wants to hunker down inside with a good book and a cozy blanket.  In this way, one finds a little comfort and solace in a harsh world outside.  In today’s passage, Isaiah is offering a vision filled with words of hope and promise.  The people are in exile.  Their surroundings are secular, polytheistic, and oppressive.  To a degree, they have begun to ask God how long this season of exile will last.

Into this despair and a growing sense of abandonment, God uses Isaiah to speak a word of hope.  Isaiah speaks of a shoot that will come up.  Just like us looking for that first burst of green after a long winter, Isaiah tells of a time coming soon when hope and promise will rise up from the house of Jesse.  Isaiah goes on to describe this new King – He will reign with wisdom and understanding and power and knowledge.  To these Isaiah adds that the King will give wise counsel and will live with a fear of God.  And not only all of this, but the king will also stand for the needy and those dealing with injustice.  To a people living in oppressive exile, someone who reigns by righteousness and faithfulness would provide great hope and promise.

Many living today need to hear these words of hope and promise.  Many in our country and probably some in all of our communities need to find a little hope and promise.  Some in our congregations need to know hope and promise.  Hope and promise abound in this passage from Isaiah.  A king who loves and cares for the needy and oppressed, one who rules with justice and righteousness – this is a king many need.  This King comes to us again this year in a manger, soon to be celebrated in all of our churches.  In this season where we prepare to welcome again the baby Jesus, may we also share the King of Kings, the King of justice and righteousness with a world so in need.  May we each share the King’s hope and promise this day.


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Light

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

There is a certain peace and solitude that comes with winter camping.  The air is crisp and clear.  Usually you are the only one in the campground.  At night the only sound is the crackle of the fire.  Once you settle into your tent, just a thin layer separated you from the world outside.  Sounds of nature fill the air as a chill settles over all.  I usually wake up early and it is dark and quiet and very cold.  It is a time of solitude and peace.  But it also is a time of waiting.  For the next bit of time I cannot hardly wait for the sun to poke out and to begin to cast its light and warmth on this quiet and cold place.

The Jews had a similar experience awaiting the Messiah.  Except it has been hundreds and hundreds of years.  Prophets of old spoke of the coming of the Messiah.  After long periods of exile, of times of war and defeat, and of occupation by the oppressive Romans, the people long for a Messiah.  The Jew’s hope for a Messiah hangs on the thinnest of threads.  Some even wonder if God has forgotten the promise.

This is the context into which Zechariah breaks forth with his prophecy.  The time has come!  Zechariah prophesies that his son, John the Baptist, is here the “go on before the Lord” to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.  The time is very near for the “horn of salvation” to come into the world.

There is hope now.  Just as the sun’s first rays burst forth ending the cold night, bringing light and warmth, so too does the coming of Jesus as He enters the world.  Jesus is that light that shines into the darkness, chasing away oppression and loneliness and fear and doubt.  Because of the tender mercy of God, Jesus came into the world.  His light continues to shine.  May we, as Jesus’ followers, continue to bring forth Jesus’ light this day.


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Bloom

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and hauled off the leaders and gifted people to Babylon as slaves.  Many Israelites were the victims of this forced relocation.  They found themselves slaves in a strange new place, surrounded by a culture much different from their own.  Instead of instructing them to keep isolated, to long to return to Jerusalem, or to rebel, God instead instructs them to settle in, to build homes, to marry off their children.  The message is that this is not temporary.  To further indicate this God instructs them to begin praying for the Babylonians to prosper.

We too can find ourselves in a strange or foreign place.  Sometimes this is physical.  Our parent or spouse receives a new job or is transferred and we find ourselves in a new place amongst many new faces.  It can be when we head off to college or to our first ‘real job’ and we come to realize we are alone in a new world.  Sometimes our new surroundings are emotional.  We come home to find out a divorce looms and life is suddenly altered.  We receive the phone call that a loved one has passed and life is forever different.  Or one day, in the middle of a normal day, we realize that we are lost in life or are just drifting along and we long for an anchor, for a purpose.  And, of course, all of these physical and emotional changes affect our spiritual life too.

God instructed the Israelites to become part of their new surroundings.  God wanted them to grow, to multiply, to prosper in this new place.  When all else was stripped away, all the Israelites had to rely on was God.  God was the one constant for the people.  In the midst of our own times of exile, God calls out to us as well.  When all else seems new or foreign, God is still the same.  Like the Israelites, our instructions are the same: trust in God alone, cling to God alone, and bloom where God has planted us.  May we trust in God’s plans and may we obediently follow God’s will as we follow wherever God leads.


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As God Loves

Reading: Psalm 146

The psalmist advises us to put our trust in God alone.  God alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.  He alone will the psalmist worship all the days of his or her life.  We are invited to join in with our praise all the days of our lives as well.

The psalmist also warns us about trusting in earthly kings and rulers.  It is pointed out that they cannot save and that they too will one day die and return to the ground.  It is a bit grim but knowing the context of the Psalm helps.  The recent kings were not worshippers of God and led the people astray.  The result has been the very recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Those of worth were hauled off to exile in Babylon.  Our reality today is that here and all around the world there are good rulers and there are not so good rulers.  There are a few Christian rulers, but in general are the exception.

Perhaps the destruction and exile has something to do with the focus on the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, blind, orphaned, and widowed.  All who had value were hauled off to exile.  Those left behind certainly needed God’s care and attention.  It was a tough, fend for yourself kind of time.

Today we have a population in all of our communities who in essence have been left behind or left out.  Our culture of me-first individualism and too busy lives have left many on the margins.  Many think the government or someone else should deal with those who are struggling, but here in the Psalm we are reminded that God really loves those on the edges.  If we truly love the Lord, we too will love those He loves.  In the opportunities He places before us today, may we love all as God loves all.


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This King

Jeremiah warned the people of the coming doom brought on by their choices.  Their wandering and lack of trust in God’s power and might brought destruction and exile in Babylon.  Jeremiah also planted hope in them: in time the people would return home and find healing and forgiveness.  God is certainly a God whose love never fails.

In Advent we often abandon our wandering ways and again seek to draw close to God.  As we prayerfully wait to celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior, we wait with hope and expectation.  We prepare ourselves for His arrival through a little extra study and prayer so that our heart and soul will be prepared to receive our King.

Jeremiah gave voice to God’s promise to the people headed into exile.  God promised to raise a new branch out of David’s line.  As impending doom lay on the horizon, how distant the glory days of King David must have seemed!  I imagine some even hoped God would intervene with this kind and turn away the Babylonians.  But this new King would be a King of peace and love, not power and might in earthly terms.

This future King would be called the “Lord Our Righteousness”.  This King would be rule with peace, love, and justice.  This new King would deliver and redeem the people not from worldly empires but from the power of sin and death.  This new King would bring lasting peace within all who call on Him as Lord and Savior.  We know this King.  We await this King.  We welcome this King.  As Advent nears, we draw close, we connect to Him again, and we say, ” Come Lord Jesus, come.”

Scripture reference: Jeremiah 33: 14-16