40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
for all her sins.”
3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
4 Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!”
6 A voice said, “Shout!”
I asked, “What should I shout?”
“Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fade
beneath the breath of the Lord.
And so it is with people.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fade,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
9 O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”
10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
Hear the 3 cries of the prophet in this verse today:
First, there is the cry to prepare the way for the Lord (1-4). Are you tired? Why? What are the main stressors? Has life been hard? Hasn’t gone the way you wanted? Are you hurting? Another year has come and gone, yet the same old routines and “stuff” are dominating your life? The Lord speaks COMFORT upon us. Not instead of our hurt and anxiety, but in the midst of it. Over and above all the noise and shouting, violence and oppression is someone with the boldness to tell us the truth…the Lord is coming! Not from a throne or your favorite city, not on the clouds or up from the ground…but out of the wilderness. Why? You see, our Lord knows what it means to be tired, hurt, and in pain. Often, from a theological lens that place in which we sometimes find ourselves is known as “wilderness.” Yet, the Lord has survived it and overcame it. Therefore, the prophet speaks hope that since we have a Lord who has overcome, so too can we. When I hear the distant cry of “Prepare the way of the Lord,” I am reminded that God is on the way!
Second, there is the cry that we are here only a little while but the Word of God remains forever (5-8). It might seem strange that after a comforting message of hope to the people, the prophet seemingly pulls the rug out from beneath us. We are like grass…we fade…shout it with me now! It seems…depressing. However, we are summoned by the prophet to build upon the hope we have that the Lord has not abandoned us and that we have beheld His glory. I think we all need a good reminder that the hope of the Lord is not rooted in me or you, but in the WORD that spans the ages and provides life, instruction, and promise to each generation. I remember Christmas mornings when the whole morning revolved around my sister and me. Now Christmas mornings truly revolve around my kids. I look forward to the day when, Lord willing, Christmas morning will center on my grandkids. Why? Because I am fading and my purpose is to pass on the spirit of Christmas and gift giving to my kids and then to their kids and so forth. Moving from the realm of Christmas to the realm of faith, we are fading and the church’s main work to preserve and pass on the WORD so that the glory of God can be revealed to the next generation…until “forever” in this passage is but a memory.
Last, there is the cry to proclaim the Lord’s victory in the midst of a reality of ruins and pains (9-11). Again, it seems strange that while the city lies in a heap of destruction that the order would come to proclaim victory. This passage puts the notions of victory and good news in the context of a people forgotten and oppressed. To whom is the victory given? To whom is the good news proclaimed? I think it is fair to argue that the people receiving the message of victory and good news are those who are outcasts in the world’s system of domination and violence. Listen again to the end of the passage… He will feed, He will carry the lambs—holding them close to his heart, He will gently lead. Hmm…seems oddly otherworldly to me.
Isaiah points us to the coming of the Lord in which we both experience and anticipate, knowing that the victory is secured and coming in full; so we wait for it while we live and rest in it when we die in assurance that the Word of the Lord guides this world out of the chaos of sin and death, and into the Kingdom of God.
We all can get burned out from time to time…
and our once full throated song can become a half-hearted tune that we push through as we become absent minded about the glorious light of our faith.
How can we cope with these times of the “doldrums” in our walk with God?
How can we encourage the sweet wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through us to re-kindle our inner fire?
Our faith is a precious treasure, a gift that should be nurtured in the best of times, so we might thrive, but also so we might navigate the storms ahead without losing our way.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God. ~ Psalm 42:1
This week, as I was considering the images of our faith, I was attracted to Claude Monet’s series of paintings on the Rouen Cathedral.
Monet was the founder of the 19th century French Impressionism movement. He was controversial for his time because he became fascinated with capturing on canvas the effects of light on one subject. To do this, he left the sanctuary of his studio and went directly to the outdoors to experience the changing effects natural light would have on a particular scene.
The National Gallery of Art describes this series of paintings as Monet’s desire to capture the “effects of light and weather” and he does this by painting the facade of this church some 30 times over many months as he rented rooms across from the Cathedral in late January of 1892 and stayed until spring.
This got me thinking about how many ways we use the word light to represent our faith and how our understanding of it can change over our lifetime.
• Light represents seeing
• It can also symbolize hope
• A knowledge of a great truth…something that defines us and gives us purpose.
• Our understanding of Light, gives us an impression of God.
• Our attention to the light can fill us up until we overflow
• Experiencing the warmth of God’s light tells us we are loved by our creator.
What do you think of when you talk about God’s light?
When I look at these paintings, I’m impressed and inspired by the thought of his devotion to capture the beauty of the light day after day.
Like Monet, I believe, that often what it takes to thrive in our spirituality is to stop-look-and listen- every day.
I want to encourage you to commit to a regular time of devotion to our Lord. Here are just a few ideas of things I have discovered along the way that rejuvenated my devotional time:
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” ~ Isaiah 26:3
“Solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things to attend to God. Silence is the practice of quieting every inner and outer voice to attend to God.” ~ Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality p. 161
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry we do not lose heart…For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4: 1, 6
Like Monet, may we attend to the light of our faith so that we might notice all the beauty and all the little details of His divine love in our lives each day.
“To me the motif itself is an insignificant factor…What I wanted to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me. ~ Claude Monet
May God’s light and peace be with you☺
Jennifer Rundlett, founder of God thru the Arts ministries, maintains a presence in the community with her active lecture and concert series highlighting the spiritual connections throughout the arts. Author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music, and The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music she regularly posts devotional blogs on God thru the Arts at http://www.jrundlett.wordpress.com and has been a speaker at the Pepperdine University Bible Lectures in Malibu CA, Tulsa Workshop in Tulsa OK, David Lipscomb University Summer Celebration in Nashville TN, Rochester College Streaming in Rochester Hills Michigan and Fort Detrick Prayer Breakfast in Frederick Maryland. Here are just a few words about her latest book The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music
This book is filled with beautifully written devotionals that will move you through the life of Christ, awakening your senses and your faith. Enhanced by poetry, musical selections, devotional prayers, and journaling suggestions, this book will rejuvenate your private prayer, Bible class discussion, and enhance your journey of spiritual formation.
“Through art and music [this book] engages your soul and senses. Enjoy and embrace this profound and passionate experience.”
—RICHARD BECK, professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University and author of Reviving Old Scratch
“The Joyful Sound is both a walk through a gallery of art masterworks and a refreshing, reflective journey through the soul—lovely and transformative.”
—DAVID HAZARD, author of Rekindling the Inner Fire series.
“Jennifer Rundlett invites us to experience the stories of Jesus through the arts, and provides a rich resource and guide for visualizing, embracing, and hearing those stories in fresh and new ways. If you want to feel the stories of Jesus anew, practice the exercises in this book and learn to sing a new song.”
—JOHN MARK HICKS, professor of theology Lipscomb University and author of Come to the Table
(Use Blog Tour Discount code: 4SRV37GX to receive $8.00 off my book at the Create Space eStore)
I was struck, probably by a strong dose of reality, the other day reading through this Psalm. It speaks of the entirety of forgiveness and a life lived in complete relationship with the Lord. It is a Psalm of David, but a song springing up from what event I wondered? What led to such confidence in God? What led to the outpouring of true and authentic confession and “complete honesty” as David says it in the verses below?
James Gray seems to agree with Jewish tradition that this Psalm, “Is thought to have been written after his sin with Bathsheba (you can read that in 2 Sam. 11-12). He has been brought to repentance for that sin and forgiven (David is said to have written Psalm 51 in his repentance for that sin), and now is praising God for that forgiveness, and telling what led up to it.” Christian Worker’s Commentary
Here are David’s words:
1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude
5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Selah)
6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. (Selah)
8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
I think what struck me about this Psalm was that when God is confronted with the reality of our sin, God doesn’t react like we expect him to react. God forgives, puts it out of sight, clears our guilt, protects us from trouble, gives us victory, and refreshes us in His unfailing love.
Because of the shame and guilt of sin, perhaps what we have been taught about sin, and many other factors…we often think that we have to rationalize our sin away or spend energy trying to hide it. Just focus on our strengths and eventually the weaknesses will be untraceable. Maybe we could even spend more time taking the focus off of “me” and start helping “them” live a better life. David is not the first or last leader who fell for this one…ministers, pastors, elders, bishops, and deacons beware of this. (I am too aware of the hiddenness and secrecy of sin in the lives of our most beloved church leaders.) So, conceal it and don’t feel it in the words of “Frozen” Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…be the good person you always have to be…
Yep, and there we are frozen to God’s work and our growth because like David we are wasting away and groaning, our strength being evaporated like water in the summer heat. If you find yourself in this picture, then understand a few truths about God:
God knows we sin, and God knows the effects of our sin and that is why at an excruciating personal cost Jesus was sent to live the life we are incapable of living and die the righteous death that we could never die.
God forgives sin through Jesus, and that forgiveness is complete and absolute for those who live in gratitude of this reality (Listen to David’s thankfulness above!)
The only power sin has in our lives is the power we give to it by pretending we are perfect and not taking advantage of the avenues provided to us through repentance and confession.
Christians are not perfect people, we are people who trust God’s promises and run to God for forgiveness, protection, and unfailing love.
Churches and faith communities must reflect these things and practice deep faith in God. If you find yourself among a group of people and leaders who say, “I’m sorry” and understand the supreme reign of Jesus Christ, then count yourself blessed!
Finally, this concluding thought from the Psalm of David, and if true in his heart than how much more true for those in Christ Jesus our Lord. “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!”
This year has been an interesting and unconventional ride for all of us who are tuned into politics. I think one of the big questions Americans have begun to ask is which party, if any, really represents their values, agendas, and dreams. This question was seized by Donald Trump, and he won the presidential nomination as an outsider who yesterday stood in front of the gathered crowd and proclaimed the government inept and out of touch. And yet, today there is another group of people gathering because they believe that both President Trump and the Congressional powers do not hold the best interests of some Americans as a top priority. So, I watch the pageantry of the peaceful transfer of power. I view with respect the outgoing president and thank the Obamas for their service. I respect the Trump family, but have to candidly say that Trump’s own words and thoughts have opened the door to critique, push back, and protest. So, what do we do when we think that we don’t have a voice among those in power? What action is taken when we want to be heard? We create a movement…which leads me not to a discussion of politics, but one of religious movement.
I find it odd that many of the same people who claim that there needs to be more parties involved in electing a president are the same people who sometimes condemn Christianity for having so many different denominations (that is parties). Imagine that there were only two different parties in the Christian faith and one was highly authoritarian and the other was a direct reaction to it. Over the years, groups of Christians decided to break away from the religious power structures because they thought that these established groups had moved away from the heart of Jesus’ message. So each denomination started as a movement to draw the heart of Christian groups back to the essence of Jesus.
You might recall that the Democrats and Republicans were not always the parties in control, and didn’t always think the same way they do today. American parties have included the Whigs, Federalists, and later the Libertarians, Green, and Tea Parties. Some parties are seen as subsets of larger parties, for example most Americans would see the Tea Party as a part of the larger Republican Party. And we have the same thing in religious movements as well, and we also have the incorporation of different ideas into the larger parties through the voice of smaller “protest groups.” This would be what is currently happening to the larger Episcopal Church with the smaller group of American Anglican Churches who want to support same sex inclusion. The larger fellowship is not in line with the smaller “protest group” and they are working it out. I bring this up because it is a contemporary news headline and there are so many other discussions like this happening all across religious denominations.
So, I ask you to think about the idea of religious freedom today and compare it to your own ideas of freedoms of speech and assembly. You see, America gives us the freedom to disagree and when we do so, to act upon it and to create an environment of inclusion from those who have been excluded. If I were to go to a Catholic church this Sunday I would not be permitted to take the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, yet I am part of a church family that proclaims Jesus’ sacrifice is for everyone and all are welcomed to the table of Christ. It is a major difference, one that is still being discussed and debated. However, as we open up the Lord’s Supper to all those for whom Jesus died, we believe it is a correction that legitimizes the existence of a different party…notice I did not say the superior one or the only one, but a choice. And in the end the idea of freedom finds its practical application in choice.
I am finding myself trying to be an American and defining that not through what the parties tell me, but listening to the voice of our highest ideas and values, and listening to the dissenting voices. And likewise, I find myself trying to be a Christian by not attending to my tradition and patterns, but by going back to the essence of the Bible and the teaching of Jesus and listening to the dissenting voices. I know that some voices are extreme and harsh, but there are biblical directions about discerning. In the end, freedom that is expressed in choice must be rooted in wisdom, and so we ask for the wisdom from above so that we can properly engage the multiple avenues to fill our minds with wisdom from below. So, the next time you ask why there are so many churches, ask yourself if you are completely heard by the two party system? In the end, the government is still trying to “get it right” and the government is so much younger than the church, who by the way, is still trying to “get it right” ourselves. Of course, that concept should lead us to the one who ultimately got it right, and provided us with the opportunity to be the righteousness of God in the midst of our search.
After about a week of dreary days and rain, we received about an inch of snow. My kids went out to play in it before school started that morning, and I sat, sipping coffee, with the blinds open to the back yard—enjoying the scene. There is something about the covering of snow that is just beautiful. I’m not saying that it can’t be chaotic, cancel school, and make life a mess. I remember our 30 inch storm last year. But, in my mind and heart, a fresh snowfall is a renewing sight, especially after rain and cloud cover. Snow lightens up the winter, it cleanses the ground because it looks clean and new.
A contrast is made in the Bible between light and dark. Whether it is the creator God at the very beginning separating light from darkness and calling the light “good,” or John’s depiction of Jesus as the light of the world that darkness cannot overcome. There are also images of washing that talk about someone being made clean and pure, the Bible will refer to that as being made “white as snow.” You see, sin makes things darker and God makes things lighter. It was God that hung the sun in the sky and it is God who controls the “gates” of heaven where the rain, snow, and other weather pours forth in the Old Testament. Since we just focused on the Christmas story, think about the image of a star that shines forth in the darkness in which Wise Men can follow from afar and gather around Jesus. This contrast permeates the biblical text.
Another way this appears is in passages like Ephesians 3 in which Paul says that his task in ministry is to bring to “light” the mystery of God that has been hidden. We also see this in the Gospel of John when Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night, or in the darkness. John uses this image to both tell us what time of day he came, but also to indicate the relationship he has with Jesus…Nicodemus is in the dark and he needs to be “enlightened” with the truth of God’s work through Jesus.
Ultimately we come to this; in the Bible, heaven is a place of perpetual light and at the center of this image is the very presence of God, and earth threatens to spiral into a dark and chaotic place and is an image of humanity’s choice to live in their own ways and fulfill their own wills. The narrative unfolds, and we who are enlightened by the Gospel know that God is in the process of setting up outposts of heaven on earth, dispelling darkness and chaos, and being a place of light. As imperfect as these outposts are, they are mostly referred to today as churches. Churches are these spaces in which the darkness of sin can be redeemed and dispelled, its power defeated, and light can reign bringing the presence of God to us. Remember, darkness has no fellowship with light…when we bring our sin into the light then God forgives us and the sin has no power over us (1 John 1).
So what is the point of this rambling? Sometimes I need the snow in the middle of winter to clean up the ugliness of a barren and stripped natural world, I need to be reminded of my God’s beauty and know that even in the darkest days something wonderful can happen that changes my whole outlook. That is the same reason I need the church, because I need to be in contact with the heavenly world that breaks the ugliness of a barren and stripped spiritual world. I need to be reminded of God’s presence and know that even in the midst of sin, something wonderful can happen that changes humanity’s outlook. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.