Advent 2019 – Day 16

O Come, O Come Emmanuel Verse/Antiphon 4

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

A Song of Ascents — Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.  Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word I do hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness; and with Him is abundant redemption.  And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130

The dawn has long been a symbol of hope and joy, its light spreading over the earth to drive out the fear of those things that so menacingly loomed in shadow, things that our eyes could not comprehend.  So too, Jesus comes as the hope bursting into our world of darkness.

The Hebrew for morning in this Song of Ascents is בֹּקֶר or boqer meaning: morning, end of night, coming of daylight, coming of sunrise, bright joy after night of distress – all fitting, and glorious, epithets for Jesus – but there is something richer for us to find here.  Boqer comes from the root בָּקַר baqar, a verb meaning to seek, to enquire, to cleave apart looking for.  It is the verb God speaks to Ezekiel when he says “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out” (Ezekiel 24:11).

Jesus the Dayspring comes not only as a source of hope, but as the fulfillment of everything that we have been desperately, single-mindedly, frantically, or diligently been seeking after.  He is the realization of all aspirations and the source of complete, fearless, Joy.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant – as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand 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 on before the LORD to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Luke 1: 68-79

Advent 2019 – Day 15

Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Is son Isaac was born to him.  Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”  And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”  The child grew and was weaned and Abraham made a great fest on the day that Isaac was weaned.

Genesis 21:5-8

We began this Advent by reflecting on the hope of the promises of God to the oppressed and the exiled – prophecies of a coming Messiah.  This past week, we contemplated that hope lived out as faith, the faith of God’s people that His promises were true, and God’s faithfulness to fulfill what He has promised.

With this third week of Advent we light the candle of Joy – the realization and fulfillment of all these things.

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Advent 2019 – Day 13

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’  I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.”  John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.  I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’  I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

John 1:29-34

The magi knew the King had come because they were watching the skies.  Simeon knew the Messiah had come because the Spirit called him to the temple.  John knew the Lamb of God had come because he had seen the Spirit descend on upon Him.

What do all these have in common?  I mean, besides enviable divinely revealed and clearly defined signs of confirmation?

They were all watching.  They were all looking.  They were all waiting, yes, but waiting with expectation, expectation that God would fulfill His promise.

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Advent 2019 – Day 12

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: Verse/Antiphon 3 (Part II)

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Yes, I’m still on this verse.  And it’s only partly because I am a nerd.

Then a shoot will spring forth from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.

Isaiah 11: 1

See that imagery?  A shoot/branch coming up from the roots after the plant is cut down?  That’s adventitious growth right there – when a branch grows from a place you wouldn’t normally find a growth node.  It’s some pretty pernicious asexual propagation used by the most determined of plant species to keep coming back even when you’ve mowed it to the ground.  Know why that wisteria you planted now has a couple dozen clones coming up throughout your yard?  Adventitious growth. And here we’ve got the stubborn remnant of God’s people popping back up after being mowed down by years of oppression – adventitious growth! 

Ok, end of bio-nerd geek out.

Why I’m really still on the references to Jesus as the rod of Jesse is because there is more to unpack; they speak so well to what He has done, is doing, and will do.

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Advent 2019 – Day 11

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit to the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart 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 of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”  And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – and a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:25-35

These eleven verses are all we hear of Simeon, yet they reveal a great deal about his character and add to the early insight of who Jesus would become. 

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Advent 2019 – Day 10

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: Verse/Antiphon 3

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.  And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.

Isaiah 11:1-4

Just before he speaks of the coming stem/rod of Jesse, Isaiah tells of God’s coming wrath toward the Assyrians and all those who “enact evil statutes,” “record unjust decisions,” “deprive the needy of justice, and “rob the poor of [their] rights.” (Isaiah 10:1-2) On the heels of this vengeance, one might expect the rod of Jesse to be depicted as a warrior in the spirit of David, or as a glorious king in the spirit of Solomon.

Instead, the stem of Jesse comes in the Spirit of the LORD, and His character is one of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and righteous judgement.  God, Himself, has laid out a plan for vengeance on the oppressor. Now He speaks to the core need of His people – because cries for vengeance really come from the unfulfilled need for justice.

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Advent 2019 – Day 9

…the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name 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; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filed with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.[…]

Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain?  For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”

The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

Luke 1:13-15, 18-20

The angels said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.  And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:31-37

There is something in the juxtaposition of these two passages that usually leaves me uncomfortable.  Zacharias and Mary are both visited by Gabriel.  They both are given impossible news. They both respond with questions.  But Zacharias is…rebuked? corrected? admonished? And Mary is comforted and encouraged. 

In the past, when I have meditated on these things, I thought there was some nuance.  Perhaps it is that Zacharias’s question is one of doubt while Mary’s is one of comprehension…I am sure there is more to be gleaned in studying their contrasts, but this year I have been reflecting on a new thought, what if Zacharias’s muteness was not so punitive or disciplinary as we tend to read it, what if it came as much from God’s kindness as His holiness?

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Advent 2019 – Day 8

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God if Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.  And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.  For the thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream.[…] ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

Jeremiah 29:4-8, 11

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we light the candle of faith. This candle is sometimes called the “Bethlehem Candle” referencing Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem that Jesus’ birth would fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:1-2. So why would I be looking at Jeremiah’s words to the people in exile? Because they are an example of faith – hope being lived out.

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Advent 2019 – Day 7

I firmly believe art can be a devotional tool. This is an image that I have been meditating on this week, that has spoken deeply to my own heart.

Mary and Eve, was created by Sister Grace of the Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. (Available in many forms here.)

As we mark the end of the first week of Advent, I invite you to spend some time contemplating this image, and reflecting on the prophecies surrounding our Messiah.

I like to pair it with this song of expectation: