Skip to content
Dec 27 18

What was from the beginning

by davesandel

What was from the beginning

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Beloved, what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life – for the life was made visible. – From 1 John 1

Remember Clarence Oddbody? He helped George Bailey realize he really had lived a wonderful life. And Bedford Falls did NOT become Pottersville. And George did NOT take his own life. And Clarence really DID receive his wings. And Zuzu Bailey made sure everyone heard the bell that announced it.

Margaret and I were alone for the first time this year on Christmas Eve since 1979, the year we were married, the year before Chris was born on December 17. So we went to church, were mesmerized by the kids’ sharing of the Christmas story, drove around to see Christmas lights highlighted by the “Clark Griswold house of Mahomet,” came home and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

Were there angels everywhere in our midst? I kinda think so. There are hosts of Bible verses and stories about the work of angels. “Where two are three are gathered,” Jesus says, “there I am too.” And where Jesus is, there the angels are.

In his book Joy to the World, Scott Hahn’s best chapter is “Angels: Echoing Their Joyous Strains.” Perhaps these pure spirits were created on Genesis 1’s first day, created with complete knowledge even including foreknowledge of the Incarnation of Jesus, created with the freedom to choose obedience and devotion to the Creator, or not. “God saw the light was good, and separated the light from the darkness.”

In our history angels appear often “as watchers, guardians, guides, messengers and catalysts. They rescue, visit judgment, go before us, bring God’s word. They are mediators, deliverers, redeemers, warriors, agents of creation, and agents of destruction.” And whatever else they are doing, they are always worshipping. “Worship is what angels do.”

I know angels are “pure spiritual beings.” They are not dead people rising to meet occasions in our lives. But I still think of Aunt Mary and Dad and Grandpa Brummer, and so many others, as my guardian angels. How many times have I not been killed? I can’t count them on two hands, and those are just the times I know about. How many times have I been BLESSED, grabbed the gold ring, found a parking place? Time after time after time. I am quick to credit this wonderful synchronicity to “angels.”

And of course, there’s Clarence. Frank Capra knew how to work up a story, didn’t he? Clarence showed up just in time to bring the power of both great suffering and great love to George Bailey’s incredible life.

What was that he said to George? “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many others’ lives.” Then he showed George just what he meant by that. If George had not born, the druggist spent 20 years in jail. Mr. Martini was thrown out of his house and had to give up his restaurant to gangsters. George’s brother Harry drowned, and all the men died on the warship that Harry would have saved. “Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry!”

And of course the Christmas story would be impossible without the angels. In the Old Testament they were often fearsome, but in the New Testament they become almost our brothers. As Jesus unites heaven and earth, Hahn points out that “shepherds and angels were “singing from the same hymnal.”

In this already-and-not-yet time we live in, we should “learn to live with the angels,” just as Mary and Joseph and Jesus did. They want to help us come together and live holy lives.

Lord, I think of what John wrote. “The life was made visible.” I know there are scales on my eyes, which get thicker each time I turn away from you and look at all kinds of “things.” But you are not only “purely spiritual” any more than you are only “purely physical.” You are BOTH, and you point the way for me to be both too.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 26 18

Stephen looked intently

by davesandel

Stephen looked intently

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Stephen looked intently up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” – From Acts 6

I have been thinking about typewriters. One of my several-friends named Christopher (which means “the Christ-Carrier”) showed me a picture of his new (and first) typewriter – a Remington built in 1923. Chris hopes the click and clack will be a subtext for his contemplative dialogues with God next year. Like Wendell Berry, Tom Hanks, and David Attenborough, he wants to slow down, he’s movin’ too fast. Listen for the warm. No more screens, the fire next time.

Christopher has yet to type over 50 words per minute, but why worry? Go slow. Let the words of my mouth be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord. Careful now. There is no hurry.

Thomas Merton typed. Thousands of letters, hundreds of journal pages, poems, stories, essays … Fr. Louis’ (Merton’s monastic name) typewriter calls to all us pilgrims from the Gethsemani guesthouse mural. When I peered through the windows of his hermitage in Kentucky a few years ago, I imagined him typing away.

Today is Boxing Day, a day of generous giving to mark the Feast of Stephen. Good King Wenceslas and all the rest of us place our feet in the footprints of Christ and pay it forward: “Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, ye who know will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.”

Stephen saw the heavens opened.

The words Stephen spoke reflected the words he heard from heaven. In his “Firewatch: July 4, 1952,” Thomas Merton put words on God’s thoughts, and his own. His words, typed in solitude, help me celebrate so many of the ways we remember Stephen’s death, martyrdom, and eternal life:

God, my God, God Whom I meet in darkness, with You it is always the same thing! Always the same question that nobody knows how to answer!

While I am asking questions which You do not answer, You ask me a question which is so simple that I cannot answer. I do not even understand the question.

This night, and every night, it is the same question.

Merton will not quite tell us what it is. He walks through the monastery building, checking fuses, and reaches the roof.

The door swings out upon a vast sea of darkness and of prayer. Will it come like this, the moment of my death? Will You open a door upon the great forest and set my feet upon a ladder under the moon, and take me out among the stars?

The voice of God is heard in Paradise: “Have you had sight of Me, Jonas my child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe because I have never known sin. What was poor has become infinite. What is infinite was never poor. I have always known poverty as infinite: riches I love not at all. Prisons within prisons within prisons. No more lay hold on time, Jonas, my son, lest the rivers bear you away.”

Dawn rises; the sun begins to appear at the end of Merton’s firewatch.

“What was fragile has become powerful. I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing. I touched what was without substance, and within what was not, I am.”

Merton comes back down to the ground. While he typed, and while I type these words, and while you read them, even as Stephen feels the cursed stones crush his head, God creates all things new.

There are drops of dew that show like sapphires in the grass as soon as the great sun appears, and leaves stir behind the hushed flight of an escaping dove.

*   *   *

Lord, often I put my hand behind me to cushion my aching back. Give me good posture when I pray. And give me stopping points today, Lord, when I can listen for the question you have for me. If any stones are flung, let me see your face behind them, and hear your voice calling, “Come!”

Thomas Merton, “Fire Watch, July 4, 1952,” from The Sign of Jonas, pp. 352-362, 1953. “Fire Watch” is also part of Merton’s second of seven journal volumes, Entering the Silence, pp. 477-488, 1997

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 25 18

Light shines in the darkness

by davesandel

Light shines in the darkness

Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25, 2018

What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace. – From John 1

These bells that play

On Christmas Day

Their ringing settles me


Deep and wide and wild and sweet

Sounding my soul, listening for

Evidence of relationship


Sobs, bursts of song,

Long silences sometimes

For kin we are and kin we will remain


There was a man named Jayber, a barber, who needed some extra cash so he became the church gravedigger. Well, the gravedigger was also the one who rang the bells. So Jayber did. Sitting sometimes through the songs and sermons, he felt his paltry Christian faith growing just a bit.

Jayber listened to the sweet harmonics of the bells. Carried along, he floated in those long echoes, sounding across the valleys and knobs of Kentucky. And not just on Christmas Day.

My best duty was ringing the bell on Sunday morning. The bell rope came down into the vestibule through a hole bored in the ceiling. The rope was frayed where it had worked back and forth through the hole for a hundred years, and the hole was worn lopsided. You would feel the weight of the bell on its creaky bearings up in the steeple. You might have to swing it two or three times before the clapper would strike. And then it struck, and the sound of the bell bloomed out in all directions, into all the woods and hollows.

It was never easy for me to stop ringing the bell, I so delighted in that interval of pure sound between the clapper strokes. The bell, I thought, included everything, and in a way blessed it.

 I step outside on this sweet and silent day of Jesus’ birth. Lincoln Avenue is altogether quiet, traffic so rare it only punctuates the silence. This is one day, perhaps among many but special nonetheless, when it’s easier to listen for God. “Whose words I hear I think I know.”

There is more to Jayber’s reverie:

At a certain point in the service some of the preachers who came to us would ask that we “observe a moment of silence.” You could hear a little rustle as the people settled down into that deliberate cessation. And then the quiet of the empty church would come over us. It united us as we were not united even in singing, and the little sounds (maybe a birdsong) from the world outside would come in to us, and we would completely hear it.

Silence not for long, of course. “After all, the preacher was being paid to talk.” The bells, understood by all, sounded across Kentucky a simple language of heaven.

Longfellow heard them like that, years before, standing Christmas Day on his Civil War city street. They pierced his personal grief and brought him home to his family of man:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.

*   *   *

Yes, Lord, you are peace to us. You are justice, you are love, and you are peace to us. We cannot spend this day, or any day, without you. Never leaving us, always holding us in the cleft of your rock, you share our silence, share our singing. You smile, and remind us all how never-alone we really are.

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, pp. 163-164

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, 1863

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 24 18

Blessed be the Lord

by davesandel

Blessed be the Lord

Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24, 2018

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us. – From Luke 1

It’s not like Jesus was the first, the only, or the last Messiah wannabe. There were dozens. Scott Hahn says, “That’s a remarkable number of saviors to appear in a land the size of New Jersey, whose population was probably just a fraction of New Jersey today.”

But Bruce Springsteen won’t call himself Messiah. This is just a different time. If you’re audacious enough to call yourself the Christ, they’ll be coming to take you away.

So when this particular Messiah is born, tonight, his birth is in the middle of hope and expectation. The same men and women who preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hahn says, “sketched out strategies for the battles in which their messiah would lead them to reconquer their lands.”

Even great generals have to be born. But Jesus at birth, Jesus at baptism, Jesus on every given day did not tend toward military. His Father, as Isaiah and the other prophets beat the ground before him, sends Jesus to die, but not kill. And in time, the wolf will lie down with the lamb. The Garden of Eden was a place of peace, and will be a place of peace again.

There are plenty of violent metaphors in Jesus’ speech. He knows his message will divide the legalists from the lovers of God. Jesus looks past those battles to the Kingdom of Heaven, our souls restored, where we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. He knows whereof he speaks. He’s God’s son, calling us to be his sisters and his brothers.

Most (all?) of the renegade false messiahs were killed, usually after they had killed their own fair share. Jesus didn’t kill anybody, did he? He struck down hypocrisy and heresy in the temple, he castigated the Pharisees and most of all he destroyed the evil of Satan in the minds of men. And then with no hesitation, he gave himself up to BE killed.

Jesus’ days were filled with healing and wholeness, words followed by works, works followed by words. His listeners really could imagine Isaiah’s wolf and lamb together, licking each other, sleeping side by side, tight in, fed and feeling fine. The earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Jesus told stories like the parable of the Good Samaritan, so his listeners could realize the Samaritans COULD be good. The Sultan and the Saint is a story of the fifth crusade, when Francis of Assisi, not yet a saint, and al-Kamil, already a sultan, met in 1219 for a weeks-long “exchange of faith” in the midst of bitter war that seemed unending. The Muslims, Christians thought, were “beasts.” The Christians, Muslims thought, cared little about God.

Being together proved both theories wrong. Realizing this, both men encouraged ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD to pray for each other. This is the way of our Messiah. This is the way of Jesus.

This is what we do tonight. With Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, with this baby Jesus, we can pray for all the people of the world. Freed from fear, we can trust our savior Jesus as he leads us forward into what God made us all to be.

O Lord, shine on us, we who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and guide our feet, Lord, into the way of peace. (from the words of Zechariah)

Scott Hahn, Joy to the World, 2014, pp. 40-41

The Sultan and the Saint, 2016, filmed by Unity Productions Foundation, narrated by Jeremy Irons, shown on PBS, 2018

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 23 18

Stand firm and shepherd his flock

by davesandel

Stand firm and shepherd his flock

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2018

He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth. – From Micah 5

We are finding music this Christmas, first the Messiah and Friday night a festival of carols by Ecco at Emmanuel, the local Episcopal church.

Even piped-in Christmas music is suddenly more palatable again, although I must admit that hearing “Silent Night” in Rural King turned my head. The free popcorn turned it back again. Rural King does have lots of baby chicks, in case you’re interested.

Friday’s night was the longest of the year. Yesterday we gained one full second, and today five seconds more. But mostly, this last Sunday of Advent is also the last day before Christmas Eve. There are elves everywhere trying not to panic.

We wrapped the last presents for our Sandel Christmas party, and Margaret sliced vegetables for the relish tray. Our chickens contributed their eggs, and she deviled them. We headed off toward Lincoln. Over the river and through the woods.

Like every year, the party was full of kids, age 15 on down to 4 months. Margaret organized a reading of the Christmas story and “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” with Santa’s miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. We had several gigantic white elephant gifts, including a too-big-to-wrap beautiful old Champion wooden sled which had to be retrieved from the garage.

Grandma gave every kid a gift, via their parents. Oyster stew (after cleaning up the oysters which flew everywhere when the large can was opened and exploded), chili, cheesy hashbrowns, a fabulous cold meat pasta salad, cherry jello salad, spinach balls, fruit, and too many cookies, caramels, chocolate, a little wine, a few fizzy drinks. I’m guessing you know the drill.

Mom listens to us but doesn’t hear it all. She smiles and sits in the center of our family picture while she holds the baby. Everyone brings her a gift. I’m not sure what she’ll do with all her new puzzles. Put them together, I guess. It’s her favorite way to spend the morning.

Mom asked Jim, our partly retired Episcopal rector, to pray after the Bible story. He said our family is “deeply steeped” in Christian values and beliefs. He asked for God’s blessing on us. He spoke to God with confidence and joy. His words reminded me of the unearned grace of Mom and Dad’s commitment not just as charter members of Faith Lutheran Church, but to home devotions and prayer. They taught us to read. They taught us how to work hard and efficiently. Dad studied Frank Gilbreth’s experiments with time and motion in college. I saw his book!

He died on Thanksgiving Day in 2002. Mom and Dad were both 80 that year. I remember his posture when he sat with the lamp pointing at his Bible. Dad was a smart guy – University of Illinois accounting degree, very successful farming and dairy career, codebreaker (maybe) during World War II, although he didn’t talk much about it. Great pinochle player. He spent most of his last couple of years reading the Bible, again and again. That’s what mattered most.

One of our wonderfully wild little kids (around 2) encountered me in the hall as she was exploring Grandma Angie’s bedroom by herself. She looked at me. She put her finger to her lips and said, “Shhhh!” She repeated it in case I didn’t hear. And she took off down the hall as fast as she could go.

There are a hundred years of pictures in that hall. Mom has slept with and without Dad in that bedroom for 42 years. Her phone number hasn’t changed. I am so glad to be with her still at Christmas, to be just that close to 96 years of joy.

Your touch, Lord, on all our days, brings me home and lets me rest. There is no hurry, and I don’t even need to be efficient. But there is that trust you call me to choose, not just to watch but open wide my arms, as you restore my soul.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 22 18

My spirit rejoices in God

by davesandel

My spirit rejoices in God

Saturday, December 22, 2018

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. He has looked upon his lowly servant, and from this day all generations will call me blessed. – From Luke 1

Michigan poet Jane Kenyon wrote from an orthodox church in Serbia:

On the domed ceiling God

is thinking:

I made them my joy,

and everything else I created

I made to bless them.

But see what they do!

I know their hearts

and arguments …

One of these days soon and very soon, we plan to visit St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Urbana. We are following the music. Our friend Villy spends summers with her parents, husband and kids near Sofia in Bulgaria. They attend the local orthodox church. Often the priest explains what is happening in the service. But when he tries to talk about the singing, he simply says, “We sing with the angels.”

Villy said she has sometimes wept through the whole service. Surely that means the angels must be singing too. Or perhaps weeping. We must not count that out.

Jane Kenyon continues with her poem,

“We’re descended from

Cain. Evil is nothing new,

so what does it matter now

if we shell the infirmary,

and the well where the fearful

and rash alike must

come for water?”

Can we not learn from our mistakes? Will someday we welcome the stranger as our sister or our brother? Will there come a time when we can touch each other and feel loved rather than afraid? We are all lowly servants, and when God shows us how to live that way, well yes, then the generations will call us blessed. We learn from Mother Mary:

God thinks Mary into being.

Suspended at the apogee

of the golden dome,

she curls in a brown pod,

and inside her the mind

of Christ, cloaked in blood,

lodges and begins to grow.

*   *   *

Lord, I think of Mary carrying her baby, sometimes alone but now held and loved and listened to by Joseph as she bounces atop a burro along the rocky track toward Bethlehem. Already there are many stories for her to tell. There will be more. She will keep them all. Let us begin to approach her baby, Lord, and his parents, and our God. Let us come close right now, and sing.

Jane Kenyon, “Mosaic of the Nativity, Serbia, 1993,” included as entry for December 10, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2001, Plough Publishing House

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 21 18

Hark! My lover here he comes

by davesandel

Hark! My lover here he comes

Friday, December 21, 2018

Hark! My lover – here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills! – From Song of Solomon 2

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! – From Zephaniah 3

Give thanks to the Lord! Sing to him a new song with shouts of gladness. – From Psalm 33

How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed! – From Luke 1

Our chickens have settled in for the winter. By 4:30 or so they are wandering less than aimlessly around the door of their coop. By 5 pm all eight of them have perched on their roosting bar, very close together, prepared for the next long winter’s nap.

Their days grow longer after 4:22 pm today in Urbana. Tomorrow they gain one second of sunlight. And by June 20, their 9½ hour days will stretch to 15. They will wander the wilds of our back yard until nearly 9 pm.

These numbers kind of blow my mind, because all of them apply to us as well. On these December evenings I am sleepy sooner. In the afternoon my body insists on a nap. The sun rises after 7, and my body is in no hurry to catch it. Hibernation calls out to all of us.

Or would, if we listened. But the lights stay on, and the screens stay lit, and the sounds of all the world constantly clamor to be heard. I flip my switch, press my home button, and there is no end to anything.

Some of us remember the Star Spangled Banner at midnight, when TV programming ended. And in the morning it came on again, 6 AM sharp, short devotion from a local pastor and then bang! The world is once again in our living room. But at least for a short time, we all slept.

There are a few of us who remember no screens. Maybe a radio, with all those vacuum tubes and static, to listen to together now and then. Read the paper in the morning.

But we can’t go home again. Those days were those days. At the least we live nearby constant sights and sounds, and mostly we are smack in their midst. The winter solstice passes by unnoticed by everything except our bodies. Which really do need more rest in the winter.

I wonder how chickens would be different if they had their own screens and endless light. They haven’t asked for cell phones or video games so far this year. They seem to be ok with what they have. But I could be wrong. I’m no chicken, after all.

Lord, today let me sit in silence and watch the night arrive. Welcome, womb of night. And after a fine, long sleep, be with me when I awake, and sit again while morning comes. Welcome to the sun, welcome to the longer day, welcome to the light. Be near me, Lord Jesus …

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 20 18

The virgin shall conceive

by davesandel

The virgin shall conceive

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. – From Isaiah 7

Two stories here, with the same message: we are not as strong as we think we are. But God IS.

The Christmas story is familiar to us all, but not so much the context of Isaiah’s words several centuries earlier.

Syria and Samaria band together (Assyria) to destroy the kingdom of Judah. King Ahaz and his people are frightened and weak at the knees. Isaiah comes with a message from Yahweh. You must have faith in your God. God has all of this in control. But “if you will not believe, surely you will not be established.”

And then in a biblically typical moment of near sarcasm which turns out to be genius wisdom, Isaiah says, “The Lord himself will give you a sign …” A baby named “God with us.” What do you think of that, O King?

Oh no, not again. God spins my head around and I understand nothing. A baby? No wonder the prophets got such heat from their kings. What Ahaz thinks he needs right now is a good army!

Centuries later the baby so clearly named Emmanuel comes again, but this time not to persuade a king. He comes for all of us. We all think we are stronger than we are, so God’s genius-almost-sarcastic gift to US is a baby. If God comes as a baby, then maybe I can see my own need to surrender and obey? Maybe the fruit of knowledge no longer tempts? And perhaps I see how sweet it is to know only my next step, and leave the rest to my father and mother?

But day after day, I find myself waiting till the last minute to trust God with my health, my money and especially my most precious relationships. I forget! I am so accustomed to control. And then at last, when I finally pray, God gives me a baby.

Isn’t that just like God?

William Willimon says,

This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.

Then this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we are – empty-handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby.


Can I hold him in my arms?

And let him hold me?

Baby I am,

baby I will always be.

Lord, on this next-to-shortest day of the year, I am on my knees before you. Please shorten my arrogant times and lengthen my times of surrender and peace. Giving up power is not the same as never having it, but show me the way of giving up, the way of giving up that moves my spirit into the manger where I can worship you.

 William Willimon, “From a God We Hardly Knew,” Christian Century, Dec 21-28, 1988 issue. Included as entry for December 14, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2001, Plough Publishing House


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 19 18

How shall I know this?

by davesandel

How shall I know this?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” – From Luke 1

Oh, boy. Gabriel does not take well to Zechariah’s doubt. “I am Gabriel, who stands before God!” Zechariah thought he was afraid before, but now, he is terrified. At the angel’s proclamation, this middling Hebrew priest was silenced before the Lord and before his people until his wife Elizabeth, advanced as she was in years, bore their son, John.

Can we go back once more to Karl Barth’s Advent sermon? He takes Zechariah’s silence and applies it to us all. Inside we all have this remembrance of the angel of God, but we can never say much about what we have. Our words come out crooked, jumbled, never quite right. What we saw before birth, or as children, or suddenly one day at work, or finally on our deathbeds … we see but cannot say. Our personal, cherished vision is mostly made smaller by our too-small, tinny words. The sound of my voice makes it all less precious. It even seems less real. We easily lose track of its source. But still:

Without this word we would not suffer so deeply from the need that presses in upon us, and from the injustice that we must stand by and watch. We would not be able to resist so powerfully and become so indignant against the lies and violence that we see dominating life apart from this word. We would not have the urge to exercise love and to become loving if it were not for the fact that within us is God’s voice, placed into our heart.

When Zechariah’s lips are loosed, his words take flight. They have inspired generations since: “The tender mercy of our God, like the rising sun, will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Can our lips be loosed too? Barth is sure of it:

The fire of God can actually burn us, the earthquake of God can still shake us, the flood of God awaits to rush around us, the storm of God actually wants to seize us. O, if we could actually hear, if we could but hear this voice that resounds so clearly within us as actually God’s voice. If we could only believe. Then we could also speak!

While Zechariah waits for the fullness of time to come upon Elizabeth, he “lives right on,” as Wendell Berry might say. He goes home, he resumes his priestly duties, he feeds the sheep, he reads the Torah, and he loves his wife. Then in a rush, the baby comes and his words flow. “His name shall be John! Praise be to the Lord!”

Luke tells two stories in the first chapter of his gospel, and as this one ends, the other is just beginning.

Thank you for all these words, thank you for the sentences and the visions they evoke. Your stories are the best, Lord. I want to read them and ponder them and pray through them and believe. Let the earthquake of your love rock my soul.

 Karl Barth, “Lukas 1:5-23,” from Predigten (Sermons), 1917, pp. 423-431, translated by Robert J. Sherman. Included as entry for December 13, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2001, Plough Publishing House

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Dec 18 18

The Lord our justice

by davesandel

The Lord our justice

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Behold the days are coming when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David. This is the name they give him: “The Lord our justice.” The days will come, says, the Lord, when they shall again live on their own land. – From Jeremiah 23

Our grandkids are moving mountains. Among a thousand other things, Miles is pronouncing the letters of his name with great joy.

Jack will be the youngest participant at an all-school geography bee tomorrow. Years ago he annihilated his high school competition in a state capital naming contest. Now he’s nine. Here we go!

And Aly is making sentences, having all kinds of fun as her first grade reading improves daily. On the way to Chris’ birthday party she sat in the back seat of our car and made sentences up for us. Sentences are everywhere, right? But we have to reach up and grab them. Write them down. And look and see what they might mean.

Jeremiah names God, “The Lord our justice.” Just as John said “God is love,” so Jeremiah says, “God is justice.” The Hebrews looked far and wide for justice, and Jeremiah looked farther than anyone. But in these future days, they will need to look no more. “They shall again live on their own land.”

The Old Testament is laced with sentences like this. The future holds great promise. We can bank on that. And then the next Testament pronounces the reign of Jesus in the kingdom of God. God “will raise up a righteous shoot to David,” and his name shall be called Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Almighty God:

“You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

More now than ever in the year, kids look toward what will be. Christmas hopes, Christmas dreams. Rushing around in pajamas with energy to burn. Curling up in bed to wait for Christmas morning. Singing under their breath, listening for reindeer on the roof and … in a flash … unintentionally … asleep.

Then suddenly, morning has broken.

And me, can I look at what will be? It’s easier to see what IS with my lazy eyes. But there are consequences to my tired tunnel vision. I lose track of God. In his Advent sermon, Karl Barth cries out: “We must once and for all give up trying to be self-made.”

God wants to do all, yes through us and with us and never without us, but always out of his power and not ours.

Pastor Barth cuts to the chase: “Will I place myself next to the truth or in the truth?” If I I choose to live in the truth, then Advent is a good time to begin.

Lord, make me like a child, ready for the morning, looking through the dark to what you have for me tomorrow. And show me again and again how to let you lead me, and how to follow.

 Karl Barth, “Lukas 1:5-23,” from Predigten (Sermons), 1917, pp. 423-431, translated by Robert J. Sherman. Included as entry for December 13, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2001, Plough Publishing House

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: