By: Maggie Leonard
Refecton—v. 5, ‘because you hid yourself, we transgressed’
Have you ever said something like, ‘You made me do it’ to another person? I have. But really? When I yell, did someone else fill my lungs with air, constrict my throat, and choose the words I said? Of course not. I did that. I chose my response. Sure, it has been infuenced by the behaviors I witnessed growing up and what has worked for me in the past. But my response was fueled by my own energy and directed under my self-control (or lack thereof). Nobody can make me yell. Another person might choose a diferent response to provocaton, and on a diferent day, I might choose a diferent response myself. What gall the prophet has in blaming God for the bad behavior of the people. But honestly, we engage in those kinds of ridiculous moral gymnastics all the time, shirking our responsibility. If we are not able to see our own agency in our mistakes, how will the cycle ever stop? In this season of waitng for God to be born into the world, we must not fnd ourselves passing the blame for the woes of our world. Instead we have the opportunity to partcipate in preparing for Jesus. Rather than seeming to stand around incriminatng one another, we should look and see where love is lacking. It is our work to create a world of peace, dignity, and respect. After all, into what type of world do we want to welcome our God?
Prayer Incarnate God, may we be truthful with you and ourselves about our world so that we might create a more hospitable home for you.
Reflection—v. 16, ‘…by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.’
Isaiah’s sign of hope is to point to a woman and promise that before her soon-to-be-born child can grow old enough to distinguish and choose between good and evil, Israel will once again be safe. But surely Isaiah’s words are merely poetic, for do any of us ever reach a point when we can say assuredly that we are able to refuse evil and choose good? If we invited Isaiah to a recovery bible study at Mercy, we might remind him that the work of ‘choosing good’ is always a process. Our relationship with God is not one-sided and full of magical life-altering moments. We aren’t going to wake up one day and suddenly be ‘old enough’ or ‘spiritually mature’ enough to not have addictions anymore. There may never be a time when we can say that we always refuse evil, but what Isaiah’s sign points to is that there is hope in the fact that God is with us in every moment of the process and empowers us to choose the good.
Prayer God of mercy, empower us today to the do hard work of choosing good.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 7, God will abundantly pardon
Our repentance is met with God’s mercy and abundant pardon. Mercy honors the dignity of human beings and the renewal of our relationships with one another. Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, though I am afraid that we have too often understood it in too narrow terms—as an individualistic transaction between God and me or even as a one-time altar call experience. The truth is forgiveness is always happening and needs must always happen because of the messiness and brokenness of our lives and our relationships, of our institutions and our communities. We must not limit our concept of forgiveness; maybe that is at least part of what Isaiah means when God declares our thinking is not like God’s thinking. It is precisely at the point of mercy that God’s ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts. Not only does God forgive, but God’s forgiveness, God’s pardon, is abundant—it is overflowing and never-failing. Pope Francis has said that God never tires of forgiving; we are the ones who tire of asking. We must never stop asking, not only for ourselves, but for our world, for all parts of our lives together on this small, beautiful planet.
Prayer Forgiving God, help us to look upon one another with pardon and mercy.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 7, forsake their ways and their thoughts
Repentance, or said in a less church-y way, ‘change’ is the grand theme of Lent, and in truth, it should be more than just a focus for our Lenten practice. All of the Christian life is a Lenten journey toward transformation. Repentance is not a big beat-down from an all powerful God; it is a way toward life, an invitation to enter more fully into God’s own life. Jesus calls us to repent; Isaiah shows us how. Because repentance is a renewed way of living, Isaiah fittingly describes it with a series of evocative verbs: ‘incline your ear… come… listen… seek… call… forsake… return.’ The action of repentance, however, is interior, as well as exterior. We are to forsake both our ‘ways,’ actions in relationship to God and others, and our ‘thoughts,’ how we understand our actions and look upon others and God. In forsaking our own ways and thoughts, we exchange them for God’s ‘ways’ and, yes, even God’s ‘thoughts.’ Repentance is an all-inclusive renovation of our entire selves.
Prayer God of transformation, help me not to be scared of your work of change in the world. May I surrender my ways and thoughts to your love.
By. Maggie Leonard
Reflection— v. 6, is this not the fast I choose?
I had never heard of Lent until my family moved to North Carolina; honestly, I probably just wasn’t paying attention. My first Lent was a strange thing: all my friends sat around the cafeteria table proclaiming their chocolate fast or sweets fast—because it was going to be really hard. And who knows, weight might be lost, an added bonus. I bring this up not to criticize the good intentions of middle schoolers, but to invite us deeper. God isn’t calling us into a time of fasting in order to be Spring-Break-ready, but rather to let go of something so that we might create space for something new, for transformation. A fast that is acceptable to the Lord, according to Isaiah, is one that will ‘loose the bonds of injustice….’ We fast to relieve ourselves of distraction and hurtful patterns. When we give up chocolate, it could be due to our growing awareness around poor child labor practices on cacao farms or the deforestation associated with palm oil or for concern about the carbon footprint of transporting ingredients from far away lands. Fasting provides the opportunity to break destructive patterns for a time that they might transform our lives and the world forever.
Prayer Liberating God, help me to let go of unhealthy patterns and create space for myself and others to thrive in your love.
Reflection—v.1, ‘…the mountains would quake at your presence’
Sometimes I think we want Advent to be ‘Hollywood’—big and loud and full of drama and spectacle. Maybe in a way, we figure it has to be in order to compete with all the flash and glitz of the winter holiday season. We are not alone in this, as Isaiah’s vision of God’s Big Entrance shows. Though not without drama, Advent is more hidden, more intimate–just plain smaller in every way–than we would have it. It’s more indie film than Summer blockbuster, you could say. Sure, there may be choirs of angels singing, but they serenade poor shepherds after everyone else has gone to sleep. There may be a guiding star, but only a few wise strangers think it worth following. The Savior of the world may be born, but he is just one homeless child among many, and we have no room for him anyhow. Advent is a child growing in a mother’s womb—awe-inspiring, yes, but in a more personal, less earth-shattering way (even if it is the virgin birth). Let us be open—not for the kind of Advent we think we want but for the kind we need.
Prayer God of great love in small things, let me welcome you in the way you choose to come to us.
Reflection—v.1, ‘Oh, that you would tear open the heavens…’
Advent is about longing: about being present—right here, right now—and yet still yearning with all of our being for the presence of God to be so immediately and tangibly with us that we are overwhelmed and consumed. It is a longing of lover for beloved. To our stunned surprise and ecstatic exhilaration, God also longs for us. In fact, our deep longing for God is but the answer of our own anxious heart to the even deeper longing of God for us. Augustine is right: ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in [God].’ That longing which can only be satisfied in God’s embrace helps make sense of the deep restlessness and profound anxiety we experience as we cast about, constantly in search of the one for whom we long with our whole being. Isaiah’s voice is raised up along with ours this first week of Advent, giving sharp and dramatic language to the angst of our heart’s longing. Advent is where these twin longings, intertwined between us and God, between lover and beloved, may at last meet.
Prayer Oh, Beloved, the heart that is made for you, tears itself apart with desperate longing; tear open the heavens, my Beloved, and come to me!