Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Coming of Advent

Covenant Communications is doing a wonderful thing just now--inviting Covenant photographers to submit photos that relate to each of the four weeks of Advent and the texts for those Sundays. Today's is from Isaiah 2:1-5, prophesying that "in days to come the mountain of the Lord's house will be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it."

I've seen a lot of mountains lately on the tour my son Peter and I took together to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Biblical mountains were everywhere--living witnesses to earthbounds like us of things that once were and are yet to be.

Andrew Larsen's submission this week (above) illuminates for me the place of such mountains--in no way worthy of worship as things in themselves, massive and great as they are. We lift our eyes to them in vain unless we remember with the psalmist that our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (121:1). In this case the swirling stars above lift one's sights to realms where God himself dwells who waits to "teach us his ways ... that we may walk in his paths" (Isaiah 2:3b).

If Advent does no more for us than help us prepare for our little Christmas celebrations its true purpose will surely escape us. No matter earth's greatness, it will never in itself suffice to satisfy our deepest needs. Only when we lift our eyes beyond ourselves--to mountains, stars, and the galaxies both seen and unseen beyond can we grasp the hope that the God beyond them, our Creator and Redeemer, intends for us all.

Saved by grace we must also be sustained by that hope. God will indeed "judge between the nations ... beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." That is Advent's true vision and it calls each of us, less we miss it, to live and walk not by sight but by faith "in the light of the Lord."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Only a Dream?

It was only a dream--or was it? Something or Someone was stripping away--destroying actually--the landscape of our lives. All the places and activities that fill our schedules and occupy our time and energies were disappearing, one by one, systematically. It was frightening to watch, almost scary. Commerce and industry, traffic jams, metrodomes and megamalls--our temples for sport and acquisition--were all crumbling before my eyes. So were the walls that divide the rich from the poor, the halves from the have-nots, and sacred institutions from the secular.

All the terror notwithstanding, half-way through the dream (?) a certain calm took over. One could see distant things again, hidden earlier from view. Distractions now being destroyed were bringing perspective to life, freeing one somehow from what earlier seemed so essential to it and now no longer was.

How prone we all are to lose life's essence by missing its meaning. Striving to be winners and make names for ourselves we become only losers until, stripped of our illusions by the God who made us, we open ourselves finally to his love and grace.

Dreaming, clearly, is not only a nighttime activity. Tragically, we often engage in it by wishful thinking when fully awake. Last night's dream (?) stripped away many daytime illusions for me, transforming fear of familiar things being destroyed into the calm that only comes of realizing more fully the essence of life and therein its glory.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holy Joy!

When he cometh, when he cometh to make up his jewels,
all his jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.
Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright jems for his crown.

He will gather, he will gather the gems for his kingdom,
all the pure ones, all the bright ones, his loved and his own.
Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.

Little children, little children, who love their Redeemer
are the jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.
Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.

The Hymnal
(1950), No. 536

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the Sea Together

While still sorting through my impressions and pictures of our recent trip together to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, our tour leader posted this picture of Peter and me on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.

In truth we are both crossing seas every day--changing seas. of age, circumstance, the joys and challenges of ministry, and our continual need for personal and communal growth. Somehow, on that day, a calm sea calmed also within us the stresses and strains that daily life at home often create. It was as if the Lord himself were near, in climes where he bore burdens much greater than ours, beyond our imagining.

I was reminded again of T.S. Eliot's description of him as our "still point in a turning world." And a prayer went up that by his grace both of us--not to mention all those to whom we belong in our extended family as well as the larger family of faith--might better portray his calm in the troubled seas through which so many are passing these days.

It is good to be ministers on the sea of life together. And it was especially good to be thus ministered to on the Sea of Galilee.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Joys of Believing and Challenges of Belonging

Some of you will recognize the title above as the subtitle of Glad Hearts, the book I gathered and edited over five years with 700 readings from the literature of the Covenant Church. It comes to mind as I begin to reflect on my son Peter's journey and mine to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel recently. The Dome of the Rock pictured above brings focus to a number of things going on in my mind as I seek to absorb all we experienced together.

Diversity was surely one of them--from the temples, churches, and synagogues of three unique and diverse religious cultures to all the peoples engaged along the way. So also, was the range and diversity of people with whom we journeyed--best evidenced in the life stories they shared with us as time and circumstance allowed.

Even more moving for me was the humanity we all share in common, no matter the differences between us in experience and perception. Therein lay both the joy and the challenge of journeying together--affirming our commonalities and seeking to bridge the differences.

It will take some time to give voice to all we experienced together--not to mention record in our memories all the places visited and pictures taken. For now let it simply be said that two weeks in that part of the world not only enlivened for us the whole of biblical narrative but broadened, as it surely should, our awareness of our common need for God in these tenuous and tumultuous times.

My wife Alyce recently came on a letter once written from Vienna by Mozart in September of 1778 that seems appropriate to quote: A fellow of mediocre talent will remain in mediocrity whether he travels or not; but one of superior talent will go to seed if he always remains in the same place,

None of us would dare claim for ourselves the brilliance Mozart not only claimed but exhibited. Yet we do sense even better after traveling together our need for those greater perspectives on life that only come to those who open themselves to the challenge of exploring the broader world beyond their own.