Sunday, December 9

His messengers, the Prophets

Deisis in Hagia Sophia, 12th century

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation; Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AMEN

Today on this Advent II, we celebrate the lives of all the prophets, but in particular John the Baptist, all of whom waited expectantly for the salvation of God.  John's journey was foretold to his father and indeed to his mother, whereupon her greeting by the Theotokos, John leapt joyfully in the presence of His Savior. At John's birth, everyone said, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah, his dad, prophesied concerning his relationship to Jesus:  

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.  And you, child, will be the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  

Then the word of God came to John when he lived out in the wilderness at which point he went all throughout the land, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Though this was the Good News, he held out hope for all of them that "he who is mightier, whose sandal John was not worthy to untie, would come to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire", an even fuller picture of the salvation of God.

When John had been imprisoned by Herod, he had his doubts and curiosities and sent word to Jesus to ask him if He was the one to come?  Jesus uses the words of prophets to confirm to John that indeed the Good News he himself had preached was being fulfilled in Jesus.  Then, Jesus gives a beautiful picture of His love for John and asks the crowd: "What did you go out to see in the wilderness?  A reed shaken by the wind? A man dressed in soft clothing?  A prophet?  Yes!  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet! And he confirms the call God placed on John, saying, "I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than he."  This is confusing because Jesus also was born of a woman and yet he anoints and exalts John.  I think that is what it means for God to befriend us and is so beautiful that even in the midst of John's doubt, Jesus upholds his faithfulness and the hope that John expressed in God.  And so, he is still one of the great cloud of witnesses who calls us into preparation and heralds the making straight of the crooked.  Alleluia.

Listen below to
There's a Voice in the Wilderness Crying (1982 Hymnal #75), instrumental only, on organ

Saturday, December 8

Branch of the Lord


In that day
the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious

Isaiah 4.3

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my ears from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
I believed even when I sopke, "I am greatly afflicted";
I said in my alarm, "All mankind are liars."

Psalm 116.7-11

Friday, December 7

To be a Jewel of His Crown...


On that day the LORD their God will save them,
        as the flock of his people;
    for like the jewels of a crown
        they shall shine on his land.
    For how great is his goodness,
and how great his beauty!
  (Zechariah 9:16-17)

  For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
  and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
    until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.
  The nations shall see your righteousness,
   and all the kings your glory,
     and you shall be called by a new name
     that the mouth of the LORD will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,

and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 62)

The first time that I read Zechariah, I remember chapter 9 stuck out to me, in part because it has the passage about the King riding in on a donkey and that of course, was a familiar narrative to me.  I have always thought God so interesting for using seemingly innocuous descriptions in the middle of books-particularly in the prophets-to then blow everyone away.  Because a few centuries later, God Incarnate asks for a donkey to ride, effectually saying, "Y'all, your King is here! Remember all that I promised to Zechariah? Yeah, I'm ushering that in right here, right now."  Whoa.  Of course, Zech 9 is also awesome for all of the descriptions of the coming of the King, and trumpets and lightning and the way that somehow all the cacophony leads to peace, the eternal reign of peace.

But, the real reason why this chapter lodged in my memory is  because of the verse I highlighted above.  I was probably 16 when I first read this, depressed, ugly, lonely due to an innate mistrust of people, perfectionist.  Like I said it was an awesome reading, the King will do this and that and it's going to be crazy and we'll rejoice and then verse 16, God spoke straight to me.  I thought, oh! I'm so blessed to belong to those people in the flock that God has and will save.  "Therefore", God said, "the next line is also yours.  You are a jewel of my Crown and you are to shine."  The fact that we are to be jewels of His Crown because of His own goodness and beauty, as the next verse says, was not lost on my little neo-Platonist self, either.  I knew I could trust Him because my goodness and beauty (and that of everyone) derives from His own regal beauty.  In my darkest moments, when the assaults of the enemy manifest as a multitude of voices, sometimes in my own head and sometimes from others' lips and which I would then play over and over, the first combative phrase I ever used was "I am a jewel of His Crown."  It might be time to dust that sword off and bring it back out into the melee.

So, this was the daily lectionary reading for last Monday, I think, the 2nd day of Advent and I had determined to pray for beauty and light all Advent long and to ask my friends to do the same, as I mentioned before, feeling the gravitas of a black hole in my heart.  I also know that God is faithful to work on me in penitential seasons so I could feel that Advent was coming.  So, of course, when I read this on the first day of Advent, I thought, Oy, so that's how you're going to play this, Holy Spirit?  Way to really start things off with a bang.  Alright, let's do this, Thy will be done.  Verse 12 reads, "Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double."  I would love to check the grammar to be sure, but I think the phrase, "prisoners of hope" is a really funny one; of course, it may simply mean, prisoners who still have hope, verses those imprisoned by hope, but I'm going to take the latter interpretation for now.  That basically summed up how I felt after this reading, at the very outset of this season of Advent, of waiting and expectantly hoping but God having shown me that He's going to be at His purging kind of work in me.  Sometimes it would be way easier to let that go and to lie down with the lies, vices and escapism, to refuse to live and shine, having been placed as one of the jewels of the Crown of the Most High.  But, at the end of the day, I give thanks to my good and beautiful King who has made me a prisoner of hope!

Thursday, December 6

People Look East

I know that I quoted some of People Look East in yesterday's blog
but I did not post the audio to it so here ya go! 
This is especially for SCurry :)

Chapel at Zaffran Monastery, the Monastery of Mor Hananyo (St. Ananias), in Mardin, dating to the 5th century and a haven for the Orthodox as well as others, like the Armenians.  The Syriac around the altar reads, "By your Name, we conquer sin."

But today we look East, the quote is from the book of Baruch and the images come from a trip to Turkey that I went on this past spring.  We visited the Cappadocian region with its rich tradition of Christian beauty and theology and several churches of many communions, but particularly the Eastern (Antiochene, Syriac, Oriental Orthodox) Church.  Though Turkey changed hands many times over its long history, some holy places, though now mostly tourist locations, have been preserved.  Though often we were grieved by this and the vandalism and disrespect shown to the early Christian devotion, we realized that we too mar the Image in one another and ourselves, more often than we usually repent on account of it.  But, today, I use these as a reminder of beauty and light that have stood through history, violence, war iconoclasm and the beauty of the Orthodox church today and their beautiful, hopeful contribution from their branch of our Family.  I look forward to being gathered together, east and west, and seeing the church outfitted with the garment of Christ, as His Body, bright, beautiful, just and at peace.

Pantokrator surrounded by the Minor Prophets in Church of Panagia Pammakaristos, Istanbul

Look about thee, O Jerusalem, towards the east, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from God. For behold thy children come, whom thou sentest away scattered, they come gathered together from the east even to the west, at the word of the Holy One rejoicing for the honour of God. Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of thy mourning, and affliction: and put on the beauty, and honour of that everlasting glory which thou hast from God. God will clothe thee with the double garment of justice, and will set a crown on thy head of everlasting honour. For God will shew his brightness in thee, to every one under heaven. For thy name shall be named to thee by God for ever: the peace of justice, and honour of piety. Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and look about towards the east, and behold thy children gathered together from the rising to the setting sun, by the word of the Holy One rejoicing in the remembrance of God.
~Baruch 4.36-5.9

Iconostasis of the Church of St. George, dragon-slayer, the Ecumenical Patriarchate where we met with His All Holiness, who greeted us in the name of our one Lord Jesus Christ and spent a solid ten minutes in good conversation with us  

Church of St. George, Istanbul

People Look East, and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way!


Wednesday, December 5

Love, the Star, is on the Way

Orion Nebula Star Formation Factory

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.
Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.
~Creator of the stars of night, 1982 Hymnal #60

star factory nearby galaxy
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
~People look east, Eleanor Farjeon 
Today, I had the joy of singing the preceding hymns (can be heard by clicking below) as part of our Advent choir during our Wednesday Eucharist service in chapel.  Afterward, our esteemed dean and president even said to me, "You looked like you were enjoying yourself up there, very full of joy."  So, perhaps Advent is doing its work after all, eh?  The service was lovely and God was faithful, as always, to use the music and the liturgy to bring joy and assurance that He is indeed coming.  A word was given during the service that the Lord was encouraging a female in the room with a hole in her heart that He was healing it and that He does not mean for her to carry it going forward.  I am one such girl (with a black hole in her heart) who could use that encouragement as just last week I was telling a friend, "I have so little hope that this one thing will be healed before I get to the new heavens and new earth...."  And that healing is what the Lord has been trying to remind me of over the last month or so.

This may seem somewhat roundabout, but it's the meditation that I sat down to write so here it is.  I have been thinking a lot about the whole of creation groaning for completion, for us to take our place as the children, kings and queens of God, for all to be put to rights, for the Prince of Shalom to reign fully.  Lately, I have also groaned for this and I am glad for the season of Advent, in part, for a time to lament and groan together for the brokenness that is still here and yet for the abundant life and the medicine, as the hymn says, that has been given in the Incarnation of our Lord who is faithful to heal and bring us all, as one creation, to completion.  
surroundings of a black hole
But, what I want to add is that while I was viewing Hubble photos for today's images of stars, I realized that I really do view a place in myself as a black hole, so compact and dense that all is lost into it...even light, its gravitational pull all-encompassing.  Whatever star was present, died and had been of such a mass that a black hole is all that is left.  This is a very difficult truth for me to share but even so, God has asked me to share as honestly as I am able and this image really settled in my mind today as being how I view this, not with God's lens, but just with my own.  This is in some ways, a really helpful image because I know even with all this gloom (the paradox of the already and not yet, methinks) that God, Creator of the stars of night, Love, the bright morning star who himself is the nuclear fuel of every star and will never die, is on the way and the darkness has not overcome him!  I'm praying this becomes more evident as Advent goes on and that it takes hold in the midst of the black hole I have carried so long in my heart.  This is also part of why I am determined to present these meditations, to remind myself of Light and Beauty.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."   (Revelation 22.16)

"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness HAS NOT overcome it."  (John 1.3-5)

Tuesday, December 4

Art thou He?

I look from afar, and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth.  Go ye out to meet him, and say,
"Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people Israel?"

High and low, rich and poor, one with another, Go ye out to meet him, and say, "Hear, O thou shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep, Tell us, art thou he that should come?"

Stir up thy strength, O Lord, and come to reign over thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

I look from afar, and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth.  Go ye out to meet him, and say, 
"Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people Israel?"

~Palestrina Matin Responsory for Advent

Monday, December 3

Advent of Light

For each day of Advent, I will post a new photo and quote here especially having to do with Light.
Without further ado:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.