God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

This is My Christmas Prayer

I have to admit that this Christmas it has been harder to get into the season.  I love a good cheesy holiday movie and they have lost their sparkle this year.  So it has made me think about what is the message I want from Christmas this year. I want the light to com back, for prays to be answered.  I know is the year of Matthew, but I am partial to Luke's  Christmas Story.  So I sat down to read through the beginning.  

Luke’s Gospel opens with an answered prayer, the account of Elizabeth’s late-in-life pregnancy. Immediately after his introductory dedication to Theophilus, Luke introduces Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are childless in their old age. While Zechariah is at prayer, carrying out his priestly duties by offering incense in the sanctuary, he is visited by an angel who says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John” (1:13). Now this news is not taken easily for Zechariah says you know I am old and well my wife is getting on in years.  The angel gets a little perturbed after all he is standing right in front of Zechariah and so he takes his voice until they come true.

The scene shifts to Mary who is also visited by an angel and is told she will bear a son.  While she too questions the angel, she accepts the news.  With this news literally in her, she visits her cousin Elizabeth.  And Elizabeth says:
‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’                                                                                  Luke 1:42-45
Elizabeth prayers over Mary.  She blesses Mary for having heard the word and believed.  At that point something inside Mary broke free.  She sings forth her own prayer:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for you have looked with favor on the lowliness of your servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is your name. 
Your mercy is for those who fear you
   from generation to generation. 
You have shown strength with your arm;
   You have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
You has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
You have filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
You have helped your servant Israel,
   in remembrance of your mercy, 
according to the promise you made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’  Luke 1:46-55
Mary's prayer is one of praise for God and what God has done and will do.  Her prayer is acknowledge meant of what God is doing for Mary and also for the world.  For she praises the God who lifts the lowly, fills the hungry and helped your servants at the same time you challenge the powerful.  Mary's pray take us beyond ourselves and back into an understanding of where God is at work.

We return to Zechariah and learn of the birth of his son, John.  At the birth, Zechariah prays:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed them.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us
   in the house of your servant David,
as You spoke through the mouth of your holy prophets from of old,
   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus you have shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered your holy covenant,
the oath that you swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve You without fear, in holiness and righteousness
   before You all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare God's ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to God's people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’                                                                                                       Luke 1:68-79
Zechariah, like Mary, praise God for the actions God has taken in the world, showing mercy and saving the people.  He then blesses his child to be the one who prepares the way for God's dawn to break.

Mary's baby is born and his birth is announced to Shepherds who hear the angels sing this prayer:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’  Luke 2:14
The shepherds after meeting the baby return hoe praising God.
When the Jesus was to be presented in the table we hear the prayers of two elders.  First Simeon says:
'Master, now you are dismissing your servant 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 for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’                                                    Luke 29-32
This prayer of Zechariah's has become the final words at the end of worship.  Simeon sends us out in peace after having received the word of God and experienced the light.  Simeon's prayer is followed by Anna who on seeing the baby praises God.

The story of Christmas is a story of prayer, prayers of longing that are answered, prayers of praise, and prayers of challenge.  The story is filled with the longing for God to bring forth the light.  And this is exactly what I need to hear this Christmas.  I need to be reminded to surround my life and the life of those I love with prayer.  That we need to pray our longings and the answer may come long after we have believed it will be answer.  We pray remembering that God is seeking great changes and bringing mercy to God's people.  So this Christmas, this is my prayer.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cats and Dogs in the Peaceable Kingdom

Rocket and RiverSong
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.                                                                                                                                   Isaiah 11:1-10
Ziggy and Rocket
Rocket and Ziggy were best friends.  We brought them home the first of January 2003.  They slept together and cuddled each other and when one left the house the other looked lonely.  Ziggy got cancer and died.  Rocket was very sad.  She would meow and cry.  She would follow me everywhere and was always by my side.  The whole house missed Ziggy.  
River Song 
... A month went by and I started trolling the animal shelter websites looking at pictures of puppies.  I wanted to stop moping and I wanted Rocket to feel a little less lonely.  So one day I came across a picture of a puppy I just couldn't get out of my head.  I even started naming her.  RiverSong for Dr. Who's wife.  Her picture just spoke to me.  I looked up her breeds cattle dog and lab and thought she'll be great.  I'll have to get more exercise and she will do ok with kids and cats.  I just need to teacher her a task so she feels like she has a job.  So I made and appointment and met the puppy.  She was twirling and spinning and had the cutest speckles.  When she came into the house Rocket disappeared.  She only came out for food.  I learned that RiverSong was a CoonHound mixed with cattle dog.  After reading about Heelers I was a little worried about Rocket.  This breed hunts and sees anything as fair game outside the pack. 

Rocket walking past RiverSong to lie down.

So I made sure she was in her cage at night and didn't leave her and the cat alone in the same room while I was at work.  For RiverSong just loved to chase and catch Rocket.  
Every time she spotted her she bit her and trapped her.  Even though the internet and the vet said they should be ok together alone (they won't hunt their own pack, but neighbor kitties beware).  So gradually she started to sleep on the bed with Rocket and me, but I still was locking her in a room when we left the house.  One day I accidentally locked Rocket and River together in her room.  Rocket must have been hiding under the couch when I left for work.  Both of them were exhausted but alive and there were no piles of fur floating around.  I thought we are making progress, but RiverSong couldn't help but bite Rocket every time she went by.  But one day when I was reading, RiverSong was busy chasing Rocket and Rocket was crying like normal, but then she jumped up on the chair turned around and swatted RiverSong with her claws and the puppy cried and ran away to hide.  So I tried leaving them out together since the chewing phase was over.  There is still a lot of chasing and warning cries, but I have been known to catch Rocket licking RiverSong and RiverSong gently nibbling on Rocket's ears.  
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
Woody Allen said, “Sure the leopard will lie down with lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”  I think Rocket probably felt that way for a long six months, when the puppy was growing into herself.  I'll keep one eye open in case that mouth with teeth comes close.  So why does Isaiah present this picture of the wolf and the lamb together, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, the child and the asp.  

The world is not a safe place.  Isaiah's vision is a vision of peace in the midst of hardship.  Life is not easy in Isaiah's world.  In Chapter 10 Isaiah tells us about Jerusalem being brought low.  The city is devastated.  Assyria has brought war and hardship to the people.  The promise of the David's dynasty has been brought low.  The kingship that the people had demanded has not succeeded.  We are left with a stump, an ending.  Hope seems far off and long ago.  Yet with this stump, a branch is growing, a new shoot will come to life.  Isaiah envisions a world with a new rule.  Someone is coming who is blessed by God and surrounded by God.  
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
Isaiah dreams a dream of a new world.  As Walter Brueggemann says,"this is a poem about the impossible possibility of a new creation."  There will be a new beginning with a leader who is clothed in righteousness and will decide and judge for the poor and meek of the earth.  And all creation will be renewed. This vision, God's vision is of a radical new order where we will have "no hunger for injury, no need to devour, no yearning for brutal control, no passion for domination."  (Brueggemann, Isaiah 1-39, pp.98-101).  

One of the songs that I have been singing all week is "I heard the bells on Christmas Day."  This song comes from the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I love the song and hear Harry Bellafonte sing it in my head, but what I love about the song is it's angst.  How do we celebrate Christmas when in the world hate is strong and mocks the images of peace found at Christmas.  This sense of discord is even stronger in the poem.
Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,
     And with the sound
     The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
     And made forlorn
     The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
     "For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"   
                                        Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow was writing at a time when it was hard to celebrate Christmas.  His wife had been tragically killed in a fire a few years before and one of his son's ran off to join the union army and fight the civil war. Longfellow twice went to care for his son once for an illness and once for wounds.  Those Christmas words of peace and good will seem hollow.  

This week as I heard the stories of stage four breast cancer, unexpected deaths in a car accident.  For some this is the first holiday without a loved one and so Christmas just brings up the pain.  I know of people struggling to find work and unable to experience the joy and hope of Christmas when they are unsure of the future.  For many of us this Christmas may be hard.  Peace and good will seem hard to come by.  

Yet...As with Isaiah, the despair turns toward hope.  The bells begin to sing of God and of right prevailing.  Those word and sense of peace now bring hope.  God wants to bring into our hardship, our sorrow, our loneliness and share a vision, a hope of peace.