God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

December 28 -- First Sunday of Christmas, Magi Visit

We’ve had a great time opening presents these 12 Days of Christmas -- today’s the 4th day? -- and we had a big box arrive from my grandparents in St. Louis on Friday, and so we opened some presents from them yesterday.

My dad got a great present from them.  It was wrapped in a shoe-box-sized box, with a tag on it that said “To Dave, From Mom and Dad”.  And then, under the tag was written in parentheses, “Please share.”

He opened the box to discover a fabulous assortment of Grandma’s Christmas cookies.  We chuckled at the important instructions, and then everyone reached into dad’s new box and took a cookie or two, as he passed them around the table. 

A simple, fun scene from our house at lunchtime yesterday.

The story of the magi in our Gospel text from Matthew today, is a picture of God giving the world a gift, wrapped not in wrapping paper, but in swaddling clothes; laid, not in a shoe-box, but in a manger.  The tag is addressed to God’s chosen people -- Jesus is born to a humble and faithful Jewish family and lineage.  But under the tag through the Gospel of Matthew and throughout our Holy Book are the instructions, “Please share.”

The story of the magi visiting from far away is the first of the bookends of the Gospel of Matthew.  Here at the beginning we see God’s promises opening up to all people -- every race, every culture, everywhere.  This all happens through the birth of Jesus the Messiah.  Luke’s Christmas story that we always share on Christmas Eve emphasizes God’s good news coming to the least, the lost, and the lowly, people like the “scruffy old riff-raff” shepherds in the middle of nowhere, right?  
But Matthew’s Christmas story has a different emphasis: here in Matthew, God’s good news goes global.  It has cosmic implications.  Someone once said, God’s love for this world has the power to move the stars.  “Jesus is for everyone.  Please share.”  Reach in.  Have some.  Jesus is for you.  Pass it along...

I said this story was the first of the bookends.  Do you remember how the book of Matthew ends?  Matthew ends with Jesus giving the Great Commission:  “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (KJV).

There’s a tag on God’s gift for you.  It’s addressed “To [you], From God,” and then it instructs, “Please share.”  And this good word is sweeter than Grandma’s delicious cookies!

In a world wracked with violence and guilt -- see, the violence doesn’t stop just because Jesus is born -- sometimes it seems as though the peace of “Silent Night, Holy Night” only lasts a few verses (if at all).  So in a world filled with pain and sorrow, God’s star-shifting love for the whole human family becomes profound and transformative.

This star that the magi followed -- and the child to whom it led -- transformed them. It says they went home by another road.  Not the way of Herod, of evil and of violence, but by another way. We are transformed too, by God’s love. “Please share.”[pause]  

You know this is a great story.  And it’s funny to think about so called “wise men” coming to a new land and going straight to the current king, and asking about where the child is who will topple his regime was just born.  What was that about?
I think there’s something there about speaking truth to power.  
We’ve seen those themes through the Old Testament this fall:  Moses standing up to Pharaoh, Esther before her king, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah -- all prophesying: “What you see before you will not last!”  

These were all Jewish people, God’s special chosen people -- Jews.  Now God is using outsiders to teach us about who God is: “What you see, Herod (and all Jerusalem with you) will not last! A new regime is at hand, and it won’t look like the world’s mighty regime.  God’s regime will be one of peace; the meek will inherit the earth.”  There’s lots we don’t know about the magi, but we do know that they came from outside, and from far away.  So now God doesn’t just use insiders to carry the message, God also uses the foreigner, the stranger...the one who doesn’t know our traditions and our customs.  [pause]

Christmas Eve 11pm service:  two years in a row now.  They don’t leave after I say, “Go in peace serve the Lord.”  They stay.  They’re not from here.  So they don’t know, and we laugh a little bit at them in the back of the church.  But I’ve been thinking about what they’re staying and sitting quietly might teach us insiders.  [They’ve come to worship this one named Jesus.]    

Sisters and brothers in Christ, this is the in-breaking of God.  Watch for signs of it all around you this new year.  Watch for it in places you’d expect, and really watch for it in unexpected places.  Christ is here to stay.  “Lo, I am with you always,” he says, “even to the ends of the world.”  

God-with-us, Emmanuel, is ours...to share.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

December 24 -- Christmas Eve

Lutheran pastor and great author Heidi Neumark writes in her book Breathing Space about the first months of her call as pastor to a dying rough-neighborhood church in the South Bronx, NY:

She tells about how the first day on the job she noticed that the church doors had been painted bright red as a symbol of welcome and excitement to her as their pastor.  Then when she walked into her new office, she discovered a can of red paint on her desk.  Interesting.  

Neumark soon learned that that can...

Pastor Heidi never gave up on them.  

Merry Christmas, sisters and brothers in Christ, and welcome to a church where God never gives up on us!

I actually heard  Pastor Heidi tell that story in person about 10 years ago, and I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about those kids “trashing up” the front doors of the church and making this poor new, young pastor repaint them daily, I was pretty upset -- just hearing about it.  

Who would do that?...

And yet her reaction...

Friends in Christ--and new friends who are suspicious of Christ and got dragged to church by your slightly more faithful family members tonight--we have a God who loves us right through our destructive actions.  

This has been a rough year in many ways.  I’m guessing most of us haven’t done to much church door graffitiing lately, but if we’re honest, we have been destructive in other ways.  We’ve hurt others.  We’ve hurt ourselves.  We’ve hurt God’s planet.  We’ve hurt our neighbors.  We’ve hurt our friends.  

If we’re honest about this past year, there have been times when we’ve defaced God’s property too.  

But there’s a can of paint on God’s desk.  And day after day, night after night, God takes that paint can of forgiveness and erases our sin, our selfishness, our brokenness, our mistakes.  God deals graciously with us and then invites us in, where there is safety, where there is teaching and learning, where there is creativity and peace...amid a violent world.  

Did you know I’m talking about the Christmas Story?  The angels appearing to those shepherds -- that was God repainting the dark, foreboding sky with joy and peace and light, and inviting those destructive shepherds into something new.  We have a God who never gives up on us.  The children said it in the pageant earlier:  

“In those days, remember, people used to laugh at shepherds and say they were smelly and call them other rude names (which I can’t possible mention here).  You see, people thought shepherds were no-bodies, just scruffy old riff-raff.  But God must have thought shepherds were very important indeed, because they’re the ones God chose to tell the good news to first.”

Sounds like the way Pastor Heidi saw those young, African American kids tagging the front doors of the church.  She saw something in them that many of us, myself included, would have been too angry at them to see.   

I wrote Pastor Heidi yesterday and asked her where she found the strength and the creativity to love those kids and to invite them in.  And she wrote back right away!  Here’s what she said:

“I never thought of it as requiring any strength from me.  I believed that the church needed the strength of those children and youth to survive.  I have always invited children into the sanctuary.  I seems like a natural thing to do.  And to share Bible stories and art...that also has just felt like a no-brainer.
...But we are all created in the image of an amazingly creative God, so it seems natural to tap into that.  
Wishing you Christmas blessings and grace, Heidi”

A no brainer.  To love the trouble makers.  Now that’s God-talk.  That’s where grace surprises us.  

This has been a highly charged and violent year in the United States.  With the tragedies of Fergusen, MO and beyond, we find all too much hatred between black people and white people.  Racism that’s just beneath the surface on all sides has raised its ugly head again in 2014.  

This has been a politically charged year.  Republicans and Democrats continue to battle, continue to tear each other down, murdering each others’ characters and playing the games that “must be played” in order to survive and win votes.  

This has been a year of holy wars.  Christians, Jews, and Muslims have all held their ground, lost members of their clan to terrorism and retaliation.          
And perhaps this has been a year highly charged and violent year in your own life and in your own heart.  Loss, divorce, addiciton, separation, depression, anger, unemployment and sickness -- these are just a few of the marks of our humanity that bring us sorrow in our daily lives.  

And yet through it all I wonder if Pastor Heidi’s words might be similar to God’s very words.  

“I’ve always invited children into the sanctuary.  It seems like a natural thing to do.”  What does the church say in the face of all this violence and bitter conflict?  God surprises us with grace -- inviting children into the sanctuary, inviting shepherds into the stable, inviting you into a life of forgiveness, peace and joy.  God doesn’t give up on us.  God remains faithful, even  if we might fall away (or perhaps never even had a chance to fall forward into God’s grace).  

God meets you in the dead of your night, in the pain and darkness of your life, and announces that a child has been born, that salvation has arrived at last.

God doesn’t give up.  God paints away every tear and gives us hope. 

And the story doesn’t end there.  

God calls you in.  And hands you a brush, and invites you paint a new story on the doors of the world.  

Having forgiven our sins, having covered up blemishes, having our repainted our lives, having cleaned the slate, God gives you a brush now and says, “Go and tell everyone about this love.  Go and tell everyone that I have not given up and never will.”   Christ Jesus is born, thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 21 -- Fourth Sunday of Advent

“You are Mary: You carry Jesus inside of you.  You are Joseph: You are open and ready for what God makes possible.”

Grace to you and peace from God, who comes to us in peace. AMEN.

[Ms. Lidia’s reading of Micah at the Preschool Family Christmas Chapel service: “There is hope!  Live with hope you people of Bethlehem!”]

Ms. Lidia is Mary: She carries Jesus inside of her.  She is Joseph: she is open and ready for what God makes possible.  In the midst of so much pain and hardship—parents of preschool children know about that, others too: those mourning, the lonely, the sick, the lost, the depressed, the confused, the frightened all know.  So to stand up in the face of all that, and proclaim as she did with such passion, joy and life (her inflection burned into my memory) that “there is hope, live with hope you people of Bethlehem” strikes me as an embodiment of this idea:  that you too are Mary, you carry the spark of the divine inside of you.  You are Joseph, you remain open and ready for what God makes possible.  

Joseph was a good man.  Our gospel text today says that he was a righteous man.  If you can stomach the first 17 verses of Matthew you will see that he is a very Jewish man.  And yet he doesn’t do what the Bible tells him to do.  He has the courage to part ways with Scripture, to break the law, which says he should take part in stoning his pregnant fiancĂ©.  Sounds like an obvious moment for you and for me to take scripture seriously but not literally, but it wasn’t so easy for Joseph.  He was terrified, I’m sure.  There were pressures all around him.  Chaos and confusion.  What would you say—particularly those of you who work with teenagers and young adults--what would you say if a young man came into your office, dropped his head in his hands and said, “I’m engaged to be married, but my girlfriend is pregnant, and I know it’s not mine”?   You probably wouldn’t say, let’s take her out back and do what the Bible says…but you might very well advise him to proceed with caution, and think through very seriously with him the option of ending this relationship.  As a pastor, I would pray with him for clarity. 

You know, it’s funny how Advent starts with a message, “WAKE UP” and ends with the image (even made the cover of the bulletin!) of sleep.  Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, asleep!  Both are so important for us as Jesus-followers, as Christians – both waking and sleeping. 
One prayer we might say for the young man whose girlfriend is pregnant is that he might…simply…get some good rest in the midst of all the chaos swirling.  That’s a good prayer for all of us this busy week.  (You are Joseph, remember.)  “Get some good rest,” even if that means during the night, when we normally sleep.  May your sleep be deep and restore you.  [pause]
I never knew it until I was about 10.  We were on vacation all sharing the same motel room, somewhere in Alabama off I-10, on our way to Disney World, my 2 brothers and my 2 parents, and when everything finally got quiet at about 10:30, and the lights went out, I heard Mom and Dad softly saying a prayer in unison:  We give you thanks heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today.  I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously protect me tonight.  Into your hands I commend myself, my body, my soul, and all that is mine.  Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me.  AMEN. 

I later learned that this is Luther’s “Prayer at the End of the Day.”  And that they say if every night, just as Luther once taught.  My parents and my grandparents have said this every night of their marriage, even over the phone when they are apart.     

I wonder if Joseph said a prayer something like this before he fell asleep that great night.
For God’s holy angel was in fact over him, Matthew tells us.  God’s holy angel spoke to him those words that we all long to hear:  “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” 

Could our Good News, our Gospel message this week actually be that God calls us to sleep, so that we might get away from all the distractions of our daily lives, and hear the angel’s words that God is longing to share with this whole world?  “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” 

As we hear those worlds in the daytime they may sound like nothing more than a great but ancient mantra of Bible times (41+ in OT, 22 in NT).  But God is offering us, for we are Joseph, the words “do not be afraid” to become part of our being, part of our fabric, part of our DNA.  And sometimes it doesn’t get “into our bones” until we get to sleep, calming our bodies so that God can sink in.  Some dreams change us forever. 

And, when we go to sleep, as Joseph did, as we do, we allow God to be God.  When we’re awake, we’re active, in charge, perhaps even unable and unwilling to let God interfere.  But sleep is the openness to God’s handiwork in the world in our hearts.  We completely surrender our potential and allow God to be God.  We are Joseph.  “Into your hands I commend myself, my body, my soul and all that is mine.”  Luther prays the scripture, Jesus’ final words become ours too.

“We are Joseph: We are open and ready for what God makes possible.  [pause] We are Mary:  We carry Jesus inside of us.”  Advent is not about waiting for Jesus to come, as if he’s not here already.  Advent is both a mediation on and a celebration of his arrival – which has happened already (as we remember the sacred stories of his birth), which is happening right now—for we are cleansed with Holy Spirit water, we are stuffed with Jesus in this meal, and we are rolled up in the pages of scripture, and which will happen, when he comes again to judge the world in righteousness.  Do not be afraid, this day, this night, this crazy week, this life Josephs, for, Mary’s, even while you wait, you carry Jesus with you, in you, and you will forevermore.  AMEN.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

December 14 -- Third Sunday of Advent

A ship rocked slowly upon the greasy seas.  Its sails were tattered, its masts spliced, and its hull leaky with worm-eaten planks, but still it stayed afloat.  It had been sailing for many years—for generations actually.  Many years ago it had been loaded with food and medicine, and dispatched to find and to help the people of a lost colony.  As it traveled far and wide, all its original crew except one had died, their places being taken by their children.

In the prow an old man, the last of the original crew, sat upon a coil of rope, his watery eyes struggling to pierce the fog.

Below decks men, women and children sat down to eat.  Although the fare was meager, it was adequate, and all their faces shone with health.

The meal was almost over when both doors of the messroom were thrown open with a loud noise and a rush of wind.  In the opening stood the old man, strange and wild, stronger than they had ever seen him, shouting, “We’re here!  We’ve arrived at land!”

“Land?” they asked not moving from the table, “what land?”  

“Why the land we were sent to when this voyage began.  And the lost colony is there waiting.  I can hear them shouting from the shore!” shouted the old man, stamping his feet with impatience.  “Quick! Let’s make for shore and unload the food and the medicine!”

The old man turned to run back up the gangway, but stopped halfway up when he realized there had been no movement in the messroom.  Slowly he returned to stare at them with wide, incredulous eyes, his mouth agape.  “Didn’t you hear me?  Were none of you listening? I said we’re here!  The people we were sent out to help are only a few hundred yards away.  But we must hurry, for they are all hungry and sick.”

“I’m sure we’d all like to help those people,” said one of the men, “but—as you can see—there’s hardly enough food and medicine here to take care of us and our children.”

“Besides,” said one of the women, “we don’t know what kind of people they are.  Who knows what might happen if we landed and went among them?”

The old man staggered back as if he had been struck across the face.  “But…but…it was for them that this voyage began in the first place so many years ago, for them that the ship was built, for them that the food and medicine were stowed aboard!”

“Yes, old man, I’ve heard many stories of our launching from my father and from the other elders who are now dead,” replied one of the younger men, “but there were so many different accounts that how can we be sure which one is right?  Why risk our stores and provisions, perhaps even our lives, on something we may not even be supposed to do?”
“He’s right! He’s right!” shouted many of the others now quite excitedly involved in the conversation.

“But look,” said the old man, trying very hard to contain himself, “it’s all very simple!  As far as there not being enough food for us and them, much of what we have left is meant for seed.  If we go ashore and plant it, then there will be more than enough for all.  And on the matter of why the ship was launched in the first place—you have merely to look in the logbook. It’s all there.” 

The old man, hoping he had settled the question, looked anxiously from face to face around the tables.  There was a long, thoughtful silence.

Finally, a man who had gravitated to a position of leadership among them stood up, picking his teeth and frowning thoughtfully.

“Perhaps the old man is right,” he said, loosening a juicy morsel from between two teeth.  “At any rate, his suggestion merits investigation.  What I propose is this: let us select from among ourselves a representative committee which will see if they can find the old logbook, and then go into a thorough study of it, to see if they can determine whether we should land or not.”

“A sensible idea!” they all cried, except the old man.  “Let’s do it!”

The old man, now frantic with hearing the cries from the shore, shouted, “What is this?  What are you doing? Oh!”  he said, backing away from them with horror in her eyes, “I can see that you do not really expect to do anything at all!”  His back against a bulkhead, he clutched at his chest and slid weakly to the floor.

“Let me warn you then,” he gasped.  “The food will not last.  It was meant to stay preserved only for the time it would take to get here.  Now the food will begin to molder, and the medicines will not separate and lose their strength.  If you do not take the provisions ashore and share them, they will soon no longer feed or cure even you!”  With this, he died.

As the days and weeks passed, the ship continued to lie offshore.  The committee continued to search the logbook, which they had soon found, hoping to come up with a report “in the near future.” A few of the younger women and men, maddened with the waiting and lured irresistibly by the cries of hunger and pain from the shore, slipped away one night in the jolly boat with a few provisions, and were listed sorrowfully next day as “lost at sea.”

True to the old man’s dying prophesy, the food on board began to grow all manner of weird and exotic fungi, and the extensive stores of medicine seemed less and less able to cure the ills of the people.  Also, the cries from the shore began to grow so much louder that even the hardest of hearing on board had to stuff their ears with cotton in order to sleep.
But no one seemed to be able to decide what to do.

Story by G. William Jones, The Innovator: And Other Modern Parables, “Lying Offshore,”(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969), 35-38.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are called to be a light to the nations.  We are called to live with hope.  Christ has gathered us here, enlightened us with the gifts of the Spirit, filled us with good things to hear and to eat...and good things to share.  And now sends us out in these winter days to share this hope.  

Christ Jesus, the God of the universe, the creator of oceans and skies, of plants and animals, who is above the farthest star and greater than the entire cosmos -- has chosen not only to remain grand, but also to stoop and get close to us, close to our planet, close to those who are like “dimly burning wicks”, close to our pain...as close to you as your very breath.

Advent is not a time of waiting for God to get close, as if Jesus hasn’t come yet.  It’s not a time to pretend mother Mary is pregnant all over again, even though we hear that story and see those beautiful artistic renderings.  No, these are days to ponder the wonder of God’s decision to get close.

God choses not to bob around offshore (the title of parable).  God choses to land the ship, to bring food and medicine to a people who are hungry, lost, sick, sad and scared.

God doesn’t forget the original mission.  God doesn’t loose the logbook...and God’s got your name written in it.  You are the object of God’s ministry and mercy.  

Here’s Isaiah’s vision and the hymn we’re about to sing as we ponder God’s decision to get close: “Then shall the mute break forth in song, the lame shall leap in wonder, the weak be raised above the strong and weapons be broken asunder.”

We live with hope, people of God.  We rest in peace.  And we go out now with joy, like angels, to announce and live and share this good news in a hurting world!  “We’re here.  We’ve arrived at land!”  God is with us.  AMEN.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7 -- Second Sunday of Advent, Esther

Today we’ll sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”

Israel--in our reading from Esther--is in exile, mourning, lonely.  

And this ancient hymn and text from the Book of Esther meet us at a time of the year where we too may feel far away from where we want to be.  We too may be in exile in some way -- longing, lost, mourning, lonely.

Esther was a Jew in exile, far away from her homeland.  The Jewish people have been in exile for centuries now.  Gone are the days of the great Jerusalem monarchy and the mighty King David and Queen Bathsheba, gone are days of the lavish temple of Solomon.  All destroyed, first by Assyrians (Sennacharib?), who took the Jews away, after battling the Egyptians.  Then the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians.  And the already far-from-home and captive Israelites are now taken to Babylon.  The prophet cries out, “How long, O Lord!”  And as if that’s not enough exile, now they’re in Persia -- some of them.  The Jewish people now have been split up all over the place -- some have gotten back to their land, some are still in Babylon and some have now been taken to Persia.  The Persians now have their turn at being the world’s superpower.  

Maybe we sing this great Advent hymn a little differently now, having a little more sense of the context.  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”

And here in exile is this story of Esther and her cousin Mordecai -- two of God’s people.  It’s a story, and actually a whole book that doesn’t mention God once.  It’s been a little controversial for that reason, both in the Jewish and the Christian traditions.  How could a whole book of the Bible not mention God once?  

But I kind of like that.  Because it makes us think about some things:  God is not always mentioned in our time and place either.  But just because God is not mentioned doesn’t mean God doesn’t show up.  Amen? 

As one Old Testament scholar puts it, “Coincidences are miracles where God chooses to stay anonymous.”  Just because God isn’t mentioned once doesn’t mean God’s not showing up.  We don’t have to invoke God’s name for God to be present...I’ve told you before about one of my favorite and dearly departed New Testament professors, Fred Danker, who used to always correct us at the dinner table, when we prayed, “Come Lord Jesus be our guest...”  

When the prayer was finished, Fred would always say, “You know, theologically that prayer is problematic.  God never needs a invitation.  Christ comes whether we ask him or not.”

That’s a long ways of saying, God is in the book of Esther.  Just like God is in your life.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had any burning bushes talk to me like Moses, and I haven’t seen any chariots of fire lift up into heaven like Elisha.  But that doesn’t mean that God is not in my life.  I kind of love that God isn’t mentioned in Esther because that’s more like our lives and our world.  Part of our job, sisters and brothers in Christ, is to see a God of love, in the midst of a world that doesn’t or can’t. 

OK, let’s get into this story a bit!  Esther: she was in the right place at the right time, and she did what she could with what she had.  Do you see God in a statement like that? I didn’t mention God, but do you see God here?  [repeat]  

Esther is a fantastic book...with twists and turns, dramatic and exaggerated characters: the beautiful Esther, who rises from being a nobody to a queen with the king’s ear (parallel with Mary); the evil Haman, who wants the world to bow down to him and destroy the Jewish people; the wise cousin Mordecai, who nudges Esther see that maybe she has been put where she is “for a time such as this”.  And Esther has the courage to bend the king’s ear, and the happy ending: the king saves the people, promotes Mordacai, and casts out the evil Haman.  It’s a book of coincidences -- take a devotion sheet on your way out, and study it this week, even if we don’t have Bible Study.
These Advent days are days for study and days of patience.  In this time of wanting what we want and wanting it now, wanting family and friends to be here now, wanting Christmas to be here now, wanting peace and justice in the world to be here now.  All the sweets and treats of the season.  I don’t know about you, but I kind of want to pig out on all of that.  And then the church gives us Advent.  Patience.  Slow down.  Maybe God has put you right where you are for a certain reason, “for a time such as this.”  

Esther was a nobody.  I’m sure she doubted herself.  I imagined she rolled her eyes the first time Mordecai said she might be here for a reason, just like Moses rolled his eyes the first time someone told him he should lead the people out of Egypt, just like young Jeremiah rolled his eyes when someone told him he would become the very mouthpiece for God.  Have you ever rolled your eyes?  

 I’m sure Esther didn’t think she had the ability to save an entire race of people.  The Jewish people still celebrate Esther every year with the feast of Purim.  Jewish scholar: “They tried to kill us, they couldn’t, let’s eat.”  I’m sure Esther never thought she’d be the reason for an annual party, around the world, thousands of years later.  But here’s what she had:  she was beautiful, and she was smart.  And she used that for good.  She could have been beautiful and smart and used it for herself or for evil.  

What do you have, that you can use for good?  Let me go ahead and insert the God language here: what has God entrusted to you, that you can use for good?  Let’s sit on that, patiently, this season.  What present has God given to you that you can use for good in this world?  Coincidences are miracles where God stays anonymous.  Where has God put you, “coincidentally”?  Where has God so graciously and lovingly put us...to do some good in this world?  God blesses us with a time of waiting, a time for patience, for watching, and for seeing a world in need.  People sit in darkness all around.

...And yet the song ends, “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to you, O Israel.”  God doesn’t need an invitation.  God enters our world in still, small and quiet ways.  God sits with us now, confronting us with these questions, nudging us, and finally comforting us.  Confronting and comforting.

Patience is our word for today, even if we’re in exile. We watch, we wait, we pray, we look for signs of God in our midst.  And we do it together.  And we see already God is here, even now -- freeing us, forgiving us, and loving us!  Advent days are the days of bearing witness to and giving thanks for Christ’s arrival into our world.  Advent is a celebration of God’s drawing near.  And that’s already happened!