I realize I am late getting my lectionary reflection written for this week. I was gently nudged by one or two clergy friends, who said they didn’t know what to write in their sermons because they hadn’t had a lectionary post from Hedwyg yet. (Um, yeah, right. 🙂 But it’s sweet and flattering, so thank you!) And it’s kind of funny, because I started writing these lectionary posts to see if I would have the discipline to engage with the readings each week and come up with something meaningful out of them. I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded with this, but I’m definitely working with the readings most weeks, and I think that’s a good thing. I certainly don’t flatter myself that I’m coming up with the same caliber of insight as someone with a seminary education would, but then I come at the readings from quite a different perspective.
This Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent, so we get to light the PINK (okay, rose) candle in the Advent wreath. Yay for pink! 🙂 I understand that since this is the Sunday we celebrate Mary’s role in bringing Jesus into the world, we have a pink candle because we know deep down, Mary really wanted a girl. (Hee hee!) Okay, so the readings for Gaudete Sunday in the Episcopal Church are:
These readings have a thread running through them of opposites – blind to seeing; deaf to hearing; lame to leaping; mute to singing; imprisoned to free; mighty to lowly, and lowly to mighty; hungry to filled; rich to empty; greatest to least, and least to greatest; deserts to streams and swamps; weak to strong; feeble to firm. It is a wonderful message, a message of great hope, and the reading from James reinforces this message with a reminder to be strong and patient, to know you are loved. We are reminded that while there may be suffering in this world, at the end, we are brought into the kingdom of God, the God who brings all these opposites to pass.
And look closely at those. The mute don’t go to speaking; they begin to sing. And the lame aren’t changed into merely ambulatory; no, they leap. And it is God who does this – the God who took the nothingness before time and created the universe, who came into this world as a helpless human infant to show us we are completely loved and treasured and saved, who breathes life into us as the Holy Spirit.
A few years ago, at the annual council of this diocese, the agenda included several sessions of bible study with our keynote speaker. Unfortunately, because our deliberations ran long, we only had the opportunity to engage in the first session of study, which was on this very passage from Isaiah. It is such a wonderfully rich passage for us, full of beauty and hope and grace. And I will invite you more deeply into this passage, as we all were at council that year. The invitation went something like this.
Within each of us are places that are very fertile, lush and growing and very productive. There are places that are somewhat fertile, where maybe the growth is under the soil where we can’t really see it, but something is going on in there, and we will see the fruits of this. And there are desert places, where the hot wind blows over the dry sands, where we do not see the water of life, where we don’t think anything will ever grow – perhaps even that nothing can ever grow.
So what are these places for you? What are your desert places? What are the places where you aren’t sure that there can ever be life and growth and wonder? Once you have found just one, then close your eyes, because we’re going to go on a ride, and it’s going to feel a little bit silly. So bear with me for a moment here.
What would it look like if that desert place – that place within your mind or heart or spirit or body where you doubt that life and growth can happen – suddenly had streams of water? What would it look like if there were an oasis in that desert place, with green, growing things that bear fruit and support life? What would that be like? What would it feel like, taste like, smell like? How would your life change?
Now, here’s the crazy part.
God has the power to do this.
I know, it’s crazy. I mean, we all know that God is all powerful, knows everything, sees everything, can do whatever God wants. But we think, oh, God just doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t reach down with a magic wand and *Poof!* make everything better. I have to engage in that inner work, and bring life to those dry places. Yes, I can pray, and God will guide me, but I have to do the hard work.
Okay, so now for the really crazy part.
God has the power to do this.
When we say that, we’re putting God into a box. We’re limiting God. We’re keeping God from bringing about these changes – from bringing streams of water into our desert places, from bringing light to our blind eyes and music to our deaf ears and songs to our mute lips.
Why would we do this?
Is it possible we like our desert places? Perhaps we’ve come to rely on them, to use them as crutches (I’ve never been good at math). Perhaps we’re just used to them (Oh, you know me; I just can’t parallel-park!). They’re an inconvenience, but they’re a known inconvenience, a comfortable inconvenience (I don’t like that new hearing aid; I can hear better, but it feels funny in my ear. I’m going to use my old one). And if our desert places suddenly turned into green, growing, lush, fruitful oases… we’d have to change. We’d have to use those places, and what if we failed? What if we just aren’t good at those things? What if they were only green and fruitful for a short time, and then turned back to desert again? How would we cope with losing that wonder and delight, after drinking from it?
Yeah, we’re afraid. We’re afraid, so we put shackles on God. And God loves us, so God lets us. Yes, this is the God who brought the universe into being from nothingness, who rained frogs on Egypt and parted the Red Sea, who put Godself into the womb of a young girl in Galilee. This is the God who gave us galaxies and comets, who gave us the Appalachians and Alps and Himalayas, who gave us the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights, who gives us the beauty of a snowflake or a cherry blossom or even a humble dandelion. And yet, we tell ourselves that this God can’t bring streams of water into our desert places.
And that’s the really crazy part.
So my prayer for you this week is that you find some craziness and indulge in it. That in the midst of all the busyness and hectic preparations for Christmas – their own kind of craziness – you take a look inside and find one of those desert places. We all have them, though we often hide them from ourselves. So as Isaiah says to all of us who have fearful hearts, Be strong! Do not fear! Here is your God! He will come and save you! Because God will, if we are willing for God to help us.