December 2018 Newsletter Reflection
Whom Shall I Send?
Reflection by Susan Jensen, Ruling Elder, Ft. King Presbyterian Church
Advent is sometimes characterized as a time of preparation, sometimes as a journey toward Bethlehem. It is also a love story—of God’s love for a people gone astray like lost sheep. As human history itself moved along toward Bethlehem, the Old Testament records in poignant terms God’s longing to redeem the hearts of those who wandered off in spite of God’s beneficent care and calling. “Return to me. Come back home. You will be my people and I will be your God.” In the words of a beloved hymn, God says,”I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send?”
Patriarchs, priests, and prophets, kings, chroniclers, and conquerors all had their part in God’s calling, but to no avail. The people turned; they turned away again. Finally, the question “Whom shall I send?” was answered in the Child of Bethlehem. The Child came to show us a way we have never fully learned yet never quite forgotten. And so we are reminded afresh each Advent season that we have much in common with “the people who walked in darkness.” If we listen, we can hear God calling.
READ: Joel 2: 12-13
God who was, and is, and is to come: Your Advent season has cycled around again. Once more we are called to prepare the way, raising up every valley, making every mountain and hill be laid low, and every pathway being made straight. Yet, in our experience, your coming is not by some royal road re-engineered for your passage. Your highway runs through our hearts, and it is there where we begin to make our preparations. “With fasting, weeping, and mourning,” says the prophet. “Rend your hearts and not your garments.” We are not accustomed to such outward displays of contrition. We are comforted by the understanding that you are slow to anger and abounding in mercy. Perhaps we are even too comfortable at times. Stir us from complacency so that we do not take your grace for granted. Make us mindful of the ways in which we have wandered so that we may truly return with all our hearts. As this season progresses, confirm our hope that you are eternally seeking us, ready to welcome us with open arms.
More Advent Reflections from Susan Jensen
Read Malachi 4:2
Sun of Righteousness — what a lovely image those words paint of you for whom this season waits. The words echo in the song of herald angels; “Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace. Hail the Sun of Righteousness. Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.” We are conscious of this imagery in the Northern Hemisphere during Advent. As the winter solstice comes upon us and the world is at its darkest, the light turns our way once again, imperceptibly at first, yet gradually we are renewed by its rising. So it is with you, Lord. The wings of the morning—the poet’s term for the first rays of sunrise—bring healing warmth and revealing light to chase away the terrors of the night. We sometimes feel in our own time like the people of Malachi’s day when wrong seems to prevail over right and we long for deliverance. The people who walk in darkness could be us. But this is your promise for all who revere your name. Your Advent illuminates the darkness of our lives, both inside and out. As constant as sunrise, this season of your coming repeats itself year after year. We are refreshed by its reiteration, for it offers us hope of a love that will not let us go. May that hope be renewed as we await your rising once again.
Read Isaiah 2: 2-4
God of the pruning hook, this vision of your holy peace has haunted us for millennia. We long for it, pray for it, strive for it, and then, in the height of irony, we go to war to try to achieve it. Swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks are still powerful metaphors even in our time. Even so, we can only imagine the trade-offs that would make our world a better place: ships into schools; rockets into roads; aircraft into agriculture; machine guns into medicine; tanks into telecommunications. But you who know us better than ourselves are fully aware that warfare among nations is only the most salient of our battles. Jealousy turns kindred against kindred; envy turns friend against friend; corporate greed ignores the plight of the working poor; conspicuous consumption pours salt on the wounds of the deprived; partisans would rather be victorious than valiant; and small-minded self-importance makes victims of the vulnerable. Lord, we need a change of heart. Swords into plowshares will never be enough until we can turn self-love into philanthropy. Use the proverbial pruning hook to rid us of those tendencies which make us an obstruction to your peace — if not for your sake, then certainly for our own.
Read Isaiah 55: 6-13
Source of exceeding joy, your claim upon us is more tenacious than our claim upon you. In spite of our wickedness and our wandering, our lackluster love and flimsy faith, you are always there like an anxious parent waiting with the light on until we are all safely home. Your message never falters: “Come home; return to me; in spite of everything I will have mercy on you. I will abundantly pardon you. Don’t doubt that I mean what I say, for I am capable of more leniency than your human capacity can muster. My word will not relent until it has accomplished that purpose for which it was uttered.”
As astonishing as it may seem, there is no barrier too broad, too deep, too high, or of too long duration to keep us from you. There is no place your love cannot find us, and your grace is never exhausted. From whatever depths we have sunk to, our tears notwithstanding, we shall rise up with joy and be led forth with peace. All creation will exult over our return, for you are not willing that anyone be lost. “Fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy…and heaven and nature sing.”
Read Isaiah 43: 1-7
Redeemer and Defender, there are likely no more tender words that you could ever say to us than these: ” Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” Such reassurance touches us where our deepest emotional hunger lies. It is the longing of the child in all of us to be known by name, to belong, to be valued, and to be loved. Perhaps we learn the most about you when we have children of our own. Yet it is because we have been children ourselves that tenderness has such resonance within us, whether we were blessed with such love until it became our natural element, or whether we grew up deprived and longing for what love should be. You offer that love by calling us your own. In this Isaiah passage you gave nations as a ransom for your people. Later, on the other side of your earlier Advent, we hear the echo of those words in the ultimate expression of redeeming love: “You were bought with a price.” See what love has been lavished upon us that we should be called the children of God, for so indeed we are.