Peace that disturbs

Today’s Bible readings are Isaiah 26.1–6; Psalm 118.18-27a; Matthew 7.21, 24-27.

The coming of the Lord is not all sweetness and light. For good news to the poor is bad news to the rich. And if the coming of Jesus will set right what is wrong, it will spell trouble for those who side with the wrong. The righteous will sing ‘this is the day the Lord had made’ but the unrighteous may not feel like singing at all. And who is to say that we will be found to be on the right side?

One thing is for sure: we are never more in danger than when we think we are OK. For not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom, and the lofty city is brought down. But those who put their trust in God, who hear the message of Jesus and act on it, can be quietly confident, not in themselves but in God. The Advent season prompts us to ask whose side we are on, what values we are living by, and what really matters to us. Advent is about waiting for the God who both comforts and challenges us.

All my hope on God is founded;
He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.

Joachim Neander (1650 – 1680)

Lord of mountain and valley

Today’s Bible readings are Isaiah 25.6–10a; Psalm 23; Matthew 15.29-37.

It is difficult to know whether, in presenting the healing and feeding miracles of Jesus, Matthew had texts like Isaiah 25 in mind but I think it’s a good bet. Matthew’s Jesus ascends the mountain and great crowds gather before him. In keeping with Isaiah 25, Jesus heals their sick and, in effect, dries their tears, rolling back the forces of death. He sets them a sumptuous feast and the people praise ‘the God of Israel’. The words from Isaiah are not used but we can imagine that it was said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ (Isaiah 25.9)

If we see in the ministry of Jesus a fulfilment of the promises of old, we also await a further, complete fulfilment yet to be revealed. We wait, with John the writer of the book of Revelation, for the day when God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’ (Rev 21.4). In the meantime, we can take the psalmist’s words on our lips, ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.’

Gracious God, please be with those of your children who today walk in the valley of the shadow of death; let them know your presence and in it find strength and consolation. Amen

many from east and west

Today’s Bible readings are Isaiah 4.2–6; Psalm 122; Matt 8.5-11.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 2.1-5 saw the nations streaming to Jerusalem to worship God. Matthew sees this occurring in the ministry of Jesus. For now, in Matthew, it is only a hint but the centurion displays a level of faith unseen among the traditional people of God. Jesus points to the centurion as one among the many who will come from east and west to eat with Israel’s ancestors in the kingdom of God. I don’t know about you, but I am not entirely confident in the strength of my own faith. I am confident, however, in the generosity of God made known in Jesus. And if God can be generous toward me, there is hope for anybody! When I read these verses, I marvel at the faith of the centurion but, much more, I rejoice in the generosity of God. I feel challenged too to be generous in all my dealings with others.

First Sunday of Advent 2010

Today’s Bible readings are Isaiah 2.1–5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11–14; Matt 24:36-44.

During Advent, Christians try to put themselves in the shoes (well, sandals) of those who, thousands of years ago, waited and longed for the coming of a Messiah. In a way they look forward to Christmas like those awaiting the Messiah. Today’s Gospel reading reminds them that they are not really waiting for Christmas but for God. For what they really wait for is the return of Jesus, who in his life, death and resurrection made God known and, in his return, will set right all that is wrong with the world and establish the reign of God in all its fullness. They live between the first advent and the second; between the birth and the return of Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God.

When read in this light, the oracle of Isaiah 2 and the song of Psalm 122 take on new significance. While we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we await the complete fulfilment of our prayers in ‘the new Jerusalem’ that comes down ‘out of heaven from God’ (Rev 21.2). In the meantime, we see an intimation of the peace and justice yet to come in the community life of the people of God. We work for peace in our communities and in the world as we bear witness to the peace of God made known and yet to be made known in Jesus Christ. Or at least we will do if we allow the message of Advent to have greater sway in our lives.

Psalm 122, however it is interpreted, is a favourite of mine. Set to music famously in Parry’s magnificent ‘I was glad’, it provides the text for a Jewish song I am particularly fond of:

Lemaan achai vereai,
lemaan achai vereai
Adabra na, adabra na,
shalom bach.
Lemaan bayt Hashem Elohaynu
avaksha tov lach
Lemaan bayt Hashem Elohaynu
avaksha tov lach

For the sake of my relatives and friends
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will now say, I will now say,
‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

See / hear it performed here.

Advent

The season of Advent begins tomorrow (Sunday 28 November). For the churches that observe it, the season is one of hope, expectancy and waiting as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. At Didsbury Baptist Church we will concentrate on Advent themes and light candles on the Advent Wreath Sunday by Sunday. Many of us will also participate in a daily Bible-reading scheme. As we read, we will pray, listen and open our hearts to what the Spirit may be saying to us. On Wednesday evenings we will meet together to discuss what we are learning, hear Advent music and sing some Advent songs, and pray for each other and for the world. The season offers an opportunity to stop and be quiet, to resist some of the frenzied activity associated with the run up to Christmas and listen for the voice of God.

You can join us in our Advent journey here. Each day of Advent, I will upload the Bible readings for the day with a short reflection. (If you would like to see the readings in advance, download them here.) I invite comments and responses of your own. You can leave these in the comments area below each post. I hope other members of the Church might provide some of the articles and perhaps some artistic responses to the daily readings along the way.

Daily Advent reflections can be found on other Internet sites too; see, for example, hopefulimagination.

Didsbury Churches’ Lent Reflections

click on image to download booklet

Churches Working Together in Didsbury are using the season of Lent to read the Bible, reflect and pray together by means of a booklet of daily Bible-reading reflections they have produced. You can download a pdf version of the booklet by clicking on the image on the left. The reflections will also appear daily online at http://cwtid.wordpress.com. There you can read the Bible readings for the day, read the daily reflection and make your own comments. Please check out the site, bookmark it in you browser and keep returning to participate in the discussion.

Reading the Bible

Every year at this time people ask me about schedules and notes for daily Bible reading through the year. There are many excellent devotional notes and Bible-reading plans available but I make use of three resources on an ongoing basis and I recommend them to you.

Those who are familiar with the content of the Bible and are more interested in reading it than what others have to say about it may require no more than a Bible-reading schedule. These are helpful because they divide the Bible into manageable sections and, if others are using the same plan, the readings can provide a basis for discussion. Again, there are many excellent plans but I recommend the one provided by IBRA. You can download it from the IBRA website.

IBRA also provides daily Bible-reading notes. I use Words for Today and often see Light for our Path. Both are excellent. Words for Today is perhaps the more scholarly of the two publications and draws from a more diverse range of perspectives. Both are based on the IBRA Bible-reading plan and cover the entire year. Topics for 2010 include: Resting Places and Sacred Spaces; The Jesus Way; Silence; Moods and Emotions; Old Age; Women of the New Testament; Treasures of Darkness; Readings in Luke, Genesis, Romans 1-8, Micah. Both publications are available from IBRA here.

Finally, I have found it useful over the last few years to keep up with the Synagogue in its weekly Torah portions (that can be further divided into daily readings). This gets me through the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch or Torah) every year. Those of us who follow this pattern have just completed Genesis and are reading Exodus 1.1 – 6.1 this week. You can find the Torah reading schedule here. For further explanation see here.

The Word became flesh

Happy Christmas to all our readers!

The Bible readings for Christmas day include: Isaiah 52.7–10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1.1–4 [5–12]; John 1.1–14.   I love the John reading for Christmas morning. Although our all-age service at Didsbury Baptist Church will be light and fun, I will still take a few minutes to read John 1.1–14. For me, it simply would not be Christmas without it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

I think it was William Temple who said, ‘Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions’. He must have had the Incarnation in mind. Through it we learn that God cares about the whole person.

Through the incarnation we  learn what God is like. If you want to know what God is like, they say, take a look at Jesus.

Christmas Eve

The readings for Christmas Eve are: Psalm 45; Malachi 3.13 – 4.6; Luke 1.67–79.

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 1.78–9)

Out of the depths

The Bible readings for Wed 23 December are: Psalm 130; Malachi 2.17 – 3.12; Luke 1.57–66.

Today’s readings are united in the theme of waiting for God or trusting in God. It is the Lord who will redeem Israel (Ps 130), the Lord who will suddenly visit his temple (Malachi), and the Lord who restores the speech of Zechariah (Luke 1).

It is not immediately clear what is envisioned by ‘The Lord will redeem Israel from all its iniquities’ (Ps 130.8). Clearly, forgiveness is in view. Yet the Hebrew word for ‘iniquity’ also means ‘guilt’, ‘condemnation’ or ‘punishment’. Redemption then may imply a kind of healing of both sinner and sinned-against. It may imply that a time of distress, brought about as a consequence of wrongdoing, is coming to an end and a new chapter opening, much as for Zechariah in the Gospel reading.

This Advent and Christmas, we might ask whether we have been the cause of our own, or someone else’s, distress. Perhaps, this Christmas we can begin to put that right and help to make this Christmas memorable not for family squabbles but for forgiveness and reconciliation. Perhaps too, we might pray and work for those in our world who long achingly for justice and peace.

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