Advent Promises

Friday, December 4
(God) heals the brokenhearted 
and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

With the Covid mortality rate relentlessly marching upwards, I meditate on the psalmist’s words, but I quite honestly wonder: I know God can heal and I even recall instances of his healing, but… It’s not only the physical suffering in the midst of this plague that causes my trust to slip, it’s the shattered dreams, the unending grief, the stumbling faith of new believers. Broken-hearted parents, children, wives, husbands, doctors, nurses surround me. 

Stephen Altrogge writes graphically about his own brokenheartedness: The idea that time heals all wounds is absolutely absurd. Time can’t heal wounds; only God can. Without the restoring balm of God’s grace, wounds fester over time. Paralytic bitterness invades the soul, consuming a person from the inside out… 

Two things strike me about God’s healing action: First, God initiates the action. Neither time nor friends’ soothing words—though sometimes tools of healing—are adequate. Second, the verbs are in the “present progressive tense” describing an action that takes place in the present and continues to take place. 

As bells ring and candles glow but nothing around me changes, I am forced to sink into the arms of the one—the only One—who knows what it’s like to be broken-hearted. He grieved when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. When Cain killed Abel. When a golden calf was chosen over a living God. When David seduced Bathsheba. When his Son hung in darkness on a cross.

Admit your slipping faith, examine your wounds,
ask hard questions. Look for healing.

Advent Promises

Thursday, December 3
All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.  John 16:1

The temptation to “fall away”—to stumble, err, falter—is never greater than when we live in the midst of unmet expectations, political and physical turmoil, personal disappointments. That’s exactly the place where Jesus’ friends were living as he prepared them for a difficult future, so he gave them “preparation information” (John 14 and 15), resources to see them—and us—through the testing days that lay ahead. How do his words apply as we are tempted to stumble and falter during these Advent days when we see few glimmers of hope and healing?

  • Refuse to worry—Don’t let your hearts be troubled.
  • Trust when it seems foolish—Trust in God.
  • Obey even without understanding—If you love me, keep my commands.
  • Invite his peace into your life—Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
  • Stay connected—I am the true vine…Remain in me.
  • Anticipate hard things—Every branch that bears fruit he prunes.
  • Enjoy God’s love!—As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
  • Expect opposition—If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
  • Believe and live in the power of God’s Spirit—I will send him to you.

Much in our world today—both in the larger realm and in our private sphere—tempts us to fall away. Take time today to meditate on each aspect of the all this Jesus told his disciples. What is most difficult for you to live into? How are you seeing God give power to triumph? 

Repent in gratitude. Rejoice in obedience!

Advent Promises

Wednesday, December 2
Seek and you will find… Matthew 7:7

This past spring our son was diligently preparing a raised garden for his wife’s green thumb. The right place was chosen to catch the sun’s rays, dimensions agreed upon, future herbs, vegetables, and flowers envisioned. Soon, however, a do-able job turned into Churchill’s promise of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Not only were Randy’s efforts blocked by rocks, but by long-buried, thick manzanita roots, roots known to grow thirty-six inches in just three years. Manzanita shrubs produce crimson berries beloved in floral displays, but their beauty was neither attractive nor desired in this garden project.

For just a moment imagine Christmas morning as an anticipated garden and Advent as the process necessary to produce December 25th fruit. The piney scent of cut greens to decorate the mantel and staircase may include sap-sticky fingers. Christmas morning casserole and Christmas dinner ingredients will require careful budgeting and work to prepare. Purchasing much desired gifts require sacrifice.

But want I want most for Christmas morning is a renewed sense of joy, gratitude, and awe. What must I seek and how shall I seek during Advent to make my desires reality? A long look into myself for hidden agendas to be examined in light of God’s call? Extended time, perhaps sacrificial time, in the Word, especially listening to prophets, priests, and poets, to soften my spirit? The Word may reveal hidden pockets of self-centered ambition which, like manzanita roots, must ruthlessly be cut and removed.

Searching is Advent. Finding is Christmas.

Promises for Advent

Tuesday, December 1
I am about to do something… 1 Samuel 3:11

Scholars believe that Samuel was probably around twelve years old when God called with the astounding news that he was about to do something that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

• Samuel needed spiritual guidance: Eli realized the God was calling the boy.

He knows how to respond to God after his God- appointed mentor recognizes the voice. Who are your wise friends? I’m grateful for words of wisdom from wise friends (many younger than myself) whose ears are often more tuned to God’s words than are my own. They also may sense that God is about to do something in, through, or for me that I just don’t “get.”

• Samuel was in “listening mode”: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

In this media bombarded, busy world, listening is not just desirable but necessary. It takes daily determination and practice to listen.

• Samuel carried on with everyday life: Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord.

Hearing God’s voice usually doesn’t involve me in heroic action. More often it’s described by the words carved into the lintel of an English village church: Do ye the next thynge.

• Samuel never outgrew the habit of listening: The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up…The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh (place of worship), and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

I need to systematically practice the words written in my Bible’s flyleaf: Come to your chosen passage as to a place where you will have a holy meeting with God.

God is always about to do something, whether on a grand scale or in small, seemingly insignificant ways. How do I prepare for his plan? Am I listening?

Promises for Advent

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Advent marches at caterpillar speed for children. Twitching little ones walk through toy departments, excitedly crying out, “That’s what I want! Can I have… Why do I have to wait?” Waiting—for children and adults—is one of life’s perpetual frustrations.

Our downtown church stands at the intersection of two well- traveled streets with traffic lights controlling vehicles and pedestrians. At green, crowds stream across. Then come the blinking numbers: 15, 14, 13…3, 2, 1. We twitch like children while waiting the next interminable one hundred twenty seconds.

Scholars differ on time determination, but for purposes of illustration, let’s assume it was approximately 2,000 years between the Eden promise and God’s covenant words to Abraham. Then another 2,000 years before Jesus’ birth. A core of God-followers waited through the centuries, tenaciously clinging to prophetic promises, such as Micah’s pinpointing the Messiah’s birthplace in Bethlehem.

One of those faithful followers was peasant Mary. Though young, fearful, and questioning, she would claim God’s promise even in the waiting: It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now… (Luke 2:53 The Message)

What are you waiting for this Advent? More importantly, how are you waiting? Jeremiah, who knew what it was to wait—and weep—gives us a clue: …wait patiently… That word has as its essence the meaning of quietness. No twitching as we wait for God to do his good work, his exactly what he promised.

First Sunday of Advent

Sunday, November 29
You will strike his heel, but he will crush your head.
Genesis 3:15b

Sin slithered into Eden, invaded perfection. Suffering, secrecy, stealth replaced companionship, completeness, comfort. Where once every desire knew promised fulfillment, insatiable hunger now controlled soul and body. Where vulnerability was the norm, shame shadowed creation.

BUT… Creator, Gracious, Lover God steps into the mess with a promise, a resolute word for the future. Sin will have its consequences, but the re-creating plan takes shape. This enemy of all that is good and beautiful and holy will deal a bruising wound: You will strike/bruise his heel… Speaking directly to the perpetrator of evil, God foretells that while his actions will cause unspeakable hurt, his ultimate demise is inevitable. Her (Eve’s) offspring—the Son to come—will deliver the deadly blow. Decisive success! Absolute victory!

This enemy dealt a bruising wound to the Son, and we mourn as we see the blows throughout Jesus’ life and at his death. The enemy sought to thwart God’s redemption in the wilderness, as friends departed, as family misunderstood, as followers betrayed.

Are you bruised as Advent 2020 begins? Is your spirit black and blue from the onslaught of the Evil One who yet inflicts his blows on God’s children? These months have been long with the physical ravages of disease, isolating loneliness, disrupted plans, and unmet expectations. But with sometimes weak faith, we cling to the belief that the deadly Edenic plot has been and will be overcome by the Son. Living in the now-but-not-yet, we confidently travel through this Advent from Genesis to Revelation and shout for the world to hear:

Amen! (So be it!) Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!

First Sunday in Advent

Sunday, November 29
You will strike his heel, but he will crush your head.
Genesis 3:15b

Sin slithered into Eden, invaded perfection. Suffering, secrecy, stealth replaced companionship, completeness, comfort. Where once every desire knew promised fulfillment, insatiable hunger now controlled soul and body. Where vulnerability was the norm, shame shadowed creation.

BUT… Creator, Gracious, Lover God steps into the mess with a promise, a resolute word for the future. Sin will have its consequences, but the re-creating plan takes shape. This enemy of all that is good and beautiful and holy will deal a bruising wound: You will strike/bruise his heel… Speaking directly to the perpetrator of evil, God foretells that while his actions will cause unspeakable hurt, his ultimate demise is inevitable. Her (Eve’s) offspring—the Son to come—will deliver the deadly blow. Decisive success! Absolute victory!

This enemy dealt a bruising wound to the Son, and we mourn as we see the blows throughout Jesus’ life and at his death. The enemy sought to thwart God’s redemption in the wilderness, as friends departed, as family misunderstood, as followers betrayed.

Are you bruised as Advent 2020 begins? Is your spirit black and blue from the onslaught of the Evil One who yet inflicts his blows on God’s children? These months have been long with the physical ravages of disease, isolating loneliness, disrupted plans, and unmet expectations. But with sometimes weak faith, we cling to the belief that the deadly Edenic plot has been and will be overcome by the Son. We confidently travel through this Advent from Genesis to Revelation and shout for the world to hear:

Amen! (So be it!) Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!

Advent Preview

As I began writing these Advent devotionals in March, we—like thousands of others—were under COVID-19 “shelter in place” orders. And now we’re back to similar restrictions. My March Questions are just as relevant today: Where will I be when Advent begins on November 29th? Will I still be healthy? How will my life have changed? How do I view God from this pivotal point of uncertainty? Will my view of God change if I and my family become victims of disease? Will what I write in March still have meaning in December? Someone once said that no coincidences exist in following Jesus. Do I believe that in March? Will I believe it during Advent?

The pandemic and my writing began in the middle of Lent, a season reserved for reflection and repentance. My Lenten reading was from Dr. Walter Brueggemann’s A Way Other Than Our Own, and I found many of his words as relevant in Advent as in Lent:

In this season…O God, unsettle us…

We are in a season of new life, but now it is time for passion, suffering, death, denial repentance.

The church is always at its most daring and risking and dangerous and free when it sings a new song.

…scarcity is enough when it is shared…

Ours is a time like the flood, like the exile, when the certitudes abandon us, the old reliabilities have become unsure, and “things fall apart.” …We grow more strident, more fearful, more anxious, more greedy for our own way, more despairing, and, consequently, more brutal.

…In the midst of troubled times, be with us, God of well being.

Advent 2020

This is the eighteenth year I’ve written Advent Meditations in pamphlet form for friends and family.* This year I’ve decided to expand my reading audience by posting an appropriate devotional on my blog each day of Advent beginning with an introduction this Saturday, November 28. If technology cooperates, i.e., if I correctly use technology😉, you can find words for the day on this site. My words aren’t a substitute for other Advent reading, perhaps something published by your church or words from authors far more skilled than I.

My own reading during these pre-Advent days has been a contrast in deep theology from Rev. Fleming Rutledge and more personal poetry from dear friend S T Kimbrough, Jr. Both mind and mind have been seriously engaged. 

This Thanksgiving day is a good time to review all of God’s goodness in spite of disease, discord, and disappointment. By faith we declare He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

*Two years ago my creative children compiled and published seventeen years of my Advent writing in a book (still!) available on Amazon: Advent Meditations 2007 to 2017 by Marilyn J. Ehle.

Christmas in September

For at least the past thirty-five or forty years, a sunny day in August has been set aside as “CHRISTMAS.” Finding a comfortable spot—usually outdoors—I pull out letters and cards received the previous holiday season and re-read, smile, occasionally mourn.

This summer has been delightfully filled with family visits (and recovering from family visits!) and so it was only yesterday afternoon that I sat surrounded by pictures of stars, angels, mangers, lighted trees, and flickering fireplaces.

A few cards contain only the names of senders. (For confidentiality, I’ll use initials.)  Sadly I noted that the signature D and B of last Christmas is now only D as B has moved to heaven.

But P’s single-spaced, two-page annual letter about life on a Wisconsin dairy farm produced laughter as she described chasing cows away from fences broken down by the previous spring’s heavy rain. “Did you know that if you sink into deep mud, you are stuck…FOREVER!!!” Even after all these years, I can see P in the muck and mire as she—at age seventy!—corrals the cows and howls in frustration into the sky.

Pictures show a stunning young woman in Mississippi; I remember her birth in Bonn when her dad was pastor at the American Protestant Church.

And how did T in Missouri grow so tall when I remember his dad as a kindergartner?

R from Ohio penned an upbeat note, but in the months since sealing and stamping that holiday memo, she and D have walked the often dark cancer road as he endured—and now recovers from—disease and its treatments.

Beautiful B in Tennessee still reviews her year in original poetry.

In Wisconsin, D signed her card with the names of four children. Only three remain as sweet T is now released from years of suffering.

Of course a few holiday letters—I’ll not identify their authors!—are a litany of obviously survived ailments, but it’s still good to hear from them.

Letters such as the one from P and D in Virginia (another couple we haven’t seen in forty years) bring a quiet peace. While P briefly mentions the challenges of age, ill health, and unforeseen, changing living circumstances, her note is crowned with expressions of gratitude for blessings of family and friends.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor said, “Hope expects what faith believes.” An appropriate thought to crown my one-hour Christmas in September respite. Sixty minutes in which Covid 19 realities are replaced with sweet memories—even those shaded with sorrow. Political rancor drowned by the music of diverse friendships. Relatively minor personal challenges fade by the Bethlehem message of hope: Christ came. Christ lives. Christ will come again.

Hope renewed during Christmas in September.