December 10, 2017
Last week, I introduced a theme for our Advent season. The theme is tilling the soil. On Monday, I watched two powerful horses plow the ground in our new Chile garden. I once again experienced how hard the top layer of the ground is here. The horses traversed the ground many times, digging through that top crusty layer until they found the soft and rich soil beneath. This week, I feel that tilling the soil means allowing God to work in God’s way and time to make us whole people. We want to allow God to break through that hard crust we have developed, the protection that we have created to keep ourselves from being hurt. We want to let God find that fertile layer of our souls that lies beneath.
All of us are made in the image of God. We were created to live as God’s children. Theologian John Philip Newell wrote about this in Christ of the Celts. He struggled with the idea of original sin. Newell believed that we weren’t created as sinners but rather carried God inside ourselves. God’s goodness is deep inside. He wrote, “wisdom is deep within us, deeper than the ignorance of what we have done or become.” Newell said similar things about having God’s passion for justice and righteousness and God’s love is deep within us. Today I ask you to consider how you connect again with the core of your being, that part of us that mirrors God so closely. We may have lost contact with that core as it has been covered over by years of neglect, even years of selfish action. We seek to allow God to dig through the crust that has covered our souls and find that freshness beneath.
There are times we question where God is in our lives. We want God to swoop down and correct all that has gone wrong and we want that to happen now. When God’s work is not obvious to us, we worry. Christians have had this reaction from the very beginning. The author of 2nd Peter must have been responding to a community expecting Jesus to return quickly and restore their lives to peace and tranquility. We are so like them in many ways asking when God will correct all the evil. We can mask the feelings of disappointment when God does not appear.
The author of 2nd Peter gives us one explanation. “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” We really do think of ourselves first and continue to ask God why things we want cannot happen immediately. Yet we know that God works on God’s time.
How can we understand God’s time? It might help to consider how short human life is especially compared to the length of time scientists tell us the universe has existed and the earth has flourished. Astronomers recently reported that they had measured the impact of two stars that collided 130 million years ago. Scientists estimate that the Grand Canyon started to form some 6 million years ago. We see the Grand Canyon as it is now but our view is like a single snapshot not a picture of what happened over so many years. Geology and astronomy help me to understand just a little about God’s time. I know God can do anything but it’s hard to see God’s work throughout the ages.
Still, we are inpatient. We wish that Christmas would hurry up and come. We want to see the baby Jesus lying in a manger. We want to be with our family and share presents and a lovely dinner. Is there another choice? We could chose to enjoy the experience of Advent, the anticipation, the preparation, the waiting, and the gradual change. For in the waiting and looking, perhaps we will allow God into our souls.
As I read the Scriptures for this week, I felt the powerful images presented to us. Isaiah provides metaphors for us of God’s work. God leveling out the rough places. People are like grass. They wither and fade away but God’s word will stand forever. God will feed his flock like a shepherd. It sounded like poetry to me.
I am not an avid reader of poetry. But I remembered some favorite poets like John Dunne and Robert Frost. What poetry inspires you? Poets often present us with images and I found something helped me think about God’s time and our time in a set of poems by T S Eliot called the four quartets. They were written just before and during the Second World War. The first, Burnt Norton, begins like this
“Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future,
and time future contained in time past” and later
“Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
I am sure that others have a better sense of the meaning of this poem. I hear it saying that we are made up of all the things that have happened throughout our lives. Humanity is made up of all things that have happened before us. History is present today in our lives. Later in the poem, Eliot speaks of a garden which has fallen into decay. Yet in the midst of the garden are the memories of better times. If we have fallen into decay in our lives, then Advent is a good time to remember what we were like earlier and remember that our former self is still inside of us. I believe that God works in us throughout our lives. We may just not feel it or see it. God is waiting for the chance to work magic in our souls again if we will only let God in.
When we listen to Scripture we hear of God’s marvelous work. “Comfort, O comfort, my people”. Yes, God will give us comfort. For the Jewish people of Isaiah’s time, comfort was release from the bondage of sin and the bondage of exile. It was a comfort that could only come to them when God brought them home once again. Home is a special place for all of us. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her penalty is paid”. God forgave their sins. For the Jewish people, sin is both a communal act and a personal act. God forgave the sins of those who had come before and those who had sinned now. We have forgiveness from God as well.“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” God has the power to change the world. God made the lives of the Israelites better and as they returned from exile in Babylon, they were so ecstatic in their freedom, a gift from God, that their trip back to Jerusalem was easy, joyful.
The Psalm offers a special note of God’s power and grace given to us. “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people.”
Today, we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. We pray that God will give us a peace that is beyond measure. It is a peace that passes all understanding. It is a peace that we wish to hold in our hearts forever.
I often think about our lives as a journey. We journey through work and family and most especially in our faith. I don’t think anyone’s journey with God is constant, correct, perfect. We fall from the straight and narrow at various times along the way. This Advent, I hope that you will find some time to pause and reflect on your journey, where you have been and where you are now. The last of T S Eliot’s four quartets is called Little Gidding which was the site of a 17th century Anglican monastery. This quote comes from Sparknotes. “The poem (Little Gidding) considers those who have come to the monastery, who come only ‘to kneel / Where prayer has been valid.’ It is here that man can encounter the ‘intersection of the timeless’ with the present moment, often by heeding the words of the dead, whose speech is given a vitality by a burning fire.”
Is it possible that you might hear the voice of God’s truth in that place where prayer is valid, in a person that inspires you, perhaps even a prophet like John the Baptist, calling from the desert. May you find the timeless truth of God in your reflection. May you let God till your soil until God finds the fruitful soul beneath. And when that happens, I believe that you will know God’s peace. Amen.
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