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Longest Night

Life begins in the dark.  Seeds, babies, resurrection- new life starts unseen.
It is unseen, but not without a witness.  Divine eyes of love perceive all things. 
We sometimes think of our grief, our doubt, our pain as kinds of darkness.  In darkness, the light looks different. 
In the dark, we dig deep for what is true- giving hope, strength, and peace.  In the dark, we move slowly, easing forward by degrees. 
Seasons of darkness can break our hearts,  Seasons of darkness teach us lessons that shape our living. 
Some nights are longer than others,  But dawn comes- and not through our work or goodness.
It is the goodness of God that lives in the dark and the light.  It is the goodness of God that carries us through all seasons. 
In doubt and in faith, in grief and in joy, in pain and in wholeness,  Life begins in the dark. Light begins in the dark. 
And, in the light or in the dark, you belong to God.  We belong to God. 



Revelation Read-Along: Day 15

Reading: Revelation 12:7-18
Advent Theme: Adversity
An interpretation and re-telling of Rev. 12:7-18, Revised Julia Version
And then fighting began in the spiritual realm, near God’s throne. Michael, who is a leader among the angels, and the other angels fought against the Satan, the adversary of God’s will. The spiritual forces that oppose God’s will battled mightily, but they were defeated and they could not last near the throne of God. To be clear, the Satan is the same one who is sometimes called the Devil or by other names. The Satan works to deceive the world and there are spiritual forces- on many levels- that are willing to try to work against God’s purposes. At the end of the battle, the Satan and his minions fled back to the earth, to try to make trouble there. 
Then John heard a booming voice in heaven, stating clearly:
“It is the right time. Here are the saving power and everlasting leadership of our one true God. Here is the authority of his Anointed One, the Messiah. For …

Revelation Read-Along: Day 14

Reading: Revelation 11:15- 12:6
Advent Theme: Vulnerability
I am presently reading Where the Red Fern Growsout loud to my son. Since it has been years since I read the book, I had no memory of the theological thread through the book. God plays an influential non-speaking role in the story. The first appearance thereof is when Billy remembers a lesson he learned from his mother’s Bible reading to the family: “God helps those who help themselves.” My son’s own mother (me) had to pause to point out that the Bible doesn’t actually say that. 
Many people want to spend time and energy proving the thesis that God helps those who help themselves. I’m never sure what that’s a point to prove. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who do work hard, who live faithful lives, who invest toward helping others and who do not receive financial, physical, or mental reward. Matthew 5:45 notes that God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.
What does that have to do with this very odd juxtaposi…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 13

Reading: Revelation 11:1-14
Advent Theme: Witness
I grew up in a Christian denomination that was focused on the conversion experience. The re-orientation of one’s heart toward Christ was the perceived moment of salvation. I serve, as a pastor, in a denomination that teaches that salvation is complete through God’s own work and that our responsiveness to that work is the life of faith. The “moment of decision” happens every day, multiple times, when we make the choices that indicate a life lived in imitation of Christ, serving others and the world that God made.
That being said, Western Christianity has shifted in the past centuries to make faith an intellectual pursuit, an issue of correct thinking and understanding. If there is anything that John the Revelator is trying to make clear, it is that the life of faith is not about mental comprehension, but about physical and spiritual witness to the Lamb (Christ) and against the beast (Rome).
Those whose words and deeds bear witness to Chr…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 12

Reading: Revelation 10 

Advent Theme: Mystery
In my class on parables, we memorized this poem by Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

The Reverend Dr. Fred Borsch (may he rest in peace and rise in power) impressed upon us the reality that parables are God’s truth told at a slant, in a disguise, because the flat-out truth of grace, the expanse of the kin-dom, and our absence of control in the situation would break people, including the one who was charged with bringing the message of good news. I don’t want to say we “can’t handle the truth”, but… 
I distinctly recall not knowing how to respond to a man who told me that God fully intends for us to comprehend all of the scriptures and to have complete understanding in this life, if we study hard enough and prove faithful and di…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 11

Reading: Revelation 9:13-21
Advent Theme: Recognition
Now things are getting scary. It’s hard to untangle meaning from these passages that tell about death and destruction coming from heaven. Not only do such passages seem to contradict the over-arching biblical theme of God’s mercy and desire for peace, but these passages also sew seeds of doubt in the heart of many who read them. “Am I in danger?”
Let’s deal with those two things separately, shall we? Firstly, what is the purpose of angels in most of scripture? They are created beings, like humans, but they do not live on the same plane as human beings and they appear to have different work than human beings do. In writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul has an awareness that those who follow the Lord will participate in the judgment of the world, including judging the angels.
Thus, when angels appear to be destructive, it does come from a heaven-sent directive. That being said, if the main work of angels is usually protective, …

Revelation Read-Along: Day 10

Reading: Revelation 9:1-12
Advent Theme: Long-suffering
There was a story about one of my professors in seminary. One day in chapel, he was scheduled to preach. The selected passage for the day was from Leviticus. He came to the front, read the passage to the assembly, closed the Bible, and said, “This is not the Word of the Lord for me.” Then he sat down.
I find myself doing the same thing in part of Revelation. John’s intense and purposefully chaotic metaphors about the locusts and the abyss, with a king called “Destroyer’, only confuse and frustrate me. There is nothing here that reveals Christ to me, stirs the joy of my salvation, or helps me in any of my vocations (wife, mother, sister, friend, daughter, pastor, neighbor, citizen,…). This is not the word of the Lord for me.
The books, movies, and other materials that seek to explain these parts of Revelation in detail exploit people’s fears and capitalize on the same. And when I say capitalize, I mean using fear to make capital, t…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 9

Reading: Revelation 8
Advent Theme: Silence
The seventh seal brings silence in heaven. In John’s vision, there is a short pause in the midst of chaos for silence. More than simply the absence of sound, silence can be restful, healing, or useful for focus. This pause in the action allows the suspense to build.
Then the silence ends, the seven trumpets sound, and there is ecological destruction. When people want to take apocalyptic literature literally, they comb through history to match details to what they perceive to be prophecy. Instead, we remember that John is using exaggerated language to make a point and to refocus his audience on what is important.
By describing ecological disasters, John reminds his readers- then and now- that improper worship harms creation. When we worship world leaders, or profit margins, or our own brand, we lose track of God’s first gift to humankind- the invitation to be stewards of the earth. Improper worship means we are spiritually betting the farm tha…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 8

Reading: Revelation 7

Advent Theme: Courage
This is my favorite chapter in Revelation. There are verses in chapter 21 that I enjoy singly, but the wholeness of this chapter brings a particular kind of hope to my spirit and is food for my faith. In my opinion, I believe this chapter- along with Romans 9-11- is a particular antidote to the anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish thought that has long pervaded Christian teaching and action.
The specific numbers of the first half of the chapter clearly indicate John’s understanding that God has always intended to include Jewish people, as Jews, in the making of all things new. In the life of the world to come, these people- God’s first beloveds- will be present because of God’s promise to them and God’s own fidelity. There is no sleight of Divine hand to make them something other than exactly who they are, who they have been, and who God has made them to be.
The roundness of the tribal numbers is meant to create a visual of complete inclusiveness of…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 7

Reading: Revelation 6
Advent Theme: Hope
I can see from my blog stats that as the Revelation readings get more complicated, the number of daily readers has begun to drop off. Of course, that could also be related to the fact that it is a very full time of year and, in the northern hemisphere, it is darker for more of the day. Darkness itself is a time of rest and renewal, not an absence of light but an opportunity to perceive light in a different way. Part of my love of reading Revelation is that it is of a piece of the life-long work of trying to perceive light in different ways.
In chapter 6, we read about the opening of the seven seals. The seals will have parallels in the seven trumpets and the seven bowls. In terms of scriptural numerology, seven often appears to represent completeness. The original creation was described as happening in seven days and the making of all things new, a recreation, receives a kind mirror treatment.
As the seals are opened, we see the “four horsemen of t…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 6

Reading: Revelation 5
Advent Theme: Steadfastness
You did it! You read one of the most complicated chapters in the Bible, the pivotal chapter of Revelation, and you survived! Good work, friend. This is quite the roller coaster ride- a Lamb who bears the marks of slaughter who is also the Lion of Judah and the Root of David. Don’t try to picture a lamb/lion/root hybrid- you’ll get a headache.
What’s happening here? John, who is writing a book, is in the midst of a vision of heaven. In this heaven, there is a book (the scroll). This heavenly book is neither for John to write or to read. Instead, Christ has written this book and only he (Christ) is qualified to read it.
Even the heavenly elders, typically an exalted social position, and the powerful creatures that surround the throne cannot read the book. Instead, they carry the prayers of faithful people to the throne, where the aroma of the prayers, like incense, and the shape of prayers, like smoke, fills the air.
John’s vision includes a …

Revelation Read-Along: Day 5

Reading: Revelation 4
Advent Theme: Praise
Let us return, briefly, to the concept of apocalyptic literature. Within this genre, the metaphors are never straight lines, as in A is used to described B. Instead, apocalyptic literature takes metaphor A and using it to describe what it would be like to braid hockey sticks and oranges. Wait, what? (Read it again.) The metaphors borrow from images that readers or hearers know and then combine them in a way that almost defies imagination. Thus, with a charged imagination and a small amount of heightened anxiety, the writer drives the audience back to a simpler concept that, ideally, they should be able to understand. 
Therefore, as we kayak the river of John’s revelation, don’t attempt to hang out in the rapids of his extreme metaphors. All it will do is spin you around and make you dizzy, providing little spiritual food and much mental frustration. Instead, let the current of the Holy Spirit carry you through the text, help you note the compl…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 4

Reading: Revelation 3
Advent Theme: Strength
Here’s a question: What should I do when it’s hard to read the scriptures? I mean, I understand the words, but the images and phrases are complicated and then my eyes are moving, but my head is somewhere else.
Answer: Firstly, you’re not alone. When I was in seminary and we had to read hundreds of verses a day to keep up in class, we often complained to each other. Professor Carolyn Sharp once said, “Remember, when you are serving a congregation, how hard it is to read the Bible and show kindness and sympathy to the people who are looking to you.”
Secondly, almost the entire Bible was written for the ear, not the eye. It is a visual presentation of an auditory message. Read it out loud to yourself or, better yet, use an app or a recording to listen to the Bible. I do that! I use the app “NRSV Bible for Everyone” on my phone (iPhone) because that’s my preferred translation. You can find almost any translation via app or CD, tape, or audiobook fo…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 3

Reading: Revelation 2:12-29
Advent Theme: Fidelity
Even though it may not seem like it at first glance, the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira are struggling with the same issue. Like Ephesus, there are false teachers in their midst. The false prophets here represent an even greater danger to those who are following the Way of Christ because they (the lying leaders) are attempting to equate Christian discipleship with the worship of the emperor or being in league with Roman power.
How can you tell? The metaphor of fornication and/or adultery, when used in scripture, is often used to depict unfaithfulness in the relationship of people to God. And, let’s be clear, God is never the party that adulterates the relationship. Yes, there are many times in the Bible when adultery is meant to indicate unfaithfulness in human marital relationships and fornication is used to refer to illicit or inappropriate sexual activity. That being said, the mention of Balaam is meant to remind those who hear thi…

Revelation Read-Along: Day 2

Reading: Revelation 2:1-11
Advent Theme: Faith
What’s a Nicolaitan? You ask good questions. From the text, we can reasonably assume that the Nicolaitans were teaching some version of the gospel or giving instruction in the faith that was contrary to 1) what John believed to be true or appropriate and 2) may also have been contrary to what the larger Christian community received and perceived to be true and appropriate.
How can one tell a false teacher or prophet? A false teacher tries to become the center of worship, instead of focusing on God. A false prophet seeks his own gain, instead of working for the sake of community and the kingdom. The profit motive and inappropriate focus may not be clear at first, but the truth will always out.

The church in Ephesus is struggling to continue in faithful discipleship. They remain stalwart in testing false teachers, meaning they are oriented toward correct doctrine. BUT! It is not enough. In their focus on truthful teaching, they have fallen away…

Psalm 25, Revisited

In Hebrew, Psalm 25 is an acrostic psalm. The beginning of each sentence forms the alef-bet down the page. 

I have re-written Psalm 25, in Revised Julia Edition, to be an acrostic of the English alphabet. 





All of my being belongs to you, O Lord,  Because of this truth, I trust in You alone. Consent not that the forces that oppose You to triumph in my life. Do not allow any of Your faithful people to become discouraged or embarrassed because of their hope in you.  Educate me in Your ways, O Lord. Teach me the feel of Your road.  First things first, and that must always be You.  God of all things, You alone offer true wholeness and peace: salvation.  Happy is the one who learns this and waits for You.  I beg you to continue in mercy and everlasting compassion, O Lord,  Just as you did for Sarah, Ruth, and Hannah.  Keep no mementos of my sins- against You or others. Let Your own eyes of love be the lens through which You see me.  Majesty is revealed through constancy and goodness, which certainly des…

Revelation Read-Along Day 1

Reading: Revelation 1 
Advent Theme: Promise
What’s happening here? Someone named John is writing to at least seven churches, with which he has a relationship and has been seen in the role of teacher or leader. He writes that he has been exiled to the island of Patmos and the implication is that the exile happened because of his teaching and Christian leadership.
This is probably not the John who is Jesus’ beloved apostle. John is a common name and the writing apocalyptic writing. While some of the gospel accounts have apocalyptic elements, only Daniel uses this style of writing in the same way. In both Daniel and Revelation, apocalyptic writing uses sharp metaphors, strong descriptions, and a future tense to describe present realities. By present realities, I mean the present of the writers, not necessarily the present of the modern reader.
in Revelation is different from either the Fourth Gospel or the Johannine epistles. This John, the writer of Revelation, chooses to use the style of 

Revelation Read-Along

Dear Bible Adventurer-
The written word of God, what we call the Bible, is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the faithful in the ages of scrolls, of parchment, of the printing press, and of digital technology. The Bible is not our God, but it is a manger in which Christ is laid. When we come to this manger like a shepherd, with humble hearts, and at heavenly urging, we will find our hope and our salvation. 
Why Revelation during Advent (or ever)? Advent is an in-between season that often gets overlooked in both church and secular society. The themes of anticipation, hope, peace, restoration, letting go, quietude, and discipleship can easily get lost in either frenetic Christmas preparation or in fear of the more dystopian themes of our news cycle and the biblical readings assigned for this time of year.
When Revelation was written, either very late in the first-century A.D./C.E. or early in the second, the people who followed the Way of Jesus find themselves outside of their society. If they …