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Comfort

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1-2

Seventy years. That’s how long God’s people were in exile in Babylon. Most of the people couldn’t even remember what Jerusalem was like before it was destroyed. They were born as aliens, strangers in the land they lived in, estranged from the land they called home. To these people the prophet speaks: Comfort!

Comfort, O comfort my people! So God speaks to us. We are no strangers to our own homes in these days, but we have become estranged to the world outside and separated from one another. How long will this time of social distancing last? By the way, I’m a little tired of that phrase. I can’t wait until we can be socially undistanced from the people we love.

I don’t know how long the pandemic will continue. I know it won’t be for seventy more years. Then again, I know that the next seventy years will bring myriad unforeseen challenges. But God speaks comfort to us. We spend time in exile; we have periods of separation. But God never leaves God’s people where they are. God will restore us. As we wait in Advent, may we wait with the hope that at some point this term will be served. We will return to the home that is relationship with one another even has God has restored us to life in Christ.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Come, Lord Jesus, and comfort your people. Bring an end to this period of suffering. Give hope to those who feel lost. Use us to bring help to those who struggle financially, those who are sick, those who are mourning. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Me and G in our Babylon VBS shirts, Slovakia, 2019. Oh, to be able to travel again!

Let Me Hear

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” Psalm 85:8

It can be hard at time to get a word in edgewise around here. Whether it’s because we’re all around the table trying to talk at the same time, or because we’re all in different places doing remote learning or work, it can be hard to hear one another.

The Second Sunday of Advent is right around the corner. It is on this day that John the Baptist arrives on the scene, a voice crying in the wilderness. But voices that cry need ears to hear. Our Psalm for this Sunday is a prayer spoken to the Lord, a prayer for hearing. Amid the endless chattering of this world and the nervous voices within our hearts, we need to be stilled. We need peace, so that we can hear the gospel of peace.

Today, halfway through the first week of Advent, let us give thanks for the gift of silence, for it is in the quiet that we can hear. And for those of you who may be suffering in long silence due to the isolating effects of the pandemic, remember that you are not alone. The Lord is with you, and speaks peace and love to you even now.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Quiet our hearts and minds. Grant us moments of stillness and peace. Turn our hearts to you, Lord, that we may hear your promises once more. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: The lower-level Lyle family Christmas tree, a nice aid in silent meditation.

In Pieces

“Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” Mark 13:2

December is here! This means, among other things, that it’s time for Advent calendars. Advent started on Sunday, of course, but reusable Advent calendars tend to start on December 1 (it would be more correct, I suppose, to call them “December 1-24” calendars). Part of our family’s preparation for Christmas is the use of LEGO Advent calendars, of which we have, um, several. It has been decreed, in fact, that not all of our LEGO Advent calendars may be used in the same year. So, this year Anders is using the original Star Wars version while Torsten has chosen last year’s inaugural Harry Potter edition. I’ll be using this year’s Harry Potter installment in my office. If you’ve noticed it’s the Lyle men who are into this, well, yeah.

Anyway, the First Sunday of Advent gave us an eschatological proclamation. The world will come to an end. Not one stone will be left upon another. This is not, however, destruction for destruction’s sake. It is a tearing down for the sake of building up; a death for the sake of resurrection. It is the end of the old earth and heaven so that the new might burst forth, fulfilling God’s promise of a new creation.

As we wait for the coming of Christ, we wait as those who are in Christ. We are newly created, built back up as living stones in the kingdom of God. Maybe LEGO pieces are just the thing to help us remember what God is up to in Advent, building us up in this world day by day while we wait for the Day of the Lord to fully come.

Or maybe I just like LEGO sets! However you are preparing for Christmas, marking the days of Advent, may you be blessed by the God who is putting things back together.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of endings and beginnings, this broken world will not last forever, yet you are making all things new. As we mark the days of Advent, build us up in the grace of the Christ who comes to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Day 1, Harry Potter all set for the Yule Ball. No, I will not post pictures of LEGO this whole month. I promise.

Andrew

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed).” John 1:40-41

Today is the Feast of Andrew. Happy St. Andrew’s Day! As a person of Scottish descent who lived in St. Andrews for a year, this is a special day at the Dispatch offices. I’ll likely celebrate with a wee dram tonight!

Andrews is the patron saint of Scotland because legend holds that his relics were moved from Constantinople to the site of modern St. Andrews. Whatever happened to Andrew’s relics after he died, we know that he played a significant role in Jesus’ life and ministry. In the Orthodox tradition  he is considered the Protokletos, the First-Called. Having been called, he invites his brother, Simon Peter, to meet Jesus. The rest, as they say, is history. Simon becomes Peter, the Rock, but only because Andrew first introduced him to Jesus.

Tradition holds that Andrew was martyred in Patras in AD 60. Because he did not view himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, he was killed not on a Latin cross but on a crux decussata, a diagonal cross known as a saltire.

As I’ve noted previously, our son, Anders, bears the name of this Apostle in witness to his faithfulness. May we all be faithful in following Jesus, and in extending the invitation for others to do the same. With Andrew, we have found the Messiah.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Saving God, we thank you for the witness of Andrew and all the saints and martyrs. May we be bold in our witness to the gospel and faithful in following our Savior’s call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: The boys raising the Saltire.

Cosmic Hosannas

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:37

Well, this is a new problem. What to do at the Dispatch on a Sunday I didn’t preach? Well, I can’t not post something. I’m too stubborn to make that choice! Something brief, then.

Today, with my brain freed from the homiletical task, I paid a great deal of attention to the music. Goodness, there are a lot of good Advent hymns. I was particularly caught up in singing “Wake, Awake for Night is Flying,” Philipp Nicolai’s sixteenth-century masterpiece. You hopefully couldn’t tell through the livestream, but I was singing this hymn loudly, especially as it moved joyfully to its end:

No eye has seen, no ear
has yet been trained to hear,
what joy is ours!
Crescendos rise;
your halls resound;
hosannas blend in cosmic sound.

Amen and amen! I felt like I was in the halls of the Lord already.

But for now we wait. For Christmas. For our community of faith to able to gather together and join our voices in song. For the final coming of Christ. As you wait, may the songs of Advent sustain you in the hope of the Christ who comes to you today.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of hope, stir up your power and come. Keep us awake to the presence of Christ. Keep us alert to the needs of our neighbors. Keep us connected in your love. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Image: The Grace Advent wreath.