Gleaning Courage

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay         
*This sermon was given at the end of July 2019, but due to circumstances going on at that time, I set this aside and never shared it on Wisdom Wanderings.  However, today I received a nudge, a God wink if you will, that it was time to dust this off and share it. 
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. – SM

Today, we will be visiting the Book of Ruth with a focus on chapter 2. 

As you may recall, just to catch up, the first chapter of the Book of Ruth tells the story of Naomi and her family, and their move out of Israel to Moab because of a famine.  Then tragedy strikes the family leaving Naomi a widow with two daughters-in-law in a foreign land.  

She decides to make the move back to her home country and tells her daughters-in-law they are free to leave her and return to the homes of their fathers.   One takes her up on it and heads back to her people, but the other one refuses to go.  

We are left with the images of a bitter Naomi who is calling out God for taking everything that had given her purpose and meaning in her world.  Naomi’s husband and two sons have both died while the family had been living in Moab to escape the famine that had fallen on Bethlehem.  

With Noami is her daughter-in-law Ruth, the Moabitess that had been married to Naomi’s son, Mahlon, who is now also a widow like Naomi.  She has bound herself to Naomi with her famous vow while at the same time converting and accepting Naomi’s God as her God.  

In the older woman we see emptiness and bitterness while in the younger we see enormous courage and loyalty in spite of the bleak future ahead.


The two women have arrived back in Bethlehem, and have apparently settled.  That is where we pick up in chapter two.  

By settle, I mean that they have found someplace to stay.   Perhaps the house that Naomi’s husband Elimlech built is still standing and is able to provide the women with a ready made shelter.  However, that is all that Naomi and Ruth have going for them.  They have no one to provide them with food and no means to purchase any food for themselves or anything else for that matter.  Chapter two starts with a conversation  between Ruth and Naomi concerning how to go about getting food.  

In Ruth 2:1-3 we read,

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.  And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.”  She said to her, “Go, my daughter.”  So she went.  She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers.  As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.”  

Now, personally, I have to wonder what Naomi was thinking agreeing to this.  Most likely she is either still buried too deeply in her personal grief that she isn’t really engaged in the conversation or she realizes there are no other acceptable options of employment for Ruth.   So what exactly is gleaning?  What occupation is Ruth volunteering herself for?


The Merriam Webster Dictionary has two definitions for the word glean. 
The one that we in our current time are probably most familiar is, “to gather information or material bit by bit.”  However, the other definition, the one that Ruth and Naomi are familiar with, is, “to gather grain or other produce left by reapers.”  

Gleaning is essentially the social welfare program of Israel.  It is established in two places in Leviticus –

Leviticus 19:9, “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest,”

and Leviticus 23:22, “When you reap the harvest of you land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien:  I am the Lord your God.”   

So what does this mean for Ruth and Naomi?

Israelite land owners have been commanded by Yahweh that when it is time to harvest a crop they are not to harvest the entire field.  Instead they are to leave the edges and corners of the fields unharvested.  They are also to only pass over the remainder of their fields once and not return for any grain that they may have missed during the first pass.  This is to be done to ensure that the poor, the aliens, the widows, and the orphans have a means of feeding themselves while also maintaining their human dignity.  The gleaning law doesn’t say to harvest the crops and then give portions to these groups of people, but to leave areas for these people to come to in order to harvest and earn their food for themselves by their own labor.  It also doesn’t say how much to leave at the edges or corners.  


So Ruth’s plan is to go out and find these fields and to try to work and glean enough to feed herself and Naomi.   Remember, Ruth has sworn to care for Naomi and that is just what she intends to do.  However, the exact reasons she needs to go to the field and glean, she is an alien, a widow, and a woman with no male to protect her, are the very reasons it is actually a very dangerous enterprise for her to engage in.  

In the Ancient world, the gleaning fields are a dangerous, hand to mouth means of existence for hungry people.  The poor Israelites are already in the field with the meager corners and edges that are available competing with each other to see who can glean the most. Violence can and does happen when the hungry gleaners clash and the stronger of the two takes from the weaker.  In Ruth’s case, she is in double jeopardy in these fields not only because she is a foreign woman, but more so because she has no male to offer her any protection of any kind.  

It was not unusual for women in Ruth’s position to be taken advantage of and exploited in every way imaginable.  But she has sworn to her loyalty to Naomi and Ruth intends to care for her by courageously setting out in this strange new land she has adopted as her land to try to find a field to glean in.  

Ruth is literally gleaning courage.  


You may have noted that twice in the passage I read a few moments ago that a man was also mentioned by name in these first couple of verses of Chapter two. 
The name is Boaz.  He is the first male character mentioned in the Book of Ruth who is not only living, but also a blood relative a Naomi’s dead husband, Elimelech.  The first thing we read in chapter two is that he is a relative and then in verse 3 we read that it just so happens that unbeknown to Ruth, the field she winds up in to begin her gleaning in happens to be a field owned by this same man, Boaz.  

Who exactly is this Boaz person?  Our scripture describes him as a prominent rich man, but this doesn’t really capture all that the actual word used to describe him in the Hebrew version ,hayil, fully means.  In preparing for this message I became the student of author Carolyn Custis James, who has written two books specifically on the book of Ruth which have shaped many of my thoughts.  In her book, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth, she has this to say about the meaning of hayil,

“The storyteller opens this scene by introducing Boaz as a towering figure.  Hayil is the Hebrew word the narrator uses to describe Boaz.  It indicates that he is a man of valor, stature, wealth, privilege, and power.”    

Right away the author of the Book of Ruth is painting us a picture of a very successful man who is very well off and therefore highly respected in the community.  We know that he is related to Naomi’s husband Elimelech and we also know that he is the owner of the field that God has led Ruth too.  Most scholars agree that Boaz was most likely in the same age group as Naomi and her husband as we later hear him refer to Ruth as “daughter” when speaking to her.  

What we don’t know from reading this, but the original listeners of this story would have known, is that Boaz isn’t just any old random wealthy landowner.   In addition to his own merits, Boaz’s family line gives him an impressive Israelite pedigree.  To start off with, he can trace his lineage back to Abraham, which perhaps many in this society could probably could do I suppose, but he is the direct descendent of some pretty strong power players along the way, starting with Judah, son of Jacob who was the father of Perez by Tamar.  Boaz’s grandfather was Nahshon, which may not sound very familiar (I didn’t recognize his name at first) but if you turn back to the pages of the Exodus  and Numbers  you will discover that he was third in command behind Moses and Aaron.  

So that is where we find Ruth being lead.  To the field of a very important and powerful man from a very important family line.  Boaz himself makes his entrance in verse 2:5,

Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem.  He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.”  They answered him, ‘The Lord bless you.’”  

We can see right away that Boaz is a very faithful follower of Yahweh.  This stands out to us if we remember that this story is taking place during the time of the Judges, a very dark period for the Israelite people who had turned away from God’s law and each person did what was right in their own eyes to paraphrase Judges 21:25.  Not only does Boaz practice the gleaning law as commanded, but his very greeting to his employees is a blessing requesting Yahweh to be there in his fields with his workers. 

He continues on to have a conversation with his field manager in verses 5-7,

Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even a moment.”  

It is evident that Boaz is very involved in the happenings of his estate. He isn’t content to sit around at home eating grapes and taking it easy.  He instead appears to make regular trips out to check on his various operations.  I assume this because he very quickly zeroed in on Ruth and identified her as someone new, someone he didn’t recognize or know.  Out of all the people who are engaged in all kinds of activities in that field, Ruth is the person who catches Boaz’s eye.  

There are actually two major things going on in this small passage.  By asking who Ruth belongs too, he isn’t just satisfying an idle curiosity.  He is actually asking not only who she is, but what are her circumstances.  What is her story?  This all sounds very nice, but in actuality it is a testament to Boaz’s character that he even inquires!  He is a very powerful and influential man in a patriarchal society.  

Even today, oftentimes the plight of the poor is beneath the notice of the rich and powerful.   I like to think that Boaz asks this question because he wants to ensure that all the gleaners in his field are safe and taken care of.  The fact that Ruth has no male that she “belongs to” means she has no protection, no voice, and no recourse if anything rough or worse happens to her.  


The second thing we are finding here probably seems very inconsequential in our eyes. 

Read it again,

the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said, “Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’” 

Are you picking up on anything that might be a little unusual?

This servant isn’t just making idle, gossipy conversation with his boss.  He is actually conveying something very unusual.  Something that he may even be offended by.  Ruth, a woman, has addressed the supervisor of the field who is a man.  This poor widowed foreigner has had the audacity to make her presence known.  They are both coming to work in the field, but she has no rights and he has all the advantages.  It was shocking enough that she would dare talk to the supervisor but what is more astonishing is WHAT she is saying to him.  Ruth has truly made an outrageous request to the supervisor.   One that he can’t handle on his own but needs to escalate to the top – the owner of the field, Boaz.

So what is it about Ruth’s request that is so outrageous?  

Let’s dive a little deeper into the hierarchy of the field work being done. 

A harvest, (remember Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem at the start of the barley harvest) is 100% manual labor.  There aren’t any tractors or machines of any kind.  Everything is done by hand and so this requires a lot of people.   

At the top of the organizational chart would be the supervisor, or manager of operations.  This the person entrusted by the landowner to ensure things go as planned and to handle all personnel issues.  Next comes the harvesters.  These workers are men who are paid each day with a portion of the harvest.  They work across the field cutting down the grains.  Following the harvesters are hired women who gather up the cut grains into bundles that can then be moved to the threshing floor.  Finally you have behind this group the gleaners.  Poor people who are hoping for scrapes that have fallen out of the bundles or that are fighting for the few edges or corners that still have standing grain on them. 

So, to recap, men cutting down the grain, women gathering the grain into bundles to be moved, and then the poor hoping for the scrapes. 

Ruth’s request, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers,’ is so outrageous because she is asking for permission to go around the established system.  She doesn’t want to be with the gleaners at the back of the pack fighting for a few scraps.  Ruth wants to be right behind the men who are cutting, among the hired women who are gathering the bundles of grain, also known as sheaves.   


Why would she make this request? 

To increase her chances of being able to gather enough not just for herself, but enough to take care of Naomi as well because Ruth has sworn to care for her.  Ruth is all too aware of the fact that if she stays with the gleaning pack she has all the disadvantages – she will have next to no chance of being able to provide for herself and Naomi.  She will be pushed around, taken advantage of, possibly robbed of whatever she does collect because she is the lowest of the low on the pecking order.  She is a foreign widow woman.  

Can you imagine Boaz’s reaction to this request?  This is actually jaw dropping worthy!  What must he be thinking about this strange new woman?  

Even more surprising than Ruth’s request though, is Boaz’s response and he doesn’t give it to the supervisor.  He addresses Ruth directly!  A woman who is clearly far beneath him in every way possible according to their society.  

As we continue with our scripture we read,

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.  Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them.  I have ordered the young men not to bother you.  If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”

Astonishingly, Boaz is granting her request!  In fact, not only is he granting it, he is accepting responsibility for her safety.  No one is allowed to touch her.  Who would dare defy these instructions from this powerful member of the community? She won’t be at the back of the pack with the gleaners, but safely in the midst of the paid women employees with the opportunity to gather plenty of grain.  He even goes one step further to help ensure she can be successful.  He gives her access to water to help ease her work in the hot, harvest sunshine. 

Ruth’s courage has gleaned her special permissions.  Ruth herself is amazed at all of this and sounds as surprised as you or I might have been had we been there witnessing this.  We hear her response to this immense kindness by Boaz and his reasons for granting her request in verses 10-13.

Then she fell prostrate, with her face on the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”  But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.  May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wing you have come for refuge!”  Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants. “

Why was Boaz willing to help this poor foreign woman?  Her own actions towards Naomi have earned the respect of Boaz.  The gossip has been running wild around Bethlehem, and though he hadn’t seen her until just this moment, Boaz has heard about the vow Ruth has made to Naomi.  He knows that she has willingly chosen a hard and bitter path instead of the easier one that may have been available to her among her own people in Moab.  She does all of this out of care and concern for Naomi, and it wasn’t just empty words.  

Ruth is putting her best foot forward to do all that she can to provide for Naomi. The servant tells us that she arrived early to the field and hadn’t stopped for a single break.  And because of all of this she has earned Boaz’s respect and admiration.  He willingly grants her requests and offers her a blessing and an acknowledgement of her conversion to faith in the God of Israel. 

But he doesn’t stop there.  

Verses 14-18,

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”  So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.

Boaz has gone above and beyond for Ruth.  He feeds her and gives her every advantage to help her do well.  She is successful in securing ample food for herself and Naomi.  She has collected more than most of the paid workers would get over several days.  Not to mention she has every expectation of continuing to gather like this for the rest of the days of the harvest!  

In doing so, we hear and see from Ruth some of her own suffers that haven’t really been noticed up to this point in the book.  Naomi isn’t the only one grieving.  Ruth has also lost a husband.  In addition she has left behind everyone and everything that she has ever known to go live with a bitter and empty woman in a land where all the people despise her.  Boaz’s response to Ruth is quite possibly the first good thing to happen to Ruth since the death of her husband, Mahlon.  


There is however more than just a little kindness going on here. 

Boaz and Ruth have been engaged in some very radical upside down kingdom interactions.  What makes these few simple passages so radical?  

Ruth is sharing her perspective of the gleaning law with Boaz, challenging him to look past the letter of the law to consider what was actually God’s intent of this law.  What was the intended spirit of the law?  She sees that as the hierarchy stands she has no way to glean enough to support herself and Naomi.  So she comes up with a solution and she sends the request straight to the top.  The owner of the field. 

Rather than being offended by this foreign woman, Boaz hears her out instead of dismissing her completely or ridiculing her.   He then rethinks his position of what the gleaning law requires of him and reacts favorably!  A man of long faith is learning from a woman who is a recent convert.  Ruth’s interpretation allows Boaz to grow in his understanding of his own faith!  

Carolyn Custis James says in her book, The Gospel of Ruth,

Simply by doing what she knew to be right, Ruth’s actions elevate the discussion of the law to a completely different realm…she is also pressing Boaz to color the lines of his understanding of God’s law.  The letter of the law says, “Let them glean.”  The spirit of the law says, “Feed them.”  Two entirely different concepts.  Ruth’s bold proposal exposes the difference…Boaz’s response is as astonishing as Ruth’s request is outrageous, and this is where our strong admiration for Boaz begins to grow…he willingly follows Ruth’s lead.  He actually appears driven –you might even say obsessed —  to come up with ways of making her mission possible.  In an astonishing outpouring of grace, Boaz exceeds the young Moabitess’ request.   (James, The Gospel of Ruth, pgs 102-3).  

We discover that Ruth isn’t the only one gleaning courage.  Boaz is also gleaning courage.  The courage to act completely counter cultural.  He disregards what society would say or how it would react to his dealings with Ruth in the field.  But even more so is the courage to see Ruth as an equal who he was willing to learn from.  

It is the example of Ruth herself in her actions towards her mother-in-law that has earned her the respect of Boaz to begin with.  He sees God working through Ruth and in Ruth and he responds positively to Ruth and helps her ensure that she is successful in a society where she had every expectation of failing. 

The rest of our scripture today, verses 18-23, shows us the happy homecoming for Ruth that night and her sharing her day and the story of the blessings she has found that day:

She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied. Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.”  Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.” Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.’” Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.”  So she stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.

Ultimately, all of this is being done for the benefit of Naomi.  God is using Ruth and Boaz to show Naomi that he has not forgotten or abandoned her.  What an amazing story of growth and learning for both Boaz and Naomi!  I think often when the book of Ruth is thought of we as people have a tendency to see Boaz as the great redeemer of the story, which he is.  However, we don’t realize that he wouldn’t have done any of it if Ruth hadn’t challenged him with a new perspective on the gleaning laws, which he has known his entire life.  


How often do we find ourselves in this same exact position? 

We grow so comfortable in our own understandings and sometimes become complacent with those understandings.  We, like Boaz, need to be open to listening to others and  willing to continue learning and growing our faith.  We need to be looking for the Ruths in our lives that can help us do exactly that and we must be willing to learn from them.   

God’s timing and planning never ceases to amaze me.  One of the greatest revelations I have had while writing this is how God has connected and prepared the way for his redemption plan for restoring right relationship between himself and broken humanity so precisely.  While I didn’t see any of the commentaries comment on this, I have come to the conclusion that Boaz wasn’t just a random character with a blessed Israel family lineage that happened to be available.  

He was handpicked for this precise place in the story of redemption because he was a man uniquely equipped and qualified to be receptive to seeing a foreigner as an equal and being willing to learn from that same foreigner.  Why? Because of who his parents were.  Boaz’s father, Salman,  isn’t a name we really remember, but we do remember and are familiar with who his mother was.  


Boaz is the son of Rahab, the foreign prostitute from Jericho!

  From the time he was a baby, I like to imagine him learning at the feet of this great woman of faith who would surely be teaching him that the foreigner can have value, and that a woman can have great faith lessons to teach you.

One last thought from Carolyn Custus James that I would like to share with you is this,

Jesus was that kind of newcomer in his day, another outsider to the religious establishment.  His teachings reveal that obedience to God is not a matter of precision (which is what the Pharisees thought), but that the parameter of true obedience are virtually limitless.  We can’t reduce life with God to a checklist of rules to be kept and deadly sins to be avoided. The Sermon on the Mount knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God’s law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit.  (James, The Gospel of Ruth pg 102).  

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to constantly be seeking to learn, to grow, and to deepen our understanding of the ways of Jesus and his Upside Down Kingdom.  No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, whether babes of the faith or mature believers, there is still always more for each of us to learn and so many ways to grow to help build the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Ruth gleaned courage to go out and find a way to provide for Naomi in a society where she was guaranteed to fail, but she trusted in the God of Israel to lead her.

Boaz gleaned courage to stand up for what was right and not let the expectations of society stop him from embracing the spirit of God’s gleaning laws in order to help Ruth and Naomi find provision for their needs despite whatever the consequences to his reputation might be. 

                What is God currently calling you to learn in your life, and who in your life might he be using to teach you this?  What are they challenging you to rethink or expand on? What laws are we merely observing that we are being called to embrace the spirit of instead?

How will you glean courage today?


Advent – Looking For Restoration

We have reached the Fourth Sunday of Advent in this year’s journey around the sun.

The weather in my part of the world was cold and dark for most of the past week, but as the week of Christmas dawns we are in the middle of a warm up period. I am still not feeling like the reformed Ebinezer Scrooge full of the spirit of Christmas, but I am far from feeling like the Grinch whose heart was down a size and a half. I would say that my heart is feeling warmer as Christmas approaches.

This year has been one of great struggles, stresses, and changes for me and my family. Along the way I have found help and have worked through griefs that have accumulated over many years.  I am slowly finding acceptance for who I am and where I am at in this life within myself. All of these things have been present during my advent waiting and reflecting.

And that is okay.

That is advent – reflecting on the good and the bad and trying to make sense of it all while looking for the light and love of the world that arrived here on earth on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.

Resetting and restoring our place within ourselves and within the world around us.

Many times along this journey, I have found myself exclaiming why me? Why us?  As I read the lectionary readings in Matthew for this Sunday I began to wonder how often did Mary and Joseph say those exact words? Why me? Why us?

Our passage for today is found in Matthew 1:18-25(NRSV):


Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: look, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us”. When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


I began this series of Advent reflections commenting on Mary who despite her dreams chose to be the handmaiden of God. In today’s passage we see Joseph showing the same willingness to say yes to God. Regardless of what his dreams in life were, he too accepted willingly the assignment God gave him to be the earthly father of Jesus.

There is a Christmas song called A Strange Way To Save The World and in its lyrics we hear Joseph asking the same types of “why me” questions we all ask:


Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside the stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl
Now I’m not one to second-guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world.

And indeed it is!

Do you ever wonder if after the fall God spent time coming up with different plans for redeeming Humanity? Did the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit sit around the great conference room table in the sky brainstorming ?  Or did God always know the plan from the start was to send the Son into the world in the form of a human? Out of all the ways he could have possibly redeemed humanity, he chose to become human like us.

What wondrous love is this?

When I reflect on God’s plan to come himself to earth and redeem us by taking on the human form I realize it probably was the only way he could do it to completely repair what was broken in Eden.  By becoming human and fulfilling the promise of a new Adam, Jesus came to not only redeem the fallen human race but to also restore us to wholeness, righteousness, and holiness.

Wholeness within ourselves.

Wholeness within our relationships with others.

Wholeness within our relationships with God.

Jesus removed the humiliation, disgrace, and shame that came to Adam and Eve at the fall. The same humiliation, disgrace, and shame that follows all of their descendants.

He removes it all and he does so with loving kindness. He restores humankind’s dignity with his love. Whether you are the woman with the issues of blood, the woman at the well, or the tax collectors Zacchaeus and Matthew, Jesus removes all our humiliation, digrace, and shame by lovingly restoring our dignity as God’s creation – human beings.

It doesn’t matter how low we have sunk. Jesus is waiting for us, reaching out his hand to redeem us. Whether we struggle spiritually, physically, mentally, or financially, Jesus comes to restore us with the dignity of our peoplehood and stands with us to support us with his love and guidance.

No situation or circumstance can take us to far for God’s loving embrace to find us.

Jesus restores the worth and dignity of humanity as a whole and for each of us as individuals. He does this because he is a God who understands all of our human needs and struggles. He has been there, done that, and triumphed over it all.


The traditional meanings of each of the four candles of Advent are hope, love, joy, and peace. We all seek these things in our lives. And they are all there for us in the long-awaited Savior we have been waiting for and seeking to find this Advent season.

In the midst of the struggles and turmoil in our lives we can find hope, love, joy, and peace in our relationship with Jesus.

We live in a fallen world where trials and tribulations find us all, and fill us with despare, loneliness, and longings. When we pause long enough to breathe and turn to God, we will find what we seek.

The strength to go on in the broken world.

The courage that we need to continue on with each task at hand.

The empathy and compassion to shine in the world around us.

We find that with Jesus we can become candles of hope, love, joy, and peace in our world for other people all around us. We find our dignity restored and our shame removed.

This Advent season, no matter where we are at in life, be it struggles or triumphs, seasons of joy or pain, may we find places for the love of Jesus in our hearts.

Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Kindle our hearts with hope, love, joy, and peace. May we shine brightly as your candles in a dark lonely world that continues to wait for your coming.

May the candle flames dance brightly with restoration and dignity.


I will light candles this Christmas:
candles of Joy despite all sadness,
candles of courage where fear is ever-present,
candles of Peace for tempest-tossed days,
candles of grace, to ease heavy burdens,
candles of love, to inspire all my living,
candles that will burn all the year-long.
– Howard Thurman

Click here to listen to A Strange Way To Save The World.


Advent – Looking for Patience

It is another grey and cold morning as the third Sunday of Advent arrives.

Outside my window the barren branches of the dogwood tree are scratching against my dining room window.  It is a sorrowful and lonesome sound, and I am reminded again of my sorrows and the struggles of those around me.

Sorrow is a place of loneliness, a place of struggle, whether you are actually alone or surronded by a host of others.  Yet, we are made to feel during this most wonderful time of the year we must be happy and content no matter what.  Joyful always.  This leaves those of us who are struggling feeling outcast and even more lonely.   However, if we buy into this message that we need to make ourselves happy simply for the sake of the season, then we are again missing the message of Advent.


Advent tells us it is okay to be feeling sorrow.

It is okay to be feeling lost.

It is okay to be feeling alone.


In fact, Advent encourages us to embrace all of this, and in our solitude and quiet to bring these sorrows and troubles to our loving Heavenly Father.  He is filled with compassion for each of us, and wants to be our comforter if we will only seek him out.   He is faithful, even when we have not been.  His love is the front porch light that has been left on to welcome us back home.

While reading today’s lectionary readings, I was amazed to see the sorrow and suffering come full circle and turn to rejoicing.  This is a story of choosing the Lord and being his willing child and seeing the promises of God come to fruition in the advent of his Son.  Maybe this isn’t how the lectionary was meant to be read when these verses were put together, but it is what I discovered as I read.

The readings are a journey in God’s story from despair to promise to the promise fulfillment to each of us and instructions for us as we wait.  After all, Advent is the time of waiting and reflecting.

We begin our journey today in Psalm 146:5-10 which begins with the verse:


Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,  whose hope is in the Lord their God, (NRSV)


We are reminded of the ancient people of Israel, who despite God’s best intentions, just couldn’t keep their covenant promises with Him.  As a result, they are no longer a free and chosen people, but an exhiled people wondering if the God of Abraham has abandoned them from good.

THe next stop on our journey this morning is in the book of Isaiah, chapter 35 verses 1-10 where we find a promise from God in verse 4:


“Be strong, do not fear!  Here is your God.  He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.  He will come and save you.”  (NRSV)


God has seen and heard the cries from his people and seen their sorrows during their exhile, and is making them a promise of deliverance.  He will once again rescue his people, sending a Messiah to restore them to the promise.

Continuing on our journey we find our way to Matthew 11:2-11 where Jesus says starting in verse 4:


“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  (NRSV)


Many, many years have passed since the promise of a Messiah had been given.  The Jewish people have been freed from exhile and allowed to return to the promised land.  However, they are not a free people.   They are now under the oppression of the Roman empire and subject to much persecution.  When will the Messiah arrive?  Jesus, in response to John the Baptist’s question, is saying he is in fact the promised Messiah that was fore told by Isaiah.

At this point in our journey we must take a detour and backtrack in the story just a little.  We find ourselves now in Luke 1:46-55, the magnificant, Mary’s humn of praise:


And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  (NRSV)


Mary is filled with so much joy at being the handmaiden of the Lord that she can’t contain it!  She is exclaiming of his faithfulness and her amazement of the great purpose she has been given by God that she is willingly able to do through his strength.  The sorrows and oppression are still all around her, but she is seeing God and placing all of her hopes on Him by being a willing participant in his plan.

The final destination on our journey today through God’s promises to us is James 5:7-10 which begins with:


Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. (NRSV)


Just as the farmer must wait out the different seasons we also wait on seasons.  Each season brings us something.  We have seasons of great happiness and also seasons of great sorrow.  Through all of the seasons, be patient.

Patient with God’s timing.

Patient with the circumstances, good or bad.

Patient with ourselves.

As I have been writing this morning, the grey has slowly faded away and the day has taken on a brighter, if not sunny, appearance.  Another example of patience – if we but wait out the grey the light will always return.


Life, too, is a journey.  Advent is just another tool we have in our toolboxes – an atlas to help us find our way on the different roads and paths we find ourselves on.

Perhaps this season you are finding yourself at peace right now and feeling all of the happiness and joy that the season of giving brings.  And that is okay.  Or perhaps you, like me, are finding yourself more in a place of sorrow or struggle.  And that is okay too.

The one constant in all of these seasons is the hand of mercy and compassion of God willing to lead us and guide us as we lean on him.   Whether we are struggling or joyful we can go out, and like the brightening of the grey morning, show those around us that there is still light. If we just keep turning our faces towards it we will eventually find the bright abundance of it shining on us.


In Christ Jesus we find a savior who understands all of our ups and downs and he offers to each of us a place of belonging.

Advent reminds us that we no longer need to seek belonging because we already belong to God.  Each of us is called and chosen already.  No dues necessary, no application process.

Whether in a season of great joy or a season of great sorrow, we are all thirsty.  We all are seeking compassion and understanding.  We are seeking to be patient.

During Advent we remember we are all waiting to rejoice as Mary did, joyful in our blessings and patient in our sorrows, longing to find compassion and acceptance.

All of which we find in the reason for the season.  The King of glory, the Child of the poor.

Click here to listen to What Child Is This, Child of the Poor, one of my favorite hymns at this time of year that came to mind this morning as I was writing.


 

Advent – Looking for Peace

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent.


Christmas preparations are in full swing based on the insane amount of traffic that can now be found in all the shopping areas.

Lights are twinkling on houses.  Baked goods of red, green, silver, and gold line the shelves of bakeries.  Tree lots have almost magically appeared over night and calendars are filling up with holiday parties, Christmas activities, and family gatherings.

We may or may not still be going strong in our Advent devotional readings.


In many churches across our country and around the world believers are listening to messages this morning that include John the Baptist and his voice crying out in the wilderness and his rather interesting fashion choices.  And while this is an important passage where we hear the prophesy of Isaiah coming true in the form of John, that is not the lectionary passage that caught my attention this morning.

It is rather the passage from Romans 15:1-13 , specifically the verses of 4-6 that caught my attention and that I have been meditating on most of this morning:


For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NRSV)


The general theme of this Romans passage as a whole is to be sefless instead of selfish, and to do so without judgement.

We as Christian brothers and sisters should lift each other up and live in peace as the scriptures of old have instructed us to do through the strength and encouragement of God.  The key to this passage I believe is that this can only happen through the strength and encouragement of God.

We must be at peace within ourselves and accept who we are in God in order to be able to extend this same peace and acceptance to those around us.


This is part of the work of Advent.


What is it about our current society that makes this season of peace not very peaceful?  Leave it to us human beings to turn the season of peace and blessings into the season of chaos and competition.

We try to make the perfect Hallmark channel holiday for our families feeling we need to do it all ourselves and come up with an endless to do list:

  • Baking special cookies and treats
  • Preparing elaborate meals
  • Presents for everyone we have ever met beautifully wrapped complete with handmade bows
  • Decking the halls with decorations inside
  • Magical outdoor displays
  • Seasonal must-do activities
  • Partys and get togethers

As much as I love the Hallmark Channel and its Countdown to Christmas movies, real life doesn’t tend to work like this or allow time for all of these things.  Not if we want to have peace.

In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with any of these things.  It is when we allow ourselves to become so caught up in feeling like we have to do all of these things (and do them well) that we become overwhemled and lose the peace the Savior of this season wants to bring to us.


Our God is a God of love and he wants us to live life abundantly and joyfully. 


So decorate the house, bake the cookies, sing in the Christmas choir, but do so with intentionality and moderation.  Have you ever noticed that the characters in the Hallmark Channel movies are almost never seen doing regular housework or cooking evening meals before rushing off to their daily evening Christmas activities in town?

Be kind and gentle on yourself – you don’t have to do it all on top of your regurlar responsibilities.  It’s okay to buy the cookie tray or leave the tree decorated in only lights if that is all you have the time and energy for this year.  It’s okay to not buy gifts to the point of putting ourselves into financial debt.

Because Advent is a time of preparation – preparation of our hearts:


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NRSV)


Advent is a time of preparation – not of our homes but of ourselves.  A reset and refresh of our hearts and minds so that we may feel renewed so that when the Prince of Peace arrives our hearts and minds are open to him.  We can gladly invite him into our homes and welcome him into our hearts all over again.

Advent is a time to consider how do I make peace with myself?  How do I make peace with my past, present, and future?  Because it is only when we are at peace within ourselves that we can truly extend peace to others.

And only our heavenly Father can bring us that peace that surpasses all understanding.

O come, o come Emanual.

We long for your peace, justice, and mercy in our hearts and in our world.


A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LordHis delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. (Isaiah 11:1-5, NRSV)


 


Click here to listen to Welcome To Our World by Michael W. Smith


Advent – Looking for Light

It seems very fitting that this morning we are waking up to rain.  Rain that is leaving the morning grey and dark.

Today marks the beginning of the Season of Advent.  The season of darkness and light, of prayer and reflection.  The season of hope and redemption.

A reminder from God that no matter what darkess we face, he will always return us to the light.

Advent isn’t a celebration.  Rather it is a journey much like life.  It is a pause from the busyness of life to reflect and take stock of where we are at spiritually and emotionally.  It is being attentive and watching and waiting on God and this wondrous mystery of redemption.  God’s promise fulfulled.

Advent gives us a space for acknowleging our disappointments, failures, and hurts.  It gives us space for grief and lament with the promise of hope.  It gives us space to refresh and recharge our relationships with ourselves, those around us, and most importantly, with God.

Advent allows us to be vulnerable with ourselves and each other.

It is as if the heavenly Father is saying to each of us, “Come, tell me all about it.  Let me help you.  I love you.”  An ever present help in our struggles:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
-Isaiah 43:1-3 (NRSV)

Two years ago I marked the start of advent with this post with my reflections on the grief and darkness I was feeling at that time.   This year I find that I am again entering into the season of advent with grief, but of a different nature.  This is grief for my sense of self and self worth that I have realized was lost over the years.  I am trying to find that girl again, and be the woman God created me to be.

Maybe there is something in turning 40 (which I did last year) that makes you stop and reflect on where you are and where you have been and wonder where you are going next.  A kind of life Advent season.  What were my dreams then?  What are they now?  And the realization that regardless of dreams, life just happens.


And isn’t this exactly what happened to Mary, the mother of Jesus, but on a far greater scale?

Mary was a normal teenager.  She was engaged to be married to a fine upstanding man of the community.  Did she dream about the life she would lead with him?  How many babies they would have?  How she would decorate their home?

I am sure that in her plans and dreams she never imagined that she would be pregnant out of wedlock or fleeing for her life with her baby for safety in Egypt.  Nor would she have ever imagined seeing her son disown his family (Mark 3:31-35) making the family Passover celebrations ackward going forward.    But then again, as an unwed mother, Mary herself probably made family celebrations a little ackward for a while.

And even though she lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans, she would never have thought her son would be one of the ones who would be hung from a cross and that she would be standing there in shock watching, greiving, and lamenting for her son.

But Mary was faithful and when the Angel Gabriel asked her if she would be the mother of God, she willingly said yes.  She willingly abandoned her dreams of what she thought her life would be and became the willing servant of God.  By being a faithful light in the darkness of ancient Palestine, Mary brought THE LIGHT into the world.


Many of us are lost, but we are not alone in the darkness. 

We are seeking, and we will be found if we want to be.  Work through the pain and grief.  Lament for the losses you have experienced.  And remember that no matter the darkess, the light always comes.  Have faith and know that you are God’s beloved.

Whether you are a lone soul full of faith or looking for a faith community or are part of a faith community, let us all be light together this Advent season.  Let this light shine out into the darkess of the world around us.

Whether this year finds you grieving or rejoicing or somewhere in between, this space of Advent is for you.

Arise, your light has come!

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
-Isaiah 60:1-3 (NRSV)

O come, o come Emanual

Click here to listen to O Come, O Come Emanual by Selah