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1622_advent_joy_pt3_fullMonday, November 29, 2021

Joy and the Psalms

Rescue

The Book of Psalms calls us to praise God and these hymns created millennia ago still resonate with us as we ask for God’s help and intercession, bless and honor God’s name, mourn our losses and rejoice in our understanding of God’s goodness. In order to better understand these beautiful songs in this second Book of  Wisdom Books during this first week of Advent, or we can focus on the power of the psalms as we connect with God as sisters and brothers in Christ, as we seek a healing pathway on which we carry our lament to the Spirit, as we come together to praise and honor the creator God, and as we experience the surprise of God’s joy that protects and defends, rescues and saves.

The following verses have been modified to give us mantras that we might hold on to as we move through our days and nights. If you are able, carve out a bit of Advent time this afternoon or evening to reflect on one or two of these verses and ponder what their meaning might be for us in your particular circumstances. Click on the scripture links and explore other versions of these verses. Share an idea about the surprise of joy in the dark places and times in our lives with a loved one, a neighbor or friend. And allow the surprise of joy to brighten each day as we move forward in the season of hope-filled waiting for the arrival of the Christ.

joyPsalm 28 verse 7: The Lord protects and defends me; I trust in God who gives me help and makes me glad; I praise God with joyful songs. Do we think of sharing God’s joy with others?

Psalm 30 verse 11: You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance, O God; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy. Do we call on God’s joy when we are alone or suffering?

Psalm 35 verse 27: May those who want to see me acquitted shout for joy and say again and again, “How great is the Lord! God is pleased with the success of his servant.”  Do we acknowledge God’s role in the joy that comes to us?

Psalm 40 verse 16: May all who come to you be glad and joyful, O God. May all who are thankful for your salvation always say, “How great is the Lord!” Do we accept God’s presence in our lives and do we share the joy of this presence with others?


Image from: http://www.sermonspice.com/product/23132/advent-joy-candles-part-3

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slideshow_advent_3First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2021

Joy and the Psalms

Presence

The Book of Psalms calls us to praise God and these hymns created millennia ago still resonate with us as we ask for God’s help and intercession, bless and honor God’s name, mourn our losses and rejoice in our understanding of God’s goodness. Many resources are available to understand this longest Book in the Bible – and the second of the Wisdom Books – and during this first week of Advent we will focus on the power of the psalms in a number of ways: they connect us with God as sisters and brothers in Christ, they give us a healing pathway on which to carry our lament to the Spirit, they call us together as we praise and honor the creator God, and they offer us more examples of how God’s joy surprises and even overcomes us when we least expect it.

Using a concordance we can easily find dozens of references to Joy in the Psalms. Devoting a bit of time each day this week, we may be surprised to find how much joy these simple verses lend to our lives in this time of year so full of activity. The following verses have been modified to give us mantras that we might hold on to as we move through our days and nights. If you are able, carve out a bit of Advent time this afternoon or evening to reflect on one or two of these verses and ponder what their meaning might be for you in your particular circumstances. Click on the scripture links and explore other versions of these verses. Share an idea about the surprise of joy in the dark places and times in your lives with a loved one, a neighbor or friend. And allow the surprise of joy to brighten this first Sunday in the season of hope-filled waiting for the arrival of the Christ.

Psalm 4 verse 7: The joy that you have given us, Lord, is more than we will ever have with all our grain and wine. How might we might share God’s joy with others?

Psalm 5 verse 11: But all who find safety in you, Lord will rejoice; they can always sing for joy. Protect those who love you; because of you they are truly happy. Do we call on God’s joy when we are in dark times and places?

Psalm 9 verse 2: I will sing with joy because of you, Lord. I will sing praise to you, Almighty God. Do we acknowledge God’s role in the joy that unexpectedly comes to us?

Psalm 16 verse 11: You will show me the path that leads to life, Lord; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever. Do we recognize and value God’s presence in our lives? Do we share the joy of this presence with others?

god's presenceDuring this first week in Advent we will continue to share simple verses from Psalms that bring joy to our hearts. Let us consider broadening our horizon and find the time today to listen to part or all of a podcast interview with Dr. Robert L. Okin, a clinical pychiatrist who challenges us to find our political will to change the lives of the homeless. Listen and reflect at: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-11-24/dr_robert_l_okin_silent_voices_people_with_mental_disorders_on_the_street We may also want to begin an Advent journey of seeking God’s true presence by dipping into Okin’s book, Silent Voices: People With Mental Disorders on the Street.

Jonathan is one of the homeless men psychiatrist Robert Okin met on the Streets of San Francisco.

Jonathan is one of the homeless men psychiatrist Robert Okin met on the Streets of San Francisco.

Tomorrow, God protects and defends, rescues and saves.


For a brief reflection on God’s presence in our lives, click on the Presence image above or visit the “Practicing God’s Presence” post at: http://scottberglan.org/2013/03/22/practicing-gods-presence/ 

A repost from First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014

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Balancing stones

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Isaiah 1

Joy and Balance

In the first chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy we read all that we need to know about who we are, how we are to act, and how we are likely to act as we journey through life. Here Daughter Zion is described in her wanton lust to do all as she wishes. We know women like this. The strong man sees his work become a spark and there is nothing to quench the destruction. We know men like this. Isaiah speaks to the corruption of his time and he speaks to us, bringing a warning that we must maintain balance in our lives.

It is easy to think that the first chapter of this prophecy we hear so much during Advent that refers only to overt lust, greed or pride. With a bit of energy and openness, we can also think of the subtle ways we allow our own little corruptions to ease into our lives – we succumb to old fears when we have been assured that all is well, we stir up old dramas when these dramas have been resolved, we sulk over losses, we rekindle old gossip that puts others in chains, and we refuse to move forward into the new paths of our new life.

Moderation is the hallmark of the developed soul. Just enough prayer balanced with just enough action. Just enough sleep balanced with just enough work. Just enough companionship balanced with just enough solitude. Just enough joy balanced with just enough prudence. And an abundance of love balanced with just enough caution. 

We hope to remain on the narrow path that leads through the narrow gate of life yet we know we will slip. Fortunately, God has more than enough patience, wisdom and forgiveness for all. The size of our error does not matter. The intensity of our fall is not measured. All that God wants is our recognition of who we are, and our desire to be what God calls us to be. All that God wants is our love. 

On this Advent Eve, when we are asked the question: What has Christ done for you? Let us answer: He gave up all for me. And when we are asked: Why did Christ do this for you?  Let us reply: Because I am well loved by Christ. And when we are asked: What do you do for Jesus? Let us sing out with just enough courage, just enough patience, and just enough reality: I will love Christ with my whole heart, my whole mind, my whole body and my whole soul. I will do all for him. 


Adapted from a reflection written on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011.

Image from: https://leadingwithtrust.com/2018/02/18/forget-work-life-balance-and-focus-on-these-5-things-instead/

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James Tissot: Abram’s Counsel to Sarai

Friday, November 26, 2021

Genesis 17:15-19

Joy and the Promise of Birth 

What I like so much about this story, and what I liked as a child, is the fact that God changes Abraham’s and Sara’s names when they enter into their covenant with him. I also like that both of them laugh when they hear the news that they will have a child so late in life. These are outward and visible signs that when God approaches with a promise of fortune, even when these promises appear to be impossible to keep, we can expect change and joy.

There is also a motif of wonderful and simple surprise in this story. I like wonderful yet simple surprises in my own life, and I am always grateful to discover that I am still capable of finding joy in small things of life. I have always found that it is in the quiet and in the stillness that jumbled thoughts and prayers become crystalline and clear.

I also smile when I read about Abraham and Sara’s happy hospitality. In the next chapter, Abraham runs out to greet the strangers who approach his tent, while Sara prepares a meal. I was raised in a family in which we were taught that to open one’s home and to share one’s table was a sacred act, one in which we leave ourselves most vulnerable to others and the possibility of betrayal, but an act to which we must commit ourselves. When we turn people away we also turn away the opportunity to be transformed, the possibility that God may enter our own tent for “is there anything too wonderful for the Lord to do?”

As a child, I always wondered why Sara was so fearful that she “dissembled”, saying that she had not laughed. Was it that she did not want anyone to know that she was inside the tent listening to the conversation between these men? Did she find God’s promise too ridiculous to believe? Had she lost the sense of wonder, hope and joy as she aged? I suppose we shall never know.  

Now that I am grown, with children and grandchildren of my own, I hope that I never lose my sense of humor. I also hope to be always open to the surprises of joy God has in store for me.  And I hope to have the patience and perseverance God requires or me.  May I be worthy of the promise God has placed in me. May I rise to do the work God has asked of me, and to give birth to the work God requires of me. For in this will be my joy.


Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tissot_Abram%27s_Counsel_to_Sarai.jpg

Adapted from a reflection written on October 5, 2007. 

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

Zephaniah 3:16-18

Joy in God’s Love

God’s Joy in Our Presence

As we move from the celebration of Thanksgiving and move toward the season of Advent, we celebrate of joy in the arrival of the light of the world. These verses foretell the coming of Jesus, God as man among us. They describe the kind of joy God feels to be with us. I wish I could remember to rely more on God’s joy. I wish I could give more thanks for God’s joy. I wish I could bring more of God’s joy to others. 

From a Meditation by Father Maurice Zundel (a Swiss mystic, poet, philosopher, liturgist, and author who died in 1975) in MAGNIFICAT: “Who would refuse God, in the name of autonomy, if he came to see, in the silence of his own self, that such a refusal is in reality a refusal to be one’s own origin?  This refusal deprives our inviolability, our dignity, and our freedom of any kind of foundation and meaning.” 

When we determine to strike out on our own, may we remember the joy we have felt in God’s presence. When we choose to declare our human wisdom greater than God’s, may we remember that our lives are testimony to the joy we might experience in God’s presence. When we decide that our plans bear best fruit when placed in God’s hands, may we remember that we are created from stardust and God’s love. 

Who would walk away from such a lover? Ask God for your heart’s desire, because with God all things are possible (Luke 18:27).


Adapted from a reflection written on July 27, 2007.

Image from: https://heartinspirations.ca/2016/11/19/in-your-presence-is-fullness-of-joy/

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Ezekiel 19: Joy and Two Allegories

Lions raised with care to protect become man-eaters. Vines that sprout strong branches because of abundant water die in the desert. Notes tell us that these two allegories are written in the style of a dirge, a particular kind of funeral song serving as a lamentation comparing present doom with past glory. Ezekiel writes at a time when all hope might be lost; however, as pointed out in notes, Ezekiel elsewhere rejects this sense of hopelessness.

It is difficult, in the times when all around us is dark, and when we find ourselves in drastic circumstances, to keep hope alive. The lioness in today’s reading does her best to rear strong male lions that protect and guide their pride. In the second allegory, the vine is destroyed by drought, fire, wind and heartless transplantation in desert surroundings.  In ideal circumstances, the lioness and the mother vine do all they can to nourish life and yet they fail, or seem to fail. 

What else do these images call forth? We know that the Lion of Judah later roars out of the south to redeem the universe, but in the form of the Lamb in the person of Christ Jesus. We also know that from this stump of vine in the desert which is carted off to Egypt and to Babylon, from this lineage of Jesse and David will eventually spring forth the shoot of the Messiah.  

We know that when something is bound to occur in God’s economy, no force, no circumstance, no evil intent can hold it back. We know that when things appear to be most hopeless, God is most with us. God never fails, especially in God’s time rather than in ours. 

St. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 

In Luke 21:5-11 Jesus tells us:  All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down . . .  See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, “I am he”, and “The time has come”.  Do not follow them!  When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end. 

Jesus is constantly calming the turbulent waters, healing the blind, deaf and lame, bringing light and life out of darkness and death. When times are darkest, Jesus is nearest. The Lion of Judah roars and saves. The vine will bloom, even in the desert. In the Book of Revelation the virgin bearing the child is swept into the desert where she is kept safe from the beast. This tells us that what appears to be an end is a beginning.  What appears to be lost will be found. It tells us that we must trust God’s plan no matter how bleak it may appear. God’s plan is ever so much better than our own. St. Paul writes to the Philippians (3:7): Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Whatever plans I have, I consider as nothing in the economy of God’s providence and love.

And so we pray: On this eve of Thanksgiving Day, let us keep in mind all the times we have waited in darkness and anxiety, and let us turn our worries and complaints over to the one who handles all things well, bringing them to the light of perfection. Let us give our incompleteness to the one who completes. Let us bring our broken hearts and our dirges to God’s feet and offer these woes to the one who will transform them into blessings. Let us bring God our mourning so that it may be joy.  Amen. 


 

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Jeremiah 29:10-15

Joy and God’s Promise to Bring Us Out of Exile

There is a permanent bookmark in my own Bible at this page. Not only is Jeremiah one of my favorite books, this chapter is one of my favorites. It speaks of God’s plan and promise for our future – plans for our happiness, not for our woe. God has written these plans on our hearts – not on stone as with Moses and the stone tablets on Mt. Sinai. As we listen for and to God’s voice, we will hear the words written on our hearts at the moment of our creation.

God has always had plans for our happiness ever since the moment of the creation of the world. This idea might bring us comfort – especially at times when we question the purpose of our lives, at times when our lives do not make sense or seem pointless. It is heartening and consoling to realize that although life may seem futile, it is absolutely important and integral to God’s greater plan. These verses remind us of our true significance, and they remind us that the life of each person has value even when we cannot perceive it. They remind us that God always keeps the promises made in the quiet of our hearts and in the thunder of our lives. When circumstances are overwhelming, cataclysmic, or catastrophic, let us ask for patience, perseverance, and temperance. And let us pray that we remain in the promise of God’s joy. 


Adapted from a reflection written on February 24, 2007.

Image from: https://ahearttoknow.com/gods-rainbow-promise-bible-study-for-kids/

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Isaiah 13

Joy, Mercy and Justice

The Medes, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Israelites. Dedicated soldiers and a wrath-filled God. Destruction and ruin. Howling and weeping. Hearts melting in terror. Faces aflame. A darkened sun. Insolent tyrants. Infants dashed to pieces. These images from ancient days are on our morning, noon and evening newscasts. Nothing much has changed, we might say. Sometimes the human race seems stuck in its insistence that life will be miserable. We expect justice and forgiveness, but how do we live individually and collectively? We want to exact justice while acting in mercy; yet how does this play out in our lives? 

We often see justice as harsh judgment and mercy as the soft and yielding balm that heals the curse of injustice, but is this truly so? Is it not true that full and total love can be far more demanding than judgment? And if this is so, is this why we humans persist in reveling in despair and sorrow rather than in joy and thanksgiving? 

I am thinking about something I read in an essay by Anthony Esolen in the March 2010 MAGNIFICAT in which he writes that we often ask for love yet are unwilling to accept it. We think that mercy is a sweeter and easier thing than justice, but it is not so; for justice takes us as we are, but mercy assaults us and batters at the gates of our heart, demanding that we be made new . . . Sometimes sorrow is easier than joy, and despair more comforting than hope.  (6 and 7)

We see injustice and we cry out for compassion. This compassion arrives and we frequently criticize those who deliver it. Is it shame that we feel? Do we feel a sense of control lost to the all-forgiving nature of mercy? Are we anxious about being unworthy? Why is it that we persist in remaining in separateness? Why do we shun unity?

We have been an a journey in which we discover the big and small ways that joy enters our lives and today we reflect on how we react when others deliver the mercy and justice that we cannot or do not deliver. 

The reading from Isaiah today is the beginning of an oracle against the pagan nations.  As we travel along our Lenten road, where do we take lodging?  Do we choose to reside in the dark house of ill-will and disunity because this is what we are accustomed to and this is want we expect? Or do we seek haven in a place that fosters community and compassion because we choose the joy that comes with reformation and change?

As we pause to reflect today on where we are, and who we are and what we have come to expect, let us also consider how well we receive forgiveness and compassion when it is offered to us, or when we witness it offered to others. Let us consider how willing we are to change in order that joy and thanksgiving are our natural way of being in the world rather than despair and sorrow.

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Sunday, November 21, 2021

Zechariah 3

Joy and Clean Garments 

This prophecy, along with Haggai’s, was written as an exhortation to those who had returned from exile who were rebuilding the city and temple of Jerusalem.  We might turn to these books when it is a time of renewal and we are still exhausted from the journey back home. Chapter 3 describes the high priest, Joshua, changing his mourning garments for festive ones.  So too, might we exchange tears for joy when we find we have returned to God after exile.

We hear the angel’s assurance: If you walk in my ways and heed my charge, you shall judge my house and keep my courts, and I will give you access among these standing here.

These prophetic visions are full of symbolism and reading the notes or a good commentary helps us to understand the message God conveys through Zechariah. But putting symbolism aside, we can reflect on the importance of recognizing the end of exile, the importance of the presence of the bridegroom, the importance of acknowledging graces received. So often, when sorrow endures, we forget to look up.  After weeks or months or years of watching our feet as we slog through difficult days, we forget that there is a heaven, that blessings are bestowed on us daily.

Zechariah describes the changing of vestments as a symbol of passage. We may want to think about our own clothing. What does our outward appearance say about our inner self? Do we change our robes gladly or do we wait in the shadows for a future which has already come? And do we step into our clean garments with sorrow or with joy? 


Image from: https://www.purewow.com/fashion/how-to-hand-wash-clothes

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