December 31, 2018

The Seventh Day of Christmas

The desk in Bonhoeffer's cell in Tegel Pris-
on where Von guten Mächten was written
While confined to an SS prison in Berlin, the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer composed a poem that in English we call By Gracious Powers. Bonhoeffer was executed in a concentration camp less than four months later.

The UCC has its own tune for this song (called Bonhoeffer), which is a nice one indeed. But here's a wonderful arrangement of the German tune (with the text in the original language—see translation following). The song as we sing it is relatively generic, using the final stanza as the opening, and omitting the reference to the new year. But Germans sing it this way, and so on New Year's Eve, I'm posting it as a sign of hope for the coming year. The

Father Time

For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
Ps. 119:83 

This verse reminds me of when Jesus said, "Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved." But I actually think this bleak verse is more hopeful. Jesus was referring to cold hearts and closed minds. They were like shriveled, old wineskins that couldn't handle a living, expanding liquid. We often think of old people as closed-minded and set in their ways, but experience has shown me that this might just as easily be true of younger people. Just as old people can have young and lively spirits, so young people can have old and shriveled

December 30, 2018

New Year's Wardrobe

As the two thousand eighteenth year of our Lord comes to a close, it’s time once again to take stock of who we are, how we treat each other, and what our relationship with God is like. And the perfect scripture for us to look at on the last Sunday of the year is the third chapter of the Letter to the Colossians, because it talks about what life should be like for a person who thinks of themselves—or strives to be—a Christian. If Paul had given the different sections of his letters titles (he didn’t), this chapter would probably be entitled The Risen Life. Paul’s overall point is that those who believe in Christ experience what Christ experienced. Just as Christ died, so we are called on to put to death those things in our life which bring us down, such as worshiping things that are not God, being unfaithful in our relationships, and being too materialistic. That’s the negative part. The flip side is that if we believe that Christ was raised from the dead, then we, too, are raised above

The Sixth Day of Christmas


The carol It Came upon the Midnight Clear was written by Unitarian pastor Edmund Sears in response to the recently concluded Mexican-American War.
• meredith andrews

Characterized by Hope

Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.
Ps. 119:74 

The meaning of this verse has probably changed over the millennia. What it meant to fear God in the fifth century before Christ is different from what it means now. Though I usually look at what a verse originally said, Psalm 119 is so repetitive that I'm going to look at the 21st-century meaning today.

There is a great deal of indifference toward and lack of faith in God these days. But there are also people who want to have faith, but the faith they see

December 29, 2018

Battle for the Bluegrass

At this very minute, the Battle for the Bluegrass begins in the Yum! Center in Louisville with the Cards hosting the Cats. The Cards are rebuilding after a great deal of trouble and betrayal, so I'll be patient with them, especially since our new men's basketball coach—Chris Mack—is doing such a great job. But anyway, here's a song (sung, in this case, by some diehard Louisville fans) that all Kentuckians can get behind...

The Fifth Day of Christmas

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
let your heart be light—
From now on your troubles will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
make the Yuletide gay—
from now on your troubles will be miles away.
Here we are as in olden days, 
happy golden days of yore;

Bible Believing


Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. 
Ps 119:66 

What does it mean to believe God's commandments? I thought of this a while back when I saw an ad in the "free" section of Craigslist for a church pulpit: "Only requirement is that it be a bible believing/teaching church." I'm not looking to start a new church (or start preaching at a temporarily pulpit-less one), but I suspect that if I decided to take this particular vendor up on her offer, I might not be able to meet her sole criterion... at least not in the way she intended it.

Now I think I believe the Bible (note capitalization) as much as the next

December 28, 2018

The Fourth Day of Christmas

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem

Vote with My Feet

When I think of your ways, I turn my feet to your decrees.
Ps. 119:59 

When people are against something, one solution is to vote with their feet—that is, simply leave, or not show up. I think what we have here is the opposite. The meaning of the verb used in the second clause is more like turn back than just turn, so this verse tells me something about the nature of meditating on God's word. If I never open my Bible and never read what's in there, there's nothing that's going to call me back to the path should I stray from it. But the better acquainted I am with scripture, the louder the call to

December 27, 2018

The Third Day of Christmas

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 
  ❄︎ Luke 2:10-11 ❄︎ 

This video is a wonderful Christmas mashup of Joy to the World and Ode to Joy.

What Makes a House a Home

Your statutes have been my songs wherever I make my home.
Ps. 119:54 

Before Christmas, I spent some time thinking about the psalmist being but a sojourner on earth. Today's verse also leads me to think of him or her as a pilgrim or a sojourner. Though it's important during the holidays to think about home and family, some parts of Psalm 119 give a whole new perspective on what makes a house a home. It's not the coziness we associate with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. It is the indwelling of God. Therefore, wherever I can sing God's praises is where I am truly at home.

God, you have given me a lodging in this world but not an abiding city. Help me, a pilgrim, to endure hardness, knowing that at the end of my journey Christ has prepared a place for me. Amen.
 A New Zealand Prayer Book 

December 26, 2018

Happy Boxing Day

Apparently, in England, the holiday called Boxing Day is when letter carriers, etc., receive a Christmas Box. There is no connection between the Second Day of Christmas and the actual sport of boxing, unfortunately.

The Second Day of Christmas


Today is indeed the Feast of Stephen. I think the song below is sung more frequently in England than in the U.S. We only know the tune, and in church we use it for the hymn Gentle Mary Laid Her Child Lowly in the Manger.

The Infinite Has Become an Infant

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.
Ps. 119:41

And now wonder, ye angels, the Infinite has become an infant; he, upon whose shoulders the universe doth hang, hangs at his mothers breast; he who created all things, and bears up the pillars of creation, hath now become so weak that he must be carried by a woman! And oh, wonder, ye that knew him in his riches, whilst ye admire his poverty! Where sleeps the new-born King? Had he the best room in Caesar’s palace? hath a cradle of gold been prepared for him, and pillows of down, on which to rest his head? No, where the ox fed, in the dilapidated stable, in the manger, there the Savior lies, swathed in the swaddling bands of the children of poverty!
 Charles Spurgeon (Sept. 13, 1857) 

May I never cease to be amazed by your coming, O God, in Jesus Christ, who taught me to pray...

December 25, 2018

The First Day of Christmas

A wonderful rendition of a wonderful hymn... though I don't understand why they don't sing, Christ, by highest heaven adored...

The Promises of God

Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
⁌Ps 119:38⁍

I want to talk about the promises of God this morning. They are not for the selfish and not for the self-righteous. They are generally kept in reserve for those who least expect them and who think themselves the least deserving. If there's such a thing as a promise in the Bible, then today's the day we celebrate it, though the keeping of it at first seemed tenuous at best: The birth of a Baby to migrant parents—his first room was a stable, his first bed a feeding trough, his first roommates cattle and donkeys, his first

On This Very Christmas Night

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and

December 24, 2018

Prayer of Humble Access

❄︎ FOR CHRISTMAS EVE ❄︎

Merciful Christ,
your love compels us to enter the stable,
though our hands are unclean
and our hearts unprepared.
We, who refused you a room in the inn,
are not fit to kneel before your manger.
We, who denied you a seat at the banquet,
are not worthy to eat the crumbs
that fall from your table.
But you, Lord, are our Salvation.
You take on the flesh of the created

Silent Night

There’s a legend from the first Christmas of World War I. I think most of us have heard it. It tells us that deep in the night of December 24, 1914, in the trenches of the western front, a homesick German soldier began to quietly sing the Christmas carol he knew best—Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. Soon, other soldiers lying near him in their foxholes began to join in, until the strains were loud enough to be heard across the no man’s land that lay between the Germans and their British enemies. The Brits, of course, recognized the tune. Only they called the song Silent Night, and they joined in the singing. Things suddenly changed between the two sides when they realized that they were both longing to celebrate the birth of Christ, and that they were both singing the same song. One brave soul rose from the trenches. Then another, and another, until every man had left their position of relative

Christ is born in Bethlehem! Alleluia!


One of the most glorious Christmas Eve processions in all Christendom:

The One Who Made the Dust

My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word.
⁌Ps 119:25-32⁍
I tell God that I cannot see beyond that which is like myself, for I am dust and I cling to the dust. God, who by the Word created the universe, does not ignore my confession or make light of my condition. Indeed, on this very night I will celebrate the fact that the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth [John 1:14]. The One who made the dust became dust that I might be united in him in life, in death, and beyond.

O you who made all flesh, how can I begin to celebrate the mystery of the Word-Made-Flesh?

December 23, 2018

A Christmas Prayer of Intercession

Merciful God,
we thank you for coming in the form of a Child.
In your presence,
we may without shame be who we are.
Open our minds, we pray, that we may discover,
not what we wish for, but what we long for:
Understanding of our weaknesses,
forgiveness of our sins,
comfort in our sadness,
and courage in the face of all our fears.

Lord,
we pray for all who have a heavy heart this day,

So Help Me, Hannah

We call Mary “The Virgin Mary,” of course. But regardless of what the church says about the way Jesus was conceived, the Bible tells us she had other children. I think we prefer this title, though, because it makes Mary seem quiet and young and meek.

But if we were to ignore 2000 years of church tradition and simply read the actual words of the Bible, I don’t think we’d have settled on calling the mother of Jesus “The Virgin Mary.” What we’d call her if we were more serious about the Bible would be “The Prophet Mary.” For of all the prophecies in the scriptures, none is more revolutionary than the one we just sang—the song called the Magnificat, that speaks of the turning of the world, the downfall of the powerful and the lifting up of the oppressed.

I say no prophecy is more revolutionary, but there are some prophets that

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The song below (it begins at 1.22) is a metrical arrangement (to a lively old Irish tune) of the Song of Mary (called the Magnificat):
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;

Get It Right the First Time

I live as an alien in the land; do not hide your commandments from me.
⁌Ps 119:19⁍
I don't like this translation at all. There's no indication anywhere else in this very lengthy psalm that this might've been written by a foreigner living in Israel, or by an Israelite living in exile. Indeed the psalm was probably written decades after the return from Babylonian exile. So having it written by an alien in the land makes no sense when there are other possibilities. While אָרֶץ often means land, here it makes much more sense for it to mean earth—especially since there's no definite article. So I would render it like this:
I'm but a sojourner on earth—you mustn't hide your instructions from me.
It sounds to me like a plea for divine help because the psalmist doesn't have

December 22, 2018

Merry Christmas, Neighbor


Merry Christmas, Neighbor, from the cast of Bonanza

With My Lips


I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.
Ps 119:11-14

Psalm 119 is not only incredibly long, it's arranged in a unique way. It has 176 verses divided into 22 sections of eight verses each. Each section is named after a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, because every verse in each section begins with the same letter. Thus, each of the first eight verses begins with the letter א‬ (aleph, equivalent to A), and each verse of the final section (verses 169-176) begins with the letter ת (tau, equivalent to T). Though all the verses have a common theme—love for God's law—there is no real logic to their arrangement.

But not everyone agrees with that last sentence, and here I'll defer to Calvin

December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice

In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan;
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
snow had fallen,
snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him

The Way

Today I embark on a 22-day journey meditating on the longest chapter in the Bible. And so I will begin with the first verse:

Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
Ps 119:1⁍ 

I may be a sinful human being, but The Way I follow is perfect, for it is Jesus who said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." It is Jesus who fulfilled the law of God, and it is through Jesus that I approach God, for he also said, "No one comes to the Father except through me."

Though I'm sure I have baptized this verse more than good scholarship would

December 20, 2018

Invisible Church

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Ps. 118:28-29 

I am part of a visible church, and I am committed to studying its scriptures, doctrines, and traditions. But it doesn't matter how much I study, how conversant I am with the confessions of faith, how steeped I am in the traditions of my people, if I cannot pray, not just You are our God, but also You are my God.

I have heard my entire life that the church is just one generation away from

December 19, 2018

This Is the Day

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Ps. 118:24 

Mainline Protestants tend to think of this verse as something we say on Easter Sunday—perhaps because of the importance of the two verses that come before it (the stone that the builders rejected...). But of course, it's something we ought to say (or at least remember) every morning. And it's not a bad thing to think about in the afternoon or evening, either.

But my Congregational ancestors especially applied this bit of scripture to the sabbath, which was really the only holy day they observed—but they observed

December 18, 2018

Put Christ Back into Christmas

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
Ps. 118:22-23 

He was rejected by the innkeepers of Bethlehem before he was even born, and his parents had to lay him in a manger as a Newborn. As a Child, he was rejected by Herod, having been taken to Egypt to escape the tyrant's rage. As a young man, he was rejected in Nazareth, where he said that a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And in Jerusalem he was rejected by both his own people and the greatest empire on earth, and he was betrayed, denied, tried, and crucified on the outskirts of the city. So how can such a One be the very

December 17, 2018

The Death of the Liberator

Simón Bolívar died on this day in 1830. He was 47.
La Muerte del Libertador, by Antonio Herrera Toro

To Tame My Will

All nations surrounded me; in the Name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the Name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the Name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
Ps. 118:10-18 

The contrast in this section of Psalm 118 is remarkable. It moves from being threatened from every quarter to shouts of victory, from certain death to the assurance of life. Since it takes me but a few moments to read these verses, I quickly become convinced that the conflict is brief in duration. But when I think about the course of a lifetime, I realize that struggles are played out over a period of years, and that the life I once dreamed of and the life with

December 16, 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent


This musical setting of Isaiah 12 by Jack Noble White employs the translation found in the Book of Common Prayer.

The Immensity of God's Nature

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
Ps. 118:8-9 

John Owen said that it's "the most foolish thing in the world to put our trust and confidence in anything that does not have the nature of God. Nothing but the immense nature of God can offer refuge to a poor soul in all the distresses into which it may fall." Therefore, to make God our refuge can be described as wisdom. He goes on to point out that nobody "takes their immediate refreshment out of the ocean," but that the ocean is the source of

December 15, 2018

A Joy Unspeakable

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Ps. 118:1-4 

It is sometimes said that the Old Testament presents us with a somewhat limited view of God's love. Certainly it is in the New Testament that we see it placed in the brightest of all lights—the Cross—and that we find the argument in its most irresistible formHe that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not, with him also, freely give us all things? But one must have read the Old Testament in a very careless spirit if one has not been struck with its frequent and most impressive revelations of God's goodness. What scenes of gracious intercourse with his servants does it not present from first to last, what outpourings of affection, what yearnings of a

December 14, 2018

The Shortest Chapter

Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!
Ps. 117 

There are 1189 chapters in the scriptures and Psalm 117 is the 595th, making it the middle chapter of the entire Bible—an odd distinction for what is also the shortest chapter of the Bible, with just two verses. But what Psalm 117 lacks in length it makes up for in grand theme. In its straightforward praise, it is, indeed, worthy of study and repetition. One of the best ways to remember it is through a metrical version of it:
All who on earth do live,
to God all glory give:

Praise ye the Lord!
His loving-kindness bless,
his constant faithfulness

and changeless truth confess:
Praise ye the Lord!
Lord God, you have revealed your kindness to all peoples. Gather all nations to yourself, that in all the various tongues of the earth one hymn of praise may rise to you; through Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray...
 Lutheran Book of Worship (ELCA) 

December 13, 2018

Mother Church

Behold, Lord: for I am thy servant, I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast broken my bonds.
Ps. 116:16 

In seminary, a professor once had us write a brief essay in answer to the question, "Are you a little Christ?" I have thought about that often since then, and the answer has always been both Yes and No.

No, I am not God Incarnate and Savior of the world. But Yes, I hope that I am by the Savior anointed (and christ and messiah both mean anointed) to share the saving word. While Calvin had interpreted this psalm to be David's affirmation of unconditional election, and I had always thought of it in reference to Jesus' relationship to his heavenly Father and earthly mother, I think it's also quite possible for a Christian to think of it in terms of his or her relationship to the church.

The church—Christ's bride and God's servant—is, indeed, our mother. And through mother church we are born into God's service. As I meditate on the little Christ in the manger this Christmas, maybe I might dare think of myself as a little christ, son of God's servant the church, freed by God's power and love to proclaim the good news of salvation to all.

Thank you for those you have chosen to serve you through the ages, Lord. Thank you for Christ, born of your handmaid Mary. And thank you that, having been born into your servant church, I, too, am commissioned to carry your word to the nations. In his Name who taught me to pray...

December 12, 2018

Abundantly Satisfied

 
Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
✙ Ps. 116:7 ✙

Heaven is an inheritance we must take as our home, our rest, and our everlasting good. We should look upon this world to be no more ours than the country we pass through on our way home to our Father's house. Those that have God as their portion have a goodly heritage. So return to your rest, O my soul, and seek no further. Gracious persons, though they still covet more of God, will never covet more than God; but, being satisfied with his loving-kindness, are abundantly satisfied with it: they envy no one their carnal mirth and delights.
✙ Matthew Henry (adapted) ✙

Thank you for my rest last night. But may I never truly rest until I am at rest in you, O Lord; in the Name of him who taught me to pray...

December 11, 2018

Bondage to the Status Quo

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. 
Then I called on the Name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

Ps. 116:3-4 

I am bothered by the Old Testament concept of death. All end up in Sheol, whether they're evil or good. And Sheol is a place of darkness and separation from God and all the living. Sheol might also be interpreted as nothingness, but is still negative. The only way I can reconcile it with anything but complete hopelessness is the notion that it is a place of sleep and rest.

I must, therefore, read this psalm from a Christian perspective, and interpret this as a prayer of Messiah, which was answered by God. Moreover, the First Letter of Peter has this to say about (what I believe to be) Sheol:

December 10, 2018

Something's Gotta Give

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings.
Ps. 115:16 

What a profound statement, stating no less explicitly than the creation story itself that human beings have dominion over the earth. Though Psalm 24:1 states th the earth and everything on it belong to God, stewardship of it has nonetheless been given to us. And the more we know about earth science, and the more aware we are of what's going on in other countries, on other continents, and even in the oceans and seas, the more responsible we are for what we do.

There are many who maintain that human activity cannot actually change the

December 9, 2018

'The Right Time and the Appointed End'

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
—Luke 1:78-79

Because we concentrate on the birth of Jesus at this time of year, most of us don’t spare a thought for the other birth that happens at the beginning of Luke’s gospel. So here’s the story:

There was a woman named Elizabeth and a man named Zechariah. Zecharaiah was a priest and Elizbeth was descended from priests, and both of them were genuine in their love for God. They had been married for quite a while, but Elizabeth hadn’t had any children. People said she was barren. And this is what Zechariah himself came to believe. It was a story that he’d told himself so long and so often, that the words “barren” and “wife” had in his mind become practically synonymous. It didn’t mean that he didn’t love Elizabeth. It simply meant that who she was and how people talked about her had become one thing in his mind.

Now, Luke tells us that the privilege of entering the innermost part of the temple was determined by drawing lots. The way this was done meant that a priest probably only got to perform this duty once

Second Sunday of Advent

Today we light the candle of peace, so I'll post this song looking forward to the reign of the Prince of Peace. Americans associate this tune with the Easter hymn, Thine is the Glory, Risen, Conquering Son, but in Germany it's an Advent tune. Here are the words being sung:

Daughter Zion, be glad! Rejoice loudly, Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you! Yes, he comes, the Prince of Peace.

Hosanna, Son of David, may you be blessed by your people! Now establish

Where Is Their God?

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; they make no sound in their throats. 
Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. 
O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
Ps. 115:2-9 

Because Israel was different, worshiping but One God—and That One invisible and without solid representation—I'm sure it was quite common for their neighbors to deride them as being godless. The Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Assyrians, and Babylonians could all show off their gods. And some of them must've been quite exquisite—beautiful carvings, the purest precious

December 8, 2018

A Voice in the Wilderness


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea... the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book

Cold-Hearted Compliance

When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
Ps. 114 

When Israel sojourned in Egypt, the Egyptians didn't know it, but God was among them. Because God dwelt in the midst of Israel, where they were was God's sanctuary on earth. When Israel was no longer a welcome guest, but forced labor, the divine presence did not go searching for a wealthier, more influential nation, but stuck by Israel until the day would come for their deliverance. And when Israel fled Egypt, God's presence led them, and God's dominion fled with them.

The earliest stories of God's people are about strangers living in strange lands:

December 7, 2018

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

On this day in 1941, at this moment, the attack on the U.S. naval station at Pearl Harbor began. After all was said and done, nearly 2500 were killed, including 68 civilians.

From the Ash Heap

I can't imagine it north of the Rio Grande or in Europe, but there are many places in the world where garbage dumps are inhabited by very poor people—including one such dump just a few miles south of the place that refers to itself as America's Finest City. Unable to find work elsewhere, and living in a country that offers no safety net, these are people who relentlessly scavenge a life out of others' refuse. It sounds like hell, but it's their life. There are even missionaries who set up schools for the kids who live in such places.

And so these children living in dumps are what I picture when I read the verses I'm meditating on today: