Richard’s Resolutions

I think I can keep these. Anyway, that’s the lie I’m telling myself as I write them on a cold December afternoon.  Who am I kidding? The first one is tougher than any weight loss goal you can imagine.  I’ve been getting a head start on a few of them over the past few weeks. If you see anything you like, you’re welcome to adapt them for your own use.

1. More grace and less judgment. I resolve to do more of both.

2. I resolve to write my prayers and read them to God as I compose them.

3. I resolve to spend less time in places where I might encounter the President’s tweets.  I’ll read more of the Psalter.  Be a better steward of your time online. Read devotionals, stories, Bible studies, or do a puzzle.

4. I resolve to spend less time in places where I will encounter those who either enjoy or reject the implications of the President’s tweets.  The key word here is “implications”.  It’s the hyperbole (derived from the implications), on both sides of the political debate, of which I’ve grown weary. I’m opting out Fox’s imagined coups and MSNBC’s deep states for time better spent with God. If you realize certain online content has a negative impact on your emotions, step back from what your reading or watching. You have the ability to make better life affirming choices.

5. I resolve to embrace what God is doing now, not an idealized vision the kingdom or a manufactured version of the past.

6. I resolve to see God at work in people who are not like me and do not like me. My blindness is self-inflicted.  God is everywhere.  If I can’t see God, I’m not looking hard enough.

7. I resolve that I will stop complaining about the ridiculous and the inane while people suffer.

8. Become healthier so I can feel better. There are many ways to become healthier a person.  Pick what works best for you.  I need to work on my body and mind.

9.  I resolve to give death its due.  The more I come to terms with my own mortality the better prepared I am to help others as they journey through grief.

10. More minimalism. I resolve that I have too much stuff.

Richard Bryant


Waiting for Godot, Simeon, and Anna (Luke 2:22-40)

The Irish playwright Samuel Beckett is probably best known for his play “Waiting for Godot”.  In the play, two men, Vladimir and Estragon wait upon a man (Godot) who never arrives.  They do not know when or where they are to meet Godot only that it is to occur near a tree.  Two other characters are eventually introduced.  Estragon and Vladimir continue to go back and forth on the benefits of waiting for Godot (who will never arrive).  It is a play where nothing happens.  Yet it is built on the idea of waiting for something to happen and the assumption that something will happen.  In this way, it is like our gospel reading.

I wonder about Simeon’s assumptions.  Who did he think was coming?  What kind of sign did he anticipate? Was he expecting the Christ to be the infant child of peasants from Galilee?  How would he spot the restoration of Israel when it crossed his path?  How many times had he misidentified the Messiah?  Were there times he’d been confused, mistaken, and just plain wrong?  Would he die before the realization of his dream?  Why was Simeon’s acknowledgement so special? He’s not Dumbledore or Gandalf.  He appears one time in the Bible.  Luke tells us that he’s an elderly man who’s become a self-appointed lookout for the Messiah.  Simeon gave himself this job.  It’s a good job but it doesn’t appear to be a divinely appointed position.  Simeon, for all the fanfare and poetic language, is waiting on Godot.  Except in Simeon’s case, Godot is Jesus and Jesus shows up.

Simeon was looking for clarity.  Day after day, he went to the Temple with one goal in mind.  If he encountered the Christ in the temple was this going to be “the” answer to Israel’s problems.  Could he die in peace?

In many ways, Simeon is like us.  We need the big reveal.  Without obfuscation, hesitation, or deviation; we want to know, is this Jesus? Like Simeon, we want Jesus presented to us on the silver platter of his mother’s arms.  His presence should be bereft of any contradiction.  As the artists of our own lives, we install the Holy Spirit spot lights for the grand moment.  Nothing should be left to chance.  We want to know: when we come to the Temple; are we or are we not meeting the Christ?  Yes, we want to be told, this is Jesus.  Once we receive our answer, we can die in peace.  Whether that’s tomorrow or in forty years, we’ve got our positive identification.  Jesus is as he has been presented.  No more thought is required.  We want Jesus and we’d prefer him in black in white.

Isn’t this what we have in this story?  Jesus falls into our lap like a baby wearing a name tag.  What could be easier for us or Simeon?  If Jesus simply drops out the sky, fully assembled, labeled, and ready to be deployed; what never happens?   We don’t engage with Jesus, ask about where he came from, or more importantly; where he is going? Jesus is little more than a fashion accessory we claim ownership to without fully understanding it was made by slave labor in Bangladesh.  Once we grow weary and trends change, we cast aside things we receive easily and acquire so lightly.

Simeon’s story is about coming to terms with the contradictions which Jesus embodies.  Simeon’s encounter with Joseph and Mary reminds us that there are no easy answers served up on silver platters.

The entire interaction illustrates the contradictions that will embody the whole of Jesus’ life.  Simeon says, “Get ready for lots of gray areas and uncertainty.”  Some of it will even be painful.

The first thing Simeon says is, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner most thoughts of many will be revealed.”  We’ve seen this already.  There was King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents; the ancient precursor to events like Newtown and Columbine, where hundreds of children were murdered in the name of preserving Herod’s power.  Jesus is one out of many.  When he is born, Jesus is one who lives while others die.  At his death, Jesus is one who dies so other may live.  His life begins and ends in contradictions.

Simeon says this to the peasant parents of an infant from Galilee who probably understood very little about what any of this meant.  They had yet to come to terms with the miraculous nature of the birth and the reality that their son’s life was in danger.

A teenage mother, a cabinet maker, and a newborn are told by an old man they didn’t know and had never seen, “a sword will pierce your innermost being.”  Those words were directed at the mother.  True, yes.  Appropriate, not really.  Contradictory, you bet.  When you’ve heard, “Glory to God in the highest” from shepherds and angels and now you’re being told about swords piercing your heart, I’d say there is a degree of contradiction.  Is Mary’s life, along with that of her child, being threatened?  We think we know what he means because we’ve read the end of the story.  As Luke is writing it, Mary doesn’t know the ending.  Nothing is set in stone.  She’s living it from one moment to the next.  Put yourself in her shoes.

Today, some people feel they’re entitled to definitive pronouncements from the Bible.  If they don’t receive them, they leave the church or start new denominations.  Mary couldn’t leave Jesus.  Certainly, there were nights after visiting Simeon that Mary too prayed for something more definitive from God.  She embraced the contradiction fully in Luke 14:26 when Jesus called on people to hate their parents, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  She didn’t stop loving him.  Mary carried the contradictions to the foot of the cross.  The unpredictability and the flexibility first called for by Gabriel in the contradictory claim to be both mother and virgin would not allow her to do otherwise.  To believe in God, her Son, she had to embrace the contradictions.

Beckett creates an emotional distance allowing the audience to consider a single idea: two men waiting on someone who will never arrive.  Luke does the same.  Step back and what do we see?  We meet two people (Simeon and Anna) waiting on someone to arrive.  Within their waiting we witness years of assumptions, questions, hopes, dreams, fears, and faith.

Luke’s story poses a series of questions about the very nature of discipleship by their waiting, the baby’s arrival, and his family’s response.  What happens to your faith when it is upended with conjecture and contradiction?   What does it say about God to wait so long for an answer?  When the world is rising and falling, will the center of your faith hold?  Will your center hold when your heart is pierced, when it’s painful to believe and be faithful?  These are some of the questions raised by this one encounter.  This is a faith shaping, disciple making story.  Luke is telling more than Mary’s story.   This is our story.

Luke is also helping form a Christian community still trying to find its center, its way and meaning, after Jesus’ final appearance in the Temple.  In a way, this is both a Christmas and Easter story.

This is a story addressed to an entire Christian community, one that’s been through Easter and asking the question, “what next?”  This question is not only for Mary and Joseph but for anyone who’s met Jesus and calls themselves a disciple.

Despite the uncertainty in the words they heard from Anna and Simeon, Mary and Joseph embraced the contradictions inherent in the Good News.  They found themselves in changing situations but their roles remained the same.  Despite the rising and falling of Israel or the lifting of swords, she would still be Mary and he would still be Jesus.  You’re still a disciple. Relationships matter more than the ebb and flow of Israel.   In other words, death doesn’t have the final word and discipleship is no longer a waiting game.

Vladimir Estragon

On Feast of St. Thomas Becket

December 29th, 2017


I Am So Glad It’s Over

I was repelled by my response to the conclusion of the great celebration known as Advent.  As the waning hours of Advent drew to a close, I could not wait for the moment to arrive.  It wasn’t because of Santa Claus’ impending appearance bearing gifts.  Nor was I overwhelmed with spiritual fervor at an additional opportunity to greet the arrival of the Christ child.  Like Milton, I had “no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain, to welcome him to this his new abode.”  I was spent and I knew it. However, you know when you’ve been camping for three days  and you’re aware you smell like a dead possum and it’s repellent to everyone except dead possums and you don’t really care?  I wasn’t bothered at all.

I was simply tired.  When yesterday came, I was glad it was over. I’d fallen twice, in the chancel, on Christmas Eve morning, my root canal still hurt, and I’m not sure anyone’s listening to me anyway.  With a visible limp and from where I’d landed on my arm, it was all I could do to raise the bread during communion.  Quasimodo does the Eucharist; how liturgically sound is that at “Christmas experts at the Board of Discipleship”?

It’s the kids they want to see.  I know this, God knows this, and Jesus (both baby and adult) knows this. For the moment, trying to sell a skeptical world on Advent when everything says Christmas could take a break.  It needed to end peacefully, like the third verse of Away in a Manger.  That’s how Advent should become Christmas.  To quote Frank Sinatra, it should be “Nice and Easy”.

This morning, when I went to eat breakfast, I heard a few other survivors express their gladness that “It’s over”.  Here’s the bad news.  Cultural Christmas is never over.  The holiday fires lay dormant for a few months until we need them to burn bright again.  Christmas takes a pause.  A few people say, “Why can’t we celebrate Christmas each day?”

No one, even the most devout “Merry Christmas” wishers want Christmas to be every day.   Celebrating Christmas year round means being a Christian 365 days a year. I’ve yet to see people who are willing to give church that kind of emphasis eleven months a year, the way they say claim to between mid November and late December.   In truth, celebrating Christmas everyday would be a hassle and inconvenience to most people.  Their lives and priorities would change in ways most are unwilling to consider altering.   That’s the way functional atheism works.

For most people, God is functionally dead and irrelevant to their lives.  Until the societal pressure caused by the holidays forces them to confront ancient beliefs which others may still hold.  Why sit for nine innings (especially if you hate baseball or aren’t fond of the coach/team) when you can come in for the bottom of the ninth and enjoy the game winning home run?

Most of the western world gives little thought to what Christians call Christmas and whether it’s Merry, Happy,  Holy, or not.  Christmas for all its commercial and marketing appeal is really just a way station for overfeeding  and starching up, so we can drink harder, faster, and longer on the Wise Man highway to cultural debauchery called New Year’s Eve.   And like it or not, New Year’s Eve is the one holiday we have no trouble mass producing and keeping alive in bars, hotels, and people’s hearts all year long.

New Year’s Eve won the War on Christmas, one shot at a time.

I will be glad when it’s all over.

Richard Lowell Bryant


I enjoy doxologies.  Notice I didn’t say “the doxology”.  When we hear the word “doxology” we think of the short chorus usually sung following the offering.  For United Methodists, that’s the “doxology”.  In reality, doxologies are multifaceted gems by which we reflect praise back to God.

Whether found in the Old or New Testament, a doxology is a short verse which praises God.  Usually, doxologies are found at the end of hymns, psalms, or verses of praise.  Originating from the Greek word Doxa (a translation of the Hebrew kavod), doxologies were customary means of ending a hymn or prayer.  The tradition began in synagogues and was carried into early Christian churches.

The apostle Paul was fond of doxologies.  They appear prominently in the letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans.   The epistle reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent (Romans 16:25-27) closes with one such verse of praise.  This is a unique choice for the lectionary; of all the ways to bring Advent to a close using Paul to encapsulate the essence of salvation points us to the Nativity and beyond.  His three verses of doxology capped off with a single “Amen” remind us where we go after Bethlehem.

The last verse (Romans 16:27) goes like this: “May the glory be to God, who alone is wise!  May the glory be to him through Jesus Christ forever! Amen.”

Paul’s doxology is about glory.  Glory is the subject of the verse.  For Paul, “glory” isn’t a familiar hymn with Latin lyrics.  It is a noun.  Glory is something tangible; a gift which enables us to be faithful in dark times.  When we are too weak or fearful to say “Amen”, glory finds the right words.

It is the same following Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1.  Mary is told that she is being honored by God.  What God gives as honor the world regards as shame.  The dreaded impossibility we refuse to address in our own life is suddenly becoming a hopeful, life-giving possibility.  God is doing something unheard of, immeasurable, unquantifiable, unseen, and impossible.   Mary says “yes” in spite of the worlds inevitable “no”.  It would not be easy for Mary.  Hers was an implausible tale.  Who puts credence in the story of a yet to be married teenage mother?

The world is still leveling shame and dishonor on those who believe in God’s impossible yes.  We are told it is impractical to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, and bring good news to the poor.  We are advised that basic human dignity is an entitlement but Netflix memberships, upgraded phones, newer computers, and better vacations are middle class human rights.   Those who object to these distinctions have little financial or social motivation to say “yes” to God or help Mary.

As Mary affirmed God’s call in her life, others said yes to her.  Mary’s “yes” is an all encompassing attestation to God’s unquestionable “let it be” in our lives.  When the Holy Family fled Bethlehem, took refuge in Egypt, and returned to Nazareth; her life and the life of her son mattered more than Caesar’s census.  People of faith helped them along the way.  They said yes when the world said no.

In the end, when the angel leaves, Mary offers this doxology, “I am the Lord’s servant.  Let it be with me just as you have said.”  That’s the Wesley Covenant Prayer summed up in two sentences; a doxology like no other.  It’s also one of the hardest words of praise to admit.  Yes, praise is both an act of confession.  Confession is embedded within praise.  Are we able to confess to being the Lord’s servant?  Are we willing to let God’s will be done through us?  Those are two simple questions to which most people are unable to answer “yes”.  Giving God praise is easy, especially when it’s going well.  Shouting Amen is sweet when the market is up.

Saying yes to God, serving God, and saying Amen (just for the sake of loving and serving God); now that’s the hardest doxology you’ll ever utter.

What is your doxology this Christmas?

Richard Lowell Bryant

The Silence of Advent

As a culture, we have trouble adjusting to silence.  Whether it’s our addiction to technology or we’ve grown used to the presence of a hum somewhere in the background, the absence of sound makes us uncomfortable.  Silence forces us to think, speak, and respond.  In worship, if the silent prayers go a little too long, the congregation becomes fidgety.  Background music plays in every restaurant so our conversations at dinner become louder as we strain to hear and be heard.  By the end of the meal, we’re nearly shouting at each other.

In the holiday season, it is impossible to find a quiet moment.  Whether you’re baking cookies or decorating the tree, Christmas music needs to be playing somewhere in the house.  Thanks to wireless home technology and blue tooth speakers, you can listen to Frank Sinatra in one room while the kids listen to their music in the living room.  The perennial birth of Christmas noise recreates itself in venue after venue as we are relieved of the burdens of conversation, listening, and ultimately caring about what’s going on in the world around us.

We’ve made noise a sacred and sentimental part of the Nativity story.  In the Little Drummer Boy, a boy bringing a drum invades the stillness of the holiest night on Earth to distract our focus from the most important interaction between God and humanity.  The sound of his drum and his narcissistic desire to please a Jesus (who wants nothing more than our love) limits our ability to focus on the gift embodied in a God made man.

The Incarnation isn’t something to be read about, footnoted, acknowledged, mentioned in song, and then taken for granted.  It represents the defining moment in human history.  In order to focus on the Incarnation we need as few diversions as possible.

This why many of the other Christmas hymns we sing, songs we know and love, rely heavily on the idea of silence.

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm; all is bright round yon virgin mother and child.  Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”  “Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight; glories stream from heaven afar.”

The Judean sheep people quake. How can one quake calmly and silently?  Is it possible for one to remain even keeled after encountering the Heavenly host?   I would argue not.  Yet, our hymnody and scripture beg to differ.  Silence precedes our first encounter with the divine.  Words, however erudite they may be, cannot do justice to the idea of a God made human.  Songs cannot convey the beauty of the cosmological moment culminating before our eyes.  We are brought to a place of quiescence because there are no adequate words to describe what we are witnessing.    Silence is our only option.

In the second verse of “Away in a Manger”, the lowing cattle awaken the sleeping baby Jesus.  Will the noisy animals provoke the newborn’s emotions?  No, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”  Critics of “Away in a Manger” point to the unlikely nature of this verse.  “Of course Jesus cried”, they say.  To insist otherwise is to deny his humanity.  Not only this, it creates unreal expectations, imposing Victorian ideas of child rearing that were unhealthy when this song was written in 1887 and certainly not today.

“Away in a Manger” is a fairy tale lullaby that’s no more based in reality than Wynken, Blyken, and Nod.  This doesn’t make it any less true.  The text points us back the idea of silence.  A sleeping Jesus exists in stark contrast to any words we might muster.  In the silence, we’re left to ponder a God who has become a person, a God with no crib, a God surrounded by animals, and a God who made himself so vulnerable he died.

On Christmas Eve we will gather and sing songs extolling the virtues of silence.  Yet, if we sang nothing, the day would find us still redeemed, joyful, and free.   Christmas doesn’t depend on us or on what happens when we’re listening to hymns.  Jesus speaks between the notes, in the rests, the breaths, and the pauses we easily ignore and willingly forget. Occasionally a note or moment of silence strikes us at the right time and place.  It is then we realize, when we are vulnerable and only one person is capable of loving us despite all of our faults, and that’s the silent infant called Jesus.

Richard Lowell Bryant

The Last Jedi is Rudolf Bultmann

There is a moment in The Last Jedi when Luke Skywalker says, “it’s just a legend.”  He tells his apprentice and former master (Yoda) that he now believes there was little substance to the reality of the Jedi myths and teachings.  What gave the Jedi power, according to Luke, was the belief others placed in the Jedi’s stories and legends.

Like many who hold on to the religious ideals of their youth, the aging Skywalker feels out of step with the present.  The grand, Manichean framework of the Jedi has been abandoned.  You can tell, when people say, “May the force be with you,” no one means it.  What made sense in a Jedi mediated world (and was understood through the ancient Jedi texts) no longer resonates with contemporary galaxy.  Luke wants the Jedi teachings to matter in a world where evil threatens the existence of good. Good, for the sake of good alone, isn’t defeating evil.

At a critical moment Yoda intervenes.  Yoda asks Luke: Can 1st century Jedi myths be intelligible to 21st century Christian communities?  Once a first century pre-modern Jedi world view is superseded, do the gospels still make sense to people like us?

I’m sorry, I’m meant to say Rudolf Bultmann.  When Yoda spoke, I heard Bultmann.  Luke said, “I’m just a legend.”  Luke’s dialogue with Yoda held faint echoes of Bonhoeffer writing about religionless Christianity from a Nazi prison cell.  I also heard another Luke, whose stories I’ll read this weekend.  Yes, I found myself asking a very Last Jedi question of Master Bultmann:  do these legends still make sense to people like us?

Here’s what I learned from Bultmann.  My faith doesn’t rest on a series of provable propositions.  I know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, the sexuality issues don’t bother me, I know the wise men are apocryphal, Joseph was an old man, and there probably wasn’t a census.  I don’t read Luke 1 or 2 for history.  My faith is not built on a belief in wise men or the virgin birth.  I don’t care how Jesus gets here.  It’s more important to me that he’s here.  I believe because of an empty tomb, not an occupied manger.  Yet the stories of the manger give context to the empty tomb.  Mary links both events.  Listen to Mary.

It’s easy for us to get worked up about the scandalous nature of Jesus being born in abject poverty to an unwed teenage mother.  Jesus became a refugee to escape genocide.  These things are heartbreaking and cause us to look at the ongoing fallen, sinful nature of our own time.  As bad as those things are, that’s not the real scandal.  Christmas helps me make sense of the one story which matters more than the manger:  the Cross.

Richard Lowell Bryant

The Advent Insurgency (Isaiah 61:1-4)

Christmas is easy to find.  Despite the protestations of the culture warriors who see attacks on nativity scenes and holiday displays at every turn, I feel inundated by Christmas.  There’s so much Christmas on display it is hard to see the world beyond the lights.  Christmas, in one form or another, is everywhere.

Let’s take that premise at face value:  Christmas is all around.  Santa knows when we’re asleep and awake.  Holiday lights stay on day and night.  The advertisements for holiday products have been on radio, television, and the internet since late September.  Christmas, whether for economic, religious, or social reasons dominates a third of our calendar year. We know Christmas is coming.  Holidays stress management and planning experts tell us each year:  do your shopping early.   Yet unique to the Christian tradition is a paradoxical message, deep from the middle of Advent as Christmas is quickly approaching:  prepare while you prepare.

The message is to prepare for whom and what’s coming next.  This preparation goes hand in hand with the subsequent arrival of Christmas.   Preparation defines Advent.  Without preparing, there is no Advent and there will be no Christmas.  What we perceive as Christmas and define as indispensible holiday traditions are just imported cultural practices from central Europe.  That kind of Christmas takes no real effort.  It’s what we do each year on autopilot.  That’s why the Hallmark channel makes it look so simple.

Scripture says the preparatory work of Advent isn’t as shiny, glamorous, or predictable as we’ve come to expect.  There is little rote re-telling of stories and few reenactments of Jesus’ birth.

So how do we anticipate the arrival of something that’s already here?  What does one do to prepare for the reality we are currently encountering?

We begin by realizing where we are.  We are in the wilderness.  Our preparations begin in the least Christmas-like place one can imagine.  No one wants to picture the wilderness at Christmas, unless you’re listening to a collection of instrumental holiday favorites and you happen notice the snow covered peaks on the album cover.  The Advent story, which culminates on Christmas, begins and ends in the wilderness.  Whether it is the Judean desert, on a sand dune miles off shore, or a wilderness inside your soul; the geography doesn’t matter.  It is the detachment which defines the wilderness experience.

Amid the isolation, it is possible to hear a voice.  We don’t see a person or persons.  There is no manger with a cast of seven to nine people.  We hear a single voice, as both John and Isaiah say, “crying” in the wilderness.  Our preparation begins by listening.  Are we listening to the voice?  What does the voice say?

We make a path.  Advent, or Christmas for that matter, isn’t something that happens to us.  First, Christmas is something that arrives on our doorstep, whether in the form of a package, relatives, or a yearly church service.  Once Christmas comes, for all the busyness we manufacture this time of year, it’s becomes a very passive experience.  We listen to others sing.  We see the lights on someone else’s house.  We drive by the nativity scenes.  We receive cards from family and friends.  After an initial flurry, for the most part, Christmas happens to us.  We sit there and watch the Advent calendar open one day at a time.

Isaiah, John, and ultimately Jesus say something unique about listening and preparation.  Advent is a season of active engagement with God.  We prepare with God, in the wilderness; well before the world sees Bethlehem, wise men, or a star in the east.  The truth is that it’s hard to get to Bethlehem because of the spiritual and material clutter confusing family celebrations, gift giving, the winter solstice, and the incarnation of Christ into one grand cultural celebration.

We clear the clutter and prepare a path by listening to what Isaiah says about how God wants us to engage with the world.  Remember, Jesus preached these same words from the Isaiah when they ran him out of his home synagogue in Nazareth and tried to kill him.  Listening is hard in the wilderness.  This kind of listening makes us uncomfortable because we’re asked to change something that’s more important to us that gold, frankincense, or myrrh:  our perspective.

What does Isaiah say?  He tells us that path-clearers are sent to do many things:

  • To bring good news to the poor,
  • To bind up the broken hearted,
  • To proclaim release for the captives
  • And liberation for the prisoners
  • To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
  • To comfort all who mourn
  • To provide for all of Zion’s mourners
  • To give them a crown instead of ashes
  • To give them joy instead of mourning

Listen one more time:  bring, bind, proclaim, liberate, comfort, provide, and give.  Bringers, binders, providers and givers are using the path to make Advent come alive.  There is nothing passive about those verbs.

Advent is about how we prepare to meet the physical and spiritual needs of vulnerable people.  We prepare for this in Advent, because as Jesus preaches in Nazareth, this is what he came to do.  This is his mission statement.

How many times did you see the word all?  This message is for everyone.  No one is excluded.  There are no qualifiers on the poor (at home or around the world), broken hearted, captives, or prisoners.  Isaiah does say, “All who mourn” and “all of Zion’s mourners”.  As we prepare for the coming of the Messiah there is an acknowledgement of the reality of grief, especially in the midst of the holiday season.  God embraces, welcomes, and offers comfort to our sadness.  In the midst of our preparation, no one is told to get over it, take a walk to clear your head; you should be over it by now, or any other tired cliché.  If you are grieving this holiday season, there is a place on the cleared path where God can meet you.  The waiting is over.  You’re not alone.

Last thing I’ll say is this:  it’s hard to bind, bring, prepare, liberate, and comfort if our hands are full of stuff.  We need both hands free to do what Isaiah, John, and Jesus say we should be doing in order to prepare.  The problem is, at Christmas, we’ve got our hands full.  Whether it’s buying things we don’t need or moving clutter from point A to point B; our lives are otherwise engaged.  It’s hard to be actively involved for “all”, especially the most vulnerable, if our hands are full with our concerns.  Perhaps, in order to get ready for Jesus, part of clearing the path means we need to put a few things down.

Richard Lowell Bryant