11/24/19 Read Jeremiah 23:1-6; and Luke 1:68-79
Very recently I was called out for my shortcomings as a human by the impact that my words can have on others even when they are not meant to be unkind, yet are awkward, failed attempts to communicate. That reminder took me back to a painful time when I felt devalued as a leader and isolated from community. After not being able to sleep and getting stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts, I found relief in the prayer practice called the Examen, which reviews the day or week in a posture of gratitude and humility. In giving sacred space to review the week’s experiences, both the things which left me far away from God and others, and those that brought me near, I was able to reset for the day and week to come. The Reign of Christ in my life means a daily resetting as he shows me how to live in hope and peace. At the end of this blog, I offer instructions to go through the Examen as a Practice to prepare for the holidays. Now let us reflect on the Word of God:
“I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land,” declares the Lord God.” Jeremiah 23:5
The OT reading for this Sunday from Jeremiah jumps right into the international politics of that day as the Kings of Israel have failed as leaders, bringing about defeat and exile, scattering God’s people:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, declares the Lord. You have scattered my flock and driven them away, and you have not attended to them.” Jeremiah 23:1-2
The chapter begins with “WOE,” which is a word of judgment for the unjust leaders and a voice of compassion for their victims. The people have been driven away by the lack of care from self-seeking leaders. In our day, the sinful conduct of pastoral leadership is one of the things among many issues that has scattered people out of our churches. The latest Pew Research reports show a continued decline in Christianity in the United States. It is easy when pastoral or political leadership fails for us to become critical and divided, fighting within, not attending to the care and feeding of the community.
The tone quickly turns, however, as the chaos of injustice is removed with a promise of new leadership who care for and protect each and every one:
“I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:3-4
A Messianic prophesy of a future hope is promised in the Reign of Christ as King who will execute justice and righteousness: “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness to the land…and this is his name: The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:5-6
Turning to the Gospel reading in Luke, the days are near for the birth of Jesus, as promised to Mary by the angel Gabriel: “You will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus…the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign…forever.” Luke 1:31-33
The angel also appears to Zechariah, promising the birth of a leader who will prepare the way for the Messiah, their son John. At the birth of his child, Zechariah’s Spirit-filled words are a guide for us today as followers of Jesus the Christ in the coming Advent holiday season:
“And you, child…will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God…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 1:76-79
The holiday season is an opportunity to prepare the way for Christ the King to be born in our hearts. In our ordinary lives we can take up the sacred role of shepherd leaders in our families and communities by walking in peace, sharing forgiveness and light in shadowy places, making sure that not one is missing, but that all are cared for with inclusion in the way of Christ.
BTW. I find it interesting that after Zechariah spoke without thinking (or believing), the angel rendered him “silent and unable to speak.” Luke 1:20 After sharing with a mentor friend about my “unthinking words” she reminded me of Psalm 141:3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! It is a good prayer for many holiday family situations. With Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas ahead, take time to prepare yourself with the Prayer of the Examen:
Practice: The Prayer of Examen (Holiday Reflection)
Begin with a time of silence and take a slow, deep breath or two. Become aware that you are in the presence of the Holy.
Reflect on your past holiday experiences. Spend time remembering with gratitude and humility the good memories and gifts of family. Where have you noticed God at work in your relationships?
Review what has troubled you or been challenging. Where have you felt God’s absence? Notice what surfaces. Pray into what you have heard about habits or patterns where you resisted God.
Reset your mind and heart. Prepare to participate in the holiday season this year. Pray through ways you can provide shepherd leadership in your family or community. Look for ways to involve each and every one in the Christ story.
Rest. Find peace in the Sovereignty of a God who “is close at hand, not a God far away.” (Jeremiah 23:23)
May Christ, the righteous Lord, the King, bring mercy and love.