Prepare the Way: Acknowledgments

Prepare the Way!

I cannot put these devotional books together by myself, so I would like to acknowledge the following people:

  • The cover photo was taken by Shalev Cohen and shared on Unsplash.Com. It depicts Eleutheropolis, Israel.
  • My intrepid team of writers (who had all of their pieces to me within 48 hours of the deadline) is composed of the Rev. Keith Axberg, Michael Boss, Lara Cole, Cathey Frederick, the Rev. Paul Moore, David Sloat, Ashley Sweeney, Mary Ann Taylor, the Rev. Vicki Wesen, and Tom Worrell.
  • The Rev. Paul Moore gives me the grace of letting me do pretty much whatever I want with these projects, and I appreciate his trust in my ability to pull this off.
  • Christmas blessings to you all!
    -Jen McCabe

    Prepare the Way: December 25, 2020

    Prepare the Way!

    “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
    -Isaiah 9:6

    What do we call this child? Every couple who welcomes a new member of the family faces this choice, and much thought is put into it. We normally look for family names, names that “fit together,” “flow off the tongue,” or just something we like. In prophetic contexts, names always mean something. This is a classic case. The prophet’s ecstatic writing seems to erupt with symbolic titles.

    “Wonderful Counselor” speaks of wisdom, the divine wisdom of love that lays the first layers of existence in the void.

    “Mighty God” speaks of the power to hold all things in the divine heart, maintaining us in being, answering the question of why we exist at all.

    “Eternal Father” speaks of wise guidance and nurturing, that great ideal that far outstrips our own fathers, whoever they were with all their flaws, carrying us and all things toward the divine heart.

    “Prince of Peace” speaks of presence in the troubled world, fierce in the face of injustice, and formidable in our expansiveness.

    So often we feel so distant, and injustice seems to be so insurmountable. Our nation is divided. Our leaders feed off those divisions to remain in power. The system seems incapable of rising above itself to bring us all together again.

    As Christians, we see the fulfillment of this passage on this day in our sacred history. The Christ Child embodies these truths. He will go on to die by the systems of this world to live again in a “kingdom that is not of this world,” yet in it. Those of us who follow him share in that divine/human existence. We are called to the wisdom that sees the universe as one; able to hold the world as sacred, actively working to shepherd all things toward the divine heart, and fiercely and formidably loving as we have been loved.

    At Christmas, we give these names to Christ, and we take them as our own as we seek to live in him.

    Teach us so to hear your name for us, that in naming one another in love, we might find that we are being caught up in your divine, redeeming, transforming love, and then show us, we pray, that the whole creation bears your name with and through us, through the One who is Emmanuel. Amen.
    -The Rev. Paul Moore

    Prepare the Way: December 24, 2020

    Prepare the Way!

    “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
    -Isaiah 35:10

    I cannot see the word “ransom” without thinking of the O. Henry short story: Ransom of Red Chief. The child is so mischievous that the kidnappers eventually pay the parents to take him back. Without getting too all-fired theologically twisted over it, the idea of God paying God a Ransom for our salvation, and ultimately being the ransom for us (Jesus, God’s Son) almost seems the original version of the O. Henry story. Just what sort of rascals are we that God would pay to get us back safe and sound? God loves turning the tables on God’s enemies!

    I receive a perverse sort of pleasure thinking of the devil standing before God, pleading the devil’s case: “Take them back. All of them! I don’t want them. They’re too much trouble. They’re yours. And while you’re at it, take everything else I’ve got, too. I’m glad to be rid of the lot of them!!!”

    Like Red Chief, we are oblivious to the drama that unfolds, and yet the time comes we return home, singing our songs while the sorrow and sighs flee away into the night – along with the devil. Praise God!

    O Lord, you want us back, we know not why / But that you do, we can’t but cry / For you delight to hold us tight / you, our Lord, our
    Advent light! Amen.

    -The Rev. Keith Axberg

    Prepare the Way: December 23, 2020

    Prepare the Way!

    “No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.”
    -Isaiah 35:9

    To understand the entirety of the passage we have looked at for the last seven days, there is a bit of history you need to know. Over 14 years, the ruling parties and families of Judah were deported to Babylon, culminating in the last deportation of people in 582 BCE. This exile was punishment for the gross abuses and actions of Israel that made the poor poorer and the wealthy even more wealthy. (Does this sound familiar?) The injustices so angered the Lord that He caused Israel to be exiled to Babylon. In 538 BCE, the Persians conquered Babylon, and Cyrus (their king) was made king over Palestine in 536 BCE and issued an edict allowing the captives to go home.

    Are we caught up? Good. Moving on…

    This ten verse passage (which finishes tomorrow) is the prophet Isaiah telling the exiles that they can come home. A big clue to understanding this is the word “redeemed”. When people were captured during war, they frequently became slaves to the power that captured them. Because the Persians had captured Babylon, they had the power to free them. Hence, the prophet tells the people that they had been redeemed.

    John the Baptist uses these words and this imagery to announce the coming of the Messiah because they were words that his intended audience would understand, especially as they had been conquered AGAIN and were sitting under the iron grip of the Roman Empire. It had only been a little over 500 years since Cyrus set the captives free in Babylon, and there were definitely people who wanted Rome and its puppet kings out of there.

    What this passage from Isaiah tells me is that God can use just about anything to redeem His people. He used a foreign power to bring the exiles home, and He sent His Son to die and redeem us from sin and death. In this season of waiting and hoping, it gives me so much comfort to know that God can use anything in my life redemptively.

    Lord, thank you for the way you work in the world and in our lives. Amen.
    -Jen McCabe

    Prepare the Way: December 22, 2020

    Prepare the Way!

    “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.”
    -Isaiah 35:8

    Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son.”
    Abe said, “Man, you must be putting me on.”
    God said, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want to, Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’, you better run.”
    Well, Abe said, “Where d’you want this killin’ done?”
    God said, “Out on Highway 61.”
    -Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited”

    Being the wanderer that I am, I’m a sucker for a highway song. And if you are an aficionado of pop music, you have plenty of songs to choose from besides Dylan’s classic interpretation of Genesis, set against a disorienting sense of Cold War angst.

    Looking over the various Bible versions of Isaiah’s prophecy, there seems to be some confusion over whether or not fools are allowed on the Highway of Holiness. Being in that camp myself, I live in the faith that, like most epic road trips I’ve taken in my life, it’s not the traveler who defines the highway, but the highway that transforms those — fools included — who travel it.

    Lord, help me to discern the path you have placed before me, and to pay attention to those who travel it with me. Your way may be rocky and hard at times, but the horizon always beckons brightly. Amen.
    -Michael Boss

    Prepare the Way: December 21, 2020

    Prepare the Way!

    “The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”
    -Isaiah 35:7

    This passage is part of a five-verse exhortation to choose joy.

    There are so many instances when this seems to be an insurmountable task. A woman I know is struggling with a long-buried hurt. Even though she recently reached out to the person who caused her pain, and was offered forgiveness, she is unwilling to accept it and move into a new phase of her life. She just can’t let go.

    Another dear friend of mine recently lost her husband of 25 years to an aggressive form of cancer. Throughout their marriage, her husband had weathered four different forms of cancer until his body gave out at age 64. Although my friend is grieving a year later (does one ever stop grieving altogether?), she is building her life again. Instead of wallowing in heartache, she is tentatively stepping out to travel, meeting new people, and experiencing new horizons and adventures. Just this last summer, she purchased a boat. The name? Joy.

    Dear Lord, help us to dig for joy, even amidst our sorrow. It is then that the burning sands of our souls can transform into cool and refreshing pools filled with joy. Amen.