Prepare the Way: December 20, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…”
-Isaiah 35:5-6

What memories this passage evokes! I had sung Handel’s “Messiah” many times before, but this was the first time I was the alto soloist performing with an orchestra, and actually getting paid. We four soloists sat in front of the very large choir, I in my long black dress which I had purchased for the occasion. It was very exciting. These words of prophecy of the Savior’s actions sung in recitative are emblazoned in my heart and mind.

Each of the Gospels reports incidents of Jesus’ healing. Matthew 15 tells us of large crowds coming to him including the lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others. Mark 10 relates the healing of the blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Luke 7 reports the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. John 9 relays the story of Jesus making clay with spittle, placing it on the blind man’s eyes, and telling him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Acts 9 gives us the account of Paul’s sight being restored when Ananias’ laid hands on him.

Truly God wants us to be whole and restoration continues today. Sometimes we may even fail to see the miracles that occur through modern medicine and technology. God’s love surrounds us and the Holy Spirit works in a myriad of ways. Thanks be to God!

Thank you, God, for your healing and restoration of the world. Help us to always remember that we are recipients of and participants in that restoration. Amen.
-Cathey Frederick

Prepare the Way: December 19, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.'”
-Isaiah 35:4

I HATE scary movies. My dad loved them and as a child, I sat on his lap watching through my fingers too many times. Even when a resolution was imminent—sometimes a blessed happy ending—those films were never finished quickly enough!

Advent is just a little like that for me. Though I know well the end of the tale—the happy ending of Christmas, if you will—it never arrives fast enough for my inner child. You know, “God, give me patience. NOW!” As I write this, we’re in Day 4 of the post-election in-between, and comparisons are inescapable: in torture we continue waiting, following an agonizing gestation, for the birth—we truly hope—of a new and real resolution, yet still incomplete in all likelihood. So much waiting! So much pain! And for what? More of the same?

But just as St. Francis prayed, where there is despairwe can sow hope. The language of today’s passage is unequivocal, using only imperatives: BE strong. Here IS your God. He WILL come and save you. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is what hope looks like in writing. And hope is always a priceless gift!

We may choose to make way for the Messiah by sowing that hope. The annual recurrence of Advent gives us the opportunity not just to wait but with the intention to learn and master patience. There will always be pain in this earthly life, but as God’s beloved children we are afforded grace to persevere. We are called to compassion—to suffer with one another, dividing grief—just as Jesus took on the sins and suffering of the world. To hope is to not suffer alone.

It’s a lot to ask of us, human and imperfect. Can we really do all that? Yes! We can! With God’s help.
And we already know the ending.

God of strength and peace, help us to be strong and fearless, trusting in your promises. Amen.
-David Sloat

Prepare the Way: December 18, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.”
-Isaiah 35:3

In a time of devastating pandemic, of political rancor so strong we can scarcely talk openly with each other, of pleas to respond to desperate needs and continuing iniquities that seem intractable, when strength is needed to bring a better time into being a more secure humanity, and an answer to the hopes of so many… Well, Isaiah seems to be talking about us, doesn’t he?

In these times God calls us to see our neighbors, our common humanity, and strengthen our weak hands, make firm our weak knees, and get on with it. Healing needs to be offered: can we offer it? Healing needs to be received: can we accept it?

Once years ago, foolishly working alone, I was repairing a leaky roof when the rain started. I slipped and fell off a roof. Broke some bones in my back. I couldn’t speak for several minutes. I was helpless. A newsboy delivering papers saw me fall and called the neighbor, who saw I was in bad shape, covered me with a blanket to head off shock and keep off the rain, and called my wife. There followed days of excellent hospital care, people stopping by to pray with me, generous support from the school where I taught. Those folks strengthened my weak hands (broken wrist bone) and made firm my shaky knees. Isaiah would have been gratified. I know I was.

Who hasn’t had difficult times, times when one’s shaky strength is not enough and one is grateful for the strength others lend us? And who hasn’t been called to offer strength to others?

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles to work together with mutual forbearance and respect, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP p. 824)
-Tom Worrell

Prepare the Way: December 17, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”
-Isaiah 35:1-2

In August and September 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire ravaged parts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. 86,509 acres were burned, and I had several friends who had to evacuate in case the fire reached their towns. Among the places burned during the month-long fire were Camp Hammer, Skylark Ranch, and the edges of the University of California—Santa Cruz.

Why are these places important? Well, they are places from my childhood that were instrumental in seeing God in nature. Camp Hammer was the first camp I ever attended at 10 years old, and it was where I first learned who Jesus really was. Skylark Ranch was the Girl Scout camp I attended for a few years, where I started my counselor training, and I worked there during the summer after I graduated from high school. It was where I learned to feel at home among the redwoods. UC Santa Cruz was the first place where I fully lived out my faith, where I learned a lot about the Bible through Intervarsity and my college church, and where I was baptized. The campus is in the middle of a redwood forest, and the view of Monterey Bay from campus is breathtaking. Being among the trees was calming to me and reminded me that there was something bigger than myself.

Isaiah speaks of “see[ing] the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” in the wilderness and desert blooming. Just as I feel that I am in God’s presence when I am in a redwood forest, others find themselves in awe at the beach, in the mountains, or even in the desert. What an amazing Creator we have!

Gracious God, thank you for giving each of us reminders of Your power and majesty in Creation. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Prepare the Way: December 16, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.”
-Isaiah 11:8

Despite being terrified of venomous snakes, one of my favorite YouTube channels is Viperkeeper. Run by a gentleman in Pennsylvania named Al Coritz, the videos focus on his collection of venomous snakes from all over the world. His collection houses cobras (including a king cobra named Elvis), an assortment of mambas, boomslangs, vipers from everywhere except North America, lanceheads from Central and South America, and some Australian snakes. Despite the amount of feeding, milking, and handling of snakes he does, he has only been bitten twice in his life, and he stocks many different antivenoms because a snakebite could kill him if he has to wait for the hospital to fly in the right one from a zoo. The main reason he doesn’t keep North American vipers? The antivenom is prohibitively expensive with an average dose being 20 vials at a cost of up to $5,000 per vial (including hospital markup).

Having watched his videos, I want to flinch in horror at the idea of a child happily playing “over the hole of the asp” or a child “put[ting] its hand on the adder’s den.” What kind of parent would let their child do that when snakes like the puff adder kill and maim many people in Africa?!?!?

The key to understanding this is to realize that Isaiah is employing some hyperbole, and he is using some imagery that would have been familiar to the people of the Levant. They all knew the danger of the various vipers and desert cobras, and they would have understood why a child playing near an asp was incredibly dangerous. In using the enmity between humanity and reptiles that stemmed from the Fall in Genesis 3, the people of Isaiah’s time would have understood that Isaiah’s words involved neutralizing a threat and restoring peace to the general order of things. I, for one, cannot wait.

Lord, you might not want us to handle serpents or put ourselves at risk of envenomation, but You do want us to be at peace with each other. Give us peaceful spirits and help us to cultivate peace in our hearts. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Prepare the Way: December 15, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
-Isaiah 11:7

To be honest, I chose this verse because nobody else had selected it and it is raising my hackles as someone involved with conservation and animal rights.

The first part of the verse regarding the bear and the cow grazing reminds me of the 4 ½ years I spent living in Montana and hearing about grizzly bears being relocated for threatening a rancher’s livestock, especially in the Flathead Valley where my great-aunt lives. If it was a black bear, the rancher might shoot it, but grizzly bears are a protected species. Montana Fish & Wildlife had humane traps that are about the size of a U-Haul trailer, and they bait the traps so that the bears just go in there and have the door close behind them. The bear can then be relocated to an area where they will not cause harm to livestock.

The second part is probably what raises my hackles the most. I am involved with the Wildcat Sanctuary, a sanctuary that takes in large and small wildcats and hybrid cats from bad situations. Private situations can be some of the most damaging because the cats are usually not fed an appropriate diet, and it causes problems. One of the most common situations involves people illegally owning an African savanna cat called a serval. These cats, who look like Dr. Suess’s interpretation of a leopard, need a diet high in calcium during their formative years, and many of the servals at the sanctuary have fractures caused by metabolic bone disease as a result of not getting the proper diet. These private owners fed their cats the nutritional equivalent of straw instead of the raw meat diet that they needed. (If you would like more information on the Wildcat Sanctuary and their work, please click here.)

The image Isaiah is putting forth is one where the predator and its prey are coexisting peacefully next to each other, rather than one harming the other. We as humans are a significant contributor to the predator/prey issue as we build onto wildlands and displace wild animals as a result. Bears usually go after cattle because they are hungry, and the rancher has likely cleared the forestland that the bear would normally inhabit. People’s desire to “collect” wildlife contributes to the captive wildlife crisis that the Wildcat Sanctuary exists to remedy. One thing we can think about this Advent is where each of us fits into this situation.

Thank you, Lord, for groups like the Wildcat Sanctuary that seek to help creatures in bad situations. Amen.
-Jen McCabe