10th Day of Christmas: God With Us

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. -Revelation 21:1-6a

Dwell with us

you downcast and down trodden

be made new.

you who wait. [im]patiently.

be made new.

you tired out and tried out
you suffering and dying
you mourning and crying

be made new.

you confused and rejected
despised and affected
abused and neglected

be made new.

you lovers and loveless
you fighters and distressed
you need-to-be-made-whole ones
you broken and poor ones
you bargainers and self-assured
you swindlers and upright

be made new.

for the home of G-d is among mortals.
dwelling with us.

in the ordinary
the messy
the sticky
the beautiful

for the home of G-d is among mortals.

for us.
in us.
through us.

be. made. new.

A reflection by Sophia Agtarap

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Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com

2nd Day of Christmas: In the Beginning Was the Word

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in the beginning

was the word.

one

Word.

i am repeating

something i have said before.

say it again.
shall i say it again?

a child has been born.

for us.

a son given.

to us.

shall there now be endless peace?

“for hate is strong,
and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

a great light has shined

on us.

bending us

turning us

tangling us

opening us

cradling us

in the light.

those who lived in a land of deep darkness

we who live in a land of deep darkness

a light has shined.

uphold it with justice and with righteousness.

the light shines in the darkness.
and the darkness did not overcome it.

A reflection by Sophia Agtarap

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Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com

 

17th Day of Advent: We have a reason to sing – Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

The events of this past week have given us reason to sing. Not the hills are alive kind of singing while frolicking through alpine meadows with birds singing on your shoulder kind, but the gut-wrenching, God, why the fuck is this happening kind that we find in the psalms. The kind of singing and lament that expresses sorrow and asks God for blessing or intervention. The kind that asks, How long, Lord?

So this passage from Zephaniah that begins with, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” seems a bit misplaced. Inappropriate, even. How can we sing when the list of hells on earth continues to grow?

Again, not your cheery advent reading. Though if you stick with the Hebrew texts, they typically aren’t. In the book of Zephaniah, we find a common tale: rulers abuse their power and people, false gods are worshipped, violence and faithlessness have permeated the city and the people wonder, Where is YHWH?

Sound familiar? Zephaniah could very well be talking about us in 2012. The rulers before Zephaniah’s time had created unjust social and political policies, leaving Judah crying for a prophet who would call the people to make changes. They are so desperate they will turn to anything and anyone who will come and save them.

We, too, cry for change. But we seem to have found that in the misplaced gods of our personal ideology, of consumerism, the pursuit of the American dream [founded on solid Christian teachings, of course] and the belief that we deserve what’s rightfully ours [if we could only agree on what exactly that is].

We, my friends, are sitting in what the Hebrew texts would call, the pit. Call it a grey area, a place of indifference, of powerlessness, of disorientation, of separation.

But this is not where we’re called to stay.

Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Brueggemann has this to say about the ways the Psalms, in their lamenting and rejoicing and questioning, move us out of these dark spaces to a place beyond:

Such occurrences in our lives can, with the help of the Psalms, be given concrete expression, and we can begin the process of moving past them—perhaps even to a song of celebration and thanksgiving. These Psalms attest to us that the life of faith does not protect us from the pit. Rather, the power of God brings us out of the pit to new life which is not the same as pre-pit existence. When one is in the pit, one cannot believe or imagine that good can come again. For that reason, the Psalmist finally focuses not on the pit but on the One who rules there and everywhere. It is the reality of God which makes clear that the pit is not the place “where you ought to be.”

So where ought we be? How do we move to a place where we can sing aloud and rejoice and exult with all our hearts when all we see is despair?

We are not where we ought to be, but we know where we’re going. We have glimpses of what it will look and feel like when the kin-dom of God–a time and place where all persons flourish in right relationship with each other, with creation, and God–is here. When all that we do and all that were are is oriented towards justice and love. That is the promise of advent. That is the promise in Christ.

So today, sing. Because you have reason to. We have reason to. For God is good. Always.

Take a moment to listen to ‘Reason to Sing’ below, by All Sons & Daughters.

 

A reflection by Sophia.

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Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com

9th Day of Advent: Labandera

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3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. Malachi 3: 1-4

When I was 12, we moved to the Philippines. Dad felt the call to go back home and serve the people who called him to ministry to begin with. So we packed up all our stuff that wasn’t auctioned off and moved from small town Iowa to the Philippines–a place I had visited a few times but never lived.

There were customs to get used to. A language to learn to speak and all the other do’s and don’ts you sometimes only figure out by trial and error. Not ideal for an awkward tween already trying to deal with adolescence. One of the things I did remember was the common practice of hand-washing clothes. Most folks didn’t own dishwashers or washing machines. Many of the domestic tasks from dishwashing to washing clothes to cleaning the floor were done manually. The cost of electricity and water were just too high and it didn’t make sense to buy expensive equipment for something you could do with your own two hands.

So we hired a labandera–-a laundrywoman-–a role just as common as a nanny for your kids [which was pretty common] and one that crossed socioeconomic lines. You didn’t have to be rich to have someone help with laundry or childcare.

Every week we got our dirty clothes ready for Aling [A title of familiar respect for a non-family member] Connie. She chatted with us as she prepared the soapy water and asked how our studies and life in general were doing. She told us about what was going on in her life [and sometimes the lives of others]. Her motherly instinct was always felt as we were separated from our own mother for a period of time while she worked in California.

Aling Connie approached her work with care and pride. She would ask for certain kinds of soap because she knew that washing the white school uniforms of three adolescent girls was going to take work. And she wanted to do her best work. She wanted to present us with the whitest, cleanest clothes. Regardless of the condition in which the clothes arrived in her hands, they hung on the clothesline looking brand new. A task not many are up to, yet have to take on. Allowing Aling Connie to handle our clothes week in and week out required a level of vulnerability. The garments we wore most close to our bodies, she was responsible for making clean. It was not just this level of intimacy that enveloped her work, but the love with which she carried it out.

I have shied away from the image of God as a refiner’s fire, as we hear in this passage from Micah. But this image of Aling Connie, I find familiar and comforting. She’s seen our clothes–-and sometimes us–-at our worst. Yet she still showed up and every week I knew that at the end of her time with us, I’d have clean clothes to wear to school, maybe a few new stories, and someone who cared enough to check in with me.

We are in a season of preparation. Of anticipation of this promise that we will be refined and cleaned and prepared with loving hands so that all we offer might be done in righteousness–-in alignment with God’s Shalom. Where our relationships would be loving and just. But what will it take for us to prepare ourselves for that time?

A little honesty that we aren’t living as people of the promise, perhaps? Maybe even a little vulnerability as we carry around these dirty clothes ready for the wash?

A reflection by Sophia.

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Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com