I've been staying with Isaiah this Advent, trying to hone in on his call to hope. This week's text presents a challenge to hope. In this week's selection from Isaiah 7 we hear the voice of King Ahaz. It's not a voice of hope. It's a voice of resignation. When invited by the prophet Isaiah to "ask a sign" of God, Ahaz is not interested. "I will not ask," he says, resigned to defeat at the hand of conquering Assyrians.
Isaiah, good prophet that he is, persists. He points to a sign, the perennial sign of hope and new life for all people in any time: "a young woman will conceive and bear a son." A newborn child is always the promise of hope, even in hard times, and Isaiah names the child as a sign of God's presence: Immanuel, God with us, even in hard times.
In this last moment before we celebrate the new life of Christmas, the One we have come to know as Immanuel, we get Isaiah's persistence.
As I read this text this week, I hear the voices of our Beatitudes Fellows that I've been talking with this past week, young pastors who are birthing new life in small ways across our country at this very moment: I hear about churches that dare to bring new life to worn out urban areas, providing after school tutoring for kids and their parents; alternative churches that provide Sunday evening suppers and stimulating conversations for young adults who can't find a welcome at Sunday morning "mainline" worship services; daring churches that are trying new ways to do Sunday School, to reach out to immigrant populations, and so much more.
So I hear Isaiah's persistence in their work, but what saddens me is that I hear the voice of Ahaz, the tired voice of resignation, because I am also hearing that these young faith leaders confront Ahaz daily as they try something new, but get met with resistance from their church structures. When they go to their synod or diocese or conference or presbytery for encouragement, they get that old tired voice of Ahaz that says, in effect, "I will not ask"-that old tired voice that says "why do something new-isn't the old way good enough?"
Advent is preparing us to hear the angels, to follow the shepherds, to leave the courts of Ahaz and open ourselves to know that the old way is not good enough-it never was-the new way is coming.
Echoes from the Edge
By Anthony Sandusky, 2013-14 Beatitudes Fellow - December 16th, 2013
For our first gathering as Fellows of the Beatitudes Society, I volunteered to be a focus person in one of the clearness committees. Never had I imagined what the experience would do for me. The process has provided great clarity, has offered me guidance, and has helped me uncover inner tools to face life questions and decisions with courage. I look forward to using this process as a means of personal discernment throughout my life and ministry.
As the focus person, I was able to experience the authentic sound of the genuine. I expressed to committee members that I had recognized this sound before. I also realized this sound's potential to be choked by cares and expectations of this world, enticing us to live divided. In this process I acknowledged my willingness to welcome the sound of my own soul amidst living in a culture of violence.
Palmer ends his book speaking about co-creating the world we live in, even in the midst of this violence. He quotes the text which states "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life." Immediately following Palmer states, "Yet when we choose life, we quickly confront the reality of a culture riddled with violence." Violent cultures remind me to remind myself that I possess my own great potential to be whole. This potential is discovered as I listen to my own voice of truth, to my own inner teacher, to God's Holy Spirit dwelling within me.
Anthony Sandusky is the Pastor-in-Residence at the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY, where he leads The Underground, a new multicultural Church movement.
Finally, the Poet
By Wendell Berry - December 16th, 2013
Yes, though hope is our duty,
let us live a while without it
to show ourselves we can.
Let us see that, without hope,
we still are well. Let hopelessness
shrink us to our proper size.
Without it we are half as large
as yesterday, and the world
is twice as large. My small
place grows immense as I walk
upon it without hope.
Our springtime rue anemones
as I walk among them, hoping
not even to live, are beautiful
as Eden, and I their kinsman
am immortal in their moment.
Out of charity let us pray
for the great ones of politics
and war, the intellectuals,
scientists, and advisors,
the golden industrialists,
the CEOs, that they too
may wak to a day without hope
that in their smallness they
may know the greatness of Earth
and Heaven by which they so far
live, that they may see
themselves in their enemies,
and from their great wants fallen
know the small immortal
joys of beasts and birds.