Advent Day Two: The Covenant

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”(Genesis 12:1-3)

Trusting God is an act of faith.  Believing that he loves you and has a purpose for your life is often lost in the anxiety and disappointment of daily living.  In those moments, it’s good to reflect on words of encouragement you received in the past.  Though your path may deviate from your original goal, people of faith know that God can transform even our worse mistakes into opportunities for grace.

God called Abram as a young man out of Ur of the Chaldees.  Along the way he married Sarai, cared for his herds, and became a wealthy man.  But God wanted to establish a covenant with Abram that would ultimately prepare the way for Jesus.  It seemed implausible that a childless man would become the father of many nations, or a wandering nomad could establish a permanent home, but the promise was guaranteed.

Needing to help God along, he fathered Ishmael through a surrogate, and lied about his wife so he could live in Egypt during a time of famine.  Where was God in all these missteps?  Waiting for Abram to trust him.

In his time, God gave Abraham and Sarah one son—Isaac.  From him came Esau and Jacob, and through Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel.  The king of Egypt released Sarai and sent them back to Canaan.  There they remained until the time of Joseph, when God preserved his people for four hundred years in Egypt.

Through Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ was born many centuries later.  God takes the long view.  Where does he want to take you?

“Oh Lord, we forget that you have a purpose for our lives in the midst of daily living.  We confess that we often fall short of your plan.  Realign our priorities and set right our missteps during Advent so that we can receive your blessings.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Shepherd Who Reigns” is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. The flowers are Star of Bethlehem.

Advent Day One: The Opening Act

 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9)

Advent began in the garden of Eden with God’s beloved, Adam and Eve.  Imagine his delight in creating the universe in a moment, with the breath of his Word and the dance of the Spirit.  The fireworks of light were the artist’s palette that he swirled into stars and planets.  Time stood still as he crafted a home for his creatures amidst a feast of colour, sound, taste, scent and touch.   From the beginning he had you in mind; like a bridegroom preparing for his bride.  But it all went terribly wrong when we exchanged our innocence for sovereignty, testing the limits of his love.  No longer able to see his face or walk with him in the garden, humanity began a tragic alienation that corrupted the earth and replaced the divine center with self-interest. 

Yet a seed remains of the original beauty, truth and goodness, reminding us that we were created for so much more.  We pause in those moments of transcendent joy, to feel God’s presence and wait for his return.  Thus begins our advent journey.

“Oh Lord, we give you thanks for the beauty we see in creation.  Your love is evident in the natural world and in the relationships we hold most dear.  Prepare our hearts for your coming during this time of advent. Walk with us as we ponder the changes in our life this past year.”  Amen

Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Promised Seed”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. The apple represents sin and the seed is Jesus.  The flowers are God’s grace.

Deuteronomy | “A Prophets Plea”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (31:6)

Deuteronomy is Moses’s farewell address to the Israelites as he transfers power to Joshua just before he dies.  Excluded from the promised land, he reflects on God’s call and provision as he led the people out of bondage to the edge of the promised land.  The importance and blessing of keeping the covenant is set in contrast to the curse that will follow disobedience.  His impassioned plea is accompanied with a reminder of the faithfulness and love of God towards his people in all circumstances.  God allows Moses to see the promised land from the mountain top before he dies, completing his mission from Egypt to Canaan.  

“Moses Reflects”

I stand at a distance on the edge of the promised land.

How long until my people squander their inheritance?

The promise is great.

I remember our failings.

I fear their future.

Which face shall they see?

Will you shelter them in your arms with a blessing;

Or execute justice with a curse?

430 years in Egypt erased the memory of Canaan.

Exile tamed them through trials, signs, wonders, and fearsome power.

The law chastised.

The word spoke through fire.

I saw your glory pass over and met you face to face.

It is not our righteousness

but the wickedness of nations that opens the land before us.

Lest we take credit for victory,

Remind us of the sacrifice.

God’s faithfulness supplants our doubt.

Seek out a remnant to give voice to resistance.

Let your power rest on those who trust in you.

My mission complete,

We shall meet again on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The painting is from Mindi Oaten’s “Garden of Grace Collection.” The writing is by Elaine Knudtson

Numbers | “The Rock in the Wilderness”

And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord had disappeared. (Numbers 32:13)

Numbers follows the Israelites from Mount Sinai to the border of Canaan. The account of wilderness wanderings is replete with numerous cycles of testing, judgment, and redemption.  Their precarious existence in the desert contrasts with the distorted memory of the bounty of Egypt.  Moses bears the brunt of their bitterness and complaints, standing as an intermediary between God and the people.  He appoints 12 spies to investigate Canaan.  While the potential of the land exceeds expectations, the challenge of the conquest paralyzes their resolve.  Only Caleb and Joshua contradict the narrative by reminding the people of God’s deliverance in the past.  Overruled by doubt and cowardice, the Israelites turn back towards the wilderness after an aborted attempt to do battle on their own strength.  Condemned to remain in the desert until all the original exiles over 20 have died, they begin 40 years of wandering.  Even Moses is excluded from entering the promised land because he did not trust God to pour out living water from the rock.  As his ministry draws to a close, authority transitions away from Moses to Joshua, God’s chosen successor.  Through all the wilderness years, God remained faithful to his people despite their faith-less-ness.

“A Rock in the Wilderness”

In the wilderness, slavery’s sting vanishes in the mirage of nostalgia.

Under the cloud of God’s now but not yet,

Psalms of thanksgiving transpose into dissonance.

Wanderers complain about the present, idealize the past, and doubt the future.

Immobilized by cynicism and fear,

They turn back from the promised land,

forgetting God’s deliverance and grace.

Striking the living rock, Moses incurs God’s wrath along with his people.

As the healing waters flow, the journey comes to an end

And he glimpses the promised lands.

This is taken from the “Garden of Grace” collection: painting by Mindi Oaten; writing by Elaine Knudtson