Tag Archives: advent

Reflections with Pastor Ryan Strebeck: on Isaiah 40.1-8

Pastor Ryan Strebeck shares “Advent 3: Lamentation, Longing, and Laughter” (15:47).

Find more of Rev. Strebeck’s Sermons: Here

Isaiah 40.1-8

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the desert
prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

Mark 1.1-6

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,  the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare  the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in  the wilderness and proclaiming  a baptism of  repentance  for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was  clothed with camel’s hair and  wore a leather belt around his waist and ate  locusts and  wild honey.

 

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Advent Reflections from a Young Married Man: Transformed Love

“In the past few weeks, I posted seventeen short Advent reflections on the Song of Songs from a young man learning to be a lover and a husband, who at the same time struggles to plant his worth as the beloved Bride of Christ.  My guiding question:

How does the birth of God’s Son transform the broken projects of struggling lovers into aspirations for soul mating?

Click here to read the general introduction:

8C   Song of Songs 8.6-14             The Transformation of Love

6.  Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are like flashes of fire, a raging flame.  7. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.  If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned. 8. We have a little sister, and she has no breasts.  What shall we do for our sister, on the day when she is spoken for? 9. If she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; but if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.  10.  I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I was in his eyes as one who brings peace. 11. Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he entrusted the vineyard to keepers; each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver. 12. My vineyard, my very own, is for myself; you, O Solomon, may have the thousand, and the keepers of the fruit two hundred!  13. O you who dwell in the gardens, my companions are listening for your voice; let me hear it.  14. Make hast, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices.

Many lovers live in darkness, isolated in a land where there is no peace.  They tremble with the knowledge that love indeed is as strong as death.  For it is killing them. 

We are reminded this Christmas that on this day our saviour was born.  Salvation was never about a ticket out of this earth.  In the case of struggling lovers, salvation is about transformation and becoming the type of people who have the ability to set their love life ablaze amidst the drudgery of everyday.  When failed responsibilities and our brokenness lead us to accuse our beloved of a thousand wrongs, salvation changes our heart and its song from, “there are flaws in you” to “you are altogether lovely.”  This is the true meaning of holiness and its Christmas bond.

Then like Merton observed, we can approach the isolated islands of our broken beloved and join in with God.  There in that place, we help call forth our lovers’ glory.

And on a Christmas day after a season of Advent within the Song of all Songs, it seems strange to finish with Zechariah’s song.  After all, where does the story go after the manger?

Zach’s song was never only about his son, for like his child, Zechariah’s melody here points to the grand symphony and unfolding message of this child.

Zechariah was among the first to know that God’s kingdom coming meant a complete transformation of life on earth as it is in heaven.  He knew that the forgiveness of sins meant a new hope for vibrant love.  He knew that redemption meant the ability to create relationships of trust and environments of grace.   He rejoiced that the tender mercy of God would stretch beyond political stability and into every lovers bond that has gone cold.  This was God’s rescue attempt.  This was His hope that we might live our lives without fear.  This was God’s hope that holiness and righteousness would mean changing us from lousy lovers into soul mates. And this is the hope of Advent.

No wonder Zechariah, like we, sings a song at the Christmas birth of this child, who created the crucible of marriage not as the place that primarily fulfills but as a transforming academy of love. Then we live our long and often boring lives as lovers who in the cold winter nights and warm summer breezes turn down the sheets and leap like gazelles onto the mountain of spices.

Advent Reflections from a Young Married Man: The Labor

“In the coming weeks, I will post seventeen short Advent reflections on the Song of Songs from a young man learning to be a lover and a husband, who at the same time struggles to plant his worth as the beloved Bride of Christ.  My guiding question:

How does the birth of God’s Son transform the broken projects of struggling lovers into aspirations for soul mating?

Click here to read the general introduction.

8A Song of Songs 8.1-5                           The Labor

1. O that you were like a brother to me, who nursed at my mother’s breast! If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me.  2. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother and into the chamber of the one who bore me.  I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranates. 3. O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! 4. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!  5.  Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor.

Advent reminds us that the crowning event for any soul bond is to bring a child into life.  This doesn’t always mean giving birth. 

I have a friend, a great theologian, who thinks that the pain of childbirth refers not to labor but to the pain, which is the drama of the child’s unfolding life.

Sage Wendell Berry puts it well:

“For parents, the only way is hard.  We who give life give pain.  There is no help.  Yet we who give pain give love; by pain we learn the extremity of love.”

Soul bonds that give life can look like anything from bearing a child, adoption, foster care, mentoring.  I wonder what Joseph felt on that winter’s night when Mary brought a child into life yet it was not his?  If ever the importance of adoption was highlighted in Advent.

And there was the virgin pressing out her child among the mud and hay.  What must have run through her complexity of emotions and will that night? Through her growing bond of love with a faithful man, she was brining into life the Great Lover of Humankind who would suffer greatly.  Here was a God who made himself helpless and tender. He placed Himself in the loving arms of humanity.  Will we care for Him in love and give our selves in return? Will we let a silent night transform the fragmented chaos of our bustling life project?  Will we find our way like the Kings, Shepherds, and Angels, and a faithful couple to the unmarked place where the drama of the gods seeks to fulfill our greatest desires?  For it is in that place where our glory and calling can help a million lives find theirs.

Advent Reflections from a Young Married Man: Marriage as Mission

“In the coming weeks, I will post seventeen short Advent reflections on the Song of Songs from a young man learning to be a lover and a husband, who at the same time struggles to plant his worth as the beloved Bride of Christ.  My guiding question:

How does the birth of God’s Son transform the broken projects of struggling lovers into aspirations for soul mating?

Click here to read the general introduction:

7B  Song of Songs 7.10-13                   Marriage as Mission

I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.  11. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; 12. Let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom.  There I will give you my love.  13. The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and over our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid upon for you, O my beloved. Every couple longs for a holiday.  It is very natural.  A time together in a lodge or B&B seems the perfect retreat from a hectic life.  Yet, good soul mates know that too much isolation and too little mission makes for not enough meaning.

Mary and Joseph as they made their way to Egypt must have learned what couples like Priscilla and Aquila learned after them: a couple that follows God will often follow Him far and abroad.  The magic of soul bonding was created to be shared.  It turns sour if it is kept for the couple alone. And, when couples are willing to use their intimacy for the good of society, it often becomes a bonding experience like no other.

I hope the B&B world does not go bankrupt, and adventures in the village can serve a couple well.  Yet, the hearts of lovers must expect that a greater adventure awaits if they creatively open their bond up as a gift to a hurting world.

Advent Reflections from a Young Married Man: Hot Christian Sex

“In the coming weeks, I will post seventeen short Advent reflections on the Song of Songs from a young man learning to be a lover and a husband, who at the same time struggles to plant his worth as the beloved Bride of Christ.  My guiding question:

How does the birth of God’s Son transform the broken projects of struggling lovers into aspirations for soul mating?

Click here to read the general introduction:

7A  Song of Songs: 7.1-9                     Hot Christian Sex

1.  How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden!  your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.  2. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is like a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies.  3.  Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.  4.  Your neck is like an ivory tower.  Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, overlooking Damascus.  5.  Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses.  6. How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden!  7.  You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters.  8.   I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches.  O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, 9. and your kisses like best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth.

 

If there were ever a passage to promote Hot Christian Sex, this would be it.  Yet, these Advent reflections remind us that climbing palm trees and enjoying clusters of grapes happens most authentically in the context of Soul Mating. Anything else remains a cheap exploitation. The final reflection in a few days will seal that idea on our hearts.

In our world today, hot sex fuels the economy of objectification.  Adult toys epitomize it.  We are trained from an early age that whether it is plastic or flesh, it has been made to gratify our bodies.  Yet, the human person is so much more.  Hot Christian Sex always realizes that love happens between persons who are deep and complex like an orchard.

Don’t get me wrong.  Our sex life was meant to be like the best wine, but there is a challenging road one needs to travel to get there.  It leads through the transformation of wounded eros.

I sometimes wonder what the holy family must have felt after years in exile.  Finally, in the homeland of their youth, they settle in Nazareth.  After years of hardship and wilderness, they reach a settled life.

Transformed eros always comes after long years.  We all have been marred with images, expectations, and some of us traumatic childhood experiences.  We have been told that our bodies are bad and our sexuality as dark as sin.  Yet, the journey home to the love of our sexuality means years of wilderness.  Can we embrace a life project, which seeks to transform our wounded hearts, or will we run from bed to bed trying to find simple Hot Sex?

Transformed eros means drinking deep in our sexuality while embracing and giving to the intricate souls and bodies of our lovers.  It never means wishing they were somebody else.  And it looks less like the explosion of a supernova and more like enjoying the subtleties of a field of wheat.

Advent Reflections from a Young Married Man: On Public Praise and Blessing

“In the coming weeks, I will post seventeen short Advent reflections on the Song of Songs from a young man learning to be a lover and a husband, who at the same time struggles to plant his worth as the beloved Bride of Christ.  My guiding question:

How does the birth of God’s Son transform the broken projects of struggling lovers into aspirations for soul mating?

Click here to read the general introduction:

6A Song of Songs 6.1-10                         On Praise and Blessing

1. Where has your beloved gone, O fairest among women?  Which way has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you? 2. My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.  3. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies.  4.  You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.  5. Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me!  Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead.  6. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved.  7.  Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 8. There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number. 9. My dove, my perfect one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her.  The maidens saw her and called her happy; the queens and concubines also, and the praised her.  10. “Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?” Advent reminds us that there is power in public praise and blessing.  And there is no better method for enriching the soul bond.

I once heard an aging woman tease her husband in half jest.  He had just remarked: “Love is blind.”  She responded in relief: “I know, I would have been sunk years back if it were not.”  Her self-image was far from, “bursting forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun.”   On another instance, I listened to a young married couple on the fifth day after bearing their first child.  They were awkward in ways.  Yet, as the young mother fumbled her way through caring for the child, the young father leaned over and said in front of friend and family, “You are doing great, honey.”

Somewhere in between these interactions I think we can learn a great deal.  Young love expresses heroic praise. Old love knows that glory fades.  How can we live somewhere in between?  How can young passion be tempered with the wisdom of love, which endures beyond the loss of glory?  And how can old love continue to praise the beloved?

Simeon, that Advent giver of blessing teaches us this way.  He like Anna had a beautiful spirit, filled with wisdom and yet with room for praise. In a crowded courtyard, he spotted this young family and showered blessings upon them.  It seems like a simple thing.  Yet to see glory and call it forth, even when it looks like awkward or aging degeneration, taps into the heart of love and into that which Mary had reflected, “You have lifted up the humble.”  And praise in public settings even when praise may not be deserved especially lifts lovers in confidence: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

Advent Reflections from a Young Married Man: The Skill

“In the coming weeks, I will post seventeen short Advent reflections on the Song of Songs from a young man learning to be a lover and a husband, who at the same time struggles to plant his worth as the beloved Bride of Christ.  My guiding question:

How does the birth of God’s Son transform the broken projects of struggling lovers into aspirations for soul mating?

Click here to read the general introduction:

5B       Song of Songs 5.9-16                   His Glory as the Son

9. What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women?  What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?  10. My beloved is all radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand.  11. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven.  12. His eyes are like doves beside springs of water, bathed in milk, fitly set.  13.  His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh.  14. His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels.  His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires. 15.  His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold.  His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars.  16.  His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable.  This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

As years pass, a haunting voice enters into the midst of our bonds, “your love is dull.  Is there not another who might better fulfill your desires?” I suppose this is what might have been said about the baby Jesus come to his day of dedication, “what child is this more than another?”  We try our best to defend our bonds and faith from the voice, yet it creeps in a million ways.  Advent reminds us that to fulfill our greatest desires for love, we must learn the skill of appreciation and beholding beauty veiled among the mundane.

There was once a woman, who beheld the glory of hidden baby. She had waited her whole life to meet Him, her divine soul mate. 84 years, in fact.  She found none on earth.

So she endured her whole life in anticipation.  Though she was not married, she exhibited the Skill.  Day after long day, she looked longingly to heaven for love.  It must have not been easy.  Her fulfillment must have come after long years of struggle and a haunting voice, “your love is dull.  You sit in a temple all day.  You have done it for 84 years.  Is there not another who might make your life more worth living?” When we get convinced that our life is ordinary, we loose the spiritual muscles that help us to really see our beloved.

Yet she waited until the day when her lips could testify to redemption.  It was a redemption that would stretch far beyond the nation.  It would reach into each human heart and each lover’s relationship and pave a way that two should reach that most sublime of states: simultaneously beloved and friend.

And, Anna’s story teaches us married men two most essential lessons: 1. We must not struggle against the voice that tempts our mate’s imagination.  We are after all dull in many ways.  Yet beneath jars of clay rests glory. We are all a man distinguished among tens of thousands.   2.  But we are not the ones that must reveal our glory.  That is another’s job.  For married men, we must not spend life proving ourselves to the world; we must give that job in trust to our women.  If the glory is there (and there it is), she will unveil it in due time for all who would have eyes to see.