By Pastor Suzanne Clemenz
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28
I am one of those folks who sticks it out with social media – in my case, Facebook – because it allows me to stay connected with friends and family and indulge in cute cat memes and mindless humor. This year Facebook has also been a place for the collective processing and lamenting of all the bad news of 2020. One of my favorite new meme categories is the “If 2020 was a [fill in the blank]” meme. For example, if 2020 was an ice-cream truck, it would be delivering liver and onions. My favorite meme in this category popped up just this week: If 2020 was a playground slide, it would be fashioned like a metal cheese grater. You can picture the horror, right? The sharing of these memes between friends reminds us that we are not alone. It has been a rough year for all of us.
As I write this devotional, I am in semi-isolation recovering from COVID. Our local news reported today the highest positive number of COVID cases in our area so far in the pandemic, by a wide margin. Our hospitals are full. Our schools are moving on-line, and many of you reading have been ill or care about folks who have been afflicted. We are terribly concerned about what’s going to happen next. We look at the news each day with trepidation, fearing what we’re going to discover when we read the headlines.
Our Scripture for the third Sunday in Advent is a welcome contrast to our contemporary newsfeed. It is full of not just good, but amazing news. Couldn’t we all use some good news like this right about now? The prophet in Isaiah speaks to a people desperate for good news. God is going to look on them with favor! The prophet speaks hope to the poor and brokenhearted, to those who are stifled and grieving, to those who find themselves perpetually in the dark. God’s people are clearly hurting, but the headline is that they will be renewed and restored; this is God’s promise. In the Psalms, we hear the laughter and joy of the people; those who had been weeping are now singing songs of joy. Their tears became the salt that generated a new song, a new tune marked by joy and hope that spills from their lips. God’s people are reminded of the pattern: There will be suffering, and God will make a way. The people will be restored. This is not an isolated fact of human existence. The prophet and the psalmist reveal that God’s deliverance is an ongoing act.
In his letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul commends and encourages the people in their hopefulness and endurance. Paul tells them to remain cheerful, to pray continually, and to be grateful to God no matter what happens. Wherever goodness and grace can be found, go for more of that, Paul instructs. Although they faced challenges, the people in Thessalonica had a hopeful disposition, and it made all the difference. Their steadfast hope in Christ and their gratitude for all that God had done for them shaped not only their understanding of the future but their experience of the present. They lived with an expectation and a joy that gave purpose to their day-to-day lives. There was a sense of wonder and awe about what God was going to do next.
In the book of John, God’s next act is the ultimate and final work of salvation. God becomes human – the life-light comes to be with us. However, a lot of the people don’t recognize the light. John the Baptist is sent by God to point the way to the life-light. John is called to show folks where to look, to show them whom to believe in. Forgiveness and mercy, joy and comfort, healing and resurrection: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and the darkness can never extinguish this.
In our trying times, remembering God’s goodness and his promises, looking for joy in each day, and thanking God for what we have are essential spiritual practices. Just like John the Baptist, we are called to witness to the light, even if it is just a tiny little beam in the dark. For me, that light is the friends who have brought food, lent us a bed, and checked in on and prayed for us daily as we have recovered from COVID. That light is the front-line workers – our healthcare providers and teachers – who have served our family in sacrificial ways. That light is the dear feline companions who have cuddled with me at night on the chilly, blow-up borrowed bed. That light is the voice of a Trinity angel who told me a few nights ago, in the midst of her own pain, “Suzanne, I don’t know what I would do without Jesus.” The love and gratitude in her voice melted my heart. That light is the memory of my father-in-law, who lived life and loved God and others with such a down-to-earth, gentle, and joyful spirit. And most important, that light is God’s voice in the deepest fiber of my being, whispering that I am loved and that all will be well.
As you prepare for Christmas during this Advent-like-none-other, where do you see the light shimmering in the darkness? May God give you eyes to see that light, and an opportunity to share the joy of that light with others.
Trinity Advent Devotional
Welcome to Advent, 2020, a season like no other. These readings, throughout the Advent season, have all been written by staff and members of Trinity. We hope you’ll enjoy the opportunity to get to know one another better through these prayers, devotions and stories. Even in this challenging time, we celebrate this opportunity to grow in love and service through our relationships with God and with one another.