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By Nancy Bacon

'A garland instead of ashes'

From the Pastor’s Desk


Christmas in Minnesota was always a bright spot, sometimes in the midst of cold, miserable weather. Pine boughs, garlands, and a bit of tinsel helped to make the season sparkle. Recently, I have met with many people who are not experiencing the light and joy of the Christmas promise. In the past few weeks, I have met with people facing physical and mental illness; loss of loved ones from death, murder, and suicide; distraught couples facing separation and divorce; people fearful about nuclear war and attacks on our democracy; and people evacuated due to wildfires, wondering if their homes, or their neighbors', would survive. One of my daughters was evacuated, and while she has been able to return briefly to her home, she has had to wear a face mask to breathe and her possessions are covered in ash.

The prophet Isaiah, (61:1-4) wrote to people returning from captivity in Babylon finding their homeland devastated, claiming he was anointed to bring people "a garland instead of ashes" and "the oil of gladness." He writes for people suffering, providing a promise of deliverance, "good news" and "liberty" to the oppressed, brokenhearted, captives and prisoners. His words echo from the past to the present, providing words of hope and comfort for those recovering from natural disasters in California, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Texas, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. His words are still relevant for refugees in war torn countries and all who long for restoration. Can we believe him that there will be deliverance? Will those imprisoned by debt, medical expenses, or under water on their mortgages, be set free? What about mass incarceration?

Too many are still oppressed. We want joy, especially during the holiday season, but it is shallow when we do not see the needs of others. The seeds that grow the garland are often planted in the depths of sorrow. Tabitha Arnold writes, "The seeds of this joy have been planted in sadness and watered with tears. This is the honest joy that often comes only after weeping has tarried the night." We must weep for others and sometimes ourselves, in order to experience the fullness of joy.

Isaiah knew the returning Israelites had much to grieve, but he believed even more in the enduring promises of God. God cares, especially for those who suffer, choosing a poor lowly family to raise a precious little boy who would grow up to preach from Isaiah's writings, offering those same promises of "good news" for the oppressed, brokenhearted, captive and imprisoned.

God anointed Isaiah, Jesus, and perhaps you and I as well, to offer "the oil of gladness." God's grace and power can fill us and our world to bring about more joy. Our little efforts can be magnified beyond our imaginations to bring about restoration. It is God's dream. We can be part of it.

At this season, while it seems we struggle with many things and divisions among us, I offer you part of a poem written by Methodist Reverend Steve Garnaas-Holmes, entitled, "Not Political" in response to Isaiah 61:1-2. He writes,

The promise of Advent is not political; it's spiritual.

God comes to judge the forces of oppression without dilution, without caveat that there are good people on both sides. God comes to destroy the status quo, to upend our world and its injustice: to raise the lowly and bring down the mighty. This is not political. It's moral. It's about health care, mass incarceration, racism, sexism, earth care and peace. It's about empowering the disenfranchised, not blaming them. It's about respect, not abuse. Lying, abuse and child molestation, demeaning people, threatening war, robbing the poor to pay the rich, the worship of money, sex and power, these are not political. They are evil. What some want to do to our government, to our diplomacy, to common decency, God wants to do to the structures of privilege and exclusion. They are God's target. This is not politics. It's salvation.

The gentle sweet good news of Advent is that mountains and hills will be leveled, valleys will be filled in, and rough places straightened out, and it is unwise to be standing in the way of God's bulldozers. This may involve some elections, some protests, some laws. It will involve an altogether new Empire. But it's not political. It's cosmic.

Open your heart to the little Bethlehem star, supernova blossoming in us. And take it to the streets. - Dec. 12, 2017

May You Make Garlands from Ashes.

Merry Christmas to all,

Pastor Nancy

About Tehachapi Congregational Church:

No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here!

The Tehachapi Congregational Church is an open and welcoming community of faith that believes that each person, created in the image of God, holds a piece of the truth. Therefore we respect each person's unique spiritual journey. We invite you to experience the difference that religious freedom in a caring community can make in that journey.

We are located at 100 East E St., in Tehachapi. Worship and Sunday School are at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Please join us for coffee and fellowship at our Friendship Hall after worship (approximately 11:30 a.m.).

All are welcome.


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