220123 Jan 23 Lectionary 3C
January 23, 2022
Rev. Kristian Wold
On Friday my son and I went up to my family’s cabin in the pot-and-kettle country east of Red Deer. It’s inaccessible by road, so we snow shoed our way across a mile of field and forest. When we got there the winter sun was just going down so we got to work right away lighting candles and building a fire in the stove. And then, with nothing else to do, we just sat watching the candle-light shine in the darkness, and feeling the warmth of the fire in the stove slowly warm our bodies.
It’s just like this with the Word of God. For those who gather before it, it is guiding light and sustaining warmth.
Just ask the Judean people of Nehemiah’s day. Long were they in the darkness of exile in cold and hostile Babylon. What gave them light? What kept their hearts alive and warm? The Torah, God’s Word. No longer able to worship in a temple that had been destroyed, they devised a new way to gather for prayer, encouragement, and support – the weekly gathering of the synagogue. Here they met in small groups to listen to the word of guidance and grace. It was like huddling around a fire in a dark and cold cabin.
Imagine their joy when they finally were able to return to a rebuilt Jerusalem, and gather as a full community—maybe in their thousands—and hear the Word proclaimed by Ezra the scribe. Actually we don’t have to imagine – we heard the story earlier. How they gathered “on the first day of the seventh month” while Ezra read “from early morning until midday.” And then he preached and prayed, “and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands.” So moved were they that they wept and wept.
You know how that is. Sometimes in heartfelt conversation with another person you might hear the words, “I forgive you,” or “I love you,” and the floodgates are released. You weep as you experience reconciliation or connection. But then again, sometimes these moments are not so easy. Someone you love says, “You really hurt me!” or “I felt such pain when you… said or did that.” And again you weep because you’ve been convicted and you feel terrible about what happened. That’s the power of even our small and derivative words.
The people listened to God’s original Word for hours and hours. In that time they heard God’s “I love you,” and they heeded God’s “You have hurt me and others by your actions.” So they wept tears of joy and tears of sadness. But glad or sad, the Word was the fire that brought light and heat. It made life possible. Their worship ended with a feast that was shared by all and extended to those who hadn’t been able to be there on that day.
In the same way, back in the cabin, when the heat from the wood stove had warmed the room, and the light was spread from candle to candle, we had space and leisure to stretch out, enjoy a snack of cookies and tea, play a game, and visit as father and son.
Heat and light coming to a cold dark cabin bring connection and enjoyment. God’s word fosters healing and release, shalom and jubilee.
The next day of our father-son mini-adventure I strapped on the snow shoes and went for a hike through the meadows and fields of the surrounding land. A wonderful thing about walking in the winter is that you can see the tracks and trails of the wildlife. Deer paths are the most common, with their delicate hoof prints, but you can also observe the comings and goings of other creatures. A moose who walked across a slough. Coyotes following the deer paths. Porcupines dragging their tails from one tree perch to the next. Once I followed the wanderings of a weasel and saw where it pounced through the crusted snow to snap up a mouse. Even geese who land on the field to graze leave their odd, triangular webbed-foot prints on the land.
Tracing all these lines on the land is like reading the script of a language I do not understand yet know to be a language of beauty. As if I picked up a manuscript filled with Arabic calligraphy. There is meaning in those tracks. Just like the heavens above, “there is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19) And what that speechless speech is proclaiming, and the voiceless voices are crying… is praise. God’s glory written in nature. On my tramp through the woods I felt myself part of that indescribable song of praise.
You can experience this too. And you don’t have to go up to the mountains to do it. You could just go up to Nose Hill park and listen to the ever-changing sounds of the wind coming out of the west. You might just walk around your block and pay special attention to the song of the chickadees on a warm afternoon. You might even just look out your window and see the shifting patterns of the clouds in the sky. Nature is singing the same song as the book of God’s word to us: praise and adoration. It’s a song that—if we truly listen, if we fully immerse ourselves in—will bring refreshment, hope, ease, and joy… just as it brought these things to me yesterday, to God’s people of Nehemiah’s time… and to the people in the synagogue in Nazareth that day that Jesus came to preach.
They gathered around him the way we might gather around as the match is lit to start the fire in the wood stove—with anticipation and suspense. Or maybe as we gather around another kind of light today, around our computer screens, waiting for the show to begin.
Jesus struck the match with a reading from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
All eyes were on him and all ears tuned as he took a seat to preach, as they did in those days. With Jesus next words the fire blazed to life. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Which is to say that he himself is our word of grace, our light in the darkness. He is our word of judgement, our heat in the cold. To follow in his way is to walk in the paths of the wildlife whose every movement is praise.
Et cetera, ex cordia