Scripture Readings for December 13, 2017
Today’s readings are an effort to raise our personal spirits, perfect for those down in the dumps, I’d rather just stay in bed days. Isaiah is very clear that God gives strength to those who faint and energy to those who are weak. Even though the young “stagger and fall … those that trust in the Lord … will run and not grow weary.” Written originally to encourage Israel to hold on to its faith while exiled in Babylon these words are just as important today in helping us remember we are not alone when our own sense of well-being collapses. It seems to me that is the key thing religious faith does: reassures us that we are not on our own, especially in our deepest selves. When feelings and attitudes seem to turn against us, when outside support doesn’t seem to help, then we need to hear that the God, who created the entire world, is on our side and will provide the support no one else can give.
It seems we repeatedly get the message wrong. Historically, Christianity has often doubled down on human sinfulness and guilt instead of emphasizing God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are subject to the broad general attitudes that see religion as a course for moral guidance and proper behavior. That makes it easy to see God as judge and score keeper. Matthew’s gospel for today is a good antidote for that approach, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is a theme reinforced in the Psalm, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD … He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills.” That is what I think is meant by redemption, by salvation. God saves us from all we do wrong, from the ideas and attitudes that keep us from being open and loving to others as well as being frightened of a world intended for our happiness. We too often let people, situations and our own experiences drive us to defensive, negative attitudes and actions. Only honesty, perseverance and trust can dig us out. God’s loving presence supports that kind of behavior, that kind of thinking and the sense of well-being that underlies it.
The lesson is exactly what Jesus says in Matthew, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Jesus is meek and humble not strident and proud, not fighting for advantage in each situation but willing to take what comes as one who trusts that the world itself is good and if anything, tilted in our favor. Can we believe it is possible to be ourselves, work for what we value and actually enjoy a fulfilling life? Will we let the Word of God comfort us and support our hopes, desires and the real challenges we undertake? If we can, then the Gospel will surely be Good News for us.