Breathe in. Breathe out.

Isaiah 42:1-9

Well, this is the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the beginning of the Christmas season! Black Friday has already come and gone, and on to Cyber Monday! On top of our already busy lives, the next four weeks may be filled with shopping, visiting relatives, school concerts and holiday parties just to name a few!

…And oh yeah, it’s Advent: the season of waiting and preparing for the coming of the Christ child. In the midst of the ever growing darkness of the days, the small light of a star will illuminate the way for those who thirst for God’s Kingdom as we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ.

How many of us have felt a little frazzled before? Maybe the whole holiday season becomes a little stressful? Maybe we don’t get as much sleep as we really prefer or need?

For some of us, we may have experienc a little more than just being ‘frazzled’, right? For some of us, there are times in our lives when things simply seem too large to bear. There are times where we have feel overwhelmed or overburdened. Does any of this sound familiar?

A couple of years ago I learned something pretty important about myself and stress. As some of you know, I love to travel and to explore new places, with new people, new music, new food…new adventure!

Well just a while back I was on my way to visit Scotland for the first time ever! I always have wanted to get to Scotland with its history and ties to Presbyterianism, its music, and a special place called Iona. Iona is a small island off of the mainland of Scotland. Literally, one must first fly over to Scotland, hop onto a train or bus, jump on a ferry, then on another bus, then on a smaller ferry, and then you are there! But Iona is indeed a special place. It is credited as being home to Saint Columba, who is known for bringing Christianity to Scotland. Now, I had heard of Iona several times before from friends and colleagues. This is what some call a ‘thin place’; a place where heaven and earth seem to be indistinguishable at times. Iona is a place of peacefulness, worship, and beauty. After years of hearing about the magic of the island of Iona, I was finally going to make the trip!

I planned this trip for months and months. I researched airline flights, transportation, lodging arrangements…I had this all taken care of. After all, I was an experienced traveler! Well, the time came, and I was excited to make that ‘red eye’ flight to the great land of Scotland. The plane landed, I claimed my luggage, and found the bus for the first leg of the journey to my first stop. All was going just as I had hoped, according to plan. This was going to be a fantastic trip!

So there I was, on a bus in Scotland, now at 8 in the morning…and something didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right. I started feeling a little nauseous. All of these thoughts started going through my mind. ‘Maybe you are over tired from the overnight flight. Maybe you just need to eat.’ Whatever it was, I wasn’t feeling well, and things were only getting worse. I started sweating , and then I would feel a chill. My breathing became labored. And oh, my stomach! I ran off the bus. After quite an ordeal of feeling ready to faint at any moment, I found my first lodging location, a little sleep, and eventually felt better.

I would ultimately get to the idyllic island of Iona, and experience the Divine in most spiritually awesome ways. The adventure to Scotland would be a success, and I would accomplish my spiritual pilgrimage to Iona. However, I found it a bit ironic that I would be experiencing such stress and suffering on my way to this place of spiritual renewal.

 

Today we all encounter our own stressors in this world. Whether it is the stress of the holiday season, the stress of daily living, or something altogether not yet fully understood, we encounter unique challenges that can cause us discomfort, unease, and sometimes even more severe symptoms. In our own bit of irony, the things we often seek to make us happy are the same things that cause us stress in our lives.

Today we read from the prophet Isaiah, who knew something about suffering and stress. Let’s get into this text as we celebrate the arrival of the Advent season amongst the stress of the holiday craziness.

Our reading today comes from the book of Isaiah; a book named in honor of one of the great prophets of Israel who wrote for the people during some of their most desperate days as they were exiled from their homelands during the Babylonian captivity. These people knew something about stress. The book of Isaiah is well known for its repetitive themes of judgment, but more importantly God’s justice for all of Creation. Today we read from a text that is not as well known as some of the traditional readings that accompany the season of Advent, yet continues on with the tradition of sharing a vision for  a new day; a better tomorrow.

Just previous to this section God is judging those who live in false faithfulness to their Creator. There is need for a new leader. Now hear these words from verses 1-4:

[God says] Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Who is this ‘servant’ that Isaiah mentions? Who is this individual who will bring peace to the land? Many within the Christian tradition will say that this is ultimately speaking of Jesus as the Christ child. After all of the conflict and turmoil that the people of Israel had experienced with judgment, condemnation, oppression, and violence, this passage brings with it peace and security.

We can now pick up in verse 5, as we move into the focus of our scripture reading this morning. Isaiah reminds the people of God, the Creator, who created the very foundations of life itself.

5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:

 Then God speaks to the people:

 6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,  7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 

 As God reminds the people of just who and whose they are, God also reminds them that the work of the people is not just of their own families, or neighborhoods, or towns. God’s work is for all of Creation. There is work to be done.

God’s message is not just of sorrow and remorse for the predicament that the people of Israel find themselves in during such exile. No, God’s message is of restoration of all Creation. Better, more holy days are ahead. In the midst of the darkness, there is hope.

9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

 

Looking back on that experience on the bus in Scotland, I now know that I was having what some call a panic attack. After some self observation and reflection, I became aware that these attacks would continue to come and go in my life over the past few years, especially in times of high stress.

After discussing this with my doctor and others, and doing plenty of research on the issue as I have continued to learn how to deal with these stressors, one key practice kept on coming up as a way to begin to address these moments of anxiety, fear, and discomfort. BREATHE.

Yes, there are tons of approaches to dealing with stress and anxiety in the world these days from many reputable people and traditions (and I’m not here claiming to be a professional on this matter), but one common theme that I have observed is the importance of breathing. It seems so simple, yet is at the same time so profound.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Our Holy Scriptures are filled with the image of the breath of God as it relates to life. In the Creation story it was God who breathed life into Adam. Throughout the Bible in the Hebrew language is the word RUACH, which can mean both ‘Spirit’ and ‘Breath’ of God.

In the midst of the craziness of the holiday season, I am reminded of these words from Isaiah:

5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it….

And so we wait…and hope. We listen…and breathe.

Today’s text allows us remember that in the midst of all that life may throw at us, that we are God’s, who has created us, gave us breath and spirit, and who will lead us to new days ahead.

This is our message of Good News this morning, for both us, and all who may hear it. We are not some pawns in an apathetic world that cares more about money, power, and materialism than anything else. No, we are children of God, who created the world GOOD, and who has plans for us to live holy, spirit-filled lives, as we together work to realize God’s Beloved Community here on earth.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

 

Brothers and sisters, today God does not call us to celebrate the Super Sunday sales, or the best gadgets on the market, or the most extravagant light display or Christmas party. No, today God calls us to worship as we celebrate the coming of the Christ child; the savior of the world.

We are not called to speed up, become more active, and more stressed out. We are called to slow down, listen more, and wait with holy expectation. We are called to breathe.

9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

This season of Advent may we all breathe a little deeper as we embrace the Spirit of God within us.

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