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Sunday, December 6, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Ezekiel 36:24–28
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (NRSV)
These hopeful words from Ezekiel, coming immediately before the famous “Valley of the Dry Bones” chapter, are all the more shocking given the context in which they were being written. Ezekiel’s prophetic career directly overlapped with the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and the forced exile of a large portion of the Jewish population. There would have been little reason to expect any sort of positive future for the Jewish people under the Babylonians’ reign—much less that God would “take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.” And yet Ezekiel’s words of hope would ring true within a few generations as Israel was remade once more, almost as dramatically as dry bones being reassembled.
Finding hope—even in the midst of bleak and trying times—is one of the great challenges for us as people of faith. In a year when we have collectively lost so much, it is easy to feel trapped in cynical cycles of disillusionment and despair, and that is a natural and real response that we shouldn’t reject in a Pollyannaish way. However, this season of Advent is an invitation to light a candle of hope within our hearts and spirits—to open ourselves up to the God who will give to us a new heart and a new spirit, removing our “heart of stone” and giving us a “heart of flesh.” God’s promises to us are unchanged, and this season calls us to trust in them once more.
Loving and compassionate God, even in those times when I am feeling hopeless and uncertain about the road in front of me, may you remind me of your steadfast love and promise to guide my steps. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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