Oaks of Righteousness

This Advent, Bondings 2.0 invites you to take a spiritual journey through guided reflections on the readings of the season’s four Sundays.  The reflection exercise below can be done individually, with a close friend, or in a faith-sharing group. The reflections are specially designed for LGBTQ people and allies.  

These Advent exercises are part of  New Ways Ministry’s Journeys series: a collection of  Scripture selections, reflection questions, prayers, and video meditations. You can download PDFs of  the Advent reflections and the other Journeys exercises from our website.

We hope these spiritual aids will help all of you on your own journeys.

If you would like to share some of your reflections with other Bondings 2.0 readers, please feel free to add whatever responses you have in the “Comments” section of this post.


As the exiled Israelites journey back to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity, all eyes are drawn to the cloud of God’s glory, which rests on these fully redeemed people. 

The rebuilding of Israel is structured and focused: cities in ruin will be reconstructed; justice will prevail; the wicked will be indicted, and punishing yolks will be unfastened. Israel, clothed with robes of deliverance, will be like oaks of righteousness, planted by YHWH to display God’s glory.

The allusion to mighty oaks, seeded by tiny acorns, conveys unbounded potential. Moreover, the magnificence of oak and its associations with life, strength, wisdom, nobility, loyalty, longevity, heritage and honor, symbolizes a God who delights in extravagant blessing. 

As LGBTQ members who descend from the House of Israel, may we always cling to the promise of extravagant blessing in the coming of the Chosen One. However, if we still feel like tiny acorns, disseminated on the forest floor, we should also bear in mind that “the One who calls us is faithful and God will make sure it comes to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:24).


SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8, 10-11

The spirit of the exalted GOD is upon me, for YHWH has anointed me:
God has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners –
to announce a year of favor from YHWH, and the day of vengeance of our God –
to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to give them a garland of flowers instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of tears, a mantle of praise instead of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, planted by YHWH to display God’s glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
For I, YHWH, love justice.
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully recompense you and make an everlasting covenant with you.

I will joyfully exult in YHWH, who is the joy of my soul!

My God has clothed me with a robe of deliverance and wrapped me in a mantle of justice
the way a bridegroom puts on a turban and a bride bedecks herself with jewels.

For as the earth puts forth its shoots and a garden brings its seeds to blossom –
so also will the exalted GOD make justice sprout and praise spring up before all nations.

For all the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent click here.


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  1. How has the Spirit of God anointed people you know in the LGBTQ/ally community? Who have been your “oaks of righteousness,” displaying God’s glory in their efforts to gather the tribes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally people and bring them home?
  2. Do you feel that parts of the LGBTQ/ally community are still in “ruins” and continue to experience the “devastations of many generations?” Where do you see a need for healing and restoration?
  3. For I, YHWH, love justice. I will faithfully recompense you and make an everlasting covenant with you.” Where do you see such divine justice and recompense in LGBTQ/ally history? Where do you perceive God’s everlasting covenant and favor in your own life?
  4. As an LGBTQ person/ally, how do you experience “garlands of flowers,” “the oil of gladness” and the “mantle of praise” in the sacramental/social life of your church or faith community? How can you be an oak of righteousness to those who still experience “ashes,” “tears” and “despair?”
  5. My God has clothed me with a robe of deliverance and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” Robes are a frequent motif in the Bible. From Joseph’s coat of many colors to the white robes of the saints in the Book of Revelation, this garment has come to symbolize many different things. How do you imagine God’s “robe of deliverance” for you? Given your spiritual journey this Advent, what type of robe best suits you at this time?

AN EXTRAVAGANT BLESSING

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks for everything –
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not stifle the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic gifts.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness.
May you be preserved whole and complete – spirit, soul, and body –
blameless for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
The One who calls you is faithful: God will make sure it comes to pass.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24


VIDEO MEDITATION

The following video showcases the genius of technology in gathering together the musical tribes of the Metropolitan Opera and Chorus who have been exiled from their familiar places because of the pandemic. They gathered to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s chorus, “Va, pensiero,” from the opera “Nabucco.”

Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Verdi’s composition, also known as the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves,” is based on Psalm 137 and recollects the period of the Babylonian captivity after the loss of the First Temple in Jerusalem circa 586 BCE, the catastrophic event which preceded the joyous return of the Israelites to Jerusalem in the Isaiah reading.

Embedded in the chorus is the Hebrew experience of the exile. The melancholy in the words, though, could well be the soulful, exilic prayer of an LGBTQ pilgrim yearning for home.

Included below is the English translation of the Italian lyrics. 

Va’, pensiero, sull’ali dorate;                    Hasten, thoughts, on golden wings;
Va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,                     Hasten, rest upon the densely wooded hills,
ove olezzano tepide e molli                     where warm and soft and fragrant 
l’aure dolci del suolo natal!                      are the gentle breezes of our native land!

Del Giordano le rive saluta,                      Greet the banks of the Jordan,
di Sionne le torri atterrate…                      the towers of Zion…

Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta!             O my homeland so beautiful and lost!               
O membranza sì cara e fatal!                  O memories, so dear and yet so unhappy!

Arpa d’or dei fatidici vati,                          Golden harp of our prophets,
perché muta dal salice pendi?                 Why do you hang silently on the willow?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi,                Rekindle the memories within our hearts,
ci favella del tempo che fu!                       and speak of times gone by!

O simile di Solima ai fati,                           Or like the fateful Solomon,
traggi un suono di crudo lamento;           draw a lament of raw sound;
o t’ispiri il Signore un concento                Or permit our God to inspire a concert
che ne infonda al patire virtù!                   to help endure our suffering!

– Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry, December 13, 2020

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