31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 10, 2017
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
This passage from Ezekial, this passage about a valley of dry bones, is an odd one for Advent. Where are the angels? Where are Mary and Joseph? Where are the words of hope about a Messiah coming to save us?
This passage from Ezekial, this passage about a valley of dry bones, is depressing – the opposite of hope. And that is the point. The people of Israel, the people the prophet Ezekial is being called to speak to, are depressed. They feel like they have no hope.
Where last week, we heard the prophet Jeremiah speaking to the exiles in Babylon. This week, the prophet Ezekial is one of the exiles – taken from their homes, forced to live in a foreign country, despairing that they will never return to Jerusalem.
“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (Ezekial 37:11) they lament, and God acknowledges their hopelessness with this metaphor of a valley of dry bones.
Sometimes, when someone is sad or worried, we try to cheer them up, to talk them out of their funk, which can make them feel worse for feeling the way they do.
God doesn’t ignore the Israelites’ feelings; God doesn’t try to talk them out of how they feel; God doesn’t sugarcoat things. God acknowledges that the Israelites feel like dry bones, like really dry bones, dead, with no hope of ever truly living again.
We are not a people living in exile. We have not been conquered and kidnapped by a foreign army, however we are a society living in chronic anxiety, a people who have been conquered by worry and stress. We have so many blessings, however we also have so many anxieties.
At this moment, you might be worried about how to pay your bills; how to get all of your Christmas to do’s done on top of your regular to do’s; how you are going to live another day with your chronic pain; how the potential new tax bill will affect you; whether we are going to be bombed by North Korea, or whether, while you are out living your life, someone will choose to violently act out their woundedness and anxiety on you.
We are a society living in chronic anxiety, a people who have been conquered by worry and stress. And it might not surprise you to hear that the word anxiety comes from a family of words that include anger, dread, grief, choke, strangle, and slavery.
According to Peter Steinke, in Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, anxiety has the power to “hold us back, take us by the throat, and chain us like a slave” – just as if it were a conquering foreign army. (Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, pg8) Anxiety, chronic anxiety, can also leave us feeling as broken and brittle as a valley of dry bones.
Notice though that even though God acknowledges the Israelites’ feelings, even though God paints a picture of them as dead, dry bones, it is not God’s intention to leave them that way. To quote the old gospel song “Dem Bones”, God commands ‘the toe bone connected to the foot bone; the foot bone connected to the heel bone’; and up and up until ‘the neck bone connected to the head bone, Now hear the word of the Lord.’
As I sing that song I learned as a child, I picture cartoon bones getting up and dancing their way back together. However, Professor Brent Strawn, from Candler School of Theology at Emory, says that what Ezekial is prophesizing is less like those cute singing skeletons from “Coco” and more like the zombies from “The Walking Dead”. The bones are connected again; they have skin and flesh, however they don’t have any life.
And that is not what God wants for the Israelites. That is not what God wants for us. God’s intention is and has always been that we should live. Three times in this passage, God says, “you shall live”.
God doesn’t want us spending our days as hopeless dry bones nor as lifeless zombies, just going through the motions of life. God wants us to live, so God calls the four winds, calls the breath, calls God’s spirit to come into these dry bones, come into these lifeless bodies.
There is something really powerful about breathing. It is one of the reasons I believe yoga is so popular. The time to stretch our muscles is good; so is an intentional time to lay in quiet; however yoga also reminds you to breath, to breath deeply.
Take a moment to do that, to breathe really deeply, to fill your lungs completely and then to breathe out again.
There is something really powerful about taking a deep breath. It can help us let go of our anxiety and stress, help free us from the choke hold of worry and fear.
There is something really powerful about taking a deep breath.
There is something even more powerful and life-giving, life-transforming, about “knowing” the God who makes that breath possible, who put that breath into each one of us.
The days leading up to Christmas are joyous and festive. They are filled with love and light, and they can also be overwhelming: the expectations we place upon ourselves to have everything perfect; the stress we feel to provide everyone with everything; the depression we struggle with in these days of little sunlight, or the grief we feel, missing a loved one.
These days leading up to Christmas can be overwhelming – to the point where we feel like life-less zombies or worse, dry bones with nothing more to give.
Take a deep breath. Now take another one.
Take a deep breath and feel God’s spirit moving through you. Take a deep breath, and know God. Know God through the gift of music. Know God through the moments of snow-filled silence. Take a deep breath and know God through the love you share with your neighbor and your neighbor shares with you. Take a deep breath and know God through the gift of God’s Word:
“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)
God loves you. In the Christ child, God is coming to be present with us, bringing God’s hope, bringing God’s joy, bringing God’s love, bringing God’s peace. Take a deep breath and feel God’s peace moving through you. Take a deep breath and be fully alive in these Advent days of preparation and anticipation. Take a deep breath and know God.