Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Liturgy: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - 2 Peter 1:1-11 (July 2, 2023)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

*Call to Worship (based on 2 Peter 1:3-4)

Leader: The Lord has given us everything we need to live a righteous life.
People: Through God’s honor and glory, we have been gifted much!

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Sermon: “God’s Hygge”, Isaiah 40:1-11 (June 18, 2023)

Do you remember, about six or seven years back, when the whole world suddenly seemed to become obsessed with the concept of hygge? Hygge, spelled H-Y-G-G-E, is a Scandinavian term that describes “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”[1] This concept has been around in Danish writing since the turn of the 19th century and has become a major part of Danish culture and identity since then.[2] But it’s been relatively unknown outside of Scandinavia until around 2016, at which point we all lost our collective minds over it.

Hygge decorations, hygge clothing, hygge magazine articles, hygge vacations, hygge self-help books, hygge, hygge, hygge – we couldn’t get enough! The craze was so widespread that when Disney began work on turning their hit movie “Frozen” into a stage musical, they wrote an entire song all about hygge and stuck it right at the top of the second act. It describes hygge with the sort of catchy rhymes that you’d expect from a Disney musical: “Hygge means comf’table/hygge means cozy/hygge means sitting by the fire with your cheeks all rosy.” In order to drive the point all the way home, the lyrics go on to specify things that AREN’T hygge: finding a spider in your shoe? Not hygge. Having an annoying thing to do? Not hygge. Complete with a dance break and kick line, this descriptive song embodies the moment of cultural celebrity that hygge enjoyed at the time.

Nobody knows exactly why hygge took off the way it did, but there are theories. Some people believe that our preoccupation with hygge emerged out of the cultural and political chaos that was 2016. Our memories of that time may be a bit fuzzy seven years down the road, but 2016 was the year that both Brazil and South Korea impeached their presidents, North Korea conducted not one, but TWO nuclear tests, and Britain voted to leave the European Union. It also happened to be the year of the most contentious and divisive election season in U.S. history. The world was in turmoil, and nothing seemed certain. The theory goes that, in times of such uncertainty, insecurity, and anxiety, human beings gravitate towards anything that can quickly provide tangible comfort. We wanted to forget all the terrible things that were happening around us and go into hibernation mode. Someone realized that Scandinavians seemed to have comfort down to a fine art, so we collectively embraced hygge as a form of escapism.

If hygge had existed during biblical times, it probably would have sounded attractive to the former citizens of Judah, too. Right up until the very end of chapter 39, Isaiah has been proclaiming dire warnings to the southern Jewish kingdom about the chaos that lay in store for them. These prophecies seem to have finally been fulfilled somewhere between the last verse of chapter 39 and the first verse of 40 – suddenly, instead of warnings, Isaiah’s prophecies are offering comfort and compassion. What happened is that the people have been conquered by the Babylonians and find themselves in exile. They finally realize that they aren’t invincible after all, that their earthly kingdom ISN’T eternal. They can finally see that their hubris has been an enormously consequential mistake. Their lives have been turned completely upside down.

The Lord, being a just but merciful god, sees all this. So God offers comfort through Isaiah in the wake of the kingdom’s fall. This message must have come as an enormous relief. The people in exile probably clung to the idea of comfort like we clung to the idea of hygge during the traumatic events of 2016. They would have heard the words, “Comfort, comfort my people!” as reassurance that their suffering would be short-lived. “Don’t worry; everything’s going to be fine.” They would have heard “Proclaim to her that her penalty has been paid,” as a promise that the hard parts are over. “Any day now, the Babylonians will leave, and you’ll be able to go back home.” They were probably hoping – maybe even assuming – that God would take them out of the nightmare that had come to pass and restore them to their former glory.

The people looked to God for a way out just as we turned to hygge for escape. But when we did this, we were making some bold assumptions about how comfort actually works. We wanted it to displace our feelings of uneasiness completely, so we tried to fill our lives with hygge until there was no room left for anything else. We tried to turn hygge into something that we could commodify, something we could control. We tried to make every day feel like a vacation at a ski lodge. In consuming all things hygge, we were trying to create a permanent state of comfort. But it turns out that comfort as a way of life? Not actually hygge.

In a part of the world that’s cold, dark, and rainy for much of the year, hygge arose as a way to cope with that reality, not to shut it out. [3] It’s not a lifestyle; it’s a feeling that you carry within you like a candle to light your way in the dark. Nobody can live their entire lives in a ski lodge, but we CAN find ways to make the winters of our lives more bearable. Ultimately, hygge can’t change anything but your perspective. It doesn’t make life comfortable – it offers comfort in the midst of life’s struggles.

God is offering the people in Isaiah 40 this same kind of comfort. God’s version of hygge is about being able to find comfort in faith even when things look bleak. It’s meant to help them get through the difficulties still to come. No matter how much the people may want God’s hygge to manifest as immediate, feel-good solutions to their problems, that’s not the kind of comfort that God is offering here. Avoiding the consequences of their past actions? Not hygge – the Babylonian conquest may be over, but the people’s exile has just begun. Ignoring their sin? Not hygge – the people still have to address the fact that their faith is as capricious as a flower that blooms one day and wilts the next. Neglecting their responsibilities in favor of an untroubled life? Not hygge – even in exile, God’s people still have to practice their faith and prepare the way of the Lord in a fallen world. But finding comfort in God’s presence in the midst of all these things? Now THAT’S hygge.

It’s natural for us to WANT to feel happy all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with praying for things like more resources, a vacation, help with our responsibilities, relief from stress, a fresh start, or anything else that would make our lives easier. After all, Jesus himself prayed that the cup of suffering be taken from him in Gethsemane.[4] But the key part of HIS prayer is what came next: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” We pray those exact same words every single week, but how often do we think about what they really mean? When we pray for comfort, are we really asking for the divine presence to help us face the dark of night and the cold of winter in our lives? Or are we praying for OUR version of hygge, a life completely absent of pain and suffering? Whose will are we REALLY praying for?

Life is hard. There’s no getting around that. But the struggles aren’t all there is. There’s also God. There’s also community. There’s also the promise of a future where heaven will be found on earth, and the promise that all creation will get to take part. These things are the hygge that we should cling to, like a chunky sweater or a cozy blanket, to get us through the winters of life. Expecting God to take all your troubles away? Not hygge. But trusting God to comfort you where you are, to show you a way forward, and to be with you through it all? Definitely hygge.

I haven’t seen much buzz about hygge in recent years. Do you think it’s because life has gotten easier since 2016? I’ll answer for you: nope. Definitely not. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve stopped trying to hide from it and we’ve started trying to live through it. Or at least because we’ve come to realize that we CAN’T hide from it. Either way, I think we all can agree that a scented candle and a mug of hot cocoa will never be able to change trauma, hardship, grief, loss, or any other kind of suffering into something that it’s not.

The good news is that hygge never was in that candle or that cocoa – it’s the feeling of comfort, deep within you, that helps you to get through the difficult parts of life. And we’ve got something even BETTER than hygge. We’ve got God’s hygge, a promise that we are not alone, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what’s in store for us. That includes you. Yes, you. No conditions. No exceptions. And that’s a kind of hygge more comforting than even the bulkiest sweater could ever be. (And it’s far less itchy.) Carry this gift with you and share it with everyone you meet. There’s plenty of God’s hygge to go around. Amen.

[1] Dictionary.com, “Hygge”.
[2] https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/hygge.
[3] https://mashable.com/article/hygge-scandinavian-lifestyle-trend.
[4] Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:42.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Liturgy: Third Sunday after Pentecost - Isaiah 40:1-11 (June 18, 2023)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

*Call to Worship (based on Isaiah 40:9-10)

Leader: O people, raise your voices and shout,
People: “Here is our God!”

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Sermon: “Everything Old is New (and Old)”, Isaiah 9:1-7 (June 11, 2023)


This morning, we’re continuing our mini sermon series on Isaiah. Last week we talked about Isaiah’s call to prophecy, and over the next three weeks, we’ll be exploring one prophecy from each of the major divisions of the book: the section written before the Babylonian exile, the section written after the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen, and the section written in anticipation of Israel’s eventual restoration.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Liturgy: Second Sunday after Pentecost - Isaiah 9:1-7 (June 11, 2023)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

*Call to Worship (based on Isaiah 9:2)

Leader: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
People: On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Sermon: "I Don't Belong Here", Isaiah 6:1-8 (June 4, 2023)


The Narrative Lectionary takes a break over the summer, but it offers suggestions of scripture to take a closer look at, parts of the Bible that are glossed over or skipped entirely during the regular cycle. So, during the month of June, we’ll be looking at Isaiah, a book that’s long been called “the Fifth Gospel” in Christian circles because of the large number of messianic references contained within its pages.