The Waiting is Over…

The waiting is over. The moments of hope come together and the fullness is here. In our home the computer is about to be turned off and the focus turned toward family…so I’ll post my Christmas today.  

All the noise turns to celebration. We cannot separate the end of the story from the beginning, because we know this babe will grow. We know what He will do, the way He will touch lepers and blind. The way He will feed thousands from simple offerings. The way He will change everything.

We cannot separate the Babe from the teacher, from the Savior, from the King.

For a moment, though, we take all the days of waiting and of turning our eyes toward the manger, and we do our best to take it all in.

It’s okay…we never will be able to take it all in.

God came. He came. He came as a baby. We could never have imagined anything that would change things so utterly.

The waiting is over…rejoice.

The Nativity

“For unto us a child is born.” — Isaiah

The thatch of the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind was a peal as of trumpets,
Though barren and blowing and cold:
The mother’s hair was a glory,
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming –
A child was born.

O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost
That God shaketh broadest his best,
That things fairest are oldest and simplest,
In the first days created and blest:
Far flush all the tufts of the clover,
Thick mellows the corn,
A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened –
A child is born.

With raw mists of the earth-rise about them,
Risen red from the ribs of the earth,
Wild and huddled, the man and the woman,
Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth;
Ere the first roof was hammered above them.
The first skin was worn,
Before code, before creed, before conscience –
A child was born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires like dreams unremembered,
Dread epics of glory and woe?
This we know, that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them –
“A child is born.”

And to us, though we pore and unravel
Black dogmas that crush us and mar,
Through parched lips pessimistic dare mutter
Hoarse fates of a frost-bitten star;
Though coarse strains and heredities soil it,
Bleak reasoners scorn,
To us too, as of old, to us also –
A child is born.

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove;
Still the plumes stir around us, above us,
The tings of the shadow of love.
Still the fountains of life are unbroken,
Their splendour unshorn;
The secret, the symbol, the promise –
A child is born.

Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered –
A child is born.

In the time of dead things it is living,
In the moonless grey night is a gleam,
Still the babe that is quickened may conquer,
The life that is new may redeem.
Ho, princes and priests, have you heard it?
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, stern changes –
A child is born.

More than legions that toss and that trample,
More than choirs that bend Godward and sing,
Than the blast of the lips of the prophet,
Than the sword in the hands of the King,
More strong against Evil than judges
That smite and that scorn,
The greatest, the last, and the sternest –
A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the Wise Men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is throned of a nation –
A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things;
Still feels that high moment unfurling,
Red glories of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, annointed –
A child is born.

To the rusty barred doors of the hungry,
To the struggle for life and the din,
Still, with brush of bright plumes and with knocking,
The Kingdom of God enters in.
To the daughters of patience that labour
That weep and are worn,
One moment of love and of laughter –
A child is born.

To the last dizzy circles of pleasure,
Of fashion and song-swimming nights,
Comes yet hope’s obscure crucifixion,
The birth fire that quickens and bites,
To the daughters of fame that are idle,
That smile and that scorn,
One moment of darkness and travail –
A child is born.

And till man and his riddle be answered,
While earth shall remain and desire,
While the flesh of a man is as grass is,
The soul of a man as a fire,
While the daybreak shall come with its banner,
The moon with its horn,
It shall rest with us that which is written –
“A child is born.”

And for him that shall dream that the martyr
Is banished, and love but a toy,
That life lives not through pain and surrender,
Living only through self and its joy,
Shall the Lord God erase from the body
The oath he has sworn?
Bend back to thy work, saying only –
“A child is born.”

And Thou that art still in the cradle,
The sun being crown for Thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer.
Say whence art Thou come? Who art Thou?
Art Thou come back on earth for our teaching,
To train or to warn?
Hush! How may we know, knowing only –
A child is born?

– c.1893

Stop. Raise Your Head. Hope is here.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28

We need the hope of Advent. I cannot imagine what it was like to be in Bethlehem at the time of birth of the Christ. I cannot imagine the waiting for the Messiah, and hope and the anticipation. I just cannot imagine it because I sit in relative comfort and I only know Christ through the fullness of His life, His death, His resurrection and the reality of His deity. I cannot look at the manger without an awareness of all that it holds.

Still. We get comfortable with the Babe in a manger, and we forget, or at least I do, the magnitude of the hope held there. They didn’t know in that moment…they only had an inkling. Mary knew the most, but even she did not know the magnitude. How could they? That not only was this the Son of God, but that He would make us all new.

This Advent season, just like every one past, and probably most to come, has been filled with a mixture of life. I have varied from stress to contemplation, from delight to sorrow. I have been frustrated and on edge, and I have been at peace and joyful. Sometimes all those things in the span of a day.

Advent, though, my friends…it is staggering.

It is hope.

The reality of God made flesh, God dwelling among His people, God redeeming…this reality should raise our eyes.

Look up and raise your heads.

Right now. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Just plain tired and sad?

Look up. Raise your head.

Right now. Depressed? Filled with sorrow and awareness of our brokenness?

Look up. Raise your head.

Stop. Listen again to the reality of God coming to His people. Hear it again, and let it soak into your bones. Raise your head and be filled with wonder. And hope.

Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28 RsV). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – God Is In the Manger

A Staggering Reality.

Yesterday, thankfully, was better. Hitting a wall makes you sit down and catch your breath. That helps. I let go of some things and now we proceed. That is the wonderful thing about grace…we do not move on nagging ourselves about our failures and our shortcomings. About our sin.

We take a breath, we realize that this walk of faith is about what God has accomplished, not what we accomplish. There is great strength and relief in that. I can’t accomplish much in my own strength.

The reality of Christmas is striking me more and more this Advent season.  It is interesting how something different will grab our attention each year, and this year it is the shock of the Incarnation. The starkness of God becoming flesh.  Yesterday in the quotation from Buechner did you catch this line, talking of Christmas:

We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one.

We do that, don’t we? It is not that all our traditions and the holiday lights and the decorations are bad…but sometimes we hide in them. Sometimes we get comfortable in them, and we allow Christmas to be nothing more than a beautiful occasion. That is what those who see Jesus as nothing more than a good teacher or an historic figure would think. Those of us who believe him to be the Savior…the reality of Christmas is staggering. It is uncomfortable in the depth of its reality. And yet, it is also the most amazingly wonderful story we could imagine.

We need the space and the silence and the waiting of Advent to sit with that thought for awhile. The reality of Christmas, the reality of God-made-flesh, is a reality that takes time to soak into our souls. We cannot glibly accept it and move on through our day. We need to hear it in the silence and in the ache of need and in that moment of yearning and anticipation. We need the fullness of Advent to expand our hearts and our minds and our Spirit to take in the fullness of this event. And we need it again and again each year…because this is a staggering event.

Allow the joy to be part of Advent, allow the wonder of the twinkling lights and all that we have brought in to this season. Allow the joy to envelop us, because our souls need that joy…and it is such a part of Advent…but it is wedded to the starkness of a babe in a manger.

Let the reality of the Incarnation sink in deeply. The reality of a world lost in sin and unable to overcome…waiting for a Messiah. How utterly unimaginable that He would come like this.

Mary’s Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

Advent hits a Wall…

I have to be honest with you. We have hit a bump in our Advent procession.

Well. Maybe a wall.

Things have been busy. The kids have not been into the readings. We have been stressed. Steve began a new level of management, which includes being called in at 4am some mornings…and working on until his usual 6pm. We’ve been grumpy and stressed the last few days.

Add to the mix that I realized I needed to give up the goal of writing our own Bible curriculum this year as I have lost most of my study time with all the other changes. Loss of study time leads to grumpy Sarah.

So yesterday I was uber grumpy and we did no readings, no lighting of candles, no talk of Advent.

I gave up. Kids were bickering and I just let them and let them know I was disappointed in them and, well, this kinda sucked.  Yep. A few of those days.

Here’s the thing though…this morning, I still hid the Elf on the Shelf. He is hiding with a marker in his hands that he used to draw mustaches on all the family members in the pictures on the bookshelf. And I wasn’t grumpy when I did that. I was thinking about Sammy when he will come downstairs looking for that Elf.

Sammy at seven is in that perfect age to wake up every morning and ask how many more days until Christmas. He in in the age of wondering aloud about all the magic of Christmas. He is in the age of embracing all the wonder and all the excitement. He asks me when we are going to load up with our hot chocolate and our popcorn to drive around and look at the Christmas lights. All the kids love Christmas, but my Sammy…he is the one.

He is the one who keeps me in the wonder.

I know that part of my frustration and part of my “grumpiness” is fueled by the ache that comes in from Christmas lost. The ache in knowing I cannot share any of this joy in seeing my kids enjoy Christmas, especially Sammy or Madeleine, with my mom…and that is hard. There is pain there and sometimes instead of just acknowledging that I try to ignore it. Instead it comes out in frustration and seeps into the rest of the season as an overarching grumpiness.

So many have aches and loneliness and pain through this season.

Hurt and sorrow. True, deep pain which this season seems to bring a spotlight upon. We need to have grace for one another and realize that sometimes when we are being grumpy and short, or even just wanting solitude, it may be our way of tending to that ache.  It is hard to see any wonder in those moments.

I came across this in my reading, and it eased the ache, and I hope it does so for you as well. Buechner once again brings me back on track in my Advent pursuit. As a mom, I needed this this morning. If you’ve had a few days of the kids being wild, which tends to happen at Christmas time, if you’ve had a few days of feeling ragged and frazzled…take the time to read this. Maybe in the bathroom. Or another dark corner. With a coffee and Reeses. Not that I did that.

Seriously though…we cannot quiet the truth of Christmas because the truth is so dramatic. Even when we get sidetracked. Even when our aches and our sorrow and our loneliness become loud. Even when we get frazzled. The truth of Christmas is not shadowed by the Elf on the Shelf, or by Rudolph.   It survives because it is not fairytale.

The truth of Christmas…well…read on:

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

-Frederick Buechner “Whistling in the Dark

So, today, if you have been side-tracked from the deep reality of Christmas, let it strike you once again. If you, like me, have hit a bump in your Advent pursuit it is okay. We still have two weeks to dwell with this reality. Sit and dwell with the reality that it is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her hands. It is not tame. So much in this passage to think on.

Regroup. Take a deep breath. Allow your kids the wonder of the season and remind them again and again and again that God became one of us and that is the truest wonder of it all. As we remind them of that, and think on the deep reality of God made flesh…the wonder begins to infuse everything again.