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.

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Atmosphere of wonder, not punishment…

I wrote yesterday about Advent, just touching on the idea that we will do something different during this season.  I know the whole concept of Advent is still a bit strange to many who did not grow up in liturgical churches. We are fairly ignorant of the rhythm of the church calendar in the other denominations.

Advent begins this Sunday, December 1st, and it ends on Christmas Eve (well, actually I think it officially ends on the Feast of Epiphany…my truly liturgical friends will have to help me out with that).  You can find all kinds of resources just by searching Advent 2013. Loads of places have devotionals, and of course there are a frightening array of Advent Calendar apps  you could download, including a zombie one.  Yep, even Advent is commercialized and sought out for entertainment and profit value.

Don’t let that stop you. Ignore the noise and focus on the benefit.

We are still deciding what our Advent season will look like; we’ve talked about shutting down technology altogether. TV, iPods, iPads, FaceBook. That’s fairly drastic, and there is a slight danger there. See, the goal is, especially with kiddos, to create an atmosphere and a frame of mind that is focused on the true Reality of Christmas.

Creating the space and the environment where we can think about the enormity of God-made-flesh, of Incarnation. Of all that that means, and all that that holds for us.

Of Hope.

Of Gospel. 

Of Truth.

Of Awe.

What we don’t want to do is take away all the fun and make an atmosphere that is more resembling punishment than adoration. The memories of Christmas that we are hoping for are a rhythm of Advent that sets this season apart from the rest of the year, but not because we simply took the toys away and asked the kids to contemplate the nativity set.

That won’t cut it.

Instead…we set aside a bit of the normal and increase the amount of wonder.  We string twinkling lights that make us smile, and we use them to talk about joy. We play with the nativity set and talk about the journey of wisemen and shepherds, of Mary and Joseph. We light candles and read Scripture. We enhance the normal with extraordinary.  We minimize the technology so we can hear the wonder of the simplicity.

A star leading shepherds. Wise men coming to worship. Birth of a King.

Okay, maybe not so simple. Still…wonder.

So, over the next few days until Advent begins I’ll continue to give some ideas, and I’ll also be reposting some articles from last year. I’m going to pester you now, and remind you to make some plans for wonder in the midst of the shopping and the cooking and the school plays. They can be wonder as well.

Sometimes we need a little help in finding the wonder and in being intentional about something, especially for an extended period, so each day I will also include a few links with ideas about how to celebrate and engage in Advent.

Just one link today, but if you follow this link, you will find a variety of resources:

Christine Sine has a fantastic list of resources. Grab a cup of coffee and spend some time reading through her Advent pages.