Listen: This Is Not Just Sweet Baby Jesus in a Manger

Nate read a story the other day about a little girl turning eleven who realizes she is not simply eleven, but all the ages she has been.

I have this feeling, especially at Christmas. I am this nearly 47 year old mother of four, wife, and daughter. I am immersed in the memories we are creating in our home. I am present as we bake cookies and hide elves. I am fully immersed in watching Maddie absolutely squeal in delight at a surprise letter from Santa the elves brought her. The excitement of Nate in helping to decorate and transform our house is contagious.

The sights and sounds of the season draw me in every year.

And yet…as I sit in the coffee shop for a few minutes, memories strike me and suddenly I am a child again. Listening to Christmas playlists, I am taken back to the house of my childhood. The sights and sounds of New Mexico fill me with a mixture of delight, sentimentality and sadness. A yearning for what is just not quite right now.

My Mom amazed me in her ability to create an atmosphere. She loved to say that the house came alive every Christmas; it puffed itself up and delighted in all the trimmings. She created a wonder-filled home. The culmination came on Christmas Eve as we gathered around an enormous table filled with a meal we only ate once a year. Tiny cinnamon rolls, potatoes au gratin, asparagus, and a beef tenderloin which melted in your mouth.  Shrimp cocktails and cheese sticks and egg nog and other treats started the evening.


We talked.

My grandparents would arrive and we would sit around munching on cheese sticks and talk. I wish I could remember more clearly the conversations. I simply remember the atmosphere. Everyone dressed up in Christmas sweaters and my velvet dress. Shoes shined. Eventually we would move from couches to the table and have a long dinner. There was no rush, and even as a child I don’t remember wanting to rush away from the table. There was something magical about the table and the conversation.

Eventually we would move back to the couches and sometimes act out the story of Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus. In our bathrobes with towels on our heads, held tight with belts. Some years Dad would simply read the story.

We were waiting for the culmination of the evening. We would wander outside and watch the cars slowly creeping by, only parking lights lit, seeking out the luminaries through the neighborhood. Before the dinner and the cheese sticks, before the dinner preparations shifted into high gear, we would have lit hundreds of luminaries. On the roof of the house, lining both sides of the sidewalk. Our neighbors had done the same. There were no electric lanterns…we lit every tea light in those paper sacks.


Christmas was filled with the feel of crisp, cold air and the smells of candles and meat roasting, of cinnamon and nutmeg topping egg nog.

Still…the culmination was loading up in the car late in the evening and heading to the midnight mass at St John’s Episcopal church. Walking in with only whispers, trying so hard to stay awake. The room filling with more and more people dressed in velvets and reds and greens, and then suddenly the music beginning and the room filling even more with sounds and voices. Filling with the word proclaimed.

“Unto us is born…”

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

“God has come. He is among us!”

I don’t remember if I ever fell asleep on the drive home. I remember getting to open one present on Christmas Eve. I remember strict instructions not to come down by myself, but wait until Dad came and brought me to he and Mom’s room to wait for my brothers so we could all come down together. I remember the anticipation. We didn’t have Santa Trackers, although I do think there was some type of tracker on television.

Laying in my bed. Trying so hard to fall asleep, and finding it so difficult. After midnight service, it had to be well after 1am.  Then….waiting….hearing footsteps on the roof and maybe bells? This didn’t happen every year, I don’t believe, but I know it happened at least once because it is firmly in my imagination of those days.

All of these memories, filling my mind as I sit here in a coffee shop, taking me through the events of the evening and on into Christmas morning with egg casserole for breakfast and presents opened, all of these memories bring me joy. Delight.
And yet, as I follow them, eventually they bring me to a deep sadness.

These memories are filled with a woman who absolutely filled a room with her presence. Dad somehow brought to life what she designed, and they were a great team. Dad was content, though, to stomp on the roof and jingle bells, to create the egg nog delights and enable the lighting of hundreds of luminarias. He was happy to quietly make it all happen….but

Mom orchestrated the whole event. And it was an event.

And now she has no idea. She has no delight in the music and the sounds and the sights. She no longer orchestrates. She trusts like a child in my Dad who helps her to know how to sit and stand and eat. She grasps tightly to his hand and she hums or whistles. She speaks, but the words have no cohesion or meaning.

She, who would greet the guests at the door with a smile and warmth which immediately set the tone, now is unaware when people come to visit. She no longer knows us. She cannot delight in the the grandchildren who carry so much of her character and strength and humor with them. And they cannot know the strength of this woman who directed and orchestrated so much of my history.

And so, in the midst of delight in the laughter of Maddie and the anticipation of all the kids for Christmas morning, in the midst of the sounds and sights and tastes of our Christmas, there is a deep sorrow and longing for something more whole. There is a longing for the true peace of Christmas, for a world ruled with truth and grace.

There is alongside the joy and hope, deep awareness of brokenness. And that brokenness and loss does not detract from the joy and hope: it amplifies them. That longing for all to be made whole is there because joy and hope have been tasted. I wouldn’t know to long for a woman filled with grace and elegance and wisdom if I only knew her in her Dementia and confusion.

We are marked by Eternity. The reality of Christmas moves us deeply because we have tasted of hope and joy. Some years Christmas  may be difficult because the sorrow is more present, and the longing fills us to the point we have to fight back tears sitting in the coffee shop…but that longing is holy. That longing is the mark that we are created for something more than just what is in front of us.

Christmas is the proclamation that there will be healing and restoration. So, if you sit next to a parent who no longer knows you. If you sit next to an empty seat of someone no longer with you. If you sit in a home where stress and sorrow demand your attention more than joy and hope. If you simply do not know what tomorrow holds, and the stress of a very confused and chaotic world has exhausted you…listen to that longing for something true. And hear:


And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,


“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  Luke 2



Listen: that is not some quaint story of the baby Jesus, cute and tame. That is the story of God wrenching open our reality and stepping. This is what we wait with held breath for, this is what we seek in this Advent season filled with chaos in our world and brokenness as far away as those we love. This is God stepping in to our brokenness and promising healing and hope.

Sing the songs this Christmas. Bake the cookies. Let your children delight in all the wonder of the season…and hold tight the truth that this is the story that changes everything. Do not miss the enormity of this truth: God became man. Take all your sorrow and longing, all your delight and joy and remember that you are remembered and loved by. God willing to become man to save you.

Buechner:

“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.”

Birth of Wonder

This originally was posted in 2013, yet the words hold true today….

 

This year a little elf doll has made an appearance at our house.  This is the first time we have taken part in the whole Elf on the Shelf phenomena, and we only did because two boys asked. They asked with this sense of wonder in their eyes and this delight. And now, each morning they immediately make a search for where this little stuffed toy has settled.

 

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This will  be part of their memory of Christmas. This will be part of their tradition. Along with bundling up and loading in the truck with hot chocolates and popcorn to drive through the city and look at Christmas lights. Listening to Christmas music. Practicing for the Christmas program at church. Decorating the Christmas tree and the house. All of these combine to create an atmosphere that stands out as special; as infused with wonder and something different.

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I remember the Christmases of my childhood. I remember lighting the luminarias and setting the table for Christmas Eve. I remember the anticipation, looking over the presents under the tree a hundred times. I remember the delight in looking at all the ornaments and sitting and staring at the tree with all the other lights in the house off. I remember the special food, the aromas and the scurrying around the kitchen. I remember the little cinnamon rolls that came out only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The special Christmas china and the red and green goblets. Velvet dresses and Christmas sweaters and shoes that pinched. Acting out the story of the coming of the Babe in the Manger.  Loading up in the car and heading to the Episcopal church downtown for midnight mass and remembering the hush that fell upon that place and the sense of awe. Christmas morning was fun, but all that led up to it is more imprinted on my memory than the gifts and opening presents.

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Everything was set to perfection, and I know there was stress involved, but it was set to perfection with a sense of delight, to lavish and to create a sense of the special.

 

Now…the one who was at the helm of setting the tone and the table  is lost in a place where she does not even understand the meaning of the word Christmas. We have not had a meal like that in years, and Dad has not celebrated Christmas in quite the same way in some time. Of course, Grandparents pare things back, but we have set aside the wonder because she does not understand. Until this past Thanksgiving…my brother and his wife brought Thanksgiving to my folks’ place.

 

Dad set the table and each piece was still able to carry memories. It is amazing how these inanimate objects bear our thoughts and hold our emotions, releasing a flood of memories just by being brought out into view. Now Dad walks through setting the pieces out, and Mom shadows him. She takes some pleasure in seeing the pieces, but she no longer is the one setting the tone. She no longer is the one welcoming the guests with beaming smile. She is no longer orchestrating.

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I realized something. I have many friends for whom the holidays are truly difficult, and I imagine that infusing wonder into those moments can be daunting. Seasons which invoke feelings of dread and fear and depression, or where loneliness is the dominant emotion rather than wonder or joy…these are not seasons marked by memories of anticipation and hope.  Rather, they might be seasons where we want to simply close the door and ignore.

 

I would offer that all the more, though, we need in those moments to affirm the irrationality of Christmas, as Madeleine L’Engle says.

In the midst of the terrors and the depressions and the fears and the angers and the hopelessness….in the midst of those is where we need to hear the wonder.

We can manufacture some sense of wonder with Elves on Shelves and twinkling lights. Enough to capture the attention of the five year old, or even the ten year old. Enough to enliven their imagination so they have memories to look back upon as they age. Enough to spark their wonder. But, they are mere glimpses of wonder, and they do not sustain. Let the children play and enjoy…and spark their wonder.

Then, remind them of the One who tells of the truest wonder of all.

When the true terrors of reality come, we need the irrationality of Christmas. We need the imagination of the God who has the power to overcome, and to birth true wonder.

 

The Birth of Wonder

Madeleine L’Engle

When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.

As I grow older

I get surer

Man’s heart is colder,

His life no purer.

As I grow steadily

More austere

I come less readily

To Christmas each year.

I can’t keep taking 

Without a thought 

Forced merrymaking

And presents bought

In crowds and jostling. 

Alas, there’s naught

In empty wassailing

Where oblivion’s sought.

Oh, I’d be waiting

With quiet fasting

Anticipating

A joy more lasting.

And so I rhyme

With no apology

During this time

Of eschatology:

Judgment and warning

Come like thunder. 

But now is the hour 

When I remember

An infant’s power

On a cold December.

Midnight is dawning

And the birth of wonder.

Joy! Flashmobs! The Light has Come!

One of my favorite things this time of year is scrolling through YouTube and watching FlashMobs. The one above, in Seoul, I love because of the language barrier. The songs are still familiar, however the language difference allows me to hear afresh. I love the expressions of the people.

This next one, in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, just amazes me. The singer is so talented, along with the musicians, but the words. Oh my soul.

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

 

This season, the Word of God, the announcement of God with us…it is sung out in the most unlikely places.

This one, in German, stretches my language again while still the music is familiar. Again, Hallelujah’s ring. Again the announcement that Christ has come.

This Advent business is not simply anticipation for us. We know the end of the story. We know He comes, and we know He changes everything. We know that He brings healing, brings hope, brings wonder. This Advent business is about joy alongside the anticipation. We still need to learn the art and discipline of waiting through this season…of quieting our hearts and being aware of our need.

But…sometimes the joy just has to come out. Because this is good news.

 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”” Luke 2:8-15

 

 

 

Never let anyone shrink your Advent down to only lighting candles — instead of you breaking into flame, because our God is holy fire and His people ignite light that breaks into a wildfire of change that breaks the captives free.  – Ann Voskamp 

 

This great mystery of the Incarnation. We need the days of Advent to allow the space and time for this truth to soak us again. The reality of God with Us. Emmanuel. In the midst of dark days, in the midst of loneliness…God has come. Rejoice! Find that balance this season of quiet anticipation and joyful exuberance.

The following poem, from Malcolm Guite’s Advent series last year helps me. I keep thinking on the line “O quickened little wick so tightly curled, Be folded with us into time and place, Unfold for us the mystery of grace.”

 

(You may click on the title to hear Malcolm read the poem, and I highly encourage you do so.)

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

We Only Hope When We Are Needy

One of the deepest realities of Advent is an awareness of our need. Part of the waiting, part of the anticipation, we sit with our need and become more aware of the longing within us. We make the space to contemplate and to listen, to be still and recognize our need.

 

When we rush to Christmas morning, we miss the longing. We rush right up to the birth and think of how cute Baby Jesus is with the cows and camels nudging him softly. We ooh and ahh at the nativity scene. He is familiar and good and sweet.

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We miss the longing, we miss the absolutely stunning wonder, that God has come in our midst.

 

 

The Jews had waited. The years between Malachi and the coming of Jesus were filled with warfare and kings, from Alexander the Great to Ptolemy to Antipater and Pompey. Ultimately Antipater’s son Herod the Great sits in rule over Judea. The people had been tossed and turned between violent men. Their identity had been questionable as some of them assimilated more with Greek culture or tried to legalistically hold on to what made them distinctively Jewish.

 
They had to be a weary people.  I have read that Jerusalem has been battled over, conquered, destroyed and captured 27 times. The area of Palestine has been fought over countless times. The people were weary. They needed hope.

 

In the midst of this, think of the whisper of hope, fulfilling prophecies they had to think were crazy.

 

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

 

Mary. Visited by Gabriel. Bringing forth the Son of God. In the midst of such a weary time, how must that have sounded to her. Not another king coming in battle, but something so completely different. A rescue so contradictory to everything.

 

Have we lost sight of that a little, in the rush of the holidays? In the rush of life. Have we lost the awareness of a deep longing within us for things to be set right? Have we looked at the babe in a manger with oohs and ahhs rather than stunned amazement at the plan of God?

 

Before we can rejoice in the hope we have to know our need. Sometimes that is as simple as recognizing our lack of belief. Sometimes that is as simple as rolling out of bed and being aware of the challenges of our life again. The suffering around us and the sorrow within our own families. Sometimes, though, we need the help of our poets to spur us toward prayer and anticipation.

 

We’re only six days in to Advent. There is plenty of time to listen, to wait and to hope. Settle yourselves and allow the need to be present so we can rejoice in the hope that God has ‘come to us here, who would not find you there’. Malcolm Guite helps with this, and you can click on the title to hear him read.

 

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

Ann Voskamp Made Me Miserable Today

It is the day before Advent begins. Honestly…even with the few posts lately leading up to this…I am feeling that scattered, frustrated sense of not being ready.

 

The intentions are always, always good. The interruptions are always, always present. The list of things to do in the holiday season always, yes always, seems to long and to hectic.

 

We have appointments today, meetings tomorrow and Friday we drive to Cincinnati for a hockey tournament. Thus begins Advent season in our household. Plus, the dishes were not finished last night, the laundry is piling up…and the kids are hungry.

 

Do you feel that as well? That slightly anxious feeling building, telling you that you will not be able to pull of this Advent nonsense? You’ll be lucky to get the presents purchased and wrapped and the tree decorated. Hopefully all the decorations will be up before Christmas actually comes knocking on the door. Oh, and of course you need to find some way to give outside of your family this year…someone to help, some organization to encourage. Yes. Shoot, that should have been the priority, right?

 

Ugh…it’s closing in a bit, isn’t it? 

 

This morning I read Ann Voskamp’s blog about Advent, about the amazing preparations in her household for the Night before Advent. The box and the lights and the hot chocolate.

 

And I felt miserable. 

 

And then I felt foolish for feeling miserable. But, honestly, I thought: “Hmm, where in my house tonight could I set up something so peaceful and beautiful and wonder-filled?” Then I remembered that tonight is Wednesday night, a notoriously rushed and busy night in our household as the boys finish up assignments for tutorial tomorrow.

 

Still with me? Already feeling overwhelmed and Advent has not even begun?

 

Guess what? We’re right where we should be.

 

I spent part of the morning reading Bana Alabed’s tweets from Aleppo. That feeling of being miserable abated. I thought of the folks in Gatlinburg, TN and around the country who have lost everything to fires over the last few days.

 

Perspective.

 

And here is why I say we are right where we should be:

 

We need Someone beyond ourselves to help. We need God. We need salvation and comfort and peace…and we cannot muster it up within ourselves

 

And that is the entire point of Advent, as Voskamp points out so well…

 

“It’s Coming”

 

Oh my soul needed to hear that this morning. Even with all the reading I am currently doing about Advent, all the poems I have read and all the thoughts I have gathered…I need to hear the whisper: “It’s coming.”

 

God has seen us in our anxiety and our frustration and our fears alongside our hopes an wonder and loves. He has seen us and He has come. We need this season to remind us. We need the patience of Advent to walk slowly toward the birth of the Savior so we can hear that whisper twenty-four times:

 

It’s Coming.

 

The hope, the restoration, the healing, the peace…it is coming. It will probably not look like what we expect. A babe in a manger? Not expected. But it is coming.

 

So stick with me. Find some room on the couch tonight and think about Advent. Figure out a way to incorporate it into the next twenty-four days. Figure out a way to turn the family’s attention away from wish lists for stuff, and toward a patient waiting for the reality of God With Us. Go to Ann’s blog, seriously…she has amazing resources to help us this Advent season. You can even print some things off right now to have ready for tomorrow.

 

We can do this. Take a deep breath and don’t worry about the fact that the Advent Calendar is still stuck in some box of Christmas stuff. Light a candle and drink some hot chocolate…even if it is in the midst of dishes and and laundry.

 

Pause. And reflect. And be aware of that deep need we all have for the coming of the One who can bring the healing and the peace we so desperately crave.

Blaze again…

Monday morning comes early, it seems. Technically, it is all the same, but there is something about Monday that brings a solemnity making it a bit more difficult to begin the day. There are those who face a greater stress when Monday finds us; stress from work or school or other obligations. Sometimes it is difficult, for me, to awaken on Monday and think of Advent.

 

Sometimes Monday morning clouds the patient imaginations of Advent. I need help on Monday morning especially.

 

I love the poetry of Malcolm Guite. He helps me, even on Monday morning, to bring my thoughts around. There is a link on the title that will take you to him reading the poem and you can enjoy hearing it with the rich English accent. I needed to hear this morning the cry to blaze again like fire…

 

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

 

 

The patient waiting of Advent continues. Maybe all the more so we need the discipline of turning our attention toward the incredible reality of the Incarnation. We need to know that the stress of the mundane, the toil that we engage, and all the the responsibilities we carry matter. We need to know on grey Monday mornings that there is a reality which deepens the surface of what we see.

 

We need to know that the Story is true.  We need the breath of that reality on Monday morning to infuse and ignite us.

 

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The Lingering Gaze that finds Hope

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This picture is on my street. Sunrise. Non-filtered.

I sit outside early in the mornings and read. Lately a lot of George MacDonald and Frederick Buechner.  I love the morning light, and love watching the day begin. The morning I walked outside and saw this sunrise, just a few weeks ago, I had to run back inside and grab my good camera. Not the phone. I needed something able to look a little more deeply, something that could be more true to what I was seeing. The camera phones are great for the quick snaps…but sometimes we need something sturdier. Something that shows depth.

Sometimes life is that way. The wonder around us requires us to look more deeply and not just glance. Requires us to hold our gaze long enough to see that there is hope in the midst of whatever circumstances we have.

Other times, the wonder takes our breath away and we have no choice but to recognize that something remarkable has happened. The birth of children…staggering.  Music that moves you beyond yourself and elevates your gaze, makes you yearn for something more. Paintings and art that capture the Creation in a way that moves your soul immediately, reflexively.

Hope. For me, it is tied to wonder. The fact that God created in a way that inspires us, in a way that stirs us and catches our breath, tells me that He is concerned with more than just practicality. He is concerned with more than efficiency. That means that sometimes He be will hard to figure out. Sometimes it will seem He is not being efficient in solving the issues that plague me.

Sometimes I have to look a little harder to find the hope. Sometimes hope requires faith that there is more happening than what we see.

“For Christians, hope is ultimately hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what for centuries we have been claiming he is. The hope that despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings.” 

Frederick Buechner

He came once. There is promise in that…the fact that He came secures our hope. He came and He made Himself known to us. He humbled Himself…came in a way that we could grasp with even a glance. A baby. Understanding the implications takes a look that finds the depth and all the nuances.

He came, and brought hope and the promise that healing will come.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Micah 6:3

Advent. The perfect time for seeing a little more deeply, for looking with a lens that allows more color and more reality to come through. Not the glances of business as usual. The lingering gaze that is caught up in wonder. Hope tends to find its way through in those moments.

Malcolm Guite provides wonderful poetry through the Advent season, paired with images and audio. Take some time, if you have not discovered him, to read through his pages. For now, here is one of his sonnets:

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.