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.

The first Flashmob.

There is just something about music. Something about spontaneous music, or at least music that catches off guard, that can completely carry us away.

Maybe that is the reason a video of an older couple playing piano gains over 9 million hits. Of course, they are playing piano at the Mayo clinic…but there is something about the joy of the music here, and I would guess music has helped to shape that joy we see all over them (absolutely follow the link to the next video as well):

During the Christmas season, we see this phenomena of Flash Mobs. These surprise moments, in a variety of places and performed by a variety of levels of musicians, when people going about their days are suddenly caught off guard by a song. Watch the faces of the crowds:

U.S. Air Force Band Flash Mob at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, this just happened on December 3rd, this year:

The Opera Company of Philadelphia performed the Hallelujah chorus at Macy’s in Philadelphia a few years ago as part of Random Acts of Culture:

Hallelujah in a Food Court, again, still one of my favorites:

It’s rather amazing, isn’t it? People stop their hurrying in the  middle of their holiday season. They stop and they listen. Their faces are turned up, and most are smiling and caught up in the music and in the surprise of the moment.

“And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever.”

“Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room…Joy to the World, The Savior Reigns.”

Did you hear that? The Gospel was proclaimed as people were simply trying to spread “Holiday Cheer”. People caught up in the moment of musical delight…heard that there is a God who loves them. They may not have completely registered that in the moment, but it was there.

Something else, though. There was another “Flash Mob”. Years ago. It was the best one ever:

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 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.”

Can you imagine?  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared praising God? That would be a flashmob that would get your attention.

God surprises us constantly. He does things in ways we cannot imagine, and although we are pretty good at imitating what He does…we create things that are pretty amazing, but they are just a shadow. I have a feeling that our flashmobs…yeah…they are just a shadow of that first flashmob as well.

I Resent that Spotlight!

The fish died.

Yep.  I pretty much have been side-tracked on a multitude of other necessities and I didn’t get around to cleaning out the fish tank. We were down to just two…we’ve lost a few lately…and one of them died. We were actually buying new filters while this little guy gave up.

Nate took it in stride; actually I think he expected it considering the fact the water was so murky lately we could barely find the two fish each night when all the boys went up to bed.

And what does this have to do with Advent?  Stay with me…

I realized something yesterday. Or maybe it is just that I allowed myself the freedom to admit something. There are times I resent my kids.

Yep, I just said that outloud.

When we start out our homeschool day and I am not prepared. I resent them…not hate them, not mad at them, not that want-them-to-go-away resentment…but I resent them because in that moment they are spotlighting my weakness and my inadequacies.

My reaction? Oh, highly spiritual. I usually bark at them and get irritable. Because, well, I hate having my weaknesses and inadequacies spotlighted.

Kids will do that, though. Just by being themselves they will make you aware of all the areas where you fall short. Suddenly you are completely vulnerable and insecure and they are wondering why you are over at the computer whimpering and tearing up while they are just goofing around.

The fact is, most days I am not prepared for the day. The lessons may be written down but there are other things that will throw me. Calls will come in that someone is sick, or a friend has made life-altering choices and suddenly all I want to do is pray. There are days the weight of the awareness of my mother’s intricate and powerful mind decaying away to dementia leaves me feeling without any enthusiasm to take on the homeschool endeavor. The laundry constantly interrupts us. Or the fish dies.

They are not earth-shattering events, but they pick at me and I find myself irritable and on edge because I just can’t seem to get ahead of it all.

Advent? Yes…I’m getting there.

A babe in a manger. Silent night. Little Drummer Boy.

These have all become so familiar to us we do not let them impact us when they should completely drop us to our knees. The spotlight is on.

400 years of silence the Jews had been waiting through. God had been awfully quiet. Had he forgotten all those promises? Had he not noticed that we just keep seeming to be inadequate in our attempts to fix things?

God had noticed. The long anticipation was over, Messiah was coming. But he came in the most extraordinary and unexpected way. God pulled the rug out and surprised everyone.

See…Advent should be about joy and about wonder. It should fill us with moments when we are stunned by the glory of the whole story. But there is more. It spotlights our inadequacy and our need. God had to come to redeem us…we simply could not do it ourselves. And he came in a way that completely took everyone by surprise, and left all the glory to God.

He walked in the room, crying like a baby.

Angels shouted. Stars led the way. Creation noticed.

And God entered creation with the baby-born wail…and I am sure hell shuddered at that infant’s wail.

We can resent God for showing that we are inadequate, as I sometimes resent my kids for spotlighting (without even knowing) where I fall short. We can shake our fist and be angry because He has called us sinners first. We can be mad that the mere fact that there is an Advent season or a Christmas celebration calls attention to the fact that there is a God who noticed we needed redemption.

Or, we can hear those songs and that simple story of the babe in the manger, of the silent night…and we can drop to our knees. We can allow ourself the freedom to admit we desperately need that redemption and we just can’t fix things on our own.

We have 20 more days. Be still with the story for a bit. Don’t rush it. Let the spotlight rest on your and don’t turn away…don’t resent the fact that your inadequacies are being noticed. Rejoice that our inadequacies and sin were noticed…and were overcome.

O come, O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven’s power
give me thy strength: it is the hour.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high;
like any babe at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
whose birth came hastily at night,
born in a stable, in blood and pain
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king–
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high:
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angels’ wings
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, Desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God’s Son, God’s Self, with us to dwell. -Madeleine L’Engle

Hope.

It begins today.

Did you catch it, even just a whisper. Or did you catch a full shock of it?

The breath of hope.

Living, breathing hope.

Not the hope of stores that offer sales that bring people in droves, climbing over each other. Stomping each other and shoving each other in the desire to get ahead. Not the hope of bettering themselves and getting ahead. No. Not that hope.

Not the hope that some help is on the way from government or employment or education or…any other work of our hands.

No. Living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:3-9

Advent.  Anticipation.  We are on our way. Set your eyes toward Bethlehem.

God has broken in to our world. The Creator has come into our midst. Living Hope is ours.

Amazing. Indescribable.

Hope.

More than we can imagine.

And He did it in the most amazing way. We never could have dreamed this up. A stable. A young girl. A baby. Take the time to think about this. Take the time to focus, even just for a moment, on what this season is truly about. Take the time to realize what our hope is all about.

Too Much To Ask
by Luci Shaw

It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
flutterings
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction- spirit
with flesh.
who would think it
more than a dream wish?
an implausible, laughable
defense.

And it seems much
too much to ask me
to be part of the
different thing-
God’s shocking, unorthodox,
unheard of Thing
to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory.