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.

 

elfonshelf

 

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.

Christmascard08.6

 

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.

luminarias_roccoceselin

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.

IMG_0003

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.

He Did Not Wait

12 months. 365 days. An anniversary.

Today, here in our home I hear the laughter and giggles of little children. They  paused the in their delight of Christmas season with a sense of being stunned that a year has passed since the shooting at Sandy Hook

Yesterday another shooting. I learned of it when a friend posted on FaceBook that her child was okay. I hadn’t heard anything because rarely is the news on in our house during the day.

The debate will turn to gun control and to safety and to…well, all the things we can focus on which we can feel some sense of control over.

Here’s the thing. We can’t control evil. I am not one to engage political debate on these pages, and surely not when I am trying to focus on Advent and the turning my attention, and hopefully bringing you along with me, on a journey toward Bethlehem. However, on the Anniversary of the tragedy in Sandy Hook, we have to pause for a moment and reflect.

These tragedies remind us that there is evil. There is right and there is wrong, and there is terrible, terrible evil. And it is beyond us to control it. We cannot sanction laws to make evil behave. We cannot, because we know in our own lives we do not behave the laws ourselves. The laws against pride and selfishness. We do not love as we should. We lust, we sin. And even in our very best moments, in our most generous moments, in our most true moments…we know that we are not completely true and good.

There is brokenness that betrays us when our minds do not allow us to think properly. Brokenness which causes our emotions to turn upon us, bringing depression and fears and anger.

In that brokenness, in that tragedy and in that sin…in that mess is where God stepped. He did not wait until we cleaned it up. He did not wait until all was at peace. And although we all have our own pain and our own unsteadiness, and our own imperfections…now is the time for us to share our song.  The tragedies are still around us, and all oh we need to weep with those who weep and acknowledge that pain. And yet…we have the hope to share, we have the One who stepped into tragedy and overcame.

Now, in the midst of this season especially, is the time for us to rejoice and share and say that God has come…and he has not asked evil to behave, he has overcome. He has healed, he has made the way.

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure. 
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Madeleine L’Engle  First Coming

The Babe in a manger who will destroy the terror.

Can you believe it has been almost a year since the atrocity of Sandy Hook shooting? December 14th. We are almost at the one year anniversary. In some ways it seems like it has been so much longer…this year has been filled with much activity in our household. This anniversary has snuck up on me in some ways, and yet the awareness of evil and that nearness of tragedy is a sense that does not go away. I wrote this post last year a few days after the shooting. This was my way to work through the events, and also to understand in light of Advent.

How do we place horror alongside the wonder of Advent? Well…how do we not?

This Babe in a manger will stand between us and the roaring lion who would seek to destroy us:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  

These words from 1 Peter are familiar to most of us who have been in the church for any length of time. I think I’ve had them assigned as memory verses a few times. They are part of the make-up of my identity as a believer…part of the truth of His Word that are placed in my memory. They have been pushing ther way to the surface the last few days as I, along with all of us, try to process the events in Connecticut.  Trying to process the horror and the sorrow, and the politics of how we prevent these things, and the deep, visceral emotion that desires revenge or justice or some way to make things right.

They won’t be made right.

What has been pushing its way into my thinking is the fact that in this broken world there is evil. It is easy to ignore sometimes, depending on where my focus is for the day. It is there, though. The list of horrors in our world are long: Hitler, Stalin, Khmer Rouge. The horrors of Mexico or Rwanda or so many other places. Child molesters. Murderers. Rapists.

The events in Connecticut move us emotionally and violently because they are such an affront to our senses….completely unprovoked attack upon innocent children and teachers. In a place that should be safe. Maybe that is the key…maybe that is part of what enlarges this in our focus. I’m not trying to minimize, but trying to articulate that this horror is placed in the context of a multitude of horrors. Because there is evil.

Sometimes we make God’s love a vapid, hard-to-grasp thing by making it without any justice or truth. If God simply loves everyone with no qualifications…no call to holiness, to repentance, to belief…that love is rather meaningless. Well, sometimes I think we also make evil rather vapid and hard to grasp…we make it vague.

God has told us, though, that it is not vague. That there is evil that seeks us out to destroy us. There is an evil one and he is not compassionate or vague. He hates all that is good and he hates all that is innocent and he rejoices in the horrors that bring us to confusion and tears….but that same evil that would seek to destroy us does something else. It illuminates our deep need for help. That same evil that would destroy us drives us to the redemption of a savior.

I have to repeat the poem from Madeleine L’Engle I posted Friday night because it summarizes Christmas so well for me:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

-First Coming

Christmas is not just about a babe born in a manger. It is part of the story. The story did not begin there, the story began when we chose to turn away from God and He began to redeem us. Christ coming to earth, the Word made flesh, the Maker of the stars born….was God dealing with evil. This babe in the manger, this tiny one, was an unimaginable response to the sin that we cannot overcome and the one who would try to destroy us. This babe in the manger, this God who would enter our pain, will restore and redeem and conquer.

This does not make the horror less easy to understand, it does not make the mourning softer….no it makes the mourning louder and the cry for justice stronger. We know that the evil is wrong. We know that it is beyond gun control laws, beyond marshals being placed around us to protect us….we know that there is one that hates us, but we know that there is one that loves us more. There is one that loves enough to suffer with us to redeem us and that is the only thing that can bring hope in the midst of a broken world. We are part of the brokenness, our sin is part of the pain and the horror. We have to not let the Santa cheer and elf-on-a-shelf cause the enormity of the Incarnation be softened.

God came to earth as a man to deal with the evil that would prowl around as a roaring lion seeking to destroy us, and with the sin that would choke us and destroy us without fanfare. Rejoice! Rejoice!

“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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5

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