The largest potato I harvested from our garden this fall was the size of a small grapefruit–a yellow fleshed variety with a smooth surface, a rather irregular shape but nevertheless impressive in sheer bulk. It had been waiting on the shelf in the root cellar for just the right dinner this winter and tonight was the night.

I peeled it and to help it steam faster, started to halve and quarter it. I could tell as the knife went through it that something wasn’t quite right. And it wasn’t.

This beautiful spud was hollow with brown fleshy mush in the center–not rotten–no odor whatsoever, but internally a defective mess. Gorgeous outside, a shambles inside. There wasn’t really enough good potato to even steam up to eat. It was beauty only skin deep, with no substance within.

Potato hollowheart is an abnormality that occurs when a potato grows too quickly with uneven climate conditions–too much rain, too much fertilizer too quickly. I’m not sure why this potato suffered when the rest of my crop were regular size and all exposed to the same garden soil and weather. I don’t fertilize at all so this was a potato that simply went awry for reasons of its own.

It is a reminder that the best of the crop are the ones that tend to blend in with the rest–sometimes with scabs that need to be smoothed or peeled off, or a rough surface that requires extra cleaning, or too many eyes, or just a bit on the small side. But once they are cleaned and steamed and prepared, they are sweet and fleshy and buttery without butter. They are nearly perfect despite their plain outward appearance.

I don’t ever want to be discovered to have a hollow heart. Give me scabs and scars and wrinkles and puckers. But make my heart full, overflowing and sweet, with joy revealed inside a plain and rough outer skin, and all my grimy spots scrubbed clean.

Earth Covered Grace

Van Gogh's Irises

For the New Year, 1981
by Denise Levertov

I have a small grain of hope–
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source–
clumsy and earth-covered–
of grace.

Last year my sister-in-law brought several paper bags full of iris roots resting quietly in clumps of dirt–dry misshaped feet and fingers crippled with potential. We were late getting them into the ground but their grace was forgiving. They took hold and transformed our little courtyard into a Van Gogh landscape. They will continue to gladden our hearts until we divide them someday to pass on their gift of beauty to another garden. This act– “by division, will hope increase”–feels radical yet that is exactly what God did in sending His Son to become earth-covered.

A part of God was broken off to put down roots, grow, thrive and be divided, over and over and over again to increase the beauty and grace for those of us limited to this soil. Our garden will bloom so all can see and know: hope lives here.

Called to Advent–following

photo by Josh Scholten

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

Luke 9:56-58

…we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on … to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.

C.S. Lewis–in The Grand Miracle, God in the Dock

A manger was at least a place for a newborn baby to lay His head, which was more than He had later in life. A stable was not first class accommodations by any means, but it was most fitting for God’s Son, come to live alongside us in grime and poverty. The cost of following Him is to dwell with Him to reach out to the fearful and anxious, the hungry and thirsty, the down and out, the sick and miserable, the homeless and helpless–at times we are all of those ourselves.

The corner from winter to spring is turned with the Incarnation and whether we stay or follow is up to us. At the very least, we should offer Him a place to lay His head instead of turning Him away with excuses of “no room”. There is plenty of empty space for Him to dwell, right within our hollow hearts.

Called to Advent–filling

photo by Josh Scholten

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 1:22-23

The world is filled, and filled with the Absolute. To see this is to be made free.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

My mouth will utter praise of the Lord, of the Lord through whom all things have been made and who has been made amidst all things; who is the Revealer of His Father, Creator of His Mother; who is the Son of God from His Father without a mother, the Son of Man through His mother without a father.

He is as great as the Day of Angels, and as small as a day in the life of men;

He is the Word of God before all ages, and the Word made flesh at the destined time.

Maker of the sun, He is made beneath the sun.

Disposing all the ages from the bosom of the Father, He consecrates this very day in the womb of His mother.

In His Father He abides; from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, under the heavens He was born upon earth.

Wise beyond all speech, as a speechless child, He is wise. Filling the whole world, He lies in a manger. Ruling the stars, He nurses at His mother’s breast. He is great in the form of God and small in the form of a servant, so much so that His greatness is not diminished by His smallness, nor His smallness concealed by His greatness.

For when He assumed a human body, He did not forsake divine works. He did not cease to be concerned mightily from one end of the universe to the other, and to order all things delightfully, when, having clothed Himself in the fragility of flesh, he was received into, not confined in, the Virgin’s womb. So that, while the food of wisdom was not taken away from the angels, we were to taste how sweet is the Lord.
St. Augustine

How empty was the world before Christ! From Mary’s untouched womb to Joseph’s futile search for a place to sleep in Bethlehem, to the shepherds’ dismal existence on the hillsides, to Simeon’s arms aching to hold the Messiah, to Anna’s long wait in the temple. In a million ways, seen and unseen, the empty spaces were filled, the hunger sated, the thirst quenched, the rest assured. He joined us so we shall never lack again. He became one with us–all is fulfilled and filled fully.

Called to Advent–yoking

Horse Team by Edvard Munch

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:29-30

An old fashioned yoke, a solid wood piece that fits over and under the necks of a team of oxen, guarantees that the two must move in synchrony and pull together, unlike the more flexible harness and collar of a team of horses. In harness, one of the team can hold back and not share in the load, but the yoke is always shared. What one carries, so the other walks along in step sharing the same burden.

I draw great comfort from being invited to be yoked with Christ, knowing He is right alongside me, pulling with me and for me, understanding the load I bear. What better team mate can there be, teaching me in gentleness and humility, telling me when it is okay to take a breather and rest.

I need that now. I need Him alongside always.

What can be lighter than a burden which takes our burdens away, and a yoke which bears up the bearer himself?

– Bernard of Clairvaux

Did you ever stop to ask what a yoke is really for? Is it to be a burden to the animal which wears it? It is just the opposite: it is to make its burden light. Attached to the oxen in any other way than by a yoke, the plow would be intolerable; worked by means of a yoke, it is light. A yoke is not an instrument of torture; it is an instrument of mercy. It is not a malicious contrivance for making work hard; it is a gentle device to make hard labor light. [Christ] knew the difference between a smooth yoke and a rough one, a bad fit and a good one… The rough yoke galled, and the burden was heavy; the smooth yoke caused no pain, and the load was lightly drawn. The badly fitted harness was a misery; the well fitted collar was “easy”. And what was the “burden”? It was not some special burden laid upon the Christian, some unique infliction that they alone must bear. It was what all men bear: it was simply life, human life itself, the general burden of life which all must carry with them from the cradle to the grave. Christ saw that men took life painfully. To some it was a weariness, to others failure, to many a tragedy, to all a struggle and a pain. How to carry this burden of life had been the whole world’s problem. And here is Christ’s solution: “Carry it as I do. Take life as I take it. Look at it from my point of view. Interpret it upon my principles. Take my yoke and learn of me, and you will find it easy. For my yoke is easy, sits right upon the shoulders, and therefore my burden is light.”

… Henry Drummond (1851-1897), Pax Vobiscum

Called to Advent–wrapping

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:6-7

Ford Maddox Brown -- Washing Peter's Feet

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3-5

Titian's Burial of Jesus

Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

John 19:40

Is it mere tradition that we wrap gifts at Christmas? Is it custom to simply preserve the secret a little longer for the recipient, or prolong the suspense?

I suspect it is a continuation of the most remarkable gift wrapping that took place that first Christmas night, a mother who swaddled her baby. Later in His life, Jesus wraps Himself with a towel as He becomes a servant devoted to washing away the dirt on His disciples’ feet. Finally, at death, He is carefully wrapped by the people who loved Him in spices and linens, which He abandons in an open tomb three days later, the napkin from around His head neatly folded and set aside.

Why is there emphasis in the scripture how Jesus is wrapped in cloth, in towel, in linens that He no longer needs?

Perhaps we are to understand swaddling the newborn and the newly dead as a protective measure of nurture, preservation, respect and honoring. Jesus wrapping Himself for foot washing also protects Him and comforts others, so with His own hands He can dry dirty feet with great care and love. There is deep affection in the touching, washing, clothing and honoring of the body, whether it is infant, dirty feet or the dead.

As we open our gifts, we will remember there can be no giftwrap like the first, or the last. He has unwrapped Himself for us, and is waiting, arms wide open.

Called to Advent–enduring

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it, when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
1 Corinthians 4:12

I wear several different types of gloves in my personal and professional life. At home, every day, as I prepare for barn chores I pull on old work gloves with holes and rips that still manage to protect my hands from blisters and briers as I shovel manure and lift hay bales. During the cold winters, I wear soft mittens when I venture outside. During gardening season, gloves keep my hands and fingernails from getting so grimy that I can’t scrub them clean afterward. During blackberry picking season, I wear protective gloves to help reduce the scratches and pokes from the thorny vines. At work, I don disposable plastic gloves many times a day as I palpate rash lesions, open up abscesses, sew up lacerations, probe orifices. Gloves protect me but also protect my patients.

There are times I wish I could pull a glove over all of me when it is a struggle to endure what life dishes out, when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, or stretched by responsibility, or worn thin by worry. I know in my heart there is no glove that can buffer me more effectively than His Word. The knowledge of His faithfulness is protection enough to help me endure the hard times.

Then what I put on is holy, but unlike my old well-worn work gloves, this holiness inspires my work to change the world, one shovelful, one trench, one basket of fruit, or one hurting patient at a time.

You can endure change by pondering His permanence.
Max Lucado

Christians are supposed not merely to endure change, nor even to profit by it, but to cause it.

Harry Emerson Fosdick

Called to Advent–watching

photo by Nate Gibson

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.
Luke 2:8-9

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

Luke 12-35-38

The shepherds weren’t ready, yet they kept watch around the clock because it was their job to do so. They were understandably terrified at the unexpected announcement coming out of the blue. Interpreting glory-filled praise from a heavenly host was definitely not in their job description.

We, like the shepherds, are to be watching and prepared for the second advent. It is in our job description–even in the middle of the night, we are to be poised to answer the knock on the door in an instant, in order to joyfully welcome Him back. The message clearly is: be ready. Keep watch.

We’re keeping the lights on for You.

Christ is the sun, and all the watches of our lives should be set by the dial of his motion.

Thomas Brooks

Called to Advent–voicing

photo by Josh Scholten

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Romans 10:17-18

Tonight the annual Wiser Lake Chapel Children’s Christmas Program blessed the folks who attended and especially the children who participated. Once again the rickety manger was pulled out of storage, with its baby Jesus doll wrapped in swaddling cloths. Yet another generation of children is draped in forty year old white sheet angel costumes with tinsel halos and striped shepherd bathrobes with terrycloth towel head coverings and loopy yarn beards. The familiar songs are sung, the story of the nativity read and acted out by the children. Young voices were raised in “Away in the Manger” and those tender notes went out the double doors of that little Chapel, to the ends of the world.

Did you not hear? Yes, of course you did. And will again.
And shall we, can we, ever be silent again?

Doth not all nature around me praise God? If I were silent, I should be an exception to the universe. Doth not the thunder praise Him as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not the mountains praise Him when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Doth not the lightning write His name in letters of fire? Hath not the whole earth a voice? And shall I, can I, silent be?
Charles Spurgeon

photo by Julie Garrett

photo by Julie Garrett

photo by Julie Garrett

Called to Advent–unfolding

photo by Josh Scholten

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

What is revealed by the unfolding of our faith is the depth and width and height and completeness found within. Unfolding means no longer staying hidden, but opening ourselves up for all to see.

We become the page upon which God writes, the palette upon which God paints, the instrument that God plays, the song that God composes. We become beautiful in His hands.

If God is adding to our spiritual stature, unfolding the new nature within us, it is a mistake to keep twitching at the petals with our coarse fingers. We must seek to let the Creative Hand alone.

Henry Drummond

In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan. Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise.
B.B. Warfield