God Among Us: Sharing Our Sadness

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A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.
Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:15

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26: 38-39

God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any im­portance. We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incar­nate at all.
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis

 …as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.

Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.

As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful.
~Paul Tripp

 

Written for too many innocents who have died this year at the hands of others…

There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
and end.

He came to us
for times such as this,
born of
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in barn dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could terrify masses
and massacre innocents.

He became dust to be
like us
He began a mere speck in a womb
like us,
so easily washed away
as unexpected, unneeded, unwanted.

Lord, You are long expected.
You are needed
You are wanted.

Your heart beat
like ours
breathing each breath
like ours
until a fearful fallen world
took Your
and our breath
away.

You shine through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
Your tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.

You hear our cries
as You cry too.
You know our tears
as You weep too.
You know our mourning
as You mourned too.
You know our dying
as You died too.

God weeps
as tragedy happens.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is a choice
we made from the beginning,
a choice we continue to make.

Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
just dust,
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God
forevermore.
~EPG

the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

 

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully, lullay.

1. O sisters too,
How may we do,
For to preserve this day?
This poor Youngling
For Whom we sing
By by, lully, lullay?

2. Herod the king,
In his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.

3. That woe is me,
Poor Child for Thee!
And ever morn and may,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny Child,
By by, lully, lullay.

 

Good people all, this Christmas time
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending His beloved Son

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day
In Bethlehem upon that morn’
There was a blessed Messiah born

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear

“Arise and go”, the angels said
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you’ll find this happy morn’
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born”

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went that Babe to find
And as God’s angel had foretold
They did our Savior Christ behold

Within a manger He was laid
And by his side the Virgin maid
As long foretold upon that morn’
There was a blessed Messiah born

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

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God Among Us: Turning Darkness Into Light

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For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4: 6

The love that descended to Bethlehem is not the easy sympathy of an avuncular God, but a burning fire whose light chases away every shadow, floods every corner, and turns midnight into noon.  This love reveals sin and overcomes it.  It conquers darkness with such forcefulness and intensity that it scatters the proud, humbles the mighty, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:51-53).
~from the editors’ introduction in Watch for the Light

 

On this morning before the longest night of the year, I look out the window eagerly desiring a post-solstice reprieve from interminable darkness.  I seek that promise of being led back into the light, even if it will take months to get there.  It is a promise that keeps me going even if I will barely perceive the few minutes of extra daylight tomorrow.  It is from the simple knowledge that things are changing — getting lighter and brighter — that I harvest hope.

God made light through His Word, not once but twice.  In the beginning, He created the sun and the moon to penetrate and illuminate the creation of our hearts and our souls.  In the stable He came to light the world from below as well as from above so those hearts and souls could be saved from self-destruction.

I am showered with His light even on the longest night of the year and forever more,  lit from the glory of God reflected in the many faces of Jesus: as newborn, child teacher, working carpenter, healer, itinerant preacher, unjustly condemned, dying and dead, raised and ascended Son of God.

Let the dark days come as they certainly will.  They cannot overwhelm me now,  lit from within no matter how deeply the darkness oppresses.

I know His promise.
I know His face.
He knows I know.
~EPG

A spotless rose is blowing,
Sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers foreshowing,
Of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winder,
And in the dark midnight.

The rose which I am singing,
Whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing
In Mary purest maid;
For through our God’s great love and might,|
The Blessed Babe she bare us
In a cold, cold winter’s night.

A tender shoot has started up from a root of grace,
as ancient seers imparted from Jesse’s holy race:
It blooms without a blight, blooms in the cold bleak winter,
turning our darkness into light.

This shoot Isaiah taught us, from Jesse’s root should spring;
The Virgin Mary brought us the branch of which we sing;
Our God of endless might gave her this child to save us,
Thus turning darkness into light.

 

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God Among Us: Reason to Fear Not

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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.”
Luke 2:8-10

 

We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.
We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”
God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.
…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death
is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.
It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.
It means choosing generosity over greed.
It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.
Finally, it means being ready to die again and again
— to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

~Johann Christoph Arnold from Watch for the Light

 

“How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource!
We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go.
And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us,
not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven.”
~George MacDonald

 

 The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are,
because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.
Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.

I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner
in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
 

 

Fear often becomes the thing we fear the most. And it need not be. Being afraid in the face of the unexpected happened years and years ago to people who were society’s cast-offs, relegated to tending flocks as they had no other skill of value. They were the forgotten and the least of men. Yet what they saw and heard that Christmas night put them, of all people, first in line to see God in flesh,  allowing them access no one else had.

Within the routine familiarity of their fields and flocks came this most unexpected experience, terrifying in its sheer “other worldliness”, and blinding in its grandeur. They were flattened with fear and dread, “sore” afraid, hurting all over in their terror.

And so the reassurance came: “Be not afraid”.  It is reiterated over and over:  “Fear not!”

The shepherds picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and obediently went on their way to the safety and familiar security of a barn, to see with their own eyes what they could not imagine: a baby born in so primitive a place, yet celebrated from the heavens. The least becomes first, and the first becomes the least.

Sometimes, in these dark times, our terror is for good reason, and we feel driven upon the rocks of life.  But we need to understand where we truly land in those terrifying moments.  It is the safe haven of God’s arms,  as He gazes up at us from a manger bed, walks with us through the valley of our fear, and gathers us in to safe haven when we were sure there was nowhere else to go.
~EPG

 

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.

 

1. Methinks I see an heav’nly host
Of angels on the wing
Methinks I hear their cheerful notes
So merrily they sing:

Let all your fears be banish’d hence,
Glad tidings I proclaim,
For there’s a Saviour born today,
And Jesus is his name.

2. Lay down your crooks and quit your flocks,
To Bethlehem repair;
And let your wand’ring steps be squar’d
By yonder shining star.

Seek not in courts or palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw;
But search the stable, see your God
Extended on the straw.

3. Then learn from hence, ye rural Swains,
The Meekness of your God,
Who left the boundless Realms of Joy
To Ransom you with blood.

The Master of the Inn refus’d
A more commodious Place;
Ungenerous Soul of Savage Mould,
And destitute of Grace.

4. Exult ye oxen, low for joy,
Ye tenants of the stall,
Pay your obeisance, on your knees
Unanimously fall.

The royal guest you entertain
Is not of common birth,
But second to the great I Am;
The God of heav’n and earth.

5. Then suddenly a heav’nly host
Around the shepherds throng,
Exulting in the threefold God
And thus address their song.
To God the Father, Christ the Son,
And Holy Ghost ador’d;
The First and Last, the Last and First,
Eternal praise afford.

 

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God Among Us: Infinite Joined With Finite

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By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
1Timothy 3:16

 

The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.
~Wayne Grudem from Systematic Theology

The virgin birth has never been a major stumbling block in my struggle with Christianity; it’s far less mind-boggling than the Power of all Creation stooping so low as to become one of us.
~Madeleine L’Engle from A Stone for a Pillow

 

Most of us enjoy mysteries.  We enjoy the suspense of trying to solve the puzzle, and consider all the options.  But somehow this mystery causes some frustration and anger.  Why is the ultimate answer not revealed, where is the ending?  Why are we not shown the full narrative arc like a series of Star Wars movies that seem to capture our imaginations?
Yet this mystery of Godliness — the infinite becoming finite —  is not for us to solve or reckon with.  It is for us to marvel over, we are 100% mind-boggled and content to wait until the day the story is complete.
~EPG

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1 True God and yet a Man?
True maid and yet a mother?
Thought wonders how thought can
Conceive one or the other.

2 A God and can He die?
A dead Man, can He live?
What can thought well reply?
What reason reason give?

3 God, truth itself does teach;
Our thoughts sink too far under
For reason’s pow’r to reach.

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light, inaccessible, hid from our eyes
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient Of Days
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise

Unresting, unhasting and silent as light
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might
Thy justice like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love

To all life Thou givest, to both great and small
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree
And wither and perish but naught changeth Thee

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight
All praise we would render, o help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee

O Word of God incarnate, O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging, O Light of our dark sky:
We praise You for the radiance that from the hallowed page,
A Lantern to our footsteps, shines on from age to age.

The Church from You, our Savior, received the Gift divine,
And still that Light is lifted over all the earth to shine.
It is the sacred Vessel where gems of truth are stored;
It is the heaven drawn Picture of Christ, the living Word.

The Scripture is a banner before God’s host unfurled;
It is a shining Beacon above the darkling world.
It is the Chart and Compass that over life’s surging tide,
Mid mists and rocks and quicksands, to You, O Christ, will guide.

O make your Church, dear Savior, a lamp of purest gold,
To bear before the nations Your true light as of old.
O teach your wandering pilgrims by this their path to trace,
Till, clouds and darkness ended, they see You face to face.

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God Among Us: Even In Us

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Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3: 6-8

 

To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, the high-school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. And the step from “God with them” to Emmanuel, “God with us,” may not be as great as it seems.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him.
~Frederick Buechner

_______________________

Christina Rossetti, a great 19th century poet, reminds us in her pithy earthy words below, how heaven could not hold God.  Even though He is worshiped by angels, it is enough for Him to be held in His mother’s arms, His face kissed, His tummy full, to be bedded in a manger.  It is enough for Him, and He is enough for us — even born in us, poor as we are — snowbound and ice-locked as we are in our longing for something more.

Our hearts are enough for Him who came here when heaven could not hold Him.
Imagine that.
~EPG

 

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give Him my heart.
~Christina Rossetti 1872

Who hears?
Who hears the voice of the hungry, the thirsty?

Who sees?
Who sees the tears of the suffering ones?

Imagine a King who would come through the darkness
And walk where I walk, full of greatness,
And call me to His side,
Just like a Father and child.

Who knows?
Who knows the hopes that lie hidden forgotten?
Who comes?
Who comes to lead all the children home?
~Kristyn Getty

 

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.
The night is peaceful all around you,
Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

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God Among Us: Incomprehensibly Made Man

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He had to be made like his brothers in every way …
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted,
he is able to help those who are being tempted …
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way,
just as we are—yet was without sin.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15-16

 

The Word had become flesh: a real human baby. He had not ceased to be God; He was no less God then than before; but He had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of His deity, but God plus all that He had made His own by taking manhood to Himself. He who made man was now learning what it felt like to be man.

The mystery of the Incarnation is unfathomable. We cannot explain it; we can only formulate it. Perhaps it has never been formulated better than in the words of the Athanasian Creed. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man … perfect God, and perfect man … who although He be God and man: yet He is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the manhood into God.”

Our minds cannot get beyond this. What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley’s words,

Our God contracted to a span;
Incomprehensibly made man.

Incomprehensibly. We shall be wise to remember this, to shun speculation and contentedly to adore.
~J.L. Packer from Knowing God

 

Incomprehensible– yet we are given Words to understand in faith what took place.
Inconceivable– yet He was conceived and delivered, taking manhood to Himself.
Incarnate–yet every bit as much flesh as I am, knowing the struggle of my weakness.
Infinite– yet finite enough to be held in His mother’s arms.
Incredible–yet I believe.
~EPG

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Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s Name.

See in that Infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labor while ye gaze
To sound the mystery
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.

Unsearchable the love
That hath the Savior brought;
The grace is far above
Of men or angels’ thought:
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh t’appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

 

1. Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

2. Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.

3. Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
~Frank Houghton

God Among Us: Be Our Companion

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13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;
 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24: 13-15, 31-32

 

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be.  A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him-whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend-be our companion.
— Henri Nouwen from Gracias: A Latin American Journal

 

Like so many, I tend to walk through life blinded to what is really important, essential and necessary.  I am self-absorbed,  immersed in my own troubles and concerns, staring at my own feet as I walk each step, rather than looking forward at the road ahead, listening to the companion who has always walked beside me.

We were joined by this living breathing walking God on the road to Emmaus as He fed us from His word. I hunger for even more, my heart burning within me.   Jesus makes plain how He Himself addresses my most basic needs:

He is the bread of life so I am fed.

He is the living water so I no longer thirst.

He is the light so I am never left in darkness.

He shares my yoke so my burden is easier.

He clothes me with righteousness so I am never naked.

He cleanses me when I am at my most soiled and repugnant.

He is the open door–always welcoming, with a room prepared for me.

So when I encounter Him along the road of my life,  I need to be ready to recognize him, listen, invite Him in to stay, share whatever I have with Him.    When He breaks bread and hands me my piece, I want to accept it with open eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself, the Companion we were blessed with Christmas morning.
~EPG

 

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
~Appalachian Carol

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God Among Us: Where God Was Homeless

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The winds were scornful,
Passing by;
And gathering Angels
Wondered why

A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
Were kind.

For who in all the world
Could guess
That God would search out
Loneliness.
~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B. “The Stable” from Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine Marist Press, 1946.

 

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
~G. K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas”

 

Beholding his glory is only half our job.
In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth;
we are not really Christians till that has been done.
A mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited
by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice—
animals which take up a lot of room
and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet.
And it is there between them, pushing them out,
that Christ must be born
and in their very manger he must be laid—
and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him.
Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals
than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.
~Evelyn Underhill

 

…as the night of this world folds you in
its brutal frost (the barnyard smell strong as sin),
and as Joseph, weary with unwelcome and relief, His hands
bloody from your birth, spreads his thin cloak
around you both, we doubly bless you.  Baby,
as you are acquainted, for the first time, with our grief.
~Luci Shaw from “A Blessing for a New Baby”

 

If I recall correctly, the first catalog with holiday theme items arrived in our mailbox in late July. The “BEST CHRISTMAS ISSUE EVER!” magazines hit the racks in September. Then, with the chill in the air in October and Halloween past, the stores put out the Santa decorations and red and white candy, instead of the orange and black candy of the previous 6 weeks. I have been inundated with commercial “Christmas” for months now and finally, it is about to arrive, after considerable fanfare and folderol. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, beat to a “best ever holiday” pulp.

All of this has little to do with the original gift given that first Christmas night, lying small and helpless in a barn feed trough. I know a fair amount about feed troughs, having daily encounters with them in our barn, and there is no fanfare there and no grandiosity. Just basic sustenance– every day needs fulfilled in the most simple and plain way. Our wooden troughs are so old, they have been filled with fodder thousands of times over the decades. The wood has been worn smooth and shiny from years of being sanded by cows’ rough tongues, and over the last two decades, our horses’ smoother tongues, as they lick up every last morsel, extracting every bit of flavor and nourishment from what has been offered there. No matter how tired, how hungry, there is comfort offered at those troughs. The horses know it, anticipate it, depend on it, thrive because of it.

The shepherds in the hills that night were starving too. They had so little, yet became the first invited to the feast at the trough. They must have been overwhelmed, having never known such plenty before. Overcome with the immensity of what was laid before them, they certainly could not contain themselves, and told everyone they could about what they had seen.

His mother listened to the excitement of the visiting shepherds and that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. Whenever I’m getting caught up in the frenetic overblown commercialism of modern Christmas, I go out to the barn and look at our rough hewn feed troughs and think about what courage it took to entrust an infant to such a bed. She knew in her heart, indeed she had been told, that her son was to feed the hungry souls of human kind and He became fodder Himself.

Now I am at the trough, starving, sometimes stamping in impatience, often anxious and weary, at times hopeless and helpless. He was placed there for good reason: a treasure to be shared plain and simple, nurture without end for all.

Who needs Christmas cookies, pumpkin pies and the candy canes to fill the empty spot deep inside?

Just kneel at the manger.
~EPG

 

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in præsepio.

Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Christum, Alleluia!

Translation:

O great mystery
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord
lying in their manger.

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

barnstorm

God Among Us: Opening Heart and Hands

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…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Matthew 1:20-22,24

 

I see the hands of Joseph.
Back and forth along bare wood they move.
There is worry in those working hands,
sorting out confusing thoughts with every stroke.
“How can this be, my beautiful Mary now with child?” 
Rough with deep splinters, these hands,
small, painful splinters like tiny crosses
embedded deeply in this choice to stay with her.
He could have closed his hands to her,
said, “No” and let her go to stoning.
But, dear Joseph opened both his heart and hands
to this mother and her child.
Preparing in these days before
with working hands
and wood pressed tight between them.
It is these rough hands that will open
and be the first to hold the Child.
~Catherine Alder from “Advent Hands”

_______________________________

In these weeks of Advent waiting,
we are stretched beyond what we ever thought possible:
to change our plans to God’s plan,
to accept what is unacceptable,
to include the excluded,
to grasp understanding of the incomprehensible,
to open closed heart and hands
and let the Christ Child in
so we can hold Him as Joseph did that night.
If Joseph could do it,
despite all he’d been taught,
despite the derision–
if he could still trust,
and obey,
and believe,
how can we not?
~EPG

 

Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Or does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child

Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You’ll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight

He was her man, she was his wife
And late one winter night
He knelt by her
As she gave birth
But it wasn’t his child,
It wasn’t his child

Yet still he took him as his own
And as he watched him grow
It brought him joy
But it wasn’t his child
It wasn’t his child

But like a father he was strong and kind
And I believe he did his best
It wasn’t easy for him
But he did all could
His son was different from the rest
It wasn’t his child
It wasn’t his child

And when the boy became a man
He took his father’s hand
And soon the world
Would all know why
It wasn’t his child
It wasn’t his child

But like a father he was strong and kind
And I believe he did his best
It wasn’t easy for him
But he did all could
He grew up with his hands in wood
And he died with his hands in wood
He was God’s child,
He was God’s child

He was her man
She was his wife
And late one night
He knelt by her
As she gave birth
But it wasn’t his child
It was God’s child

 

How could it be
This baby in my arms,
Sleeping now, so peacefully?
“The Son of God,” the angel said,
How could it be?

Lord I know, He’s not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone.
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love.

Chorus
Father show me where I fit into this plan of Yours,
How can a man be father to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter,
How can I raise a King, How can I raise a King?

He looks so small, His face and hands so fair,
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear.
But when He laughs, it shines again,
How could it be?
~Michael Card

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God Among Us: The Wonder of All Wonders

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The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.
Psalm 65:8

 

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
~Madeleine L’Engle  “The Winter is Cold, is Cold”

 

Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

 

My weakness does not separate me from God,
but brokenness and weariness
is His invitation to draw closer to Him.
I lift my eyes to hills; my help has come.
Wonder of all wonders.
EPG

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Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by Thee;
Joyless is the day’s return
Till Thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago

God, heaven cannot hold Him nor the earth sustain
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ

Angels and archangels may have gathered there
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air
But His mother only in her maiden bliss
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man I would do my part
Yet what I can, I give Him, give my heart