God Among Us: Our Wildest Dreams

Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590–1656), Adoration of the Children (1620), Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Italy
Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590–1656), Adoration of the Children (1620), Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Italy

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
Isaiah 40:21


The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers… Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.
~Frederick Buechner from Faces of Jesus


Improbable, impossible,
unlikely, unbelievable,
incredible, indescribable.
A scandal to believe a promise
that exceeds our wildest dreams~
we have been told from the very beginning:
we are loved that much.
Yes, really.

The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
The Faithful One saw time was full
And the ancient pledge was honored
So God the Son, the Incarnate One
His final Word, His own Son
Was born in Bethlehem
But came into our hearts to live
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
Repeat Chorus
At last the proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
~Michael Card “The Promise”

God Among Us: Two Mysteries for the Price of One


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

Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. . . . Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.
~J. L. Packer from Knowing God

The Christ is not just a reflection of the Father God onto earth, no mere shadow projected from God’s image in heaven.  No, our Savior is real flesh and blood, sinew and tissue, neurons and synapses, exactly as we are.
A fantastic truth and endless mystery to ponder: Jesus as mortal flesh gifts Himself to us so that we may know the Three in One; the powers of hell vanish as the shadows are cleared away.

(it is worth waiting through the first minute of silence as the choir enters in darkness bearing candles, a lovely arrangement)


1 Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

2 King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood,
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

3 Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the shadows clear away

4 At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia, alleluia,
alleluia, Lord most high!”
~from the Liturgy of St. James, 4th century



Awaiting His Arrival: From Doubt to Assurance

Matthias Stomer’s Annunciation


Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?
Luke 1:18

“How will this be?” Mary asked the angel
Luke 1:34

Zechariah asks:
How can I be sure?
How can I trust this is true even when it doesn’t make sense in my every day world?
How can I trust God to accomplish this?

These are not the questions to be asked;
he was struck mute, speechless until immersed in the miracle of impossibility
and only then assured by the Lord and released from silence, he sang loudly with praise.

Instead, we are to ask, like Mary:
How can this be?
How am I worthy?
How am I to be confident within incomprehensibility and calm in the midst of mystery?
How am I to be different as a result?

It is when we are most naked,
at our very emptiest,
that we are clothed and filled with God’s glorious assurance.
We do not need to be sure
to accept what He asks of us.
We just need to be.


A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality.
With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season

Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles.
The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.
~Sylvia Plath from “Black Rook in Rainy Weather”

A Canticle for Advent: Born for a Reason

photo by Julie Garrett

photo by Julie Garrett

There is silence around me in the peaceful winter night.
From the church down in the valley I can see the candlelight.
And I stopped for a moment in this winter paradise,
When I heard a choir singing through the darkness and the ice.
And the rays from the lights behind the window’s vaulted frames,
Have united the souls in hope that something great is waiting.
And I know that those who have left us here had the same thoughts as I.
We’re like flames in the darkness and stars up in the sky.

And I can see how they sparkle, and they fade before my eyes.
And the truth is coming closer like a wonder in disguise.
We are caught here a moment like an imprint of a hand,
On an old and frosted window or a footprint in the sand.
For a while I’m eternal, that’s the only thing I know,
I am here and we share our dreams about our destination.
It is cold out here, and the snow is white but I am warm deep inside,
I am warm ’cause I know that my faith will be my guide.

Now there is silence around me, I have heard those words again,
In a hymn of grace and glory, saying: nothing is in vain!
I can sing- and believe it, let the message reach the sky.
Oh silent night, let your promise never die!
And I long for the others, it is peaceful in the church.
He was born for a reason, and that’s why we’re here together.
Holy night, I feel like a child inside, and believe He was sent.
So I’m lighting a candle each Sunday in Advent.

~English translation of the Swedish carol Koppången

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 2
Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

John 12:27-28

There are so many people on earth who have never known what it is like to be part of a body of believers who worship together
through thick and thin, good times and ugly times, through disagreements and joyful reconciliation,
even if we would rather be doing something else on a Sunday.

Sometimes we are troubled and want to be saved from the responsibility and accountability
of being part of Christ’s body, of showing up and following through with our part of God’s covenant with His people.
Yet that is why He came to us, when we were in our most dire need and turning away.
He showed up because He was sent, He followed through even when He had doubts,
He came for a reason and purpose
to glorify the Father,
to show us the Father in the Flesh,
His Flesh.

Thank you to Carla Arnell for sharing this lovely Swedish hymn.

A Canticle for Advent: Dawning Ray


1. A Babe is born, all of a Maid
To bring salvation unto us:
No more are we to sing afraid,
Veni, Creator Spiritus

2. Bethlehem, That blessed place,
The Child of bliss then born He was;
He aye to serve God give us grace,
O Lux beata Trinitas.

3. There came three kings out of the East,
To worship there that King so free
With gold and myrrh and frankincense,
A solis ortus cardine.

4. The shepherds heard an Angel cry,
O merry song that night sang he,
Why are ye all so sore aghast,
Jam lucis orto sidere?

5. The Angel came down with a cry,
A fair and joyful song sang he,
And in the worship of that Child,
Gloria Tibi Domine.
~15th century carol


The Latin phrases in this old hymn are:

I came as Creator
O light of Holy Trinity
to the focus of birth
dawning ray
Glory to you, O God

May we this day focus on the light of this Birth, this Creator arising from the created, this dawning of glory on earth.



A Canticle for Advent: Let Us Be Transformed


There is no rose of such virtue
As is the Rose that bore Jesu:
For in this rose was contained
Heaven and earth in a small space.
Wondrous thing. Res miranda.
By that rose we may well see
There is one God in persons three.
Equally formed. Pares forma.
The angels sang; the shepherds, too:
Glory to God in the highest!
Let us rejoice. Gaudeamus.
Leave we all these worldly cares
And follow we this joyful birth.
Let us be transformed. Transeamus.
~Benjamin Britten “There is no rose” from “Ceremony of the Carols”1943

…thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1: 76-79 (Zechariah’s Song)

Although there are few references to roses in the Bible,  the symbolism of the depths of beauty and tenderness of the rose is found everywhere from Dante’s Paradisio, to elaborate ancient cathedral Rose Windows with Christ or Virgin Mary at the center.  It represents the miracle of heaven and earth bound together in the person of Christ in the Trinity.   Through His tender mercy, like Zechariah given back his voice,we become transformed by the coming of Christ.   We prepare to go before the Face of the Lord,  in His unfolding universe, unfurling like the center of a rose.

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

A Canticle for Advent: Turn Our Darkness Into Light


O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
dispel the shadows of the night,
and turn our darkness into light.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.
12tth Century (Latin)

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

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 59:20

This haunting hymn from the 12th century is often among the first hymns sung in worship during the Advent season.  It is plaintive in its plainness of plea, calling Jesus by His many names.  In coming to us,  He will change our hearts and our world, turning our darkness into light, dispelling the shadows forever.

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

Called to Advent–pondering

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

There are times when all we can do is sit back and wonder at what is happening around us. It may make no sense, it may seem completely foreign or irrational. We have a choice to either back away from what is completely beyond our understanding, or plunge in head first in faith, trusting that what counts is that at least it makes sense to God.

Mary was exactly in that position as a new mother. She treasures up, she marvels at and she ponders all that she hears and sees, knowing but not completely fathoming that she has delivered the Deliverer.

We need to spend time in wonder too. We are stunned and amazed at the depth of the Father’s love that brought Him into our arms only to be cruelly rejected just as He pays our debts in full. This is the kind of story that makes no sense at all except to God. We couldn’t have made this up, not in a million years, no matter how hard we tried. It’s just as well–because we are not the Word, and He is.

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

Madeline L’Engle

Called to Advent–overflowing

photo by Josh Scholten

…continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2: 6b-7

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
1 Thessalonians 3:12

Overflowing has always been something I’ve been particularly good at, especially first class in the category of overflowing tears. My family knows it doesn’t take much to get my lacrimal faucets going: saying goodbye, saying hello, listening to a childrens’ choir singing, listening to any of our own children singing, a heartstring-tugging commercial on TV, the whistled “Greensleeves” theme to the old Lassie series, not to mention the whistled theme to the old “Leave it to Beaver” or “Andy Griffith” series–you name it, whistling does it.

I would like to think that I’m overflowing with thankfulness, hope, joy and love but it may just be, as my husband suspects, that I’m suffering from an overabundance of sentimentality and nostalgia. …whatever.

He’s right. My easy tears and emotions run amok are not proof my tank is full or my heart overflows. It is only through the power of the Spirit–through the work of His Word preached faithfully each week, feeding my hunger, slaking my thirst, supporting my weakness, easing my emptiness–that I find my heart filling up, bit by bit.

There was a moment today after worship together as a church and a powerful sermon. I watched the Sunday School Children rehearse their parts for next week’s Christmas Childrens’ Program, as a two year old “angel” clasped her hands in prayer over an imaginary manger. I could see what she “saw”. She was looking into the face of God, watching Him sleep, in her mind’s eye. My heart filled even more. I wanted to look into that “manger” right along with her.

I hope when I overflow, it is with Spirit, not sentiment and I continue to look for His face wherever I go.

When the heart is full of joy, it always allows its joy to escape. It is like the fountain in the marketplace; whenever it is full it runs away in streams, and so soon as it ceases to overflow, you may be quite sure that it has ceased to be full. The only full heart is the overflowing heart.
Charles Spurgeon

A beam of God’s countenance is enough to fill the heart of a believer to overflowing. It is enough to light up the pale cheek of a dying saint with seraphic brightness, and make the heart of the lone widow sing for joy.
Robert Murray McCheyne

Adoration of the Shepherds van Honthorst

Called to Advent–Expecting

The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli

In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:3

Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of spiritual life.
Simone Weil

During Advent we are pregnant with anticipated possibility, expectant like Mary and Elizabeth, the new life growing inside us about to change us forever. And like Mary and Elizabeth, we are not in this alone, but are expectant side by side, in a community of support. Together we celebrate the coming dawn of love and life that will overshadow the ever-present darkness of hatred, suffering and death.

Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.
Loretta Ross-Gotta

I treasure (Mary’s) story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say a “yes” that will change me forever?

Kathleen Norris