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–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

Called to Advent–treasuring

photo by Josh Scholten

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luke 2:51

A heart is never completely empty of blood. Only a portion is pumped out of the ventricles with each contraction of the muscle, with some small residual remaining behind in the chamber. The larger the residual, the less effective the pump mechanism is, which becomes known as heart failure, resulting in less oxygen to the body. A normal healthy heart always holds on to a bit of life blood, sending the rest out to circulate and nourish the rest of the body organs.

It seems Mary had a great deal to hold in her heart–it must have been a very strong and powerful organ to handle so much in her lifetime. It was her repository for memories that were precious to her, things she never wanted to forget, events she wanted to tell someone to write down on her behalf someday. It was her storage space for her wonder at what took place before her eyes–the glorification of her son at His birth, the acknowledgement from others that she held God in her arms, that she was able to gaze into His face. He, from a very young age, would teach her more than she could ever teach Him. Her heart literally fed Him during her pregnancy, His heart beating beneath hers. During His childhood and later, her heart poured out love for Him and eventually His heart bled out for us all.

She shows us how we must store up the treasures most precious to us–not worldly things like money and jewels, but the memories of family, the nurture of trust and faith, the healing balm of sacrifice and grace. A heart full of that kind of treasure can never fail.

Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure; Where your treasure is, there is your heart; Where your heart is, there is your happiness.

You must keep all earthly treasures out of your heart, and let Christ be your treasure, and let Him have your heart.
Charles Spurgeon

Mary and Jesus painting by Pierre Mignard

Called to Advent–sowing

photo by Nate Gibson

Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.
Ecclesiastes 11:6

Sowing and sown. We become sower, soil and seed, as well as fertilizer, harvester, storage manager and consumer. We become farmers when it comes to the planting, feeding and watering of the Word in fertile hearts and minds.

It’s what you sow that multiplies, not what you keep in the barn.
Adrian Rogers

The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” – our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly, and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field – all the cutting will keep the grass field less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat…I must be plowed up and re-sown.

C.S. Lewis – Essay on “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?”

Called to Advent–rejoicing

photo by Josh Scholten

…and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
Luke 1:47

(As servants of God)..sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:10

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.

John Calvin

Americans must be the most privileged people on earth yet we still grumble despite living in freedom in relative security. There is so little joy in our modern age of abundance. Is our cup half empty or half full? Why do we groan about what we lack and not stop to appreciate what all we have been given?

Rejoicing is expressing delight at what is, and having no regrets about what is not. There can be joy in times of sadness, we can be enriched by sharing what we have, and fulfilled without accumulating every material possession. As Augustine says: a happy life is rejoicing to God, of God and for God. He didn’t mention a larger house, faster car, exotic vacations, or the best plastic surgery.

So we read the words of profound joy expressed by Mary when her life is suddenly turned upside down and her body no longer in her control. She is happy and willing because she trusts the Lord despite all the unknowns. The shepherds, the lowest segment of society just above lepers, were first to be given a message of praise and glory from the heavens. Once their fear abated, they became so joyful and excited, they wanted to share all they had heard and seen with anyone who would listen.

It is our turn now. It is time to be gruntled, not disgruntled, happy to be alive instead of sorrowful, so we might rejoice mightily in the infinite gift we’ve been given.

This is it; there is no other.

And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other.


Adoration of the Shepherds by Correggio