On Epiphany day, we are still the people walking. We are still people in the dark, and the darkness looms large around us, beset as we are by fear, anxiety, brutality, violence, loss — a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.
We are — we could be — people of your light. So we pray for the light of your glorious presence as we wait for your appearing; we pray for the light of your wondrous grace as we exhaust our coping capacity; we pray for your gift of newness that will override our weariness; we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust in your good rule.
That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact your rule through the demands of this day. We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope. ~Walter Brueggemann from Prayers for a Privileged People
Unclench your fists Hold out your hands. Take mine. Let us hold each other. Thus is his Glory Manifest. ~Madeleine L’Engle “Epiphany”
Today is celebrated the Feast of Epiphany (His Glory revealed and made manifest in all lives).
Even as weak and crumbling vessels, God is made manifest within us. It is not the easy path to say yes to God: it means sacrifice, abandoning our will for His will so His glory is illuminated by His Light, not ours.
And so, we, like Mary, shall say yes.
His Seed shall take root in our hearts.
“Like Mary, we have no way of knowing… We can ask for courage, however,
and trust that God has not led us into this new land
only to abandon us there.” ~Kathleen Norrisfrom God With Us
Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again,and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?
Power. Greater power than we can imagine,
abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child,
still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid,
unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.
Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose,
slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough,
and it is time for birth.
Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity,
Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes,
willingly and lovingly leaving all that power
and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years
to show us what we ought to be and could be.
Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine,
to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.
~Madeline L’Engle from Bright Evening Star
It’s the season of grace coming out of the void Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance It’s the season of possible miracle cures Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown Where time begins to fade And age is welcome home
It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise And holding fast with sharp realization It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention You are safe here you know now
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you
It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart Of feeling the full weight of our burdens It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind And knowing we are not alone in fear Not alone in the dark
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you ~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
There is no longer a void or darkness upon the face of the deep. The stars need no longer to hold their breath.
Instead Grace has come in the face of Jesus the Son, through God the Father who moves among us, His Spirit changing everything, now and always.
Do not be afraid.
You are not alone in the dark.
You are loved.
Our memories are, at best, so limited, so finite, that it is impossible for us to envisage an unlimited, infinite memory, the memory of God. It is something I want to believe in: that no atom of creation is ever forgotten by him; always is; cared for; developing; loved. ~Madeleine L’Engle from The Summer of the Great-Grandmother
He of strength and hope
loves and knows us down to our atoms ~~
the weak, the broken, the undeserving.
His infinite memory causes us to burst into bloom.
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.
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
We have waited in silence
on your loving-kindness,
The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk 2:20
Then hear now the silence He comes in the silence in silence he enters the womb of the bearer
in silence he goes to the realm of the shadows redeeming and shriving in silence he moves from the grave cloths, the dark tomb in silence he rises ascends to the glory leaving his promise leaving his comfort leaving his silence
So come now, Lord Jesus Come in your silence breaking our noising laughter of panic breaking this earth’s time breaking us breaking us quickly Lord Jesus make no long tarrying
When will you come and how will you come and will we be ready for silence your silence ~Madeleine L’Engle “Ready for Silence”
In our weakness, we are so noisy.
We think strength
is in shouting and shooting.
Instead we broke you,
we break each other
We have forgotten the power
of waiting in silence,
waiting for your silence,
so come now
clothed in our weakness,
to carry us home.
A new Advent Hymn from Redeemer in New York City
O come, Desired of nations, Whom priest and prophet long foretold, Will break the captive fetters, Redeem the long-lost fold.
O come in peace and meekness, For lowly will your cradle be: Though clothed in human weakness, We shall your God-head see
O come, Divine Messiah, The world in silence waits the day When hope shall sing its triumph, And sadness flee away.
~In Silence, Advent hymn from Redeemer Presbyterian, New York
How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of His heaven.
~from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
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 a 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 “In the Darkest Hour”
The Advent Series theme on Barnstorming this year will be “Awaiting His Arrival” ~~ both the anticipated Advent arrival of God on earth as a helpless newborn, and when He comes again someday to this sick and sorry world.
His first arrival was in the midst of great distress between people whose faith was eroding into legalism and gods of their own making, along with interminable conflict between nations fighting over the same land and same issues as continues today.
Into such mean and gloomy darkness came a great Light. As stated by modern martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God’s coming to earth is “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”
The editors’ introduction to one of my favorite Advent books Watch for the Light includes this thought:
“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).”
So it is this love in action within our midst to be pondered in this Advent month of reflections — how His love came to change our world and ourselves and how we are meant to respond. As Jan Richardson writes in Night Vision, “That’s just how Advent works. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s hindquarters fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.”
He did not wait till the world was ready, till men and nations were at peace He came when the Heavens were unsteady and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time. He came when the need was deep and great. He died with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine. He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt. To a world like ours, of anguished shame He came, and his Light would not go out. ~Madeleine L’Engle from “First Coming”
“What God began, God will not abandon. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. God loves everyone, sings the psalmist. What God has named will live forever, Alleluia! The happy ending has never been easy to believe in. After the Crucifixion the defeated little band of disciples had no hope, no expectation of Resurrection. Everything they believed in had died on the cross with Jesus. The world was right, and they had been wrong. Even when the women told the disciples that Jesus had left the stone-sealed tomb, the disciples found it nearly impossible to believe that it was not all over.
The truth was, it was just beginning.” Madeleine L’Engle
The Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday always feels like a “already but not yet” kind of day, as if we are between sleep and waking, in weary vigil. We aren’t celebrating “happily ever after” quite yet. Actually every day should feel like this day, as that is where we live: we know the extent of sacrifice made, the overwhelming debt paid, but the full completion of His new covenant, His new kingdom is yet to be realized. We wait, and will wait some more, unsure what comes next.
But one thing is clear. Burial in the tomb was not the end. Not even close.
To borrow from Winston Churchill out of context:
“Now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
…because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. Psalm 16:10
from Madeleine L’Engle:
“What God began, God will not abandon. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. God loves everyone, sings the psalmist. What God has named will live forever, Alleluia!
The happy ending has never been easy to believe in. After the Crucifixion the defeated little band of disciples had no hope, no expectation of Resurrection. Everything they believed in had died on the cross with Jesus. The world was right, and they had been wrong. Even when the women told the disciples that Jesus had left the stone-sealed tomb, the disciples found it nearly impossible to believe that it was not all over.