An Advent Tapestry–All Crying Will Be Stilled

Madonna of the Straw by Antony Van Dyck

“…Christmas will come once again.  The great transformation will once again happen.  God would have it so.  Out of the waiting, hoping, longing world, a world will come in which the promise is given.  All crying will be stilled.  No tears shall flow.  No lonely sorrow shall afflict us anymore, or threaten.”   Sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a church in Havana, Cuba December 21, 1930

An Advent Tapestry–All is Well

Madonna and Child detail by Pompeo Batoni

Our church’s Christmas Eve service gives us opportunity to choose favorite Christmas carols to share with the congregation.   This discovery came thanks to an online friend and is a serene hymn that you can hear here

All is Well

Words: Wayne Kirkpatrick
Music: Michael W. Smith

All is well all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love’s light
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia
All is well all is well
Let there be peace on earth
Christ is come go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well
Lift up your voice and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

 

This song is reminiscent of the words written by Julian of Norwich in 1393 as she wrote of faith in her long work “Showings” also known as “Revelations of Divine Love”:

Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great
harm which has come through sin to your creatures?
And so our good Lord answered
all the questions and doubts which I could raise,
saying most comfortingly:

I make all things well,
and I can make all things well,
and I shall make all things well,
and I will make all things well;

and you will see for yourself
that every kind of thing will be well.

…And in these words God wishes us
to be enclosed in rest and peace. (229)

 

An Advent Tapestry–The Stars Held Their Breath

Woman with a Candle--Godfried Schalken

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?

– Madeline L’Engle from Bright Evening Star

An Advent Tapestry–Fear Not

 

Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Lebrun, 1689

Click on this painting for the link to a larger version–it is well worth it!

“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

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.

 

Annunciation_to_the_Shepherds_Abraham_Hondius_1663

click on painting for link to larger version

An Advent Tapestry–Sound of the Silence Itself

Madonna and Child by Orazio Gentileschi

“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”

— Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

The moment of silent expectation suspended between what we anticipate will happen and what actually does happen is a moment of sweet tension and longing.  Many find Christmas to be an anticlimax to the build up beforehand.  In the true spirit of Advent, that can never be the case.  The preparation for His coming merely foreshadows the joy we feel when holding Him close, seeing His face and knowing He is God in flesh.

He is with us, He is in us and our hearts, jubilant,  beat like His.

An Advent Tapestry–Repugnant Grace

Adoration of the Shepherds by Anton Raphael Mengs

Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace… John Wesley

I love this particular painting of the Nativity by Bohemian artist Anton Raphael Mengs because everyone–Mary, shepherds, angels, even Joseph with his wondering look of awe at the hubbub this birth has created– looks completely amazed and almost besotted with the new Christ child.  There is an attraction, almost magnetic, toward this gift from God.

Every day capable, reasonable people turn away from this gift, unable to trust that it was truly meant for them, as undeserving as they (we) are.

How can we accept this incredible gift and not respond?  How can we shrug our shoulders and not be truly amazed?

Yet it happened.   A gift beyond our ability to imagine or understand.    The fact we can’t understand should not make the gift of grace repugnant.   We simply, like Joseph, must sit in awe and wonder.