These last few days of winter are a reawakening of nature’s rebirthing rhythms, with increased activity of all the wild creatures and birds around us, and most importantly, God’s renewal of our weary wintery hearts.
Some late winter and early spring mornings still are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of December mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of winter all over again.
No self-respecting God would birth Himself into a dawn as dark as night.
But this God would.
He labors in our bleakest of hearts for good reason. We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts. Though we soon celebrate the rebirth of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.
Though soon the birds will be singing their hearts out and the frogs chorusing in the warming ponds, we, His people, are silenced as He prepares us and prepares Himself for birth within us. The labor pains are His, not ours; we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.
The world and its creatures, including us, is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our healing wintery hearts.
Man was added to Him, God not lost to Him; He emptied Himself not by losing what He was, but by taking to Him what He was not. ~Augustine
Look upon the baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify us. Inexpressible majesty will crush us. That is why Christ took on our humanity… that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.” ~Martin Luther
He was pushed out to take his first breath on earth, birth-bloodied, then cradled and held in human arms.
Three decades later, He was pulled down following His last breath, death-bloodied, cradled and held in human arms.
The symmetry of His birth and death mirrors the symmetry of our lives, a consolation that He belongs to us as much as we belong to Him.
The blood shed at birth is his mother’s alone. The blood lost at death is God’s alone, pumping through broken human heart and arteries, soaking the wretched ground below.
He empties wholly because He is fully human; He returns risen and whole because He is fully God.
We, who would be terrified, are deeply loved: cradled, consoled and comforted by such inexpressible divinity emptied into our humanity.
We praise thee, O God, for thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth, In the snow, in the rain, in the wind, in the storm; in all of thy creatures, both the hunters and the hunted… They affirm thee in living; all things affirm thee in living; the bird in the air, both the hawk and the finch; the beast on the earth, both the wolf and the lamb;… Therefore man, whom thou hast made to be conscious of thee, must consciously praise thee, in thought and in word and in deed. Even with the hand to the broom, the back bent in laying the fire, the knee bent in cleaning the hearth… The back bent under toil, the knee bent under sin, the hands to the face under fear, the head bent under grief, Even in us the voices of the seasons, the snuffle of winter, the song of spring, the drone of summer, the voices of beasts and of birds, praise thee. ~T.S. Eliot fromMurder in the Cathedral
In the midst of all the snuffling viruses of winter, the back breaking daily work and labor:
this amazing glory happens this morning
the sky is afire with Him
I am reminded yet again all things affirm thee in living and so shall I.
… having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:12
The night sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The star represented a hope too long elusive; so weary and with so much need they headed out for unknown lands to follow a light seemingly beyond their reach.
When they found its source they could touch His earthliness. No shadow cast of darkness, and no iron nails could quell the beauty of its brilliance.
Having been so illumined they could only return home another way~ No longer could they be who they had been.
You never know what may cause them. The sight of the ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow…
You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure.Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechner fromWhistling in the Dark
I’m not paying close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes if I’m constantly looking for kleenex to stem the flow. During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next.
So I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.
It mostly has to do with welcoming family members back home for the holidays to become a full-out noisy messy chaotic household again, with puzzles and games and music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation. It is about singing grace together before a meal in five-part harmony and choking on precious words of gratitude. It is about remembering the drama of our youngest’s birthday twenty six years ago today, when she was saved by a snowstorm.
It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again as we will this weekend, gathering them all in for that final hug and then letting go.
We urge and encourage them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be, even if that means thousands of miles away from their one-time home on the farm.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I set my face toward the future. It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This is the secret of me: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children and grandchildren. They are the spill-over of fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.
As once a Child was planted in a womb (and later, erected on a hill, a wooden cross) one year we dug a hole to plant a tree. Our choice, a Cornus Kousa with its fine, pink, four-petaled bracts, each curving lip touched with a red as deep as human blood. It rooted well, and every year it grows more glorious, bursting free in Spring—bud into full flower, flame-colored, flushed as wine. Even the slim sapling’s roughened bark speaks of that tree, nail-pierced and dark. Now, each new year, fresh blossoms shine radiant, and each cross-blessed, as if all love and loveliness has been compressed into a flower’s face, fresh as the Son’s new-born presence, a life only just begun.
The dogwood leaves turn iron red in Fall, their centers fully ripening—into small seeded balls, each one a fruit vivid as Mary’s love, and edible. The sciontree, once sprung from Jesse’s root, speaks pain and life and love compressed and taken in, eye, mouth, heart. Incredible that now all Eucharists in our year suggest the living Jesus is our Christmas guest.
~Luci Shaw “Dogwood Tree” from Eye of the Beholder
God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.
No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer from God Is in the Manger
Today we celebrate the paradox of Christ, the Son of God, coming to the world through the womb of a woman, born homeless in order to bring us home with Him.
The uncontainable contained
the infinite made finite
the Deliverer delivered
the Eternal dwelling here and now,
already here but not yet.
We, the children of the Very God of Very God,
are cross-blessed to know He is found, fresh-born, beside us.
We have only to look, listen and taste.