An Advent Paradox: Not Only Glad Tidings

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Was certainly not winter, scholars say,
When holy habitation broke the chill
Of hearth-felt separation, icy still,
The love of life in man that Christmas day.
Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true;
When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze,
And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways,
While settling silence speaks of solitude.
Hope happens when conditions are as these; 
Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin,
When deep’ning dark demands its full display.
Then fallen nature driven to her knees
Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within,
And brush burns brighter for the growing grey.
~David Baird “Autumn”

 

Decembenorth

 

 

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Watch for the Light

 

 

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The shepherds were sore afraid.   Why aren’t we?
The reds and oranges of autumn are fading fast as we descend into winter this week.  Murderous frosts have wilted down all that was flush with life.

The babe has come like a refiner’s fire and we who have gotten too comfortable will feel the heat in the middle of the chill.

Hope happens when conditions are as these…

 

 

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Deep in the cold of winter,
Darkness and silence were eve’rywhere;
Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness a wonderful sound,
A wonderful sound to hear.

All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Sounding in majesty the news that they bring;
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth, a heavenly King.
All bells in paradise, I heard them ring,
‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.

Lost in awe and wonder,
Doubting I asked what this sign may be;
Christ, our Messiah, revealed in a stable,
A marvelous sight, a marvelous sight to see.

Chorus

He comes down in peace,
A child in humility,
The keys to his kingdom belong to the poor;
Before him shall kneel the kings with their treasures,
Gold, incense, and myrrh.

Chorus
~John Rutter “All Bells in Paradise”

An Advent Paradox: Power Abandoned to Powerlessness

decemberleaf1

 

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”

 

decemberleaft

There is no longer a void or darkness upon the face of the deep.  The stars need no longer to hold their breath.

There is unfathomed power in the powerlessness of this gift to us.

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
though wounded, though scarred.
You are loved, never forgotten.
Don’t forget.

 

 

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Turn Aside and Look: Lead On, Kindly Light

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Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,–
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,–one step enough for me.

O lux aeterna, lead thou me on
O lux beata, lead, kindly light, lead me on
So long thy power has blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on:
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish days, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on;
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
~John Henry Newman

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Lead, kindly light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead–one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

I was not ever willing to be led
I could have stayed, but I ran instead
In spite of fear, I followed my pride
My eyes could see, but my heart was blind
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

And in the night, when I was afraid
Your feet beside my own on the way
Each stumbling step where other men have trod
shortens the road leading home to my God
Lead on, lead on,
my God, my God,
lead on, lead on, kindly light.
~Audrey Assad
inspired by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s poem of the same name

aprileve3

There are high winds predicted today;
I may awake in a storm-tossed night,
in pitch blackness
and the bedside flashlight not where it should be~

the familiar path to bathroom and kitchen
becomes obstacle course,
full of places to trip
and stub toes
and bump heads.

Illumination for only the next step
is all I will need.
A small circle of light that shows
where to safely put my foot.

You, Lord, step alongside me
You, Lord, make the dark less fearsome
You, Lord, are that safe and kindly light
that shows me the next step and
never goes out.

april2eve1

april2eve

Preparing the Heart: When the Stars Held Their Breath

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Lebrun 1689

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

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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.
Don’t forget.

 

sunset1217162

Afraid in the World

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Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
~Frederich Buechner

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Most days I depend on beauty
happening in the most unexpected places
and go looking for it.

But when the unexpected terrible happens–
crushes, bleeds and fractures us apart,
and beauty appears to hide its face,
what I fear most
is that I’ll not ever see beauty again.

We are told:
the Words said
again and again and again
every single day,
if only we can hear,
if only we can assure others:

here I am with you in this broken world-
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

 

bakercap

God Among Us: Reason to Fear Not

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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. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.”
Luke 2:8-10

 

We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.
We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”
God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.
…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death
is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.
It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.
It means choosing generosity over greed.
It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.
Finally, it means being ready to die again and again
— to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

~Johann Christoph Arnold from Watch for the Light

 

“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

 

 The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are,
because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.
Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.

I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner
in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
 

 

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.
~EPG

 

We stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves,
We give to your son.

 

1. Methinks I see an heav’nly host
Of angels on the wing
Methinks I hear their cheerful notes
So merrily they sing:

Let all your fears be banish’d hence,
Glad tidings I proclaim,
For there’s a Saviour born today,
And Jesus is his name.

2. Lay down your crooks and quit your flocks,
To Bethlehem repair;
And let your wand’ring steps be squar’d
By yonder shining star.

Seek not in courts or palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw;
But search the stable, see your God
Extended on the straw.

3. Then learn from hence, ye rural Swains,
The Meekness of your God,
Who left the boundless Realms of Joy
To Ransom you with blood.

The Master of the Inn refus’d
A more commodious Place;
Ungenerous Soul of Savage Mould,
And destitute of Grace.

4. Exult ye oxen, low for joy,
Ye tenants of the stall,
Pay your obeisance, on your knees
Unanimously fall.

The royal guest you entertain
Is not of common birth,
But second to the great I Am;
The God of heav’n and earth.

5. Then suddenly a heav’nly host
Around the shepherds throng,
Exulting in the threefold God
And thus address their song.
To God the Father, Christ the Son,
And Holy Ghost ador’d;
The First and Last, the Last and First,
Eternal praise afford.

 

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Listening to Lent — In the Morning When I Rise

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In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
When I come to die, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus
~Jeremy Camp

Those who know me well
know I fret and worry
better than most.
Medical training makes it worse.
It teaches you to think catastrophically.That I do, for a living,
to always be ready for the worse case scenario.

When it comes to my own aging body,
it isn’t hard to come up with worse cases.

When I rise, sleepless,
to face a day of uncertainty
as we all do at times,
I reach for the certainty I know
to comfort me
body and soul
when I am afraid~
give me Jesus.