An Advent Paradox: A Baby Sleeps But God Does Not

God is not dead, nor does he sleep.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Unexpected God, 
your advent alarms us. 
Wake us from drowsy worship, 
from the sleep that neglects love, 
and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. 
Awaken us now to your coming, 
and bend our angers into your peace. 
Amen.
~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

 

During Advent there are times when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle bedtime story of that silent night, the infant napping away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.   All is calm.  All is bright.

I’m dozing if I think that is all there was to it.

The reality is God Himself never sleeps.

This is no gentle bedtime story: a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver.
This is no gentle bedtime story: the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets.
This is no gentle bedtime story: Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered.
This is no gentle bedtime story:  a family’s flight to Egypt, immigrants seeking asylum,  fleeing that fate for their only Son.
This is no gentle bedtime story:   the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry:  itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days,  owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples,  sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured, hung on a cross until he gave up his spirit.

Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth as a helpless infant to be sacrificed, to die and rise again, to return again as King of all nations.  No signal flares needed.

When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who can never save oneself.   We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on.  It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the wrath of God who is not dead and never sleeps.

This bedtime story is not for the faint of heart — we are “sore afraid” and should “bend our anger” into His peace.

And not forget our crash helmets.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
But the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Dreaming With Wide Open Eyes

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photo by Kate Steensma

 

The cattle crouched round them in soft shadowy clumps, placidly munching, and dreaming with wide-open eyes. The narrow zone of colour created by the firelight was like the planet Earth – a little freak of brightness in a universe of impenetrable shadows.
~Hope Mirrlees from “Watching the Cows” 

 

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Sometimes I feel I am dreaming awake with wide-open eyes.  There is a slow motion quality to time as it flows from one hour to the next to the next.  Everything becomes more vivid, as in a dream — the sounds of birds, the smell of the farm, the depth of the greens in the landscape, the taste of fresh plums, the intensity of every breath, the reason for being.

The rest of time, in its rush and blur,  can feel like sleepwalking,  my eyes open but unseeing.  I stumble through life’s shadows, the path indiscernible, my future uncertain, my purpose illusive.

Wake me to dream some more.    I want to chew on it again and again, like a cow it’s cud, savoring.

 

 

 

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Leaf and Leaf Parted

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I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night,
in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe
of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit…

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him,
entangled him, not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight,
unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me,
eyelid and eyelid of slumber.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Moonrise”

 

I drowse too much through
the gifts offered up each day,
my eyelids closed
to the slightest seed release
or how the light plays
on the edge of shadow.

I sleep when
the curtain parts to
reveal the moment
when heaven visits earth.
My head nods
and I miss it.

 

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