The Work of Christmas Begins

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When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
~Howard Thurman from The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations

 

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All the Advent anticipation is spent, Christmas and New Years are past and I find my energy waning just as the work of Christmas is beginning.

Instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas it should be the Twelve Weeks, or better yet, Twelve Months– maybe the lights should stay up until St. Patrick’s Day at least, just to keep us out of the shadows, inertia and doldrums of winter.

As I sweep up the last of the fir needles that dropped to the floor from this lovely tree that I watered faithfully in the house for over two weeks, I too have been drying up, parts of me left behind for others to sweep up.   There has been the excitement of family brought together from far away,  friends gathering for meals and games,  special church services, but now, some quiet time is sorely needed.   The party simply can’t be sustained.  The lights have to go off and be pulled down, and the eyes have to close.

The real work of Christmas lasts year-long — often very hard intensive work, not always the fun stuff of the last month, but badly needed in this broken world with its homelessness, hunger, disease, conflict, addictions, depression and pain.

I walk into a winter replete with the startling splash of orange red that paints the skies in the evenings, the stark and gorgeous snow covered peaks surrounding us during the day,  the grace of bald eagles and trumpeter swans flying overhead,  the heavenly lights that twinkle every night,  the shining globe that circles full above us, and the loving support of the Hand that rocks us to sleep when we are wailing loud and need it.

And I am readied to do the real work of Christmas, acknowledging the stark reality of the labor to salvage this world begun by an infant in a manger.

We don’t need full stockings on the hearth, Christmas villages on the side table, or a blinking star on the top of the tree to know the comfort of His care and the astounding beauty of His creation, available for us without batteries, electrical plug ins, or the need of a ladder.

As I take down lights and ornaments, the memory of Christmas pulls me up from the doldrums, alive to the possibility that even I can make a difference, in His name, all year.

Every day. Twelve months. Life long.

And I’m ready.

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God Among Us: The Wonder of All Wonders

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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.
EPG

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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

Balanced Upon a Broken World

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This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
~Amy Lowell “September 1918”
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Broken Things

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God uses broken things.
It takes broken soil to produce a crop,
broken clouds to give rain,
broken grain to give bread,
broken bread to give strength.
It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume.
~Vance Havner

 

And I might add:
a snail wandering into sidewalk foot traffic,
crushed, cracked and dying, clinging to the pavement,
its broken shell a gift of metaphor
of our own leaking brokenness.

Listening to Lent — Church With Broken Wings

 

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Men of faith rise up and sing
Of the great and glorious King
You are strong when you feel weak
In your brokenness complete

Shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

Rise up women of the truth
Stand and sing to broken hearts
Who can know the healing power
Of our awesome King of love

And shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

And we will shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

We’ve been through fire, we’ve been through pain
We’ve been refined by the power of Your name
We’ve fallen deeper in love with You
You’ve burned the truth on our lips

Shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

And we will shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
Yes, He’s Lord of heaven and earth

Rise up church with broken wings
Fill this place with songs again
Of our God who reigns on high
By his grace again we’ll fly

Shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

Yeah, we will shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

Yeah, we will shout to the north and the south
Sing to the east and the west
Jesus is Savior to all
He’s Lord of heaven and earth

Yes, He’s Lord of heaven and earth
Yes, He’s Lord of heaven and earth
Yes, He’s Lord of heaven and earth
~Robin Mark

There is much wrong with the church overall,
comprised as it is
with fallen people
with broken wings
determined to find flaws in each other
in doctrine, tradition, beliefs.

What is right with the church,
is who we sing to,why we sing,
whose body we are part of
despite our thoroughly motley messiness:
Our Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Listening to Lent — World Without End

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Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good, Unto the
World without end. Amen.

When I hear such powerful words
sung in unity of spirit
with diversity of voice and song,
my impulse to be divisive
is convicted, found guilty of separation
rather than blending in wholly.

May my disparate parts be gathered together
within His immense capacity for goodness,
my broken fragments glued together,
knitted whole by His loving charity,
His understanding of me as better than myself
in this world without end.

Listening to Lent — Bow and Be Simple

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I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.
I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I’ll fall upon the rock.
~Shaker Hymn
 

I am not one to yield to the wind freely.
More poplar than willow,
there is inflexibility rather than suppleness
in my rigid branches and trunk.

This means I break, and frequently,
when bending might be easier.
This means I lie in broken pieces
awaiting salvage, or the flames.

Yea, fallen in fragments upon the rock.