A Bright Sadness: The Wonderful Invitation We Leave Unopened

When he takes it all away,
will we love him more than things,
more than health,
more than family,
and more than life?

That’s the question.
That’s the warning.
That’s the wonderful invitation.
John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”

The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too:
everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued taken away.

If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left to us but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?

I know I fall far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.

When I’ve seen people lose almost everything, either in a disaster, or an accident, or devastating illness, I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God.

I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”

The invitation that I most don’t want to receive, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart. He invites me closer, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, more my own choosing that it not hurt so much.

The invitation to His plan for my life has been written, personally carried to me by His Son, and lies ready in my hands, although it has remained untouched for years. It is now up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude that I am even included, respond with an RSVP that says emphatically, “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away.”

Or I could leave it untouched, fearing it is too scary to open. Or even toss it away altogether, thinking it really wasn’t meant for me.

Even if, in my heart, I knew it was.

There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’
and those to whom God says, in the end,
‘Thy will be done.’
~C. S. Lewis

A Bright Sadness: All Human Eloquence is Mute

He was created of a mother whom He created.
He was carried by hands that He formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy,
He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.
~Augustine

It turns the mind inside out~
created inside His creation,
cradled within an earthly embrace by way of heaven,
bathed while cleansing the bather
filled from emptying breast to become food for the hungry.

In the beginning
the Word breathed and articulated life
with such eloquence,
knowing its utterance must
come from human lips and tongue and throat

whether as
infant’s cry,
toddler’s chuckle,
child’s whisper,
adult’s prayer of praise,
the aged’s last sigh.

We, who are ineloquent
aside from the Word,
are speechless, listening.

A Bright Sadness: Abandoning Terrifying Divinity

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.

Van Gogh Pieta

Completely and Deceptively Rotten

“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:

‘Dear Sirs:
I am.
Sincerely Yours,
G. K. Chesterton.’

That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”
~Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God 

O lovely apple!
beautifully and completely
                 rotten
hardly a contour marred–

                 perhaps a little
shrivelled at the top but that
                 aside perfect
in every detail! O lovely

                 apple! what a
deep and suffusing brown
                 mantles that
unspoiled surface! No one

                 has moved you
since I placed you on the porch
                 rail a month ago
to ripen.

                 No one. No one!
~William Carlos Williams “Perfection”

I am what’s wrong with the world and so are you.

Not one of us escapes the rottenness that lies not-so-deep beneath our shiny surface.  We are full of wormholes, inviting the worms of the world to eat us alive.

One look at the news headlines of the day is enough mar the most perfect surface. No one moves to save us from our over-ripening fate; we sit untouched, withering and shriveling.

We are the problem and the problem is us.

We need rescue by a Savior who is the one good apple among a barrel of contagiously bad apples. We are so tainted, it takes Someone who truly is Perfect to transform us from the inside out, from worm-holes back to wholeness and on to holiness.

May we fall to our knees, weeping and grateful, that Christ, who is the Leader of all in His Kingdom, will grant us a grace and sanctuary we emphatically don’t deserve.

May He pick us before the worms do. We are in this together.


To Go Home By Another Way

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by

single step.

There are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel

to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.
~Jan Richardson from
“Blessing for Those Who Travel Far”

… 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.

An Advent Paradox: Sent Not on His Own

newyearsice

 

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.”
John 8:42

 

thornyice

 

There must have been plenty of moments when He wondered why He was sent.

There were times when He wept,
times when He was frustrated,
times when He must have felt
He would never manage to make the people around Him understand who He was.

Certainly the people of his own home town dismissed him as only the carpenter’s son.  Even His own family didn’t seem to completely understand.

Yet come He did for a people who can be
hopelessly blind to the truth,
deaf to the Word,
stumbling in the dark like the lame,
not thinking clearly like the possessed.

He was sent to dwell among us all,
opening our eyes,
whispering in our ears,
guiding us on the straight path and
exhorting us to clarity and sanity.

There should be no doubt:
He was sent from God our Father.

Be amazed that He came at all and decided to stay.

Only He knows when
the time comes to return.

 

 

pastureice2

 

 

 

 

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hill
And life to joy awakes.

Not as of old a little child,
To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.

Oh, brighter than the rising morn
When Christ, victorious, rose
And left the lonesome place of death
Despite the rage of foes.

Oh, brighter than that glorious morn
Shall dawn upon our race
The day when Christ in splendor comes
And we shall see his face.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord!
Your people pray: Come quickly, King of kings!

 

An Advent Paradox: In From Out

morning121418

 

frozeninflight

 

Down he came from up,
and in from out,
and here from there.
A long leap,
an incandescent fall
from magnificent
to naked, frail, small,
through space,
between stars,
into our chill night air,
shrunk, in infant grace,
to our damp, cramped
earthy place
among all
the shivering sheep.

And now, after all,
there he lies,
fast asleep.
~Luci Shaw “Descent” from Accompanied By Angels

 

frostymorn1291

 

 

The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
~1 Samuel 2: 6 from the Song of Hannah

 

 

frostymorn1294

 

Hannah’s prayer describes the Lord in all His paradox of reversals:
the strong are broken
those who stumble strengthened,
the satisfied end up working for food
the hungry become filled,
the barren woman bears children
the mother of many pines away,
the poor and needy are lifted up to sit with princes.

He humbles and exalts–we have read the stories of how the Lord uses such reversals to instruct and inspire His people.

Yet nothing Hannah says is as radical and unprecedented as being brought down to the grave and then raised up, the Lord causing death and making alive.   This makes no sense.  Once in the grave, there is no escape.  Death cannot be reversed like the weak becoming strong, the hungry filled, the barren fertile, the poor enriched.

Hannah sings that this will indeed happen, just as the other reversals happened.  It would take centuries, but her prayer is fulfilled in the child born to Mary, who lives and dies and lives again in the greatest reversal of all.

There can be no greater mystery than a God who chooses to walk the earth as a man among the poor, the needy, the helpless, the sick, the blind, the lame, the wicked, the barren, the hungry, the weak.

There can be no greater reversal than God Himself dying–put away down into the grave– and then rising up, glorious, in the ultimate defeat of darkness and death.

Hannah already knew this as a barren woman made full through the blessing of the Lord, choosing to empty herself by giving her son back to God.

Mary knew this as a virgin overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, choosing to empty herself by bearing, raising and giving her Son back to the Father.

The angels knew this, welcoming the Son of God to a throne in a manger as He is born to bring light to the darkness, and peace to a torn and ruptured world.

We know this too.   We are the weak, the hungry, the poor, the dying filled completely through the love and sacrifice of the Triune God, and so give ourselves up to Him.

In from out, from down to up.  It can be done.  And He has done it.

 

frostymorn1293

 

 

 

 

Have you heard the sound of the angel voices
ringing out so sweetly, ringing out so clear?
Have you seen the star shining out so brightly
as a sign from God that Christ the Lord is here?

Have you heard the news that they bring from heaven
to the humble shepherds who have waited long?
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Hear the angels sing their joyful song.

He is come in peace in the winter’s stillness,
like a gentle snowfall in the gentle night.
He is come in joy, like the sun at morning,
filling all the world with radiance and with light.

He is come in love as the child of Mary.
In a simple stable we have seen his birth.
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Hear the angels singing ‘Peace on earth’.

He will bring new light to a world in darkness,
like a bright star shining in the skies above.
He will bring new hope to the waiting nations,
when he comes to reign in purity and love.

Let the earth rejoice at the Saviour’s coming.
Let the heavens answer with a joyful morn:
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Hear the angels singing, ‘christ is born’
Hear the angels singing, ‘christ is born’
~John Rutter “Angels’ Carol”