An Advent Paradox: A Miraculous Transformation

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… Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!

Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
innocent of history.

Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!
~Mary Oliver from Goodness and Light

 

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Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,

Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:

Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.
~Christina  Rossetti “Christmas Eve”

 

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Today is the day
the fog we live within is overcome by Light:
no longer dwelling in heresy,
we celebrate the joy of the miracle of God brought low for us.

God with us, God for us.
A miraculous transformation.

 

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Preparing the Heart: Ignite the Burning Bush

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Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Exodus 20: 18-19

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It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind use to cry and the hills sing forth praise?
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

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We have pushed God away, not wanting to see His fire, nor smell the smoke of His burning branches, nor feel the singe of our own eyelashes by His heat. In our fear and discomfort, we fail to listen to His voice coming from the fire. So we try to douse it by quenching our longing for Him.  We fear submitting to Him when we may be burned to a crisp.

Yet we live empty lives without Him. We cannot relight the smoldering bush ourselves; it is rekindled only by His ignition through His incarnation — God With Us invites us back to His mountain to remove our shoes on Holy Ground and face Him, trembling.

He asks that our feet and hearts be naked and vulnerable.

Only then can we can hear the wind cry and the hills sing forth praise — the  voice of God Himself is heard in the cry of an Infant.

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A Living Mystery

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To be a witness
does not consist in engaging in propaganda
or even in stirring people up,
but in being a living mystery:
it means to live in such a way
that one’s life would not make sense
if God did not exist.

~ Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard of Paris

 

I’m not sure how much a mystery I am;
I feel transparent as glass most days.
But I make no sense at all,
I could not be seen or seen through
without God’s mystery
creating me and all that exists.
His mystery has lived and breathed
alongside us —
we cannot deny our witness of Him.

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A Canticle for Advent: Turn Our Darkness Into Light

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O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
dispel the shadows of the night,
and turn our darkness into light.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.
12tth Century (Latin)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 59:20

This haunting hymn from the 12th century is often among the first hymns sung in worship during the Advent season.  It is plaintive in its plainness of plea, calling Jesus by His many names.  In coming to us,  He will change our hearts and our world, turning our darkness into light, dispelling the shadows forever.

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

Rekindling the Burning Bush

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When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distanceand said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Exodus 20: 18-19

It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave.  It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind.  The very holy mountains are keeping mum.  We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind use to cry and the hills sing forth praise?
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

We push God away, not wanting to see His fire, smell the smoke of His burning branches, nor feel the singe of our own eyelashes by His heat.  In our discomfort, we fail to listen to His voice coming from the fire.  So we have doused it, quenched our longing for Him by our fear of submitting to Him.

And we cannot relight the burning bush ourselves;  it is rekindled only by His ignition through His incarnation — God With Us invites us back to the mountain, onto Holy Ground, to face Him.

Once again we can hear the wind cry and the hills sing forth praise by listening for the voice of God Himself.

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Advent Meditation–Immanuel

God’s covenant with His people is recorded early in history: the rainbow as a sign of His promise not to destroy the earth again,  a promise to Abraham to increase his descendants to as many as the stars in the sky, or the sands of the sea, the renewal of the broken bond of fellowship with His idolatrous people, the faithful remnant, then finally that a descendant of David would rule His people, including all nations.

So Isaiah’s announcement that a virgin would bear a son whose name, Immanuel, means “God with us” must have not seemed very clear to God’s people.  God had already promised to be with His people, many times in many ways, and had proven His faithfulness over and over again.

Yet generations later, when a teenager is told she is with child by the Holy Spirit, and her betrothed husband plans to quietly divorce himself from their planned marriage,  he is assured by the Lord in a dream about the true nature of this pregnancy.  Matthew reminds us of the Old Testament promise of a son to come, and suddenly it becomes clear:  God will be living with us, as a man, born of woman.  There is no greater covenant than God walking alongside us, knowing us as son, brother, friend, teacher and in the ultimate bond with His people, dying in our place.  God with us, God in our place, God fulfilling His promises–always.

Isaiah 7:14  and Matthew 1:23