Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Prince of Peace, but First, the Sword

The Star of Bethlehem shines over the stable. 
Joy to the World. The Prince of Peace is born.
Hmm...Are you sure?
What did the angel first say to the shepherds before he said anything else?
Be not afraid.
The Savior has come, and He will bring peace but first, He will make you afraid.
Christ was born as a child, but when His time came to speak, His words did not all console:

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.--Matthew 10:34

Christ's peace is Himself--both the peace and the sword.
We will have peace, but first we will have turmoil, resentment, death, and repentance.
Easy peace is delusion. Ease and comfort is the world's peace, not Christ's.

Christ's peace does not come naturally.
To get at Christ's peace, I have to tear down the delusion of my fallen humanity, and it will hurt.
I have to know the sword before I can sit in the Son.
It's like those nesting dolls...

I must be dismantled all the way down to the center, all the way down to the source of the star that shone so brilliantly they could see it in the daytime. I have to find, in my own center, the brilliance of Christ.
That's where the star of Bethlehem originates. In the heat of a star far hotter than the sun.
In the flame of God.
The flame that purifies.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What Angels Say

The dark of night in Bethlehem.
He's born.
Mary and Joseph hold their newborn baby in those first hours, counting fingers and toes, watching those first hungry searchings, listening to those first snuffling coos. The first private moments of their parenthood. But not for long.

They have company.

Angels kept them company.
Angels. God's messengers. Whenever they show up, pay attention. God has something to say.

Mary and Joseph's ancient world was a mess just like ours. Herod ran rampant, already issuing orders for the murder of children to eradicate any possibility of a challenge to his authority. Men labored achingly all their lives. Women served them with no governmental or societal equality. Only half of children lived to adulthood. Poverty reigned. Few could read. Kings held whole continents under thrall. Many died young from diseases we easily arrest today. Ignorance and prejudice and greed bred war.

But the angels brought a message from God:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee...--Zechariah 9:9

Imagine them, in a barn--no, less than a barn--a cave, sharing space with animals. It was not a gentle setting. They had hay, and a manger, but no heat source, no convenient water, no facilities whatever. Just each other, the rudeness of animals, and faith in what they'd been promised.

It'd been a long time since the angel's first proclamation to Mary that she would bear a Son and that son would be Emmanuel, God with us.

She'd had nine months to think about this, to bear up under public derision, to witness Joseph's doubt, to watch Elizabeth bear her own miracle, to herself grow big and heavy and weary. To know, but to sometimes wonder.

We do it, too. We do not hear God's promise daily. It comes emphatically sometimes, when we cannot mistake it, but often it only whispers, a sigh we too often miss. But on some blessed mornings, in some dark stables, on some beds of pain and tears, it comes with announcement.

This is the promise, said the angel. This is your salvation. This is not only your son. He is Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Joseph--the Baby's Coming"

It's been more than forty years and I still remember them.
Those first pains, that squeeze, that urgency.
And I knew.
The baby was coming.
And it always started at night.

It was likely late in the day when Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem. 
They could find nowhere to sleep and they were desperate.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born...there was no room for them at the inn.--Luke 2:6&7
I would have been desperate, too, if I had come to the hospital, and they had turned us away saying there was no room, and sent us back out into those dark nights.

It was no different for them.
Before that night, and for thousands of years, people had walked in darkness. 
All of us. Waiting. 
We knew who and what we were. We knew what we needed. Where was He? When would the savior come?

"Now," Mary said. "Now."
There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned.--Isaiah 9:1,2

And there it was--the star.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

She didn't expect to end up sixteen, unmarried, and pregnant.
But she was.

Mary may have been blessed among women, but that blessing did not come with ease or confidence in her circumstances.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, turned out the way she imagined it would. 
She did not end up a common Nazareth housewife.
She did not end up safe all her years in a home that her industrious carpenter husband built for her.
She did not end up safe in her own bed surrounded by her mother and other women when her baby came.
She did not end up with a lap full of frolicking, carefree children who, in their turn, would bring her sweet smelling grandchildren.
Her firstborn son did not outlive her--at least not the way she thought they would.

But what did she have to say about it?
My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.--Luke 1:46-7
In other words,
Thank you, God, for this confusion.
Thank you for this embarrassment.
Thank you for all the derision and doubt.
Thank you, too, for all the eventual pain.

In other words, Mary knew.
She thanked God for the life He'd ordained for her, whatever it included.
And why? Because in it, she knew she would find Him.
Not just the baby she would someday hold in her arms.
Not just the sweet child.
Not just the man who became her Lord.
But all of it.
God the Father who made and planned for her.
God the Spirit who spoke to her.
God the Son who grew in her, was born from her, and saved her.

Mary rejoiced in God. All the time.
She saw Him in every work, every word.
She didn't have to understand.
She trusted.

That is why we hail her, as did the angel, and acknowledge that she is full of grace.
Grace--where God meets His creation, and where our rejoicing proves we see Him there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Where is Our Comfort?

Jerusalem. Herald of Good News. Fear not to cry out.*

It's not Christmas yet. 
There is no babe. There is no manger, no lowing cattle, no peaceful Mary pondering the mysteries of God in her heart. Not yet.
There is only a promise. And the desolation of the present.

A voice cries out: Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God.*

Prepare. Get ready.
Aren't you doing it already? Buying gifts? Cleaning? Baking?
These are preparation of sorts--preparation of our home and for our family feast.
But they do not prepare our hearts.

A voice says, "Cry out!"*

This is our advent preparation. 
Cry out to God.
Then the Glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see it together.*

We will not find Christmas under the tree or on our dinner table or even in the smiles of our children.
The Glory of God revealed to us.
That is our comfort.
That is Christmas. 

*All scriptures taken from Isaiah 40.

Comfort Ye, My People--

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who Are We Waiting For?

Ah. The Christ child.
That little baby in the manger.
O come, O come Emmanuel. God with us.
So sweet, so innocent.
Are you sure?

Ancient Jews didn't share that expectation.
They looked for someone quite different--

Who can abide the day of His coming? Who can stand firm when He appears?--Malachi 3:3

In other words--Look out. God is mighty and will come in all of that might. He will test us--
He will be like a refiner's fire--Malachi 3:4
Hot and destructive.

He comes not only with mercy and forgiveness, but He comes as a
Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of His mouth and with the  breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.--Isaiah 11

He is one God, you know. One. 
The Baby. The Healer. The Savior. 
but also The Judge. The Avenger. The Sword-wielder. The Dread Horseman.

Jesus, even as a baby, is not cute or safe.
He says, Follow Me, but if we don't, will eventually sweep us away in a firestorm.
He forgives. He has mercy, but that mercy has bounds. Eventually, He tires of waiting.
He brings us along, but when we try to interfere with what is, after all, His plan, He doesn't hesitate to tell us to "Get thee behind me, Satan."

He came to save and did it--without help, and without hesitation.
Who can, indeed, abide the day of His coming?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

For the Glory
For over all, Your glory is shelter and protection.--Isaiah 4:6

That's it.
That's what I'm looking for.
God's glory.

Why we praise God.
Why we gather around His table.
Why we sing.
Why we yearn.
Why we hope.
Why we sink into anywhere we think we might find it.

God's glory is our home and we want to go home.
We will be safe there and nowhere else.

Everywhere God is, we find His glory.
And His glory is the only fellowship He offers.
He is the King of Glory and of nothing else.
Listen and hear Him--

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wait for It...

The joy of anticipation. Panting, yearning for what is coming.
Planning a wedding. The months of pregnancy. Studying in anticipation of a career. Saving for a new car.
Who would want to miss the joy of them?

We would, apparently.

What happened to Advent, anyway?
Waiting for Christmas.
Just waiting for it.
I don't know about you, but I can't listen to Christmas carols yet.
Or put up my tree, or decorate my house, or wrap gifts.
Christmas can't come yet. It's not time.
I need to prepare. I need to think, and pray, and remember.

I need to join Mary, who waited nine months for Jesus.
I am the Lord's servant...--Luke 1:38
And Elizabeth, who waited for John.
..the baby leaped in her womb...Luke 1:40
And Zechariah, who waited with her.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us...--Luke 1:69
And Simeon, who waited his whole life. now dismiss your servant in peace, for mine eyes have seen the Savior...Luke 2:29-30
And the Jews, who waited thousands of years.
And He shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace--Isaiah 9:6
And the whole of mankind, who has waited since God's angel barred the gates of paradise with a flaming sword.
I rejoiced because they said to me, We will go up to the house of the Lord--Psalm 122:1

And I can't wait one month?
Christmas will come. God promised that it will.
But, if I am not careful, I might miss the glory of the wait.
That pause, that inhaled breath, that moment of absolute stillness before the victorious crescendo.
Without it, we diminish the gift.
Stop. Take a breath. Turn off the carols. Turn down the lights.
It has a sound.
Wait for it...