Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Born to Live, to Love, to Die"

I am going to end this Christmas Eve with three poems by Madeleine L’Engle. Hers were some of the first verses that inspired me to begin this blog. Every time I think I’ve found everything she wrote about Advent and Christmas, I’ll run across another one in a devotional or blog. That was the case with this first poem, “The Ordinary, So Extraordinary.” The second two are old favorites. May they lead you into the joy of Christmas morning!

The Ordinary so Extraordinary

He came, quietly impossible,
Out of a young girl’s womb,
A love as amazingly marvelous
As his bursting from the tomb.

The child was fully human,
This child was wholly God.
The hands of All Love fashioned him
Of mortal flesh and bone and blood,

The ordinary so extraordinary
The stars shook in the sky
As the Lord of all the universe
Was born to live, to love, to die.

He came, quietly impossible:
Nothing will ever be the same:
Jesus, the Light of every heart–
The God we know by name.

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Most Amazing Word

Thank you, God, for being born,
You who first invented birth
(Universe, galaxies, the earth).
When your world was tired & worn
You came laughing on the morn.

Thank you, most amazing Word
For your silence in the womb
Where there was so little room
Yet the still small voice was heard
Throughout a planet dark & blurred.

Merry Christmas! Wondrous day!
Maker of the universe,
You the end, & you the source
Come to share in human clay
And, yourself, to show the Way.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Love That No One Expected

I have skimped a bit on this last week of Advent, but I wanted to share a bit about what the theme of Love looks like, as we quickly approach Christmas.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not the only one recognizing that Advent seems different this year. So many writers are drawing upon the themes of Advent to speak about the hard topics that plague our modern world. Advent seems all the more relevant and needed at this time in human history. Yet every era, since the dawn of time, as been in desperate need of salvation and redemption.

 Below is a segment from Jon Bloom (staff writer at Desiring God). The article is entitled, “Come, Thou Unexpected Jesus”:

“Jesus came into the world at a desperate time in a desperate way. It wasn’t the way people expected him to come. It wasn’t for the reasons they expected him to come. He did not come to meet their expectations but to love them in the ways they most desperately needed.

For Christ, Christmas is not about tradition but salvation; it’s not about expectations but sanctification. Christmas is about love — earthy, gritty, sacrificial, even bloody love. When Jesus came, he did not come “to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). This was a love that no one expected — a love that exceeds all our expectations.

So look for him in the unexpected place. And it may be in the most desperate place, yours or another’s. But know this: he will meet you in the place that will, if you trust him, cause his good news to eventually bring you the greatest joy (Luke 2:10) — the place you are most likely to really adore him.”

Seven years ago, when I began this blog, I named it “Lineage of Expectation” because I was inspired by the vast messianic expectation woven through the Old Testament. But it is important to make the distinction between expectation and expectations. We cannot project our personal or, even traditional, expectations on Jesus’ birth. But we can remember the earnest and, sometimes misled, expectation with which God’s people waited for the Messiah. We celebrate Advent to remember that we are just like them. We are in desperate need of a Savior. But the added blessing is that we know how the story will end. May that truth be in our hearts this Christmas.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Word Became Flesh

This last week of Advent, we light the Angels candle, or candle of love. The Gospel of John does not record Jesus' birth as the other Gospels do, but his description of the Incarnation captures this theme of love -- without really ever saying so. He begins the book by setting the stage:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
- John 1:1-5
A little later, John tells us how Christ's love was made visible:


The Message translation says, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." I live in a very dense, diverse neighborhood. What would it look like if Jesus was born in my neighborhood? Who would be the characters in the familiar nativity story, the angels, the shepherds, King Herod, the magi? Because for the story to have any meaning, someone has to proclaim, someone has to receive the good news, someone has to reject Him, someone has to worship him.

Would we even recognize God's glory, grace and truth?


Blue Christmas

For those who have been diligent in these Advent readings, thank you for your patience these last few days. I have returned from my trip to Nashville and will be able to finish up the remaining days before Christmas.

Tonight is the longest night of the year, or the Winter Solstice. In the church year calendar some refer to tonight at Blue Christmas. It is a time to reflect and lament the hurt and brokenness that exists in the world, and acknowledge that our God hears and sees us calling out to Him in our deepest need. In one sense, it is the epitome of Advent.

This evening a group of friends from different churches across Chicago’s north side gathered to sing and pray and read scripture. At one point, we read the following liturgy that our hosts adapted from a Longest Night service at the University United Methodist Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico in 2013. The bold type indicates corporate reading.

When there was only chaos,
you whispered of your hopes,
God of every moment,
and light shattered the shadows,
water raced down the valleys,
creatures beyond imagination
grazed in the abundant fields.
You created all which is beautiful
for those shaped in your image,
but loneliness became our companion,
grief wrapped its arms around us,
fear sang its carols to us,
and our dreams turned to nightmares.

So that we would know you are with us
in these moments, these days, these lives,
you became one of us, Jesus walking among us,
reminding us of your promises to us,
not only in the songs of the angels,
but in the quiet whispers of hope
which are sung to us in the night.

You are not only holy, God of hope,
you know the pain we have felt,
you have mingled your tears with ours,
you have wept at the graveside of a loved One.

The angelic chorus told of your glory and wonder,
yet Jesus came to let us know of your compassion.
He could have remained safe in the cradle of grace,
but became as poor as we often feel.
He could have clothed himself in holiness,
but knew the humility of wondering
where his next meal might come from,
whether or not he had a place to sleep at night.
He could have trampled death and sin into the dust,
but let them have their way with him,
so that we might find the path
to life that is whole and complete,
where promises are fulfilled,
where hope is the bed
where we can rest our wearied souls.

We believe we will find acceptance,
because Jesus was rejected;
we trust we know new life,
because Jesus experienced our death;
we look to that day when all weeping is done,
when pain and loss is behind us and
we are welcomed into that kingdom called

As your Spirit moved upon the waters of creation,
filling them with life beyond imagination,
may it move upon the gifts of this Table.
We hunger for hope in the midst of despair,
for life when grief seems to never leave our side,
for wonder where there are only shadows,
and you feed us with that Life which
will never depart from us, but be with us
on this night and in all the moments to come.
Our souls are parched from the deserts of our lives,
we thirst for joy in a world burdened with sorrow,
the deep pools of love have gone dry,

and you hand us that cup of grace
which will never run empty
but will continue to fill us
the waters of life forever.

On this night,
remind us that your morning of hope
will come; in our sorrow,
wrap us in the swaddling cloths of healing;
in our loneliness, help us to find you
as the Friend who never leaves us;
in our loss, whisper to us your promise
that we will be fulfilled in the future you hold
before us in the longest nights.

God in Community, Holy in One,
be with us now and forever.

We finished the evening by singing Psalm 126 (All Those Who Are Weeping) by Molly Parden and Bifrost Arts. If you are experiencing any amount of suffering, sorrow, or lament, this song will put to words that which is hard to articulate.

Restore us, O Lord.