You Came

It’s not labeled as a Christmas song, but the words of this song are Christmas to me…

He came. Jesus came when I needed Him. He woke up my heart and breathed life into my soul. I couldn’t walk out of the tomb of sin and shame on my own, I couldn’t unbind the fear that kept me from moving, that kept me stuck in the darkness…

He unwound the fear with perfect love, set me free.

He sang over my life and loved me with whole and perfect love until I began to believe what He said about me: that I was wanted. Cherished. A daughter of God, beloved. He loved me into days like this one, days when I can dance through my house with joy, wild and uncaring about awkward limbs because it is my heart that is leaping without worry, without shame….because it is His song that moves my feet and my voice.

The Light, the glory, the holiness of the Father…it’s given to us, revealed through this Savior whose selfless, all-encompassing love led Him into Bethlehem…to the cross where He took my pain, my sin, my death and gave me righteousness, strength, and life  — life overflowing and never — never, ever, ever — ending.

Can we know how deep, how wide, how long, how high His love is?

Didn’t He begin to show us when the virgin glowed with expectation, when a baby leapt in the womb of the old, when the wedding feast was saved, when the net was filled with fish, when the bellies where filled with lunch, when the blind eyes opened clear and full of wonder, when the deaf ears heard music in the wind, when limbs helpless and frail strengthened to running, when demons ran back to where they belonged, when life was called from death, when He carried the cross in our place, when the tomb stood empty and the upper room was filled with Spirit?

He comes to our need, our miracle-working, beyond-expectation, mightiest, nothing-is-too-hard God.

Turn our fear into faith, God — help us to see who You are again – again and again, let our hearts burn within us until we know that we stand in Your presence.

He has life enough, love enough, joy enough, peace enough, grace enough, healing enough, power enough — for me, for you, for every one who will ask for Him to come….for every one who will believe Him.

We begin in rags, we begin broken, we begin alone and orphaned, we begin hiding in shame, dead in our sin, slaves to our fear.

But Jesus came.

And we come out of the grave, blinking in His brilliant light, washed white and purified…we come out of the grave, free and unfettered, wearing beauty for ashes. We come out of the grave, a child of the Most High God. We come out of the grave, made whole. We come out of the grave, loved. We come out of the grave, alive.

And what can separate us now from the love of Christ?

... I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8: 38-39 

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Annunciation by Scott Cairns

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Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the tinder of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew lights gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

(Scott Cairns is one of my favorite poets, but I was unfamiliar with this poem until another poet I hold in high esteem featured it in his Advent series…please check out Malcolm Guite’s site for more beautiful words and images. You can also hear him reading this poem, which is a moment you don’t want to miss.)

Words of Wonder from St. John Chrysostom

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” –Luke 2:13-14

 What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a mother who has brought forth new life; I see a child come to this light by birth. The manner of his conception I cannot comprehend. Nature is overcome, the boundaries of the established order set aside, where God so wills. For not according to nature has this thing come to pass. Nature here has rested, while the will of God labored. O, ineffable grace! The only begotten One, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, which is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that we mortals cannot see. For since we believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, we doubt that which they do not see, and so he has deigned to show himself in bodily presence, that he may remove all doubt…

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.

 Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side – a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth…

 Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

 What shall I say? What shall I utter?

 “Behold an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

-St. John Chrysostom, from the essay ‘The Mystery’

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Lights

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Lights frame front porches, glow in windows, sparkle over still green bushes. Down the highway, shining bulbs spell out ‘PEACE ON EARTH’ like they do every year, giant letters tall in an empty field.

There is something about those lights…something more than how pretty the colors look against the fading cold-weather land.

Every Christmas season, it is the lights that bring tears to my eyes, bring a big grin to my face, bring me back to feeling like a kid. Wide-eyed and excited, my sister and I used to watch for houses all lit up and point them out to each other…I love to remember the long drive home from my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve with carols playing from the radio, the car filled with warmth, and the lights merrily brightening up the dark roads – it felt like they were there to guide us home.  I’d lean my head against the chilled window, looking for strings of white and colored lights, watching the stars in the sky, feeling  like the entire world was glowing in joy —  just like the night the brightest of stars and glory-bright songs blazed to welcome the baby Jesus.

Back then, I couldn’t  really name the feeling those lights woke in me.  I just knew they felt happy. I knew they felt alive. I knew they made me feel a yearning for something I couldn’t quite figure out, even in my much scribbled-in diary or between the pages of my favorite books.

I’ve found that word now:

Hope.

Sure, it may seem that a light is just a light. Colored strands of burning bulbs are only Christmas decorations.

But I think it means more. I think that there is hope in our collective decision to disrupt the darkness with lovely cheer. There is hope in a people who will, year after year, brighten the roadsides and long nights – refusing to end a year, no matter the hardship that it brought, in surrender to the darkness.

Instead of shutting out the world, we light up the town streets and shopping centers. We light up our churches and our homes. We light up our cars. I’ve even seen light-lined baby strollers.

Every year, we blaze out and say again – light is stronger than darkness. And, beneath the surface of all the Christmas jingle and jangle, those lights shine a brighter and steady truth.

The Light came into our darkness and overcame it.

Jesus came, when the time was right, and set our hearts alight with His glory.

He promised, when He left, that He would return and displace the darkness forever.

And as it seems the trouble increases all around, year by year, we choose to believe that His words are true.

We wait, ancient hope still new, for our Messiah to come once again.

These Christmas lights, they are sacred when we see their declaration:

we are keeping faith. We are keeping our home-fires ablaze, as a bride waiting for her soldier to return – prepared, always. Waiting, anticipating — expecting His arrival.

I see that giant declaration of  PEACE ON EARTH – words said again and again — and I pray that I won’t become numb to their meaning. May we not hear this year’s carols and declarations of goodwill with ears listening for the tinny sounds of a holiday, but with ears attune to His redemption song — His melody, His promise, His plan unfolding — knowing the seasons are in His hands and His voice is our hope…knowing that every season He brings only draws the day closer that will dawn with peace and His reign.

One day, this whole world will be alight with His glory…evil will have no place. Darkness will be no more.

Until then…for now…we light another candle. Plug in another strand of lights. Trim a tree. We do the small things we can do to ignite remembrance of Him, to light up our corners with the knowledge that He is ever-near to us.

We live in an Advent-Season always. We draw our light, every day, from the source of all light – our Savior, Jesus Christ. But in these days that celebrate His incarnation, I pray that we will delight in the mystery of His love…the beauty of His sacrifice…the blessing of stars and the moon and the sun that declare His wonder…and, yes, twinkling lights adorning mantles and Christmas trees. May we light up our season  in gratitude for what He has already done and in confidence that His light will guide us Home.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~John 1:1-5

(This post was originally published in December of 2012)

Music Monday (Advent Edition II)

It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent – that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: “On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” Learn to wait, because He has promised to come. “I stand at the door…” We however call to Him: “Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!”                        -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…Because I live, you also will live. -from John 14

Giving Him Room

A reminder for anyone walking in a season new and unfamiliar…or anyone overwhelmed by the day-to-day, the work at hand…for those who are following God’s call and feel unqualified, uncertain, incapable…for all of us who want our lives to be like that bright-long-ago-star, helping to show someone the way to Jesus…remember – in all things, His grace is all we need. His ‘power works best in weakness’. (2 Cor. 12:9) Sometimes, I think, we forget that we have to get our own plans and our own ‘abilities’ out of the way…we have to give Him room to work in us!

Maybe the thing to remember about Mary is that she said yes to God’s call, even though it was nothing she could figure out or achieve on her own. She surrendered what she had to God: a fragile body, a willing heart.

“God is the giver of such impossible tasks. He says to one-hundred-year-old Abraham and ninety-year-old Sarah, “Make a baby!” He tells a young virgin, “You are with child.” He informs a young, confused carpenter, who has never so much as touched his bride-to-be, “You are a father!” Perhaps, in the end, it’s not our abilities, but simply the fact that He says so. It is not a matter of what we can or cannot do but of God’s power.” -Michael Card

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. -Matthew 19:26

A Prayer for Today

“If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again – the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this – then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them…the Advent message comes out of an encounter with the absolute, the final, the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes…” -Alfred Delp

And when we are wide awake, when we are shaken…may we live in His power and in His footsteps. Only in this way will we shine into darkness with His hope and love…Lord, awaken Your love and Your wisdom in us. Change us so that we see how You see, live how You lead, love how You love.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

-St. Francis of Asissi

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again…

Carry the light-giving Message into the night…-John 3:16, Phil. 2 (MSG)