At Last, The King (the Gray Havens)

“To the serpent low, said the King upon His throne:
‘You’ve deceived and lied.
My child has gone into exile.
But I will go,
I will make a way home…’

In the dark,
in the shadows,
Light has come.
In the quiet,
in the dead of night,
Glory, glory sang the angels in the highest –
At last, the king
is born to us to overcome exile.
Born to us a virgin’s son, this child
born to give His life for us…
Good news, good news, so glorious.”

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.-Isaiah 9:2

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.-from John 1 

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“Come and See What Love Has Done…”

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’

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.)

What I’m Holding Onto This Christmas

You’re probably seeing the same things I’m seeing these days: Christmas trees twinkling, white wire reindeer grazing on lawns, cookies frosted in red and green lining the shelves of the grocery store bakery…for Thanksgiving has come and gone, bringing us into the midst of another Advent season.

It’s a strange time of year, isn’t it? We’re told by most Christmas songs blaring over the store’s speakers that we’re supposed to be jolly and full of festive cheer…but that’s not all that Christmas brings to us. For me, it also brings nostalgia for my childhood and a yearning to create a sense of wonder in my kids…it brings an awareness of another year of my life coming to an end…it’s a reminder of the stark contrasts of our world: those who have an abundance of all they need and those who – simply – don’t. December brings the darkest days of the year and sometimes those shadowy edges of our days feel unnerving, uncertain.

This year, especially, the world does feel heavy with pain and so fragile…

but, then, it always has been.

That’s why we needed our Savior to come.

It’s why we still need Him now.

This is the side of Christmas I need the most this year: Mary and Joseph saying ‘yes’ to God’s purpose even when they couldn’t understand it all, a people who would not give up hope of rescue even in their time of fear, the unlikely manger becoming the bed for a King who could not leave His people hopeless, the brightest and most wondrous words coming in the dark of night to ordinary men:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10)

The glitter and the Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree are fun, and I’m sure there will be  moments for that kind of festivity — but I am leaning on the every-day-and-all-year-round-truths that undergird the celebration: Christ has come. Christ is with us.

He is with you. He is with me.

The One who loves us does not leave us. He is steadfast in His love…He waits for us to welcome Him, waits with a heart yearning for us, and once we do — He is here. He bears our pain. He understands our sorrow. He takes away our fear. He gives us His own righteousness to wear instead of our sin and shame. When the darkness descends, He shows us the beauty and power of His light.

In the middle of it all, we have the hope of His unfailing love –

and this love is my candle steadily burning bright, my consolation, my peace, and the hope of every tomorrow held in His hands.

(I know how busy and overwhelming this season can be…so I’ve decided to pick up our journey through Genesis with Together We Follow in full-force this January. Until then, I’ll be sharing the music, poetry, and art that quiets my heart and re-focuses my eyes on what matters most during the Christmas season.)

Come and Stand Amazed

“O Lord Jesus, God incarnate,
who assumed this humble form,
counsel me and let my wishes
to Your perfect will conform.
Light of life, dispel my darkness,
let Your frailty strengthen me;
let Your meekness give me boldness,
let Your burden set me free.

O Emmanuel, my Savior,
let Your death be life for me.”

{Medieval Dutch Carol translated by Klaas Hart
Music and Additional Lyrics by Dustin Kensrue}

Advent Wonder: Grace

I find myself –again- knees to floor and heart undone, wondering how so much escapes my efforts. I am somehow still shocked, every now and then, by the struggle between flesh and spirit. Regretting a temper quick to flare and patience in short supply, I wish I could wave a wand of white-out and cover the wasted minutes and the trail of mistakes. I wish I could hide all my faults.

I feel, down to my bones, my need for a Savior willing to come to where I am. Because on days like these, I am a mess of shame and frustration. On days like these, I see – again – how much I need His grace. On my own, I cannot begin to attain righteousness. I cannot love the way my people need me to love. I cannot become ‘good’ in my own try-hard ways.

But the thing that I remember is this- even if I could manage to achieve some manner of righteousness on my own, it would still be like a pile of dirty rags in the light of His holiness.

And I marvel at this kind of mercy: He was wrapped in our flesh so that we could be wrapped in His righteousness. He wore our shame so that we can wear His holiness.

All the wishing and white-out in the world cannot cover our sins, but His blood does. He was wounded for us, His body broken for our iniquities. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7) We do not have to hide our faults, we do not have to cower in shame and condemnation because if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

We could give it our all, our best, every day of our lives and would not be able to step into God’s presence…so Jesus came and give His all, His best – Himself. And that is, eternally, enough for us to boldly approach the throne of mercy. For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Cor. 5:21)

We are forgiven. We are new creations in Christ, no longer slaves to sin and flesh. When we walk with the Spirit, He helps us to live in holiness, to live like Jesus. When we falter, when we fail – because we are not yet made perfect – this is the time to remember how dependent we are on Jesus, on the Holy Spirit abiding with us. We can’t crucify our flesh, we can’t follow Him in our own power. But when we try it (because sometimes we do) – and when we fall flat on our faces (because we will!) – He helps us back up, gives us strength and wisdom to deal with the consequences. He gives us mercy, every morning new, and His faithfulness never depends on ours.

Today, I am reminded that my Savior who was born into a messy, imperfect stable still comes to me in my messy, imperfect heart.

His patience and compassion are everything to me when I stumble. Jesus leads us to repentance. He speaks new life and freedom into our souls. He heals us and He delivers us. He meets us where we are, in our surrendered hearts, and loves us.

His love does not depend on whether or not deserve it. It never has. He loves because He is love. And His love toward us transforms us, brings us into His presence, makes us new.

It was His wildly extravagant love that brought this beautiful, incomprehensible truth:

He became like us so that we can become like Him.

And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

-from Ephesians 3

{originally posted in December 2014}