Advent failure? Meet the Relentless God.

The theme for my Advent Season 2014?

 

Um. Mostly failure.

 

We have not read the Advent books, we have not faithfully made our way through our Advent Calendar. We have not opened the book of creative ideas for inspiring the children through this Advent season.

 

The kids have played too much X-Box and computer. I have lingered on FaceBook longer than I should.

 

The laundry basket just seems to stay full of clothes that need to be put away. Presents are just beginning to appear under the tree.  Not sure everyone is even in what they are receiving.

 

Tamales made that turned out so-so rather than really great. Frustrating.

 

These are the things that run through my mind…little failures where I can see what could be. I can see more wonder and hope and joy and peace and love. I can see more order and more patience, rather than haphazardly bumping my way through the season.

 

More than that though: frustration, anger, impatience, arrogance. Sin. Throughout the season. The reality of my fallenness. The reality of my lack. The reality of the brokenness we sit with as we try to take in the wonder.

 

The reality of a Mom who slips farther from reality.

 

The reality of friends truly struggling simply to have the basics, let alone the luxury of Christmas gifts overflowing.

 

The reality of others struggling with life-consuming illness. Fear. Uncertainty.

 

The realities that sometimes cloud our hope and faith and love and peace and joy.

 

I can slip into a deep awareness of my lack, and be overcome by it. My fears and failures demand attention….and then I realize that God is more relentless than my fear or my laziness, or my uncertainty.

 

God simply will not be overshadowed.

 

Every year, every where we go, God is proclaimed. Maybe it is covered over with too much fluff, and He is made too safe. Maybe the Gospel is a bit softened by the Ho, Ho, Ho’s. Maybe it is a little confusing…and yet, it is still relentless.

 

Beginning in November the stores start proclaiming: Christmas is coming.

 

The songs start playing the decorations go up, all around us. The parties start being planned, the gifts being wished for and listed, the food starts being prepared. The performances being. The familiar choruses begin being sung on Sunday mornings.

 

Relentless reminders:  Emmanuel. God has come.

 

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:6-7

 

Every year, no matter the failures or the frustrations, no matter the fears or the angers, no matter the weaknesses on my part…God reminds me He came. I may not make it through the whole Advent season with focused intent and awareness, I may not even make it through with a clean house and presents bought on time. Doesn’t matter.

 

God came.

 

Grace.

 

Wonder.

Hope.

 

Peace.

 

Joy.

 

Love.

 

No matter how your Advent season has progressed,  the reminders are all around us. We can soften them with our trivialities, or be overwhelmed by the demands of the season…but the reminders still stand. Relentless. God keeps reminding us He is near.  Underlying all the decorations and Ho, Ho, Ho’s…the reality that the God of the Universe came. That is staggering, and even though we may be so familiar we shrug off the reality…He keeps tapping us on the shoulder each Christmas season. There is a deep truth that underlies all the decorations, and it is amazing.

 

I am so thankful He is relentless.

 

Buechner sums it up this way, from Whistling in the Dark:

 

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

 

 

From Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, Jill Phillips singing Labor of Love:

 

Blaze again…

Monday morning comes early, it seems. Technically, it is all the same, but there is something about Monday that brings a solemnity making it a bit more difficult to begin the day. There are those who face a greater stress when Monday finds us; stress from work or school or other obligations. Sometimes it is difficult, for me, to awaken on Monday and think of Advent.

 

Sometimes Monday morning clouds the patient imaginations of Advent. I need help on Monday morning especially.

 

I love the poetry of Malcolm Guite. He helps me, even on Monday morning, to bring my thoughts around. There is a link on the title that will take you to him reading the poem and you can enjoy hearing it with the rich English accent. I needed to hear this morning the cry to blaze again like fire…

 

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

 

 

The patient waiting of Advent continues. Maybe all the more so we need the discipline of turning our attention toward the incredible reality of the Incarnation. We need to know that the stress of the mundane, the toil that we engage, and all the the responsibilities we carry matter. We need to know on grey Monday mornings that there is a reality which deepens the surface of what we see.

 

We need to know that the Story is true.  We need the breath of that reality on Monday morning to infuse and ignite us.

 

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

No Forced Merrymaking….

I missed a day, didn’t I? I missed posting a poem or two. Missed the moments of pause to take in Advent and to breathe the joy in. Missed a few of the steps in the walk toward Christmas morning.

I am always amazed at the busyness of life. I’m not sure why, because life has been busy for ages for us, and yet it still confounds me. Still frustrates me that I cannot slow things down and still embrace all the activities that are necessary and enjoyable.

Sometimes I stumble upon something, however, which infuses life again into the busyness. Something which makes the heart beat with anticipation and joy.

Joy.

 

Advent.

They go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Joy is slippery, though…we always struggle to define that elusive quality. We know it when it wells up within us, though. We know when our hearts are caught in trying to expand to contain the touch of heaven…

“I do think that while we are in this “valley of tears,” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. . . . It is only in our “hours-off,” only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy [to the joys of heaven]. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends.  Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis 

Necessary frivolity. Those moments of rest. And for those who help to usher in that ‘frivolity’ it is far more than game and festivity. Hours of discipline and study and inspiration come together to provide what may be rest or escape for the rest of us.

Like last night. In a home, the North Wind Manor, which also offers itself as the headquarters for the Rabbit Room activities, we were treated to a simplicity and frivolity that ushered in the joy of the season.

Make no mistake: it was not unimportant. It was necessary, and yet it was gift.

Chesterton on joy:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume [Orthodoxy], I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation.

“This tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.

“His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud, proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something . . 

“Solemn Supermen and Imperial Diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down from the steps of the Temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something . . .

“I say it with reverence — there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.

“There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.

“There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.

“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

If God did restrain the joy of heaven…He did at least give us glimpses. Last night we caught another:

and this…

Oh, this post is getting long, isn’t it? Difficult for me to be concise with words when joy is still so present. Eager for worship this morning as another step toward Christmas morning is taken. Hope. Peace. Love. Joy.

Let’s not let our hearts grow colder…let’s make room for the presence of joy this season.  I didn’t forget, I still have a poem for today:

The Birth of Wonder
by Madeleine L’Engle

As I grow older
I get surer
Man’s heart is colder,
His life no purer.
As I grow steadily
More austere
I come less readily
To Christmas each year.
I can’t keep taking
Without a thought
Forced merrymaking
And presents bought
In crowds and jostling.
Alas, there’s naught
In empty wassailing
Where oblivion’s sought.
Oh, I’d be waiting
With quiet fasting
Anticipating
A joy more lasting.
And so I rhyme
With no apology
During this time
Of eschatology:
Judgment and warning
Come like thunder.
But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.

No forced merrymaking here…thankful to Michael Card, Jeff Taylor and Buddy Greene for helping usher in a joy more lasting:

(By the way…these three are doing this concert in a few places. Kansas City on Dec 14, Dallas on Dec 18,  Prosper, Tx on Dec 19.  If you are anywhere near these places make sure you go!)

Our Homes Are Under Miraculous Skies…

I don’t know about you, but today has been a long day. Sometimes, on days like this especially, simplicity is the kindest thing for the soul.

 

No need to elaborate tonight…simply refreshment from the poetry of G.K. Chesterton:

Christmas Poem

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

The Lingering Gaze that finds Hope

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This picture is on my street. Sunrise. Non-filtered.

I sit outside early in the mornings and read. Lately a lot of George MacDonald and Frederick Buechner.  I love the morning light, and love watching the day begin. The morning I walked outside and saw this sunrise, just a few weeks ago, I had to run back inside and grab my good camera. Not the phone. I needed something able to look a little more deeply, something that could be more true to what I was seeing. The camera phones are great for the quick snaps…but sometimes we need something sturdier. Something that shows depth.

Sometimes life is that way. The wonder around us requires us to look more deeply and not just glance. Requires us to hold our gaze long enough to see that there is hope in the midst of whatever circumstances we have.

Other times, the wonder takes our breath away and we have no choice but to recognize that something remarkable has happened. The birth of children…staggering.  Music that moves you beyond yourself and elevates your gaze, makes you yearn for something more. Paintings and art that capture the Creation in a way that moves your soul immediately, reflexively.

Hope. For me, it is tied to wonder. The fact that God created in a way that inspires us, in a way that stirs us and catches our breath, tells me that He is concerned with more than just practicality. He is concerned with more than efficiency. That means that sometimes He be will hard to figure out. Sometimes it will seem He is not being efficient in solving the issues that plague me.

Sometimes I have to look a little harder to find the hope. Sometimes hope requires faith that there is more happening than what we see.

“For Christians, hope is ultimately hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what for centuries we have been claiming he is. The hope that despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings.” 

Frederick Buechner

He came once. There is promise in that…the fact that He came secures our hope. He came and He made Himself known to us. He humbled Himself…came in a way that we could grasp with even a glance. A baby. Understanding the implications takes a look that finds the depth and all the nuances.

He came, and brought hope and the promise that healing will come.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Micah 6:3

Advent. The perfect time for seeing a little more deeply, for looking with a lens that allows more color and more reality to come through. Not the glances of business as usual. The lingering gaze that is caught up in wonder. Hope tends to find its way through in those moments.

Malcolm Guite provides wonderful poetry through the Advent season, paired with images and audio. Take some time, if you have not discovered him, to read through his pages. For now, here is one of his sonnets:

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Advent. Catching me by surprise yet again….

Every year I try to post some Advent poetry, along with some thoughts on Advent. This year, with Advent beginning right on the heels of Thanksgiving, I find myself spinning a little. We spent the past few days celebrating Thanksgiving, changing rooms around (which includes disassembling and reassembling bunkbeds ) and cleaning out closets. Plus the annual trip to the Christmas Tree farm and bringing home a very large Christmas tree!

It was busy.

It was not conducive to contemplation and the hush that accompanies Advent for me.

Beyond that, the last few weeks have been spent listening to many voices talking about Ferguson. Talking about tension and fear and frustration and anger. Both sides.

Then there was the beheading of Peter Kassig just a couple weeks ago.

And there is Pastor Saeed who is still in prison.

So many more stories I could list…so much weariness and pain, so much anger and fear. So many without hope.

And now Advent.

It constantly sneaks up on me. Even when I am looking, even when I am preparing, I am still caught by the beginning of the season. The reality of the season.

There is so much pain…and there is an answer. There is hope. There is redemption. It is not fairy tale, and in the midst of the pain and wild we need to hear all the more the Truth.

God with man came to abide. He did not abandon us, He did not forget. He still has not.

Remember the story afresh. Pause. Listen. Do not rush through the Advent season…let the hush catch you and hear the increasing intensity of the wonder as we march toward Christmas morning.

Tomorrow…Hope. You have to wait until tomorrow.

For now….

The Glory

 Madeleine L’Engle

Without any rhyme
without any reason
…my heart lifts to light
in this bleak season

Believer and wanderer
caught by salvation
stumbler and blunderer
into Creation

In this cold blight
where marrow is frozen
it is God’s time
my heart has chosen

In paradox and story
parable and laughter
find I the glory
here in hereafter

Monday Inspiration…a little light for the start of the week.

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I am working toward shutting of FaceBook through the Advent season, and yet something caught me today. I came across two videos that touched me. Two videos which were more than kittens or silliness…two videos that brought joy to me and a bit of stirring to make the day something more.

 

I am able to waste an amazing amount of time on the internet. We have all bemoaned the abundance of nonsense we can find on the great world-wide-web. We have all most likely been touched by stories we have come across as well. Like most everything in life, it takes a sense of discipline to weed out the good and ignore the bad.

 

I am not always the best about being disciplined.

 

I look forward to a season of some silence from what can be noise on FB and social media. I look forward to setting it aside for a bit and listening to quieter voices, and yet I also know that in this season some great things bounce around the internet. Some go viral, some just touch a handful of folks. Sometimes, especially on a Monday morning, it is nice to have some inspiration. Even some videos of kittens.

 

So, I thought through Advent I might take Mondays to cull a few things from the internet and offer them up as moments of laughter, of joy, of inspiration or of nudging.

 

God speaks to us in so many ways. Often through pain and through trial He gains our attention with more focus…and yet there is so much of Him in the laughter and the wonder and the rejoicing. So much as we ease into Advent of being caught by music and stories that remind us there is “more”. There are some wonderful things to see and hear that make their way across my FB feed…here are a few to start your week before Advent:

 

This was one of the first videos I saw this morning. Inspiration, yes?

 

Advent Season always means music to me…

And…

Because not all the music has to be about Christmas on these Monday posts…this one is just fun and, well, it has umbrellas. Lots of them:

 

Oh, one more! If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing…start at 5:30. Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile:

 

Then there is this…in case you need to have your mind challenged a bit this morning and your imagination stirred.

 

 

I’ll leave you with this one. The nudge….oh to be like this woman, yes?

 

 

So, yes I am trimming down my time on FaceBook. Reading books that demand a slower pace. Listening more carefully and preparing my heart for that explosion of wonder that is Advent. Along the way, it is good to cull a few things that make us smile. Along the way it is good to remember that part of being Image Bearers is our creativity and our joy and our compassion. So thankful for those who live in a way that inspire and stir our hearts….hoping to be more that person every day.