Joy to the World!

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1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

 

Joy to the World , the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.

(Isaac Watts, 1719)

 

The day has dawned!  Sometime in the night, God tiptoed into the world and made a home.  And the world will never be the same again.  Most of us barely noticed.  Most of the world woke this morning and went on with their lives.  That’s OK.  If God had wanted fanfare, then I supposed God would have come with a bit more flourish and drama, perhaps calling ahead or something.  But instead, God enters as one of us, quietly slipping the Divine into our midst with as little noise as possible.  (Although I suppose it’s hard to enter quietly with a multitude of angels in tow!)

 

When Isaac Watts first wrote the familiar Christmas carol “Joy to the World”, he didn’t mean for it to be a carol at all.  The words were originally written to celebrate the triumphant second coming of Christ rather than the birth that we celebrate this morning.  I think that’s the reason it works, though.  God’s coming into the world is not merely something that happened more than 2,000 years ago.  Today is not the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus’ birth as if it is some sort of historic relic that we hold; rather, today–THIS day–IS the coming of God into our midst, the realization that even now, Heaven is spilling into our lives, making a home, and Heaven and Nature are singing together.

 

God comes quietly, tiptoeing into our lives each and every day of our existence.  A new Light has dawned and every day is Christmas!  So when the Holy and Sacred dawn in our life, are we called to join in loud acclaim, or are we called to silently open our our lives and let the Divine spill in?  With all respect to Mr. Watts, I’m not a big watcher of the “Second Coming” of Christ.  I don’t know what that looks like and the Scriptures are not that specific about it.  I think the point of Christmas is that the Lord is come (as in already)!  God came quietly into our world as the Christ child more than 2,000 years ago.  It was the First Day of the new dawn.  And the Light has been rising each every day since.  And for every heart that quietly opens and makes room for God to tiptoe in and make a home, the Light becomes brighter.  Rather than waiting for God’s coming, let us see that God is here.  Let us see that every day is Christmas.  (And, along the same lines, perhaps every day is the triumphant coming for which we are looking until God’s Kingdom and the recreation of all is complete!)  Joy to the World!  The Lord is come!

 

The Lord is come!  Let us now go and see this thing that has taken place!

 

The Christmas spirit is that hope which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce and all the inn doors slammed in our faces and all the dark nights of our souls, that with God all things still are possible, that even now unto us a Child is born! (Ann Weems)

Merry Christmas!

Shelli

 

Thank you for joining me this season as we prepared ourselves for this glorious day!  Now it’s time for me to take a little break!  I’ll be back every day during Lent (which is incredibly soon this year!) and perhaps I can get my act together to post some other posts in the meantime!  Have a joyous Christmas! (Because THAT season has just begun!)   And keep dancing to God!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

O Holy Night

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And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2: 1-14, King James Version)

 

Mary and Joseph have arrived.  The crowds are almost too much to take, pushing and crushing as the couple makes their way through them.  Mary doesn’t feel well.  She really needs to just lie down and rest.  And when you don’t feel well, the last place you want to be is somewhere that is not home, somewhere foreign, somewhere so crowded, so unwelcoming.  They need to hurry.  There is not too much time left.

 

They stop at a small inn up on the hill overlooking the shepherds’ pastures down below.  Joseph leaves Mary for a moment and goes to make arrangements for a place to stay.  But when he returns, his face looks frustrated, almost in tears.  He tells Mary that the inn is full.  In fact, the whole town is full.  There is no place to stay.  There is no room.  But he tells Mary that the innkeeper has given them permission to at least go into the stableroom to keep warm.  He’s freshening the hay now.  He actually was very nice and was trying his best to make them comfortable.

 

So Mary and Joseph entered the stableroom and, surrounded by animals, tried to get some rest.   They could still hear the crowded city outside.  They could hear the Roman guards yelling as they tried to control the crowds.  It made the place feel every more foreign, even more foreboding.  But directly overhead, was the brightest star they had ever seen.  It was as if the tiny little stable was being bathed in light.  So Mary laid down and closed her eyes.  She knew that the time was almost here.  She knew that the baby was coming into the world.

 

And on this night of nights, into a cold, dirty stable in a small town filled with yelling and pushing crowds, into a place occupied by soldiers, into a place that did not feel like home, into a world that had no room, God comes.  The door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven burst into our little world, flooding it with Light and Life.  And yet, the child in the manger bathed in light, the very Incarnation of the Divine, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Messiah, is, still, one of us.  God takes the form of one of us–just an ordinary human–a human like you and me–to show us what it means to be one of us, to be human, to be made in the image of God.

 

God comes into a world that is unprepared for God, that has no room for God.  God comes into places that are unclean, unworthy, unacceptable for us, much less for the Divine.  God comes into places that most of us would not go, out of fear of the other, out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of the darkness. And there God makes a home.  The Divine begins to pour into the world and with it a vision of the world pouring into the Divine.  This night, though, is not the pinnacle of our lives but, rather, the beginning of a new chapter.  God comes, bathed in Light, in the humblest of disguises imaginable, into the lowliest of places we know, into the darkest night of the soul, that we might finally know that all of the world is of God, all of the world is bathed in the Divine.  God comes so that we might finally see life as we are called to see it and live life as we are called to live it, filled with mercy and compassion and awareness of our connectedness to all the world.  God comes so that we might finally be human, so that we might finally make room.

 

Perhaps the world will never be completely ready for God.  If God waited for us to be completely prepared, God would never come at all.  But this God doesn’t need our preparation. This God doesn’t need to come into a place that is cleaned up and sanitized for God.  Instead, God comes when and where God comes.  God comes into godforsakenness, into a world that is occupied by foreignness, where the need for God is the greatest, into a world that cries out for justice and peace, and there God makes a home.  God comes into the darkness and bathes it in light.

 

The time is here.  In this moment, the door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven are now bursting into the world.  If you stop and listen, just for a moment, you can hear the harps eternal in the distance as they approach our lives.  Can’t you feel it?  Doors opening, light flooding in, the earth filled with a new vision of hope and peace.  Maybe, just maybe, tonight will be different.  Maybe this is the night that the world chooses peace and justice and love.  Maybe this is the night that the world takes joy. Maybe this is the night when the world realizes that it is already filled with the Divine.  Maybe this is the night when we become human.  Maybe this is the night that we make room.

 

It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born. (Ann Lamott)

 

Merry Christmas!

Shelli

 

Lowering Our Expectations

Shoes of PovertyScripture Text:  Matthew 1:18b-21

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

 

Can you imagine Joseph’s surprise?  Good grief, what was God doing while I was busy making plans for God to come?  For generations, my people have been looking for a Savior, planning for that moment, when the King would enter triumphantly.  What were we expecting?  Well, of course, we were expecting someone obvious, someone  who would make himself known in the world, someone who is a little bit better than you or I.  We were expecting power and might and grandiose presentation.  But instead God walked into our very human existence.  God traversed time and space and the perceived separation between the sacred and the ordinary and entered our everyday world.  On some level, that bothers many of us.  After all, we are trying to do BETTER than this; we are aspiring to be more than human.  What in the world is God doing messing around in the muck of this world?

 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said that “by virtue of the creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”  So, perhaps God came into this very ordinary world to show us the holiness that has been created, the sacredness that in our worldliness, we were somehow missing.  Perhaps God steps into our lives to show us the depth that we haven’t dared to dig into our lives.  Perhaps God came and walked with us not to show us how to be but to show us how to see.  But when it’s all said and done, this practice we have of “looking for God” has been proven bizarre.  After all, it was never God that was lost!  We were never separated from the sacred; we just missed seeing it because it wasn’t what we were expecting.  So, again, what were we expecting?  Maybe the the whole lesson is that God will come when and where and in the way that God will come.  But if there’s a “pattern” to be figured out about this God who cannot be figured out, it’s that God comes into the unexpected, into the unplanned, and into the unprepared places in our lives and lays down in a feed trough and patiently waits for the world to wake up and notice.

 

While we were busy looking up, with grand plans for “our Savior”, the God who was on “our side”, God slipped in to the bowels of the world and promised redemption for not just those who were busily looking for God, but the whole world.  The whole world?  The WHOLE world, all of Creation, all of existence.  Maybe the reason that God started where God started was that the rest of us were looking beyond where we should be looking, busily looking for someone to complete what we had started, to validate that what we were doing was right, to raise us up beyond the muck of the world.  But God, even at this moment, descends into places we would rather shake away.  While we were busy looking up, searching for the star in the sky, God descended into humanity.

 

Maybe we were trying to be something we were not.  Maybe we were overreaching a bit.  But God, God comes into our world not to validate us, not to complete us, but to re-create us.  God is good at starting us over, making us new, giving us eyes to see what we have been missing all along.  This human God, this God who laid down in a feed trough, this God who loves everyone humbles us at best.  Who are we that we have such lofty expectations as to think that we are beyond loving someone like us?  Who are we that we missed the holiness in front of us, the sacredness within us, the piece of the Divine that walks beside us even when we don’t notice?  Who are we that we thought ourselves capable of “finding God” without first looking for the God who is always with us, Emmanuel?  Who are we that we thought God would come in the way we expected rather than the way that we needed for Life?  Who are we that we missed our Life?  Who are we that we missed our God?  Maybe we should lower our expectations to a feed trough on the outskirts of power and strength and achievement.  Because there, not only will we find God, but the “we” that we were all along.

 

In this final week of Advent (WHAT?!?  THERE’S ONLY A WEEK?) , we are all busy preparing for the day of God’s coming.  But whether or not we get it done, whether or not the house is clean or the goodies are baked or the presents are wrapped, God will come and the world will never be the same.  Expectation is about moving into what will be rather than preparing for what we expect.

 

What wondrous Love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul!  What wondrous Love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul. (USA Folk Hymn)

 

FOR TODAY:  Lower your expectations.  Look at your life.  Look at your self.  See the God who walks with you in the holiness of days.

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli