REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Came to Be

 

"Birth of Christ", Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430

Scripture Text:  Luke 2: 1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“In those days, a decree went out.”…There it is!  It is probably the best known story of all time and a great story it is–forced occupation, poor couple, long trip, impressive ancestry,  a last-minute birth, animals, humble beginnings, angels, assurance, surprise visitors, well-trained angelic choir, and God.  (You know, in hindsight, if there had been a coach and a glass slipper, this would have been perfect!)  But, seriously, think about it.  This story has gripped the world for more than twenty centuries.  Jesus of Nazareth was born a human gift to this world, born the way we were all born.  No, the Scripture doesn’t speak of morning sickness and labor pains.  In fact, in our haste to welcome the Christ child into our lives each Christmas Eve, we forget the humanness of the birth.  We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of that grotto drenched with the waters of Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath.  We forget that Mary was in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm she had never entered, questioning what the angel nine months before had really convinced her to do.  We often sort of over-romanticize it, forgetting that Jesus was human.

But that night, that silent night, was the night when the Word came forth, Incarnate.  In its simplest form, the Incarnation is the mingling of God with humanity, the mingling of God with us.  It is God becoming human and, in turn, giving humanity a part of the Divine.  It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be.  This night, this silent night, was the night that we came to be.  In this moment, Humanity and the Divine are somehow suspended together, neither moving forward, both dancing together in this grotto.  This is the night for which the world had waited.

God has come, sought us out.  Eons of God inviting us and claiming us and drawing us in did not do it.  So God came, came to show us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy in the ordinary that we kept missing.  God has traversed time and space and the barrier between us and the Divine and as God comes across the line, the line disappears.  God is now with us.  We just have to open our eyes.  And then, the walk began, a walk that is passing through Galilee and, soon, Jerusalem and Golgotha.  And at each point, God asks us to dance again.  And we will never be the same again.  This notion of “Emmanuel”, God With Us, means that all of history has changed.  It means that we have changed.  Lest we over-romanticize that night as one of beauty and candlelight and “Silent Night”, that night was the night we came to be.  We have passed through to another time with our feet still firmly planted here.  God is not asking us to be Divine.  We are not called to be God.  God is asking us to be who God created us to be and came to walk with us to show us what it meant to be human, to be made, not into God, but in the very image of the Divine.

Tradition tells us that the birth happened just a few miles from Jerusalem.  We think of it as another world.  We think of it in the silence without remembering that God came into the midst of a world that is filled with pain and darkness, filled with danger and injustice, filled with the stench of death.  We forget that Jesus was born just a short distance way from a place that is called Golgotha with a waiting cross.  But God still came.  God always comes.  God came to show us Light in the darkness and Life in the midst of death.  God came to show us how to be.  Our journey that we are on now is not separate from that night.  That night was the night it began, the night that God, even in the face of the madness of this world, poured the Sacred and the Divine into our lives.  We were changed forever.  And we can’t separate our past from who we are now.  We can’t help but carry the manger with us on this journey and try our best to make room.  It is part of us.  It is part of when we came to be.  It is what sent us on this journey, the journey that leads us to Jerusalem.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.  The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

On this day in this Lenten journey, remember when you came to be.  What do you remember about knowing what that means?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

When We Came to Be

 

"Birth of Christ", Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430
“Birth of Christ”, Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430

Scripture Text:  Luke 2: 1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“In those days, a decree went out.”…There it is!  It is probably the best known story of all time and a great story it is–forced occupation, poor couple, long trip, impressive ancestry,  a last-minute birth, animals, humble beginnings, angels, assurance, surprise visitors, well-trained angelic choir, and God.  (You know, in hindsight, if there had been a coach and a glass slipper, this would have been perfect!)  But, seriously, think about it.  This story has gripped the world for more than twenty centuries.  Jesus of Nazareth was born a human gift to this world, born the way we were all born.  No, the Scripture doesn’t speak of morning sickness and labor pains.  In fact, in our haste to welcome the Christ child into our lives each Christmas Eve, we forget the humanness of the birth.  We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of that grotto drenched with the waters of Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath.  We forget that Mary was in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm she had never entered, questioning what the angel nine months before had really convinced her to do.  We often sort of over-romanticize it, forgetting that Jesus was human.

But that night, that silent night, was the night when the Word came forth, Incarnate.  In its simplest form, the Incarnation is the mingling of God with humanity, the mingling of God with us.  It is God becoming human and, in turn, giving humanity a part of the Divine.  It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be.  This night, this silent night, was the night that we came to be.  In this moment, Humanity and the Divine are somehow suspended together, neither moving forward, both dancing together in this grotto.  This is the night for which the world had waited.

God has come, sought us out.  Eons of God inviting us and claiming us and drawing us in did not do it.  So God came, came to show us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy in the ordinary that we kept missing.  God has traversed time and space and the barrier between us and the Divine and as God comes across the line, the line disappears.  God is now with us.  We just have to open our eyes.  And then, the walk began, a walk that is passing through Galilee and, soon, Jerusalem and Golgotha.  And at each point, God asks us to dance again.  And we will never be the same again.  This notion of “Emmanuel”, God With Us, means that all of history has changed.  It means that we have changed.  Lest we over-romanticize that night as one of beauty and candlelight and “Silent Night”, that night was the night we came to be.  We have passed through to another time with our feet still firmly planted here.  God is not asking us to be Divine.  We are not called to be God.  God is asking us to be who God created us to be and came to walk with us to show us what it meant to be human, to be made, not into God, but in the very image of the Divine.

Tradition tells us that the birth happened just a few miles from Jerusalem.  We think of it as another world.  We think of it in the silence without remembering that God came into the midst of a world that is filled with pain and darkness, filled with danger and injustice, filled with the stench of death.  We forget that Jesus was born just a short distance way from a place that is called Golgotha with a waiting cross.  But God still came.  God always comes.  God came to show us Light in the darkness and Life in the midst of death.  God came to show us how to be.  Our journey that we are on now is not separate from that night.  That night was the night it began, the night that God, even in the face of the madness of this world, poured the Sacred and the Divine into our lives.  We were changed forever.  And we can’t separate our past from who we are now.  We can’t help but carry the manger with us on this journey and try our best to make room.  It is part of us.  It is part of when we came to be.  It is what sent us on this journey, the journey that leads us to Jerusalem.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.  The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

On this day in this Lenten journey, remember when you came to be.  What do you remember about knowing what that means?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Word

Star over BethlehemScripture Passage for Reflection:  John 1: 1-5

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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The day has dawned.  The Light has flooded in illuminating everything in its path.  It happened before long ago.  Remember…remember back to the beginning when with a Word, God spoke everything into being.  With just a Word, what was dark and without form became waters that parted revealing a new earth.  And then God called Light and Light came, not to push out the darkness but to illuminate its meaning and the two would become forever entwined like twins that know each other’s thoughts.  And then God separated the waters and made sky and then gathered them all together to raise a new land.  God filled the earth with plants and streams and crawling creatures and swimming serpents and flying fantastical feather beings and animals that would walk on four legs, animals that would push us to our wildest limits of fear and trepidations and others that we would tame and love and be loved by in return.  God made the sun and the moon and the stars and gave us time and space and ways to measure both.  And then with yet another Word God spoke us into being and gave us life.  And God then seemed to fall silent if only for awhile, with a faint vision of what the future would hold.  And God proclaimed it good.

And now from the silence, God speaks again as the Word made Flesh.  Once again time and space part and God beckons Light forward.  But this time rather than creating a separate world, God pours the Divine into Creation.  This time rather than speaking water and sky and creatures into being, God speaks the very Godself into earth.  This day all of earth is new again, recreated from the inside out this time.  God is here, God in our midst, Emmanuel.  And God proclaimed it good.

On this day, all power and prestige and prepared plans are laid at the feet of a baby.  God has spoken yet again with a Word that was there even in the beginning, but a Word that God was saving for this moment in time.  God speaks and shepherds hear, drawn to the child.  God speaks and Gentiles from the east begin their journey to lay their gifts at the feet of the Christ.  God speaks this day and each of us must listen and follow.  Creation was not missing anything before.  It was good.  It was the way it was supposed to be.  But through the years, we forgot how to see, forgot how to listen, and started worshipping a silent God.  But God is never silent.  If we see, if we hear, God is always speaking.  God came, Emmanuel, God With Us, that we might finally hear the Word, the Word, this time, made flesh.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A little programming news…Thank you for joining me on this daily Advent journey.  Now I’m going to rest for a little while.  I’ll write more often starting in Epiphany.  I’ll try for once or twice a week.  Then join me in Lent and we’ll do our daily journey together again!  In the meantime, keep “dancing to God”!  Shelli 

Advent 4A: The Other Side of the Manger

 

"Joseph With Infant Christ", Bartoleme' Estaban Murillo, 1665-1666, Museum of Fine Arts, Sevilla, Spain
“Joseph With Infant Christ”, Bartoleme’ Estaban Murillo, 1665-1666, Museum of Fine Arts, Sevilla, Spain

Lectionary Gospel Passage for Reflection:  Matthew 1: 18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. 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 in her 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.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:   ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Poor Joseph!  This is the only time that he really gets a starring role in the story and he doesn’t even really have a speaking part. We are all guilty of sort of skipping over Joseph, sort of putting him back in the stable, so to speak.  After all, he’s sort of just an extra character to complete the happy little family, right?  But can you imagine what he must have been going through?  This was not just affecting Mary’s life. It was affecting his life too.  The proper (and probably the easiest) thing would be to quietly divorce her and go on with his life.  To be honest, you have to admire him for just wanting to quietly dismiss the whole problem.  After all, he couldn’t marry her at this point.  The text says that he was a “righteous” man.  This meant that he was faithful to the Scriptures, to the laws of the Torah.  He didn’t have a choice.  He HAD to divorce Mary.  But he would do it quietly.  It seems that he really did feel compassion for her.  But he also had to be a little hurt, probably a little angry.  We can only imagine.

But in the night in a wild fit of sleep came the dream.  Ah, the dream!  “Listen to her, Joseph, she is telling the truth.  And she needs you.  This child will need you.  He will need a father in his life to show him how to grow up, to show him how to become a man.  He will need someone to hold him when he is afraid and scold him when he gets off course as all children do.  He really just needs someone to love him into being.  And Mary?  She is scared.  She needs you.  You can do this together.”  Joseph, God is calling you too.  Mary cannot go through this alone.  And, so Joseph awakened, took Mary in his arms, and entered the sacred story that had been handed to him from generations before him.  And their lives changed forever.

This is his announcement, the Annunciation to Joseph.  The name “Joseph” means “God will add” or “God will increase”.  God called Mary as the God-bearer; but God called Joseph to also respond, to add to the meaning of the story.  After all, it is the Joseph side of the story that once again upsets the social and religious expectation apple cart, so to speak.  It is Joseph that must break the ranks of righteousness and instead become human.  This beautiful nativity story is both wondrous and scandalous at the same time.  And so, somehow Joseph had to trust this strange news that he, too, was being drawn into the story.  Somehow Joseph had to get on board with God turning his whole life upside down.

And then God waits patiently for Joseph to respond. The world hangs suspended if only for a time, its very salvation teetering on the brink of its demise. After all, Mary’s already on board.  But she needs help.  She needs you.  God needs you.  So, how can this be? I do believe in the omnipotence of God. But I also believe that God, in God’s infinite wisdom, chose to give up part of that power. It’s called free will. God gave a piece of the Godself to each of us that we might choose to respond in faith. How can this be? Certainly not without God and not even without us. Our faith journey is a partnership with God, a dance between the human and the Divine. And so God waits…How can this be?…Only if you respond. So, both Mary and Joseph said “yes” and the Divine began to spill into the womb of the world. Salvation has begun.  The world is with child.

Maybe we continually put Joseph on the other side of the manger because it’s more comfortable for us.  After all, this beautiful story that we love so much is not just about God and Mary and a baby.  It is God coming into the world, it is God coming into our midst, it is God coming to us.  And Joseph is really just a plain old guy.  It’s easier to give a small part in the story rather than realize that God needed him too.  Because of God needed Joseph, then God needs us.  God needs us to wake up to what God is calling us to do.

It’s almost time!  There are bells ringing in the distance and hope and peace and eternity are waiting in the wings.  How can this be?  Because the God of all that is Divine also claims the ordinariness of our lives.  God wants to live with each one of us, as one of us.  And each of us is called to be the God-bearer, to bring the hope and peace and eternity that is waiting into our world.  Each of us is called to add to the numbers of generations before us.  The miracle of Christmas does not stop with the birth of a baby.  It instead happens every day that we say “yes” to eternity, “yes” to God’s Kingdom, and “yes” to bringing the Divine into the world.  It’s almost time!  The world is with child.

Who put Joseph in the back of the stable?  Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand, and told him to stand in the back of the crèche, background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?  God-chosen, this man Joseph was faithful in spite of the gossip in Nazareth, in spite of the danger from Herod.  This man, Joseph, listened to angels and it was he who named the Child Emmanuel.  Is this a man to be stuck for centuries in the back of the stable?

Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway guarding the mother and child or greeting shepherds and kings.  When he wasn’t in the doorway, he was probably urging Mary to get some rest, gently covering her with his cloak, assuring her that he would watch the Child.  Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms and walked him in the night, patting him lovingly until he closed his eyes.

This Christmas, let us give thanks to God for this man of incredible faith into whose care God place the Christ Child.  As a gesture of gratitude, let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable where he can guard and greet and cast an occasional glance at this Child who brought us life.

Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem

 

Reflection:  What is your part in the Nativity story?  To what is God calling you to awaken?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Traveling Mercies

Mary and Joseph Journeying to BethlehemScripture Passage for Reflection:  Luke 2: 1-5

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

The journey has begun.  We know the drill.  We’ve seen the pictures of the very-pregnant Mary on the donkey with a worn-out Joseph leading the way on the road to Bethlehem.  We know the story.  They were going to Bethlehem, to the city of Joseph’s ancestors.  Now there are reputable scholars that claim that more than likely the writers of Luke and Matthew’s Gospels were mistaken.  There was not,after all, a requirement to return for this registration and so, perhaps, Jesus was actually born in Nazareth (as in the “Jesus of Nazareth”) or EVEN in a small town outside of Nazareth called Bethlehem of Galilee, a Roman-Byzantine town in the northern part of the Jezreel valley.  (Again, does it matter?)  But to make this story work with all the Christmas carols and the myriads of Nativity scenes, they need to go to Bethlehem of Judea.  And so it becomes our journey.

Jezreel ValleyThe 80-100 mile journey probably would have taken about 8 days if Mary was truly bouncing along on some sort of equine creature. So in the second day of their journey, they would have entered the Jezreel valley south of Nazareth and journeyed along the hills of Samaria.  It’s really a foreign concept to us, this traveling of about 10 miles a day or so through weather and wild animals and the certain threat of bandits and thieves as they neared what was essentially foreign territory for them.  But I’ve always had this sense that they did not travel alone but rather were accompanied by other family members, townspeople, or others that would have joined them along the way.  Sadly, I guess I envision traffic!  I mean, after all, this thing didn’t happen in a vaccuum.  Life was going on even in that moment. And life includes traffic!

That’s the way journeys are.  We seldom travel alone.  Together, we begin to let go of what we know, leave behind our securities and all things familiar.  We try to come prepared, packing as many provisions as this poor donkey can hold. And then we try our best to make our way through the sometimes-rough terrain.  So, why do we go through this?  Well, have you ever noticed that the entire Bible is full of people on the move, migrating from one country to another, from one way of being to another?  I mean, it started with that garden story when, essentially, Adam and Eve were moved on for whatever reason.  And Abraham, well he was like the journeying king, dragging his family across miles and miles of land in search of a promise.  In fact, that was the whole deal.  You know, “if you’ll leave your country and journey to a place that you’ve never seen and that you don’t know, this is all going to turn out.” (or something like that).  And then Moses, ah…Moses…dragging hoards of people through wilderness wanderings for 40 or so years.  Are you sensing a pattern here?  Maybe it’s not about where we are headed but the journey itself.  After all, we know this whole Bethlehem tale.  We know that they’ll get there and there won’t be a place.  There’s never a place.  None of these people built a mansion and settled in the gated communities of their lives.  They kept going, sometimes making it and sometimes never seeing the place to which they were journeying.

Our journey is no different.  There’s never a place.  You see, God does not call us down roads that are paved with our plans and our preconceptions.  God calls us instead to travel through the wilds of our lives, to journey with our eyes open that we might see this new thing that God is doing.  T.S. Eliot once said that “the end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.”  There’s never a place.  We never really “arrive”.  The journey does not end. It’s always new, re-created.  That’s the point.   After all, even Mary and Joseph turned and made their way home.  But they were never the same again.  And the baby that is coming?  Well, he was never meant to settle down and stay put.  And there was never really room for him at all.  God didn’t intend to show us how to build a house; God revealed the journey home and threw in traveling mercies on the way. So, let us go and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us!

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Manfred Weber, ed.)

Reflection:  What will you take on your journey?  What should you leave behind?  How do you envision your journey today?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Pondering Faith

 

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel
Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel

Scripture Passage for Reflection:  Luke 1: 26-35

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

So, what does it mean to ponder?  If you read this Scripture, it does not mean thinking something through until you understand it or until you “get it”.   Nowhere does it say that Mary was ever completely sure about what was going to happen.  Nowhere does it say that she ever stopped asking questions, that she ever stopped pondering what this would mean for her life.  Nowhere does it say that she expected this turn of events.  When you think about it, Mary was probably just like the rest of us.  She probably pretty well had her life figured out.  She was just trying to live it.  And then this angel shows up.  “Excuse me Mary, I know that this might be a little out of the box for you but I need you to stop everything that you’re doing and listen.  God has something special just for you.  See, if it’s not too much trouble, we’d like you to birth the Savior, the Son of God and the Son of Humanity, Emmanual, the Messiah, the very Godself into being.  And, we’d really like to get this show on the road now.”

What if Mary had said no?  What if her fear or her plans had gotten the best of her?  What if she was just too busy planning for whatever was going to happen next in her life?  What if she really didn’t have time to do any pondering today? Now, as much as we’d like to think that we have the whole story of God neatly constructed between the covers of our Bible or on that nifty little Bible app that you have on your iPhone, you and I both know that there is lots of God’s work that is missing.  We really just sort of get the highlights.  Who knows?  Maybe Mary wasn’t the  first that God asked to do this.  Maybe she was the second, or the tenth, or the 386th.  After all, this is a pretty big deal.  I mean, this pretty much shoots that long-term life plan out of the water.  But, you see, this story is not about Mary; it’s about God.  And through her willingness to ponder, her willingness to let go of the life that she had planned, her willingness to open herself to God’s entrance into her life and, indeed, into her womb, this young, dark-haired, dark-skinned girl from the wrong side of the tracks in a sleepy little suburb of Jerusalem called Bethlehem, was suddenly thrust into God’s redemption of the world.  It is in this moment that all those years of envisioning what would be, all those visions that we’ve talked about, it is here, in this moment, that they begin to be.

Annunciation literally means “the announcement”.  The word by itself probably holds no real mystery.  But it is the beginning of the central tenet of our entire Christian faith—The Annunciation, Incarnation, Transfiguration, Resurrection.  For us, it begins the mystery of Christ Jesus.  For us, the fog lifts and there before us is the bridge between the human and the Divine.  Now we Protestants really don’t tend to give it much credence.  We sort of speed through this passage we read as some sort of precursor to “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” so we can light our Christmas candle.  This, for us, is the typical beginning of the birth story. But think back.  Something happened nine months before.  This human Jesus, like all of us, had to be grown and nurtured in the womb before the miracles and the ministry started.  The Feast of the Annunciation is the turning point of human history.  It is in this moment, this very moment, that God steps through the fog into humanity and, just like every human that came before, must wait to be fully birthed into this world.

What about us?  When do you let yourself ponder?  When do you expect to encounter the unexpected?  What is your answer when the angel or some other God-sent character comes bursting into your life:  “Excuse me [You], I know that this might be a little out of the box for you but I need you to stop everything that you’re doing and listen.  God has something special just for you.  See, if it’s not too much trouble, we’d like you to birth the Savior, the Son of God and the Son of Humanity, Emmanual, the Messiah, the very Godself into being.  And, we’d really like to get this show on the road now.”  Again, what if Mary had said no?  So, why are we so different from that scared little girl.  So, maybe it’s time for us to get busy pondering!

Annunciation 2Mary pondered these things in her heart, and countless generations have pondered them with her.  Mary’s head is bowed, and she looks up at the angel through her lashes.  There is possibly the faintest trace of a frown on her brow.  “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?” she asks, and the angel, the whole of Creation, even God himself, all hold their  breath as they wait for what she will say next.

“Be it unto me according to thy word,” she says, and jewels blossom like morning glories on the arch above them.  Everything has turned to gold.  A golden angel.  A golden girl.  They are caught up together in a stately golden dance.  Their faces are grave.  From a golden cloud between them and above, the Leader of the dance looks on.

The announcement has been made and heard.  The world is with child.

Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus:   A Life Story, p. 8-9

Reflection:  What is God asking you to do with your life?  What part of the story is yours to play, or yours to write, or yours to live?  When have you taken time to ponder?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

“Journey to Bethlehem”
Joseph Brickey, ca. 1973

So, what does it mean to say “God With us”?  The name, Immanuel, that the child is to be given is a symbolic name, a short Hebrew sentence.  We like the idea of God being here to pull us out of our next quandry in life in which we will find ourselves.  But isn’t it more than that?  God has finally, after an entire history of generations of humanity, sought us out.  In essence, God put aside, if only for a little while, all God-liness, to come and join our little world.  God breaks into humanity not with a triumphant shout but into one of the lowliest, one of the most god-forsaken, one of the most human places of all.  Our image of this patriarchal God sitting on a golden throne somewhere up in the clouds looking down upon this struggling world just doesn’t work anymore.  The God who we could not see, the God who we could not name, the God into whose face we could not look or surely we would die has just become one of us. So what do we do now?

When I was little, I used to lay in bed (when I was supposed to be asleep) and think about the notion of God being “everywhere”.  Well that was something that I just couldn’t get my head around.  I mean, there had to be limits.  There had to be a place where God could not see me.  So I would pull the covers over my head and try to figure out if God could see me there.  We all do that, if only figuratively.  Oh, we SAY that God is with us, we SAY that God walks with us, but then we try to find a temporary hiding place from this God who is “up there” or “out there” or wharever “there” we think God is.  After all, it’s kind of like living with your boss, isn’t it?   I saw a bumper sticker a couple of years ago that read “God is coming.  Look busy!”  Oh, we laugh, because it’s way too close to the way we think!  I mean, we’re all so wrapped up in our lives.  There’s just so little time.  There’s just too much going on!  And the world is changing so rapidly.  It’s not like it used to be.  But we’ll keep working to get to God.  Well, SURPRISE!  God came to us.  Not only that, God came WITH us, entering into the bottom of our house of cards that is our world.  So, it seems now, “getting to God” is really no longer necessary.  Maybe we just have to open our eyes, and hold out our hand, and, oh yeah, it helps if you don’t have the covers pulled over your head!

Modern-Day Israel just outside of the Region of Galilee

Mary and Joseph are journeying toward Bethlehem, silently walking through the dust and sands.  This trip was not convenient but they had no choice.  It normally takes four days or so but it is difficult for Mary to travel.  The world is crazy right now, busy and spinning out of control.  Everything is changing.  There is talk of some unrest and some skirmishes up ahead.  This is not the time to be traveling.  This trip is dangerous.  But they have to keep going.  There’s a baby coming!

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Come, thou Wisdom, from on high, and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of thy people be; 
before thee rulers silent fall; all people on thy mercy call.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home.
The captives from their prison free, and conquer death’s deep misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, thou Dayspring, come an dcheer our spirity by they justice here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations bind all people in one heart and mind.
From dust thought brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

(9th century Latin, with translations by Laurence Hull Stookey; vs. 2 by Henry Sloane Coffin, 1916)

 
The time is almost here!  In this final week of Advent, give yourself the gift of pulling away everything that clouds your view that you might see the God who Comes.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli