C.S. Lewis says that “In the Christian story God descends to reascend.”
He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity…. But he goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.
Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in midair, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both colored now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his color too.
In Christmas we bow before an eternal miracle: The God of glory did descend into our human darkness, that we might be made the children of Light.
This is what happens when God’s power breaks in: darkness is cast out. The power of evil spirits is broken and driven away. The Holy Spirit creates a pure atmosphere, one of unity and of peace.
The little stable in Bethlehem was a place where God’s love broke in. While on earth, Jesus expected God’s kingdom to break in. His expectation was that light must break in upon this darkened earth. He saw that death had heaped up a barrier so that light could not come into life on earth. Therefore he sacrificed his life so that in the area of death an opening might be made; so that there might be a rift in the layer of gloomy fog around the earth – an opening through which the light of God could come in. If a house has even only one window where the sun shines in, it can no longer be dark inside the house.
If Jesus opens a breach in death then God’s kingdom comes down to this earth. This was the faith that the early Christian church had when they waited for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They were determined to wait until the flame of the Spirit, like the star over Bethlehem, should come down at this one place. And this did happen; it came.
From the place where a stream enters, it pours out into the entire world. Where love breaks in, all other forces yield. Jesus was victorious on the cross, not by a greater force, but by a greater power – the power of love – in comparison with which all force is nothing. No human force is able to achieve anything in comparison to the power of love.
The birth of Jesus is the in-breaking of the power of love.
Come, and linger awhile
with ancient prophets who hear whispers of a
wonder they will never see, a
wisdom beyond their understanding
and that their words can never fully express…
and yet that they believe in hope.
Come, and linger awhile
near a simple virgin girl who is
overwhelmed when an angel announces
(with terrible calm) that she will be
overshadowed by the Most High and bear a Son Who will
reign over all people and all things for all time.
Come, and linger awhile
through the restless night of a grizzled carpenter who was
shocked by the seeming betrayal of love’s sweetness,
reassured when an angel appeared in his dreams, and
stunned into faith that the Son His beloved carried would
save people from their sins.
Come, and linger awhile
in a shepherd’s night-darkened field, at first
muffled in the ordinary quiet of snores and sheep sleep,
awakened by one angel, a messenger blazing with Glory, joined by
resounding songs & shouts of an angel battalion bringing
good news of great joy to all people.
Come, and linger awhile
by a rough feeding trough in a dead-end stable, where a
Baby lies, God’s glory in skin, proof that
Love arrives, heaven in our broken world, and from there
Hope eyes the promise of peace, joy, life forever.
So, this Christmas…
Come and linger awhile with Jesus.
Be breathlessly quiet,
kneel amazed, awestruck and grateful,
wonder-full and captivated by
Mercy in a manger.
and linger awhile.
a poem by David Head
Just the mere thought of Christmas can bring visions of joy, excitement, family, friends, shopping and gifts. Or, it can bring visions of endless waiting and loneliness, overwhelming sorrow and separation and ongoing fear and darkness.
One of my favorite children’s Christmas story books begins “walk, walk, walk.” It tells the Christmas Story of Mary and Joseph along with their donkey and their very long walk. They “knock, knock, knock,” but are “sad” when there is “no more room in my house” for them. They end up in a barn with their donkey and the resident cows and cats and their kittens. Joseph covers Mary with “his coat so that she would be nice and warm.” They peacefully “sleep, sleep, sleep” in the hay. “ During the night… an exciting thing happened…a little baby.” “Hush, hush, hush.” Mary knew “little babies liked to be loved.”
Have you ever stayed up all night just to experience the dawn – the gradual dimming of the stars as light gently pushes back the darkness revealing the now? Somehow all is refreshed, brilliant – light has come.
Christmas is just this – Light blessing the now. Christmas is not the end of the Advent waiting and journeying. It is the dawn of Advent. It is Light blessing and sanctifying the journey, the waiting itself.
Who waits for whom? Who blesses whom? Parents, siblings, buddies and lovers pensively wait for those who are engaged in ministry, mission and service to come home. Parents eager with anticipation wait for the infant soon to be born. Parents, friends and strangers compassionately journey with the lost and forsaken. Longingly families and friends wait for the estranged. The outcast in yearning wait for welcome. The hungry in trust wait for the cook. The homeless in hope wait for the host. The jobless in faith wait for the employers. The imprisoned desiring freedom wait for the visitor. And children everywhere joyfully wait for the anticipated delight.
And so I walk, and I knock, and I wait. At times I sleep. At times I awake. At times I am cold. At times I am warmed. At times I am hungry. At times I am nourished and nurtured. But in the hush of Christmas I am invited to witness the gift of the Light that shines in the now. I am invited to notice and to receive the sanctifying presence within my journey, my waiting. I am invited to sing Alleluias to the Christ in my life. To Jesus who walks with me in the now – wherever and however that is.
And the goodnews: Christmas is for all of God’s children. Alleluia, Alleluia!
The first mention of the Holy Spirit comes in the second verse of the Bible: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). Here the Holy Spirit is involved in the creation of the cosmos, working in concert with God’s word (as He always does) to bring order out of disorder and create land and trees and animals and people. The first biblical reference to the Spirit has Him tightly involved with stuff. The first mention of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament also has Him involved creatively with stuff: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Luke elaborates on this, telling us that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit, it seems, is always involved with stuff – making it, shaping it, animating it, conceiving it. He was involved in the creation. He conceived Jesus in the virgin’s womb. He raised Jesus bodily from the grave. He will breathe physical life in all His people at the general resurrection. Christmas teaches us that Christianity is not spitirual, that even the Holy Spirit is concerned primarily not with some ethereal “spirituality” but with the material “flesh and blood” stuff of human life.
I know you have all probably read about the Legend of the Candy Cane. Last evening at church, my daughter participated in children’s church (in fact, she was the leader of the group and we were visitors!). Anyway, at the end of the sermon, all of the children received this version of the legend and I want to share it with you this morning.
A piece of candy at Christmas time can be a reminder as well.
A stick of pure white hard candy is white to symbolize the Virgin conception & the sinless nature of Jesus; hard to symbolize the solid rock, the foundation of hte Church; firm to represent the promise of God.
The shape of a “J” to represent the name of Jesus, who can to earth as our Savior. The shape of a staff of the Good Shepherd with which he reached down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.
The smaller stripes of red to remember the painful stripes of Jesus’ wounds by which we are healed. The large red stripe for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.
Just a piece of candy for many, but for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it can remind us of so much more…
Look at the Candy Cane.
What do you see?
Stripes that are read like the blood shed for me.
White is for my Savior who’s sinless and pure!
“J” is for Jesus my Lord, that’s for sure.
Turn it around and a staff you will see.
Jesus my shepherd was born for me!
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. –Genesis 3:15
The serpent’s deception led to Adam and Eve’s rejection of God’s righteousness. The serpent would continue to be an enemy of all God’s ways. His favored method of assaulting God is to assault God’s treasured possession, human beings. His opening salvo took place in a garden paradise and his deception lured Adam and Eve into sin.
From the very beginning of fallen human history we had the promise of a Savior. Even in the midst of judgment God delivered a promise that from the woman would come One who would crush the head of the serpent.
Jesus Christ did not come in a vacuum of history. His entry into humanity fulfilled thousands of years of promise and hope. In Eden, Adam and Eve were barred from the tree of life. In Jesus Christ we are given the bread and water of life. His coming brought hope and restoration and victory over sin and the grave.
Christmas is about a Savior who entered human history to crush our age-old adversary and to pay in his flesh the penalty for our sin. We cannot celebrate his birth without remembering why he was born. Without Easter, Christmas would have no meaning.
Rejoice in the knowledge that your enemy is vanquished. Satan’s power has been crushed and God has won a people for himself. The children of God are eternally secure even though the forces of darkness continue to rage against them. People of God, rejoice! The serpent has been crushed! Your sins are paid for! You have been redeemed! You are no longer of this world but belong to the kingdom of God your Father.
All this because over two thousand years ago, God took on flesh.
Today is Christmas Eve. Once again the Seasons of the Church are turning, the Light is here, tonight, for us Christians, and all the world, the Incarnation shall come once more.
Unfortunately we rarely talk about the Mystery of the Incarnation except at this time of the year. It truly is a Mystery beyond human comprehension, but I do believe and confess that one night, long ago, the Word was made flesh.
That miracle of Incarnation to me, teaches us that we should share in all human happiness and mourn every human grief. All genuine human joy and contentment is the business of a Christian because it was shared by God, Incarnate. Not staying in the walls of a Church, getting into the business of life is Incarnational. But also, all human suffering, misery, depression, and darkest despair is our concern because Christ walked with us there also. When my late wife suffered in the pain of her cancer, Jesus was there, with her, with me, going through that agony. There is no human condition that Jesus did not share with us, apart from sin.
In dealing with pain and suffering in this broken world, Archbishop Rowan’s words speak to me: “There is something about Christianity that always pulls us back from imagining that everything will be all right if we can find the right things to say – because for God, the right thing to say at Christmas was the crying of a small Child, beginning a life of risk and suffering. God shows us how, by His grace and in His Spirit, we can respond to the tormenting riddles of the world.”
That the Word of God, Who was with God from the beginning, and Who is God should have become flesh, not just putting on some sort of human “skin suit”, but becoming flesh, recreates all human experience into a new place, one that God Himself deigned to dwell.
So tonight, in the candles, incense, and songs of the devout, may we greet once again, the Lord of Glory!
The eschatological tension seems unbearable at times. Christ has come, bringing light to a world that knew only darkness. And Christ will return, bringing light to a world that, again, loves darkness. The in-between is the hard part.
I wrestle with the uncertainty, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s one more way in which I am struggling against the Lordship of Christ. I trust Him with my very soul, for I know I’m an unreliable keeper of it, but I apparently think I’m doing a pretty good job of making things happen on time, because I don’t want to rely on God’s schedule for things. My head recognizes the folly, but my heart rages at the silence.
Is this the cause for the dark doubts that well up in me? The question: If God is, and is a rewarder of diligent seekers, then why is there such a long delay between perception and actualization? If I believe, why must I wait until my death to have my belief confirmed? Is it foolishness to believe in a Lord that was and is to come, but barely is? It was this desire for the here and now — the “steak on the plate” in place of “pie in the sky” — that drew me to churches in which theology took a back seat to wit and Christ to the preacher-figure on the stage. It’s a dangerous tendency in myself against which I struggle in various form and guises.
And then comes Advent. A season of the year reserved for contemplating the chasm that threatens to swallow me up. A time for contemplating the now-not yet of it all.
But for some reason, Advent helps me. I know we’re thinking about Christ’s future return, but I tend to focus, perhaps more than I should, on His first visit. The Incarnation reminds me that my hope is not really anchored on the future any more than it is anchored on my own self-worth. It’s anchored on Christ: His birth, His death, His resurrection. That’s all. If I die an old man, all of the bad things I’ve done my entire life won’t matter, because Christ has come to earth. If my children and their children and their children all die old, we will still be present with the God who split time and upended karma to seek and to save those who were lost, but are now found.
They were better people than I am, those who looked forward to the Messiah. Simeon waited patiently at the Temple, while I find only frustration in not-knowing. But during Advent, and even on through Epiphany, we — the Simeon-types and me — both find our faith anchored in the God-man, Jesus Christ.
And maybe, just maybe, I can being to believe that the Creator of all things I trust with my very life, I can trust with a calendar, too. My doubts, they’re just more pride, and I’ve dealt with a lot of that already.
A Charlie Brown Christmas. I doubt that anything epitomizes the war we all wage between the world at large and the Christmas spirit. It clearly shows the battle between the commercialization of Christmas and the very personal meaning we all search for at this special time of the year.
I was just watching this very special show. It demonstrated the battle I go through each year. I mean who can fail to love Snoopy in such a play? And who can fail but to shed a tear when Linus reveals what Christmas is all about? And the end scene, all the kids singing around the Christmas tree… who can resist shedding a tear at such a scene?
God bless Charlie Brown… you’ve shown us all.
That said I must say that in this day and age I’m totally shocked that such a biased, bigoted, immoral show is allowed on TV. I mean where was the mention of Kwanzaa and Hanukah? What a disgrace that such a show should be allowed to be aired on TV! I am offended and I want it banned from the airwaves! It’s clearly biased as it mentions Christmas, tree and all, without giving due to other faiths! What a disgrace! I don’t believe and never will! Charlie Brown should be banned from the airwaves and I won’t be quiet until he is!
It is only a matter of time…
Okay, I admit it – I am a sentimental sap. There, I have said it. This is my favorite time of the year but not because of the hustle and bustle of having to shop or run hither and from as we visit different family members on one side of the state or the other. Nope, those are not the reasons. So why is this the most wonderful time of the year for me? The simple, joyful pleasures of life. Here is my top ten list of joys of the season:
- Cloudy days leading to darker afternoons which means curling up with a book
- Pumpkin spice creamer
- Cranberry compote
- Fires in fireplaces
- Food Network holiday specials
- Christmas music
- Comfort food on cold days
- Sweater vests
- Last but not least – a celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior
It is the best time of the year. There is so much that makes this holiday season but we are so busy with everything else that we fail to notice or realize what we are missing. Why can’t we stop and appreciate what is around us? As we approach Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, slow down and appreciate the things that make this season but don’t forget what we are truly celebrating.