Posted in quotes

merry christmas!

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“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

– Luke 1:46-55

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When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

– Luke 2:15-19

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He [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

– Luke 2:27-35

Posted in family life, musings

in pursuit of peace

Genuine peace grows in the rich soil of vulnerability and grace, fellowship and forgiveness, community and compassion. It involves an honest coming together of people, flaws and oddities included, followed by the bending and reshaping of everyone involved to accommodate the needs, quirks, and broken aspects of everyone else. Consequently, it also requires the humility of the strong, healthy, intelligent, confident, and well-prepared: those who can shift and sway the most are called to humble themselves in service to and love for the weak, sick, insecure, and foolish.

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Sometimes peace means taking the time to show others how things work, instead of losing patience with their ignorance or clumsiness; sometimes it means admitting our own inabilities and weaknesses and being open to learning something new.

Peace means setting other people before either efficiency or self-sufficiency; putting harmony and mutual respect above pride.

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Peace means making the alterations and accommodations needed to fit our ideals, visions, or traditions to the needs of the people around us – the people in our community, our family, neighbors, and friends. It may look like learning to cook new foods so that friends with food allergies or neighbors from different cultures can join us at our table. It might involve giving up time with our extended family to make sure we spend time with our spouse’s family. It means offering a helping hand instead of judgmental sideways glances at Thanksgiving dinner or on Christmas morning, when excited kids aren’t acting the way more staid adults expect. It means showing others – from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest – the courtesy and respect we would like them to offer to us.

Sometimes, peace means we hang the breakable ornaments higher on the tree, leaving the more durable ones down low, so that even the youngest and most inexperienced people among us can enjoy the Christmas tree in their own way.

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Peace is when everyone does their best to love each other, and forgives each other when that love is imperfect; when everyone is willing to compromise, and reconcile, and try again, and give others the chance to try again as well.

Peace is when someone sits in the chair you thought was yours, because it was the only chair from which you could reach your snack, but you don’t make him move, and he doesn’t exclude you, and together you both find happiness. Maybe you both find even more happiness in the compromise, this new solution to things, than you would have if either one of you were sitting alone.

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Peace requires willingness to try, and fail, and try again. People are complicated, and the situations of life are complicated, and harmony – any kind of success, really – is rarely instantaneously achieved. Peace necessitates our dedicated, persistent, patient, and flexible pursuit. If one solution doesn’t work, peace says, let’s try something else. Let us leave no stone unturned in our efforts to create communion in this place, between these people.

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And of course pursuing peace is more difficult than hanging an ornament on a tree, though it shares the same requirements for patience, persistence, flexibility, and creative thinking. The ornament and the tree are inanimate partakers of the process; every person in a community is involved in the process of peace-making, and brings with them a unique will, opinions, emotions, and experiences. Sometimes, peace fails.

The promise of Advent is that someday peace will fail no longer. The selfishness and anxiety that hamper it in even the best of us will be healed in Christ; knowing each other without the sin of objectification or the response of fear, we will be able to build a more glorious peace than any our world has yet known.

Posted in musings

the virtue of hope

One of things I have learned from my depression is that hope, while certainly made easier by pleasant circumstances and positive emotions, is most emphatically a virtue. It is possible to cling to hope with raw and reddened hands, eyes blinded by night and storm, refusing to release that slender line though every fiber of one’s body and every echo in the tempestuous wind is shouting out the futility of holding on.

Hope is not a wish list for Santa Claus, or a fantasy of a perfect airbrushed future. Hope is a conscious choice to endure, a moment-by-moment fight to persevere, a decision to stay the course despite all odds and appearances.

Hope does not aim for a peaceful and indulgent future, where every want is satiated and every inconvenience eradicated: it could not derive its lasting power from such a weak and flimsy foundation. Hope is anchored in the everlasting love of God, looking towards a future in which every pain and sorrow will be redeemed, made beautiful, and given purpose.

Hope impels one’s feet forward through the valley of the shadow of death, to which no end can be seen.

Advent, in focusing our attention on hope, does not attempt to sugarcoat the suffering of the world with carols and cookies, but rather endeavors to give us the strength and the vision to press on through that suffering without giving in to despair or bitterness. With hope, we may be as small and weak as the one isolated candle flame that flickers in the darkness this first week of the season, but we are at the same time enervated by the raging and glorious power of unleashed fire. No icy cold can put out our light so long as our wick reaches deep into the wax that is Christ in us and for us.

In answer to the hope of the world, He came. To give us the hope to endure to the end, He came. In His coming, in the Christmas manger, in the weakness of a newborn baby, is all the strength we need.

Posted in musings, poems, quotes

remembering Christmas

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendor is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all –
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate –
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

Christmas is past, but it need not be forgotten. How do we move forward from Christmas and carry it within us as we go? Chesterton hints at the answer here, I think: that it is to continually throw ourselves downward, as did God Himself in the Incarnation, in love, service, sacrifice, and humility. It is those who are afraid of falling who fall in the worst way possible; those who cast themselves into the downward rush of grace will find they have nothing to fear in even the farthest fall and the greatest humiliation. One of C.S.Lewis’s most powerful images comes to my mind, here, from The Great Divorce: that of the great waterfall in Heaven, thunderous and beautiful, which is more than just a waterfall, standing as one crucified, pouring himself over the edge in glorious self-giving.

That is God. That is Christmas. And that is how we ought to live in God long after the songs and nativities are packed away and out of sight: because His plunge to servitude and sacrifice doesn’t end with the season.

Posted in musings

on Mary

“And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
‘And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
‘For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
‘For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.'”
– Luke 1:46-48

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother,
‘…a sword will pierce through your own soul also…'”
– Luke 2:34-35

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the first passage, Mary has just arrived at her cousin Elizabeth’s house, and Elizabeth has just proclaimed upon seeing her (and upon feeling the unborn John leap for joy) that Mary is blessed among women. In response, Mary enters into what is known as the Magnificat, praising God for His work in her life and in the world through the coming Messiah. She has been chosen for an incredible and unique role in God’s plan of redemption, and is realizing how blessed she is.

In the second, Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple for his ritual purification/dedication, and Simeon in the Spirit greets them with rejoicing and prophesying. And in the midst of his praise for the Messiah who is finally come, in the midst of his joy, he comments to Mary that her position as Jesus’s mother will bring her great pain and sorrow.

The two – the blessing and the sorrow – are far from mutually exclusive. They are intertwined, twin fruits of one tree. In entering into God’s redemptive plan, in taking up the role He has offered her, Mary receives both the blessings and the sorrows that come with it. She is given power, responsibility, purpose and calling, and the joy of knowing God so deeply and intimately as Jesus’s mother; she has to endure the scorn of those who think she has become pregnant illegitimately, and the greater pain of watching her people reject their Messiah and murder her son. Because the world is broken, because we are scarred and stained by sin, even the highest calling and the most blessed person will experience pain and suffering; because God is entering into that brokenness to redeem and renew all things, even the deepest pain and the greatest sorrow can be woven into the beauty and joy of His plan.

Posted in musings

waiting 

I thought we were going to meet our baby girl today. I’d had contractions all day yesterday, and they started right back up with some intensity first thing this morning, so I figured active labor couldn’t be too far away. But alas, a check at the hospital revealed that the time was not near and my body was still just slowly working through its preparation for labor.

So it’s back to waiting, indefinite waiting. I hate the waiting.

But that is part of the warp and weft of Christmas, is it not?

Mary waited, as she journeyed with Joseph to Bethlehem, for the birth of her child, not knowing the day He would come. Israel waited, as they suffered under Roman oppression, for the coming of the promised King and Messiah to rescue them, not knowing even the year of His advent, much less the day or the hour. We wait still, now, for the One who will bring  eternal hope into the brokenness and despair of our world, lasting peace into war-torn nations and disconnected communities, true joy into hearts numbed by pain and wracked with sorrow, and genuine love into a world defined by systemic oppression and individual hate and indifference. It is a long and weary wait.

Christmas is coming, the King is coming – the One is coming who will set all things right. Just as I know this wait for our baby girl will be over eventually, with all the concomitant joy of new life that a birth brings, so we know that one day our wait for Jesus’s return will be over. It just doesn’t always make the waiting easier.

Posted in musings

thoughts for the week of rejoicing and the candle of joy

“Our rejoicing should not be something superficial and frivolous. It is not just a giddy laughter or a silly emotion. We rejoice rather because of our profound conviction that Jesus is the Lord and in Him is our salvation. We rejoice because of the gift of His eternal love for us. We rejoice by responding with love to the love He has shown us. We rejoice in the Truth and we seek to live in holiness of life, “preserved blameless for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”” – Fr. Thomas Bennett

The two Christmas cards we received so far, just in time for Gaudete Sunday, adorning our messy piano

Every night the Advent candles are almost like a slap in the face, a reminder of all the ways I’ve failed to model Christ to the boys – convicting me of my impatience, selfishness, harsh tongue, and lack of compassion. But they somehow do this much more gently, with far less accompanying guilt, than my own inner drive for perfection, and I believe it is because of the One to whom they point. With every failure comes the opportunity for forgiveness; with every weary night the promise of another chance tomorrow; with every sorrow and broken moment the hope of healing, redemption, and joy. And amidst our struggles to love each other well as parent and child, husband and wife, or brother and sister, our days are suffused with the wonder and joy of Christmas, the anticipation of something great about to happen, and it helps us to pick up the pieces and go about building and rebuilding our love.