The Sixth Night of Christmas (cold, snow, and Christmas still)

snowy_night_street

The sixth night of Christmas in the drowsy Midwest is perfectly cold (the kind of cold that bites into one’s bones) and beautifully snowy (the kind of snow that reflects in the night).

Christmas lights still flicker throughout the neighborhoods.

Christmas trees still stand, bare under the bottom branches.

Christmas cards pile high, some opened, some read, some set aside.

Christmas seasonal sections are swept aside – February 14th looms large.

Christmas music (except perhaps in the most festive of homes) is quiet.

Christmas leftovers are gone, chewed, swallowed, eaten right up.

Christmas – the extravaganza – has run its course and been boxed up for another year. We are now more interested in the wintry weather than the incarnated arrival.

But Christmas – the birth of Christ, the arrival of Emmanuel – has only just begun. It is less than one week old.

At six days old, a babe is still just an infant.

At six days in, Christmas is still just a breath – the first breath of good news, of real life, of God with us, of infinite breaths to come.

Breathe in the cold air. Feel it cleanse your lungs, freeze your worry, and clear your soul.

Look at the snow. See it blink in the night, light the dark, and dance in the wind.

And then start celebrating Christmas again, for infinite breaths to come.

 

 

 

 

The Fifth Night of Christmas (counting fingers, toes, and joy)

family hands

Over and over and over she counts them –

  • 1-2-3-4-5 fingers
  • 1-2-3-4-5 fingers
  • 1-2-3-4-5 toes
  • 1-2-3-4-5 toes

– kissing each one gently, joyfully, with her mother lips.

Each one accounted for. Each one warm with life. Each one astonishing, a miniature digit, marvelously made, wonderfully formed.

1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-5.

Twenty breathtaking glimpses of glory. Twenty unique prints of divinity. Twenty brilliant points of life.

Could anything be more earthy, more human, more formed-of-dust than baby fingers and toes? Could anything be more delicate, more humble, more knit-together-in-a-mother’s-womb than baby fingers and toes? Could anything be more amazing, more astounding, more woven-together-in-the-dark-of-the-womb than baby fingers and toes?

Baby fingers and toes – whether on the incarnate God or each infant created in his image – reveal the true heart of the Almighty Father, a heart that counts and knows every finger, every toe, every hair, every cell, every child.

The Fourth Night of Christmas (new beginnings)

sleeping baby
Creative Commons CC0 (Pixabay)

One day. Two days. Three days. Four…

On what day does a new life take hold, wrap its fingers tightly round your heart, dig its roots deep into your soul, and sink its very spirit into your love?

None can measure a miracle of new life – whether it be a newborn breathing babe or a reborn broken self.

When we see – really see – the brokenness we each carry; and when we hear – really hear – that brokenness needn’t be the end of our story; and when we know – really know – that healed wholeness is offered in the form of forgiveness; and when we believe – really believe – that we are truly made new …

well, how many days does it take for that newness to feel real?

or, how many days might to take for that newness to be forgotten?

We do so easily forget things of deep import, things that rearrange our selves and remake our days. That’s because rearranged selves and remade days always require work and often result in pain.

By the once-for-all shed blood of Christ (the shed blood of the humble babe who was but four days old once-upon-a-time), we are made fully new in a moment.

By the ongoing surrendering of self (the self of the me who battles pride always-upon-a-time), we are made ever new moment by moment.

It is a long and weary process. It is a great and glorious pageant.

It is the trek and trod of all who follow The Way of the babe.

On the fourth night of Christmas, may you be overwhelmed not just by the Savior’s new life but also by the new life that is found only through the Savior.

 

 

The Third Night of Christmas (finding a new rhythm)

baby fingers

When the birth is over, the angel song is silent, and the guests have departed – what next?

How do we find a new rhythm of existence when everything is new, upended, unsettled? (Surely new babies – and a thousand other things – unsettle everything about life.)

On the third night – when things were still brand new (but also seemed to have always been that way) – what did Mary and Joseph do with their new reality, the bundle of new life that depended on them utterly and wholly?

On that third night – when they were still in a strange place far from home (but what place, exactly? how long did they stay in the stable? the cave? did place open for them at an inn? did relatives make space for the young family?) – what did Mary and Joseph do now that two had become three?

On that third night – when God in flesh breathed earth’s air, drank mother’s milk, slept in father’s arms – what did creation feel in her roots and veins as her Maker joined the dance of human life upon her surface?

Christmas night three: a new rhythm begins in the young family, in the ancient creation, in the newborn babe.

(And the angel song – though silent on earth – continues reverberating across the heavens above.)

 

The Second Night of Christmas (learning to sleep and eat, see and know)

baby feet pexel.jpg

At one-day old, did Jesus sleep soundly, nestled in strips of cloth while lying at his mother’s side? Or did he fuss, whimper, wail, and cry … like so many newborn human babies do?

At one-day old, did Jesus nurse easily, cradled at his mother’s breast while drinking deeply of her precious milk? Or did he struggle to attach, suckle, and swallow … like so many newborn human babies do?

At one-day old, did Jesus see clearly, held in the strong arms of his earthly father while gazing with wide-eyed wonder at those around him? Or did he blink with confusion, blear, and blur … like so many newborn human babies do?

At one-day old, did Jesus know who he was, that someday the earth would celebrate his birth as the miracle of history? Or did he know nothing beyond hunger, warmth, exhaustion, and comfort … like so many newborn human babies do?

At one-day past, is the awe of Emmanuel as stunning and breathtaking as it was on Christmas day? Or have you forgotten, moved on, and faded … like so many sidetracked and busy humans do?

Emmanuel, still. God with us, still. Christ the Savior is born, still.

Be still. Savor, remember, and rejoice, still. Still and always.

The First Night of Christmas (a fool’s game and foolish signs)

‘Tis the first night of Christmas. The heavens proclaim:

Emmanuel.

God with us.

Deity made flesh.

Lord sent to earth.

Christ the Savior is born.

This story of Jesus’ birth (and all it portends) is foolish in all worldly ways. Collective humanity is far more wont to desire:

Myself.

Us as God.

Flesh made divine.

Earth bereft of Lordship.

Death of salvation doctrine.

This list of worldly desires (and all it portends) is a fools’ game, leading to nothing but empty souls full of self.

Surely the arrival of humanity’s Savior indicates this, at the very least: humanity is in desperate need of saving. 

Surely the Savior of humanity deserves this at his arrival, at the very least: a crown, a robe, a throne. These are signs worthy of God made flesh, Christ the Savior, Lord of all, Creator of heaven and earth.

As so often happens in the Real Story, things do not progress as one might expect, for the actual signs of Christ’s arrival are shockingly unspectacular and superlatively unpowerful.

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

No crown. No robe. No throne. Not a single thing that speaks of royalty or divinity in even the smallest degree.

Sign One: “You will find.” The finding itself is a sign, for without a specific roadmap or address, how is one to find the Savior of the world, especially a Savior who on the first night of his life was hidden among the vast masses of lowly ordinary folk?

Simply by looking. “Let us go and see this thing which the Lord has told us about.”

It really is that simple.

Sign Two: “A baby, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

A baby. A baby.

This is the sign of Christ’s arrival? This is the proclaimed Savior and Lord of all? This is God among us?

“Sign” (sēmeion – σημειον) means this:

a mark, a token, by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and is known; transcending the common course of nature.

The grown Jesus was often asked for miraculous signs that would prove his identity, that would distinguish him from others, that would transcend the common course of nature. As a general rule, he refused such requests. He knew that signs, spectacular as they may be, can be misused and finicky things.

Still, the grown Jesus, at the most inopportune and unexpected times, displayed sign after sign after sign – most often to the benefit of the vast lowly masses among whom he was born rather than for the morbid curiosity of those who would deny and disown him.

But the newborn Jesus did not display any signs that would qualify as signs, per se. There was no crown. There was no robe. There was no throne. There was no blinking neon sign splattering the peaceful night with its urgent message: MESSIAH ON TAP! OPEN!

The signs, rather than distinguishing Jesus from others, identified him with others. He arrived as a helpless babe, just as we all do.

The signs, rather than proclaiming Jesus as one who transcends the common course of nature, identified him as one who descends to the common course of nature. Humanity. Suffering. Rejection. Death.

If you expect God to give you a sign that Christ IS, perhaps you must do as the shepherds did:

Go and look for this thing that has happened, this Person who has arrived.

Look in the least likely of places, where worldly power is absent and heavenly humility reigns.

The shepherds hurried to the village and found it … the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, they told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said about the baby. Then they went back to work, praising and glorifying God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dads in the back with the babies

There’s a lot of shouting these days. Also marching, crying, worrying, reflecting, considering, thinking, wondering, praying, celebrating, spewing, planning, mourning, hating, hoping – all kinds of “ing” going on in the heads and hearts of people, “ing” from every hidden nook and cranny of the emotional landscape.

I’m processing the previous months’ events and all the current “ing” privately. There’s much I could say, but there’s far more that I need to hear, contemplate, and think on.

In the meantime, I find great reason to hope – and the reason lies far outside the realm of most of the current rhetoric.

It lies – to be precise – in the back of my church where on Sunday morning, a group of dads were wearing their babies. The picture’s a bit fuzzy, I know – maybe because it’s not often that a dad wearing a baby snaps a selfie with other dads also wearing babies. It’s not the standard fare of Virtual Stardom. Nor does it jive with the current discursive landscape.

Notice they are all smiling – dads-in-back-with-the-babies

Gracious, it surely does make my heart sing, my soul hope, my spirit rejoice, my mind relax, and my face break into a grin.

Dads in the back with their babies – not just with their babies, but wearing their babies. That’s an “ing” I’m going to dance about all week long. That’s an “ing” I’m all for.

[Coda: We closed the Sunday service reciting the well-known prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, everyone holding hands, across the seats and across the aisles – a room of people who assuredly have different views about all the recent “ing”s. We did it with full hearts, deep trust, abiding hope, and utter faith in the Father of us all, who not only made us and knows us but also wears us tightly bound to his chest. Even when all seems not well, all that matters is very well indeed. Amen.]

Electoral maps do not define me

[I wrote the below post exactly four years ago, which happened to be “the morning after” rather than “election eve.” Even so, the point remains important: that we are not merely tally pinpricks on an electoral map, who may seriously doubt the value of our single vote, but rather we are Imago Dei pinpricks within an infinite cosmos, who can be assured of our present and eternal value. The final voting percentages listed below may be off from this years, but the truthful premise is not.]

Wednesday, 7 November, 2012:

I’m not a political activist, pundit, or powerhouse. That’s why after voting yesterday, I wrote that the precious freedom to vote is of less significance than the precious truth that we are human.

This morning, 51.5% of voters are euphoric (to varying degrees) and 48.5% are despondent (on various levels) based solely on their personal answer to this single question:

Who did you vote for?

Several hours ago, the political map of our country looked like this:

2012 Electoral Map – 11.07.12

For entirely non-political reasons, I hate this map. Everything about it screams division and dissent. The non-United States of America.

I prefer this map:

United States

A person has to really scrunch up their eyes to pinpoint “my” place. The color scheme has an artistic air about it. The division lines are faint, more like the marks on a master blueprint than the “cut” lines on a butcher diagram.

This map is even better:

This one is better yet:

And this is the best of all:

I vote because I can. Because I have been given that right.  Because voting matters – on a temporal level, that is.

But I am not a pinpoint on a blue/red electoral map, defined primarily by my political leanings or judged by my voting record.

I am, rather, a pinpoint in a vast, immeasurable universe. I breathe because I live. I have been granted that miracle. Pinpoints matter – in spite of their smallness – solely because they are defined by their imago Dei and judged by undeserved grace.

The real question (for today) is not Who did you vote for?

The real question (for beyond days) is Who do you live for?

Thoughts About Remembering, on 9/11

There are only three hours left of 9/11 here in Indiana, and there in New York, and there at the Pentagon, and also there in Pennsylvania.

Except for those who were present, or whose loved ones were lost, I suspect that most of the remembering is over for today and this year.

Remembering is an exhausting task. In a world where we hear and know about a million lives beyond our own, how much remembering can a single person handle?

And yet remembering is vital to our survival – not primarily our bodily survival, but our inner soul survival.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a remembering God.

“Remember when I brought you out of Egypt. Remember when I comforted your sorrow. Remember when I called you my own. Remember when I calmed your distress. Remember when I met your needs. Remember these words of mine.” 

The incarnate Lord Jesus Christ is a remembering God.

“Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Do this in remembrance of me.”

He tells us to remember. Over and over and over again.

Just as importantly, He listens as we lament and ask Him to remember. Over and over and over again.

“Remember your compassion and unfailing love. Remember your covenant promises. Remember me, LORD.”

Remembering what happened on 9/11 is important and significant to each of us in different ways and degrees. We must not forget.

But it is infinitely more important that we remember God’s love (lavished on us), God’s majesty (visible in creation), God’s forgiveness (available because of the cross), God’s grace (shared with His children), and a thousand other things flowing from the heart of God.

Remembering is a discipline. Remembering takes practice. Remembering takes patience.

Regardless of the circumstances, like the Psalmist we can (and must) say:

I suffer. I ache. I cry. I weep. I break. 

But I remember….

And because we remember, we can live. Regardless. In the midst of the darkness. Today and tomorrow. The joy, hope, grace, and peace that come from remembering are there for all; we can drink their sweetness – today, tomorrow, forever – straight from the heart of the God who himself remembers.

Amen.

[15 years ago – before the blogging era – I was a newspaper columnist. My original thoughts, written while I watched the events of 9/11 unfold on my television, can be read here.]

 

Thank You, Evan Jager

(Addendum: Last night, after posting this blog from within the wooded glens of southern Indiana, I was directed to this by Shauna Niequist. She wrote about Evan Jager in her first book, Cold Tangerines, in a chapter called “The Track Star”. I grew up just a mile or so from where Willow Creek Community started, in an old movie theater. Yesterday, the Willow Creek family watched Evan’s race on The Really Large Screen at their current location – because that’s what family does: they gather to watch their own run and jump as he competes in the steeplechase. Gracious, life is sometimes just over-the-top joyful and awesome and exciting and stunning, is it not?)

Last week, I wrote here about David Boudia and Steele Johnson winning silver at the Olympics. Shortly afterwards, a woman I’d never met left a kind and gracious comment on my Facebook page. She is Cathy Jager, mother to Evan Jager.

Evan Jager AP

Photo: The Associate Press (7c844a9b03e44cec87e17743513d23a5.jpg)

It turns out that Evan Jager competes in the steeplechase. He is a steeplechaser (can it be a predicate noun?). An Olympic steeplechaser, to be precise. In other words, he runs and jumps on land and through water really, really fast without falling or tripping over himself, which is what happens to me if I try to run even just through the backyard or jump even just from my relaxed reading position to an upright alert posture.

I am not much of a mover or shaker or runner or jumper, let alone a steeplechaser.

Steeplechasing (can it be a gerund subject?) doesn’t get a lot of air time. Nor does it get a lot of press time. We Americans are all Olympic-gaga about gymnastics and beach volleyball and swimming and diving. The related stories, interviews, and video clips are everywhere.

But this morning, when Evan Jager was running in the final 3,000-meter steeplechase, I was driving through the state of Indiana, and I could not find a single radio station that talked about the running and the jumping on the land and through the water. Not one. Politics, country music, and other white noise. But no steeplechasing.

And this afternoon, when I finally re-entered the world of wifi, I had to search and dig for a story about the race because, apparently, steeplechasing news isn’t headline news (which might be part of what’s wrong with the world today).

But at last, I found this story (and there have been many more since then, which is gratifying and encouraging and, well, just right) which reported on how Evan Jager had steeplechased (can it be a past perfect verb?) and announced his silver medal.

I don’t know Evan Jager, but I would like to say “bravo” and “thank you” to him because of this:

  • Because when asked about his performance, he said, “I think I had the perfect race today. I was just enjoying every second of it.” Notice that he didn’t say he was perfect, and notice that he didn’t diminish his excellent and stunning race even though he did not cross the line first. He raced well. He raced great. He raced awesomely. And he enjoyed doing it. He worked hard – very, very hard – and found it enjoyable, i.e. joyful. Hello, world. Pay attention.
  • Because when asked by an interviewer if his silver medal felt like a gold medal (since the US Olympic steeplechase history [can it be a descriptive modifier?] isn’t exactly storied), Jager said, “No. It feels like silver, but I’m totally OK with silver.” Our world is big on telling everyone they are gold-medal-winner-worthy, and that anything less is unacceptable and not worth celebrating. But that’s ridiculous. Only one person crosses the line first. And that’s OK.

We are not all gold-medal-winner-worthy. Most of us are immeasurably far from being legitimate contenders or players or performers or participants in much of what life has to offer. There are countless things I cannot do at all, let alone do them well, and no amount of “I’m-amazing-I’m-awesome-I’m-fantastic-I’m-worthy” mirror-self-talk-fiddle-faddle will change that. I still cannot sing, dance, build a house, paint a picture, weld a joint, plumb a drain, construct a quilt, train a horse, do a lay-up, teach shop class, drop a water ski, do impeccable accounting, and a thousand other things.

And that’s OK. My value as a person, your value as a person, our value as people is not found in whether we win gold or not.

It is found in this only: that the breathtaking God who created the breathtaking universe looks at each one of us – (who were designed to be breathtaking but have screwed that up in so many ways) – and says, “You take my breath away.”

Evan Jager ran the steeplechase today. He was fast. He was fantastic. He was fabulous. He had a blast doing it. He enjoyed himself. He won a silver medal.

And that is so very, very OK. That is amazing. And all of us non-running non-jumping  non-fast non-steeplechasing people (can it be a negative gerund adjective?) should cheer him on because working hard with joy is something to celebrate over and over and over again.