The Ninth Night of Christmas (Emmanuel still is)

winter pathway
(Pexhere.com Creative Commons)

What happens now? When the celebrations are over, the parties are past, and the excitement has settled into everyday-everynight life?

The baby’s been born. The angel’s have proclaimed. The shepherd’s have visited. The baby’s been marked as a chosen child of God. The child’s been named.

Seemingly the momentous and miraculous elements are done and past. Now it is time to find our own way – to wake, rise, feed, bathe, eat, rest, work, feed, eat, sleep, repeat.

But how do we repeat the daily mundane (over and over and over and over and over and over) when there are no more angelic choruses? no more heart-stopping first breaths? no more heavenly pronouncements of good news for all the earth? no more supernatural visits? no more Emmanuel?

Ah: Think. Listen. Reason.

Even if the angelic choruses, first breaths, heavenly pronouncements, and supernatural visits are past, this will never pass:

EMMANUEL.

God with us. God as us. God for us. God in us.

Though he arrived at a specific moment in time, he still is. He still is God. He still is here. He still is Emmanuel.

And that means there is no such thing as everyday-everynight meaningless mundane life.

If Emmanuel, then rejoice.

If Emmanuel, then life.

If Emmanuel, then hope.

If Emmanuel, then love.

Night nine is not the ninth cycle of the same. It is a new cycle, just as each day and night is … because Emmanuel.

The Eighth Night of Christmas (pain, tears, sadness, a name)

Stained glass depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus

I wonder if Mary slept on this night – the night when her tiny babe perhaps whimpered and wept in lingering pain.

On this day, her babe was circumcised, formally marked as a Jew, one of God’s chosen people.

God himself, marked as belonging to himself. Our faith is a paradox in countless ways.

On this day, her babe was named, formally identified as Yeshua bar Joseph. Jesus, son of Joseph. His earthly name for his earthly identity, which was fully him.

But also this: Christos, the only begotten of God. Messiah son of God. His essential name for his divine identity, which was fully him. The paradoxes are indeed countless.

But on this night, for the young mother Mary cradling her newborn babe, the paradoxes of name and identity and purpose matter little. For her, the paradoxes are more earthy, more present, more immediate:

I love this child more than anything I have ever loved…yet he is but eight days old.

I am exhausted beyond words, tired to death, weary in body and soul…yet I would move a mountain to protect and love my child.

I am ill-equipped for this task, unable to provide what any babe needs…yet I am Mother and Mary and Me, ready for all that lies ahead.

I wonder what Mary called her babe before he was named on this day, what she breathed into his ears as she held him at her breast, what she sang in her mind as she celebrated his life?

My Child. You. Precious One. Mine.

I wonder what God calls us as he breathes into our souls while cradling us in his loving arms, what he sings in his heart as he celebrates our life?

My Child. You. Precious One. Mine.

It is the eighth night of Christmas. The Christ-child is now marked and named. Are we?

 

The Seventh Night of Christmas (celebrating all things new)

NYC ball drop
REUTERS Carlo Allegri (Business Insider 12/31/2015)

‘Tis the seventh night of Christmas, and the world is enamored with celebrating New Year’s Eve.

This is a night of endless promise as we look towards the magical tomorrow.

Tomorrow (fingers crossed) is a new start. Tomorrow (please, oh please, oh please) things will be better. Tomorrow (this year we really mean it) we will try harder.

Tomorrow we will be new people who eat better, stay organized, purge excess, read more, spend less.

We promise others. We plead with ourselves. We clench tight our fists and commit to sincere and lasting newness in this coming year.

It is our last best hope, this opportunity to start over, year after year after year after year after year.

OR

“Tis the seventh night of Christmas, and the world is enamored with celebrating New Life through Christ.

This is a night of endless promise as we look towards a faithful and forgiven tomorrow.

Every tomorrow (assuredly) is a new day. Every tomorrow (by God’s good pleasure) things will still be in his control. Every tomorrow (by surrendering our will) we will be further sanctified.

Every tomorrow we can be new people who love others more, worry about ourselves less, follow Christ more closely, worship God more fully.

We hold to God’s promises. We die to our desires. We open wide our hands and commit to selfless and spirit-filled renewal in this new moment and day and year.

It is our only hope, this gift of being made new, day after day after day after day after day.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Behold, I am of no account” – Job’s shocking solace

galaxy

Job is often read as a book about suffering, patience, providence, righteousness, and faithfulness.

Certainly Job discusses all of those things.

But it is not primarily about those things.

It is primarily a book about someone coming face-to-face with this stunning and silencing truth:

Behold, I am of no account. (ESV)

I am nothing. (NLT)

We just finished reading Job in my Bible as Literature class. We plowed through its dialogues and discourses, its philosophical wonderings, and its theological thunder.

Job, like all of scripture, is richer, deeper, wider, and wiser than anyone can possibly understand in a single lifetime. Its narrative structure and poetic beauty are hallmarks of ancient literary genius.

In his introduction to Job, G. K. Chesterton – with typical brilliance, wit, and British pithiness – notes that God’s ultimate discourse (chapters 38-41) upends our expectations in four ways:

  1. Rather than offering answers to all the questions posed of him, God offers questions of his own – richer, deeper, wider, and wiser questions than any yet presented. “In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wider things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself.”
  2. Though God offers deeper, darker, and more desolate riddling questions than Job has yet encountered, Job is strangely comforted by the Lord’s words. “[Job] has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”
  3. As God unrolls a panorama of his mighty creation, he seems to “insist on the positive and palpable unreason of things” and to declare that the world’s inexplicableness is one of its finest truths. “Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, [God] insists that it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was.”
  4. In a stunning use of imagery, and sacred language – and “without once relaxing the rigid impenetrability” of divine power – God drops here and there “the metaphors, sudden and splendid suggestions that the secret of God is a bright and not a sad one…like light seen for an instant through the cracks of a closed door.”

Indeed, oh yes indeed he does.

  • God robes his earth in brilliant colors.
  • He guides the Bear and her cubs across the heavens.
  • He tilts the waterskins of heaven to satisfy the parched ground.
  • He creates the cosmos to the celebratory accompaniment of singing stars and shouting angels.

The secrets of God are indeed bright. The inexplicability of God and his creation is indeed a comfort. The impenetrability of divine power is indeed a reassurance.

To be small, to be of no account, and to be nothing – this is in fact that most spacious truth within which to exist.

It is to be deeply content with my identity as a child of God (as opposed to believing I am a god myself).

It is to be thoroughly assured of my role in the universe as merely one of trillions (but one who is nevertheless fully and undeservedly loved).

It is to be wholly at rest in the arms of one I cannot condense, comprehend, deconstruct, or delimit (but one who I can surely know – personally and intimately).

Only when I believe of myself, “I am of no account. I am nothing,” will I be positioned to finally be all that God has made me to be.

Only when I accept the paradox of being fully loved while being nothing and being fully redeemed while being of no account will I finally understand the price and purity of God’s love for me.

Only when I embrace my very finite smallness will I be able to rejoice assuredly in the frightening magnitude of my Lord.

“Behold, I am of no account.” Yes and amen. Thus can I live and love with a full and free heart.

[Quotes taken from “Introduction to the Book of Job, by G. K. Chesterton (originally published 1916), available at chesterton.org]