Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: December 2005

December 23 – O Emmanuel

December 23 – O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

The Lord reigns in holiness.

Isaiah sees the Lord. He is summoned into the courts of heaven to stand before the holy, holy, holy Lord of hosts. He does not fall in fear but screams in terror, “Woe is me!”
He is coming undone.

The great and terrible Lord of hosts dwells in unapproachable light. No human can behold Him and live. He is greater than power for He precedes power. There is no power than operates independent of His life. He alone holds all things together.

He is greater the all knowledge for He precedes knowledge. There is no thought beyond Him, for He anticipates every thought and is over and above all thinking.

There is no reference to describe the Holy Creator of all things. So how can we describe this Lord of Lords, the power, this person, this pure life that precedes all things? He chooses to give us language and ideas and images that help us to grasp Him, and yet our words and our imaginations simply cannot fully contain Him. He is always greater than.

And Isaiah knows firsthand the terror of failing into the hands of the living God.

This High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells in the high and holy place, chooses also to “dwell with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

In the mystery beyond mysteries, the Sovereign Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth, chooses to dwell among humans and comes to be born in and from the virgin Mary. As the baby appears, He is both God and infant. Fully God, fully man. Who can grasp it?

O come let us adore Him.

This baby reveals the Creator in ways no one could have anticipated. He is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks. How can God be born?

Beholding the Son of Mary, we see the Son of God. Worshipping the Son of God, we behold the Father. And our eyes see and heart believes because the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father allows us. Emmanuel, God with us, reveals one God and three persons. We cannot contain the mystery, we cannot solve the mystery, but we can bow down and worship before the mystery. Our God is a loving community: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

O come let us adore Him.

This act of God becoming flesh, appearing as the baby Jesus, shakes human knowledge and delights the soul. The mystery and the beauty of the Triune God enraptures the heart and lets us a see just a glimpse of the dance of love that creates and sustains all things.

We could not storm the heavens. We could not approach the Holy One. We could not grasp the fullness of His beauty. All our paths of spirituality led and still lead around a winding mountain that never takes flight. We cannot go where He has not summoned. But He comes to us and reveals Himself to us in the baby Jesus. As St. Bonaventure says, in Jesus, He revealed “all He was, all He had, all He could.” Our as Saint Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God.”

O come let us adore Him.

Through Jesus, God reveals Himself in the weakness of little baby, in trials of a desert sojourner, in the preaching of an impassioned prophet, in the power of a healer, in the crucifying of the King, and in the resurrected Son.

Let us be cautious for asking for more than Jesus. When we desire our own revelations, it may be a sign that we’ve never really beheld Him. He has given us the most personal, most powerful, most beautiful revelation of Himself by coming as Emmanuel. May we learn to gaze upon the glory of the Son.

He chose to reveal Himself in a particular person at particular place and a particular time. How can I grasp or even explain the glory of such a wondrous action, of such a miraculous birth?

O come let us adore Him.

There is a realization in most human hearts that the Creator is greater than our ideas. This often leads to an understanding that seeks to move beyond particularity to universality. We seek to transcend the limitations of this earth. We seek the break the illusion of the material world. So in one sense, it is easier to seek and discuss the abstract idea about God, because we realize no one thing can contain the limitlessness of God.

And yet, He choose reveal Himself in a particular person, at a particular time and in a particular place. In other words, He chooses to enter history. In so doing, He transforms history, He defines history. By His act, He reveals the value He places upon particularity. Every person, every moment and every place is significant and created according to His purpose. Nothing is by chance.

If I could but live in the reality of this one thought, it would change not only my Christmas but my every waking moment until death. Every moment is significant and according to His purpose. Every place is significant and created according to His purpose. Every person is significant and created according to His purpose.

Everywhere I turn, I am overwhelmed by His glory for His purpose is shining through all things. When I pass people in the stores, each person is significant. Every person passing by is created according to His purpose. Thus He is free to reveal His glory and beauty and love through every person I pass. O that I would learn to treasure particularity. Every time I meet someone, I should look into their eyes, behold them; stand in wonder of God’s marvelous workmanship. Behold this person created in the image of God.

O come let us adore Him.

God in His unsearchable wisdom chose not to destroy a wayward creation but to redeem it, to embrace it, to enter into it in a particular way. So that now by His grace alone, His glory shines freely in and through everything, and His image is revealed in every person. Evil is still here and sin still corrupts, but His love and His glory and His redeeming power cannot be stopped. All things will consummate in Him.

No words can contain or convey this grand vision. All that is left is worship.

So the O Antiphons have led us to the end of the Advent journey. According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, if we can go backwards and consider each of the titles from the past seven days, we have Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia. The first letter from each name forms the acrostic “ero cras,” meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.”

Let us hasten to Bethlehem and behold the birth of God. As we bow in worship, we proclaim to the waiting world:

“O come let us adore Him.”

December 22 – O Rex Gentium

December 22 – O Rex Gentium
O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

The earliest ornament I remember seeing is a small, brown plastic triangle-shaped nativity with sparkles on the roof and a little scene inside the stable. They came in all shapes and sizes, and we had every variation in virtually every room.

Today a large porcelain nativity greets us in our foyer complete with shepherds, wise men, animals, hay, a well, Joseph, Mary and the baby. Our imagination places all these characters together even though the gospel stories do not. This tradition of creating a composite nativity dates at least back to the eleventh century and maybe earlier.

While most of our contemporary nativities focus on the main characters, Italian village nativities may include a host of other characters. They recreate a miniature Italian village humming with activity. There are hundreds of figurines including craftsman, village people, and more. It is as though Jesus is born in the midst of the busy activity of life.

These nativities may not accurately represent the way the story unfolds, but they do reveal a truth deep within the gospel story. The baby Jesus holds the scene together, and in Him the kings and shepherds, rich and poor, the Jew and Gentile are joined together.

This newborn King, attended by great and small alike, fulfills the very idea of king. Up until his birth, all kings were simply imperfect types. When he appears, the archetype appears and kingship is fulfilled completely in Jesus. The baby in the manger wields the power of heaven and earth. Wise men recognize this one having authority and bow down, offering homage to the source of their rule.

By claiming His throne through the cross, this king claims every throne. This king will claim all power and all rule and all wisdom and all grace and all might. In so doing, He will remove the walls of separation. We celebrate, and rightly so, the wall of separation he removed between humans and God. In Him alone, do we enjoy the mystery of the communion of love revealed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Even as he removed the wall separating God and humans, he removed the wall between one human and another. A clear and definite wall existed between the Jews and the Gentiles, forbidding the Jews to have relationship with the Gentiles. Jesus removes that wall and literally forms one new man of Jew and Gentile alike.

At the same time, he removes the wall between all humans. Ultimately, sin isolates every person from every other person and true communion is impossible. The existentialists saw and felt this separation more deeply than most. In spite talking nonstop, we cannot penetrate the wall between us. We can sit in the same room and sleep in the same bed and still are separated by an uncrossable divide.

How could we ever hope to have peace between nations when we cannot even maintain peace between two human beings? We seem hopelessly separated by islands of thought. We use the same words but experience completely different worlds.

In the mystery of His rule, King Jesus enters into the breach between one soul and another. By the power of His Spirit, he binds us together. Our words do not simply drop into a void but the wind of the Spirit blows through our words and we enliven one another.

And now we speak of a mystery. The binding of two souls in one relationship points to the mystery of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in perfect, delightful communion.

Some feeling the weight of separation and dualism in this world, embrace the idea that we are all part of the same substance: it is only illusion that separates. I believe it is sin the separates us not only from God but also from one another.

Evil must be overcome. And King Jesus breaks the power of evil through His own life, death and resurrection. He invites us to sup with Him and with one another. By His grace alone, we are transformed to living by the flow of love. By His grace alone, can we enjoy true communion with God and one another.

From time to time, we experience but a glimpse of this perfect harmony of love in our worship and in our conversations, in our art, and in our relationships. These glimpses stir us to strain forward toward the day of His appearing when love will be made complete.

All things have been made in Him and all things will be gathered together in him. In the end, our nativities that bring together shepherd and wise men and craftsman and villagers will become reality and all will behold a cosmic nativity before the King of the past, present and future. The King who is all in all: over all, in all, exceeding all, sustaining all, filling all, ruling all.

O come let us adore Him.

December 21 – O Oriens

O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

In the deep dark of human depravity, the Son dawns. Light bursts up and out from the tiny babe and radiates the warmth of uncreated love. The Son has come and nothing will ever be the same.

Every tiny detail of His life illuminates the human heart with a love supreme. From His miraculous birth to His hidden childhood, from His impassioned preaching and healing ministry to His death, burial and resurrection, the Son reveals the beauty of the Lord.

This light shining and overcoming darkness is the standard of all that is beautiful. Without light, no beauty. Without light, nothing. Without light, formlessness and void. Light reveals shape, color, harmony, as well as the lack of shape, color and harmony.

Light exposes and defines all things. Thus light creates and reveals the distinction of each particular thing but it also integrates all particular things into a harmonious whole. Thus moving away from the light, the soul dis-integrates, stumbling into nothingness and chaos.

We were created for the light of His glory and in the deepest recesses of our hearts we long to behold His beauty. Like the psalmist we cry, “Whom have I in heaven but you O Lord, and to be near you, I desire nothing on earth.”

His beauty satisfies a hunger that cannot be fed outside Him. “One thing I have asked of the Lord, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalms 27:4)

The longing to behold the babe in the manger reveals the ever-longing heart’s desire to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the Lord. It is the beauty of the Lord that converts the soul: not morality lessons. It is the beauty of the Lord that transforms the mind: not rational discourse. It is the beauty of the Lord that calls us and strengthens us to love and be loved in return.

We may build a tower of words that give us some sense of mastery and control in this world, but deep inside we long for more: we long for the beauty of the Lord. Beauty converted the great saints of old. Augustine beheld a love beyond love and his soul found a rest beyond rests, so that he could utter, “My heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”

Thomas Aquinas spent a lifetime defending the faith. With brilliant erudition, He argued line upon line for the canons of the church. His voluminous writings established a way and thinking and responding to all the world. And yet, this genius of a man beheld just a glimpse of the glory of God, and he was speechless.

He uttered, “I’ve seen the Lord, and all that I’ve written is but dust.” So enraptured by the beauty of the Lord, this gentle giant quit writing and could only stare into the stunning wonder God’s love until he left this earth.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American philosopher, says the beauty of the Lord led him to repentance. It was the beauty of the Lord that captured His heart and broke his heart at the same time. In the majesty and splendor of Jesus’ love, we become aware of how desperately disintegrated and damaged we are by the ugliness of evil.

When Luther cries that he is a mere bag of bones, it simply because he has seen a glory that exceeds any beauty the heart could imagine and he is left to acknowledge his own deep deficiencies.

When we are blind, we simply have no grasp of the reality and repercussions of our deeds. But in the light of His love, we begin to realize the damage we have done and continue to do. Like ripples in a pond, our actions set in motion a chain of actions.

We honk at another person on the highway who happens to be having stressful day already. The honk irritates them and further worsens their mood, so that they are impatient and unkind to the clerk at the drive-in window. She has been having a bad day because of the impatient anger of every customer, combined with the problems of her own life. In her tears, she argues with the manager and then goes home early. And on and on the rippling effects of small offenses continue tear at the very heart of this world.

In a world that perpetuates pain, we long for healing and wholeness. We long to behold the beauty of the Lord. The beauty of His holiness binds up the broken-hearted and the broken world. The beauty of His holiness transforms us, creating ripples of love and harmony.

In the dark before Christmas, may we stretch toward the light, crying out for a vision of the Beautiful One. This is not simply an apparition or some earthly vision of the Lord, but rather it is the inward light of Jesus’ glory revealed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. As his beauty and glory shines into our hearts, our eye is filled with light and all we see is light. Then the wonder of this world returns, and everywhere we turn, we catch but a glimpse of His unfolding glory all around us.

And in joyous we wonder we sing, “O come let us adore Him.”

Advent – December 19 and 20

December 19, 2005 –
O Radix Jesse
“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

December 20, 2005
O Clavis David
“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

Note: I combined Dec 19th and 20th.
The child in me is awash in wonder. Each room in our house radiates with magical decorations that stay hid most of the year. An army of snowman stands atop our bookshelves. Santas of every shape, size and even race line our mantle. Pine branches, cotton snow, and red baubles surround our Santas as small lights encircle this scene in an enchanted, hazy glow.

There’s a sleigh with a gingerbread couple traveling to their gingerbread house. Two giant nutcrackers guard the fireplace, and tiny little French horns appear ready to announce marvelous news.

Each room of the house welcomes Christmas characters. There are snowmen, Santas, reindeers, nutcrackers, stars, bears, angels, and even penguins.

This year we even hung bellows of pine garland from the ceiling of our dining room complete with lights and ribbons and baubles. If time and money allowed, I might just turn every square inch of our home into a dreamy wonderland. In the foyer, giving energy to all the other decorations stands a large nativity.

Outside, the leaves have fallen, the grass is brown, and the intense colors of last year’s spring have faded into a brownish, greenish mix. Winter is coming and the world is dying. When the world reminds us of death, we respond with symbols of life, filling our homes with evergreens and childlike images of endless youth.

This is one way we resist the inevitable march of death. Humans, unlike other creatures, do not automatically yield to the natural progression of things. Like Dylan Thomas, we will “not go gentle into that good night.” We fight with stories, with medicine, with art and most of all with children. Every time humans give birth we are resisting the power of death.

The child is not merely another creature that must fend for itself. The child carries our stories, our hopes, our dreams, and our lineage into the future. Death’s power cannot withstand the mystery of generations. If one story can pass through the generations, death is challenged.

One people who understood the power of generations to overcome death were the ancient Hebrews. Unwilling to accept stories of endless cycles, they told their story in linear progression. They saw continuity from one generation to another. It was as though they were moving forward on a journey through time to a specific future. Some suggest they invented history.

In so doing, they changed the ancient habit of allowing the past to dictate the present. For the ancient Hebrews, the future creates the present. So instead of always speaking about tribal forefathers, they spoke of generations, toledot.

David ruled Israel as the poet warrior. He was loved by the people, and it was believed his toledot would always sit on the throne. The image of David came to embody the image of the people. The throne of David would give Israel continuity between the generations.

David sprang like a giant oak from the roots of his father Jesse. These roots and this tree were seen as an image of eternal hope. The tree of David grew high and strong, sheltering the nations. A ruler from David’s line would always occupy the throne. The power of generations wielded the power to conquer death and transform the world.

But eventually, David’s tree toppled: his line fell. One bad king followed another bad king. They forgot who they were. They forgot their dependence upon previous generations. They lost a vision of conquering death through future generations. Thus they lived, like we often do, with no awareness or responsibility to the generations.

This means death wins. The old stories are forgotten. The future is abandoned. By refusing to listen to the past and sacrifice for the future, they became a people doomed to vanish from the earth. I fear we are a people quickly vanishing from the earth.

When David’s tree toppled, Israel was taken captive. Eventually they returned to their land, but a line of new kings took to the throne. They were not true Hebrews, and they reinterpreted the story of ancient Israel (rejecting the line of David). The new glorious kingdom developed outside the generations. And it was eventually subservient to another kingdom: Rome.

Some dreamed that one day the line of David would be restored. The rightful heir to the throne would appear, claim the throne, defeat their enemies, cleanse the temple and restore the ancient glory to Israel.

The prophets suggested that this king would be a fresh shoot on the root of Jesse. The toppled tree of David would come back to life, the proper kingship would be restored, and the Hebrews would conquer death through generations.

They watched and waited.

Then the strangest thing happened. The king finally appeared in a most unkingly way. Born in less than glorious circumstances, a babe appeared in Bethlehem, attended not by the powerful and great but by animals and lowly shepherds.

This unkingly king didn’t even calls himself king. And yet, some people knew. Even a few wise kings bowed before while he was still a child. As the unkingly king grew, he lived a poor man’s life—embracing the woodcraft of his family.

He was hid from view for most of his life, so that when he finally did start acting like a king, he seemed to come from nowhere. This most unkingly king, said the most unkingly things in the most kingly way. He spoke as one having authority.

As king, he reinterpreted the law suggesting that ceremonial and external obedience is not good enough. It’s not only wrong to murder, it’s wrong to hate. The reason we do what we do is just as important as what we do. Love should drive our actions—not ambition, anger or anything else.

As king, he challenges our understanding of authority. Power is realized in serving not in being served. Kings are not great for the number attendants that serve them, but for the friends that sup with them. Serving to the king is expressed in service to the lowest among us—not the highest.

Jesus, the unkingly king, defined and established the Davidic kingship forever. By his actions and words, he set in motion the law of love that undergirds this kingdom that extends beyond the land of Israel to embrace every tribe and nation. Instead of demanding tribute from his subjects, this king became the tribute. His sacrifice sustained and keeps sustaining the future. His sacrifice conquers death—in more ways than one.

His rule extends between generations connecting father to son and son to father. Thus death is not simply defeated in space by his resurrection from the dead, but it is defeated in time by connecting the beginning with the end.

The subjects of his kingdom speak different languages, come from different cultures, and don’t even always agree, but they are united in love. Jesus says the mark of his followers will be their love one for another. This love brings a visible demonstration of continuity between the ages. We are connected across space and time through our confession of faith and our demonstration of love.

This love takes many forms in multiple circumstances but it always calls us to follow Jesus and become the sacrifice for others. By His power, we lay down our lives so that others might be blessed. This self-giving love is but a reflection of the unending love that Jesus reveals in the triune community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Christmas, we return once again to our roots. We return to the stable of Bethlehem to honor the birth of a king, the King. When the world is dying, we celebrate the birth. GK. Chesterton says that “Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.”

So we fill our houses with lights, evergreen, Santas and snowmen. We laugh and sing songs of rejoicing. But we never forget the root of Jesse, the king of Israel, the Lord of Love. In all our festivities, the nativity burns unceasingly as a celebration of the life that conquered and conquers death.

Advent – December 18

December 18 – O Adonai
O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

There is a certain giddiness hanging in the air. Like sweet snowflakes magically transforming our barren lawn, a gentle hopefulness drifts to earth revealing the possibilities of love.

Inside, the house glows in gentle warmth of Christmas lights. They play around the tree, bouncing rays from branches to baubles. The room seems to giggle in delight. Gazing into the glory of this momentary spectacle, we see another tree, another bush that blazed with the light of His glory. Out from the flames of that bush came the Word of freedom for His people.

Wandering no where, the deliverer from no place, meets the God with no name. “I Am that I Am” blazes out from the bush, inviting Moses into the fire of Holy Fear.

The Lord speaks and His Word does not fail. Tyrants falter; empires crumble, and the weak walk free to the place of promise.

Freedom comes like fire from heaven, burning up the chains that enslave, encircling the soul in a divine dance of love.

Like the Hebrews slaves we know the crippling impact of taskmasters who beat and crush and oppress us. We falter and founder under the weight of unforgiveness, bitterness, envy, jealousy, lust, anger, and pride.

Gazing back through the star lighting our tree, we see another star blazing with the light from the infant below. Baby Jesus burns with the holy fire of the Spirit’s love. The Word of freedom made flesh brings the blazing love of heaven to burn up the chains of bondage and breathe light and life to the person.

A certain giddiness hangs in the air. We know a secret. Bethlehem is but the beginning a glorious journey that leads us higher and higher into freedom. Freedom to love. Freedom to give. Freedom to rejoice. Freedom to dance. Freedom to sing. Freedom to gaze upon and worship the Lord of glory.

Advent – December 17

December 17 – O Sapientia
“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims his handiwork.”
Psalm 19:1

Everywhere the psalmist looks, he beholds the handprints of God. The rocks really do cry out, “Glory!” The world reverberates with the radiating glory of God’s unfailing love.

In spite of such all-encompassing love, we stumble blindly and curse the light as though it was darkness. Our proclamations of peace flow from hearts of violence. We know the rippling effects of chaos that tear through the heart of all things. As Bob Dylan says, “Everything is Broken.” From broken hearts to broken families to broken countries, we are hurt, and we hurt.

Every cruel word gives plants seed of pain that produces the fruit of cruelty. We long for companions and then we hurt those same companions through selfish acts and words. We long from acceptance but fail to accept others. Life seems to be an endless cycle of pain between humans. The heart aches for salvation.

Into this heart of darkness, shines the light of hope. The Word of the Father, sustaining all things, is made flesh and dwells among us in a frail, baby. The way of Salvation is the way weakness, of frailty, of risk, of humiliation. The way of Salvation comes by the way of death.

He becomes weak, so that we might become strong. He becomes sin so that we might become sinless. He is humbled, so that we might be exalted.

He is born as babe in the manger, so that we might be born as a child of the kingdom.

Into the chaos of creation comes the harmony of God. He bears the breach and reverberates healing love into all things. By His Word of Salvation, the Father calls us into the light, filling us with light and revealing the blinding glory of His radiating love in the heavens above and the earth below.

Come let us behold Him. The Word of God, the hope of humanity, the Savior of the world.

Advent – December 16

O Antiphons – December 16
We live in response to the resounding Word of God. His earth-shaping voice
shakes creation with the awful danger of unconquerable life. Our yearning
for the complete revealing of Jesus Christ, is merely a response to His
battering waves of love.

Tomorrow, our advent journey intensifies this call and response to the
Creator’s voice. Tomorrow begins seven days of “O Antiphons.” Antiphon
literally means “sounding against” and it calls to mind the alternating call
and response of the liturgy. The liturgy is but a formal recognition of our
human calling to take part in the grand call and response between heaven and
earth.

For seven days, we cry out for the coming Messiah.
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Rising Sun)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with Us)

Each day reveals yet another glorious title of the world’s only Savior. Each
day the intensity of longing builds for the appearance of the coming King.
When he finally comes, the world is scandalized. “For unto a child is born,
and unto us a son is given…”

The shocking fleshly, particularity of the Incarnation topples the towers of
the world’s wisdom. The Word that created the world now coos in the arms of
the virgin Mary. Only fools can proceed to this stable. Holy fools that is.
The powerful are angry, the wise mock, the worldly turn away in disgust. But
the holy fool walks up to the manger, like a humble servant approaching the
throne.

Come all you holy fools and join this motley throng as we respond to call of
God and worship the baby who is “God with us.”

Advent 5 – Dreaming

Advent 5
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.

Well, at least my brother is. Every year for as long as I can remember, Jeremy has dreamed of a white Christmas. Most of the time, his dream does not come true.

This year little children all around the world will dream of white Christmases, as well as beautiful baby dolls, magical toys and fun-filled games. Christmas day will come with grand spectacle. They’ll tear through gifts, eat till their stuffed, and play till they pass out. Christmas will come and go in a flash.

In the afterglow, some if not all, will feel a hint of disappointment. In spite of the grand excitement, in spite of the fantastic delights, there will be a hint of emptiness, a yearning for something more. Some parents may even notice this hint of sadness and scold their children for selfishness.

But the children will come by this feeling honestly. They already experience, in their own child-like way, a hint of the angst of the human condition. Nothing fully satisfies. The fruit was sweet for a moment, but the bitter aftertaste poisoned the tongue to any lasting delight.

This feeling is so small in children that it rarely quenches their expectations for tomorrow. Soon they are excited and looking forward to the next big thing. Dreams grow in their hearts like apples on a thriving tree; new buds always replace the fallen fruit.

By the time they grow into teenagers, many children still maintain their capacity to dream. Only now, they have a new energy that comes with puberty and they sense they can do anything. They can conquer the world!

Many translate these dreams into stunning projects from social to personal: and they literally do change the world. But often over time, that angst returns.

Whether they realize their dreams or experience failure, they still feel this sense of disappointment. And gradually, for many, wonder fades, and they forget the zeal of youth. Bitterness, frustration, self-ambition, the tyrannies of the moment, all the pressures of life in the modern world gradually sap these plants of their vitality. And for so many, the hope and dreams of youth forever fades.

The Israelites knew this darkness. Captured and held captive in Babylon, they forgot the old songs and knew only grieving. Their God forsook them, failed them and forever forget them.

But then the unexpected…into their forsaken lives came the voice of God. The promise of God restores youth, offers restoration and opens new possibilities. They learned to dream again.

Advent is the season to dream dreams. During Advent, we watch and wait for the coming of the Lord. The anticipation of His coming taps in the hope the Israelites discovered in captivity. His kingdom will forever eliminate the power of sin in this world and gather together in one all things in Christ. Advent looks with hopeful expectation to the victory of Christ realized in all things. Advent gives us power to see through the disappointments of living to the hopeful future that cannot be stopped.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
experienced disappointments and grief in the darkest hours of the Civil War. His faith hung in the balance:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The world wearies our soul and saps our strength. The faith of many grows cold. Yet in the midst of darkness, Longfellow saw a glimpse of hope:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

The bells become a reminder that kingdom of God cannot be thwarted. God’s purposes have prevailed and will ultimately transform the world. The lion really will lay down with the lamb.

This is the hope of Advent waiting. This is the joy of Advent longing.

Our hope is not in the pretty packages of the moment. Each desire we fulfill and each goal we achieve is momentary and passing. Like the children on Christmas morning, we look for something more.

We still yearn for something that earth cannot satisfy. We are searching for a city whose founder and architect is God. So we yearn toward that city where love will prevail. We translate this yearning into simple acts of love and kindness in the present moment. These actions spring from faith that the good really does win.

This Advent, may we learn to dream dreams again.

May we become like little children, ever expectant and hopeful for the goodness of God. And as we reach out toward the coming of the Son, may we transform everything we touch into a glimpse of the love and joy and peace of the kingdom of God.

Advent 4 – Fear Not

Advent 4

Exodus 1:8-11
A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, “There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We’ve got to do something: Let’s devise a plan to contain them, lest if there’s a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us.”

The Pharaoh fears the Israelites. He fears they will grow too big. He fears they may leave and upset the economic order. He fears they may take away food or supplies from the Egyptians. He fears they might join with another land and make war against Egypt.

His fear becomes force.

Soon the Israelites face the crushing reality of his fear as he oppresses them, enslaves them and eventually slaughters many of their children.

Fear is deadly.

Our world reels with fear. We fear there won’t be enough. We fear we’ll be alone. We fear our lives won’t count for anything. We fear someone else will get the raise or the promotion or the recognition. We fear we’ll go unnoticed. We fear our freedom to do good and evil. We fear our capacity to hurt others. We fear making wrong choices that result in a disappointment. We fear failing. We fear the end will come too soon.

We fear dying.

Ultimately, we all die. This fear of death, whether conscious or unconscious, animates many actions and decisions. Will we die and be forgotten?

Fear drives people to steal, kill, and destroy. Fear blinds us to the abundance and wonder and glory that surround us. Fear settles over our hearts like a smothering black cloud.

Oh that an angel might suddenly appear into the middle of our heart of darkness and proclaim, “Fear Not.”

On that awful ancient night, the shepherds beheld the terror that ends all terror: the glory of the Lord. And they heard good tidings of great joy for all people.

Heaven’s hope comes to earth in a tale that is strange to even fairy ears. The Creator of heaven and earth, the all powerful, the King of the Jews, the Savior, appears. He’s not in shining robes of glory surrounded by untold armies of heaven. Rather, he comes as a helpless baby among the animals, the outcasts and the forgotten.

He embraces our weakness and reveals His strength. Into the heartache, into brokenness, into the darkness of our fear-filled world comes a babe who will end the power of fear.

In his birth, in his life, in his death and ultimately in his resurrection, he will restore trust to the earth. For only those who trust can live outside of fear.

May this Advent be a time for rediscovering simple trust in the Lord. May we remember the future, looking forward to the end of all things, when the faithfulness and lovingkindness of our Creator is fully unveiled. As we behold the goodness and greatness of our Lord, may we trust in the ancient words that still echo through our being: “Fear Not!”

Advent 3

Jesus wept.

If He wept, I am certain He laughed. For he who goes forth weeping, will come again rejoicing.

Jesus reveals the God to man. At the same time, he reveals man to man. We forget who we are and what makes us human. Like scribbles on pad, we become distorted figures, drained of the glory and wonder and the power of being human–of being childlike.

In the twilight of our fading images, we forget. We forget the wonder of this world. We forget the terror of the night. We forget the joy of a blade of grass. We forget the magic behind every bush. We forget to laugh hundreds of times a day. And we forget to cry.

We sniffle. In fact, we may shed a tear or two on occasion. But most of us no longer have the capacity to cry: to turn red and scream out at the top of our lungs, to fall down in anguished groans; to cry out with our whole body.

Jesus cried so hard he shed tears of blood.

Yet most of us will attend funerals and feel embarrassed if our cry is loud enough for anyone else to hear. It’s okay to shed a tear, but to fall to the ground; to scream out and pound our chests; to tear our clothes in agony is unthinkable. We’ve forgotten how to cry.

Jeremiah cried and cried and cried. He emptied his heart and body onto the ground in desperate sobs and moans. He says, “My eyes fail with tears, my heart is troubled; my bile is poured on the ground.” And he calls out to all who can hear him, inviting, commanding them to join in the anguish: “O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest.”

What could be so horrible, so painful, so desperate that would cause a person to cry until he almost died? The end of the world. His world ended before his very eyes. Babylon besieged Jerusalem. Sickness and famine consumed the city. People fell dead in the streets. Mothers ate their own children. The temple was burned to the ground. The heavens and earth were consumed by fire.

He watched the world that he knew, that he loved, that he prayed for, die a tormented death. And he cried.

“Oh, that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!”

There is a cry so deep that sounds can no longer express the twisting of the heart inside. The soul comes undone. There is a grief that rips into the fiber of every human. On occasion, people like Jeremiah enter into it. Most of us run in terror from such deep distress. In that breaking grief, we feel the grief of this world, and we know: everything is not all right.

The earth grieves and groans and cries out for redemption. This grief beats in the heart of all things. It is this anguish, this tortured agony, this pulsing pain that can only find respite in the appearing of the Lord, the Parousia!

Despite our bravado; despite our arrogant self-sufficient attitude: all of us are desperately weak. Evil and chaos and sin has enslaved every human heart. In our cool, calm satirical smiles, we may mock the emotionally weak. We are too strong to cry and have become too weak to be human. We can no longer sustain any pure passion: genuine joy and sorrow fade and we live a bland mediocre existence.

It is only by His grace alone, that we can honestly admit our weakness and face our brokenness. It is only His grace that allows us to desperately cry out for the “Parousia!”

In the lonely hours of the dark night, the rhythm of mourning gives way to the rhythm of expectation.

He is coming!

And he comes. He comes with healing in his wings. He comes to comfort the broken heart. He comes to exchange beauty for ashes. He comes to strengthen the weak knees. He comes to baptize us in the fire of His love.

As we celebrate this Advent waiting, may He grant us the privilege to go out weeping and to return again rejoicing.

© 2017 Pilgrim Notes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑