Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: December 2012

Confession at Christmas

nativity

The coffee shop streams with people coming and going this cool December morning on the last day of 2012. The lady to my left works a crossword puzzle. The couple to my right discusses the political anger that seems to abound in our culture. One girl reads her Bible. One couple quietly communicates with hand gestures back and forth, back and forth.  A lady in the corner sits in front of her computer, looking at her iPhone and listening to something (music or otherwise) on her bright red headphones. I love the color red.

Barristas scurry from sink to coffee machine to cash register. All the while swapping stories, sharing smiles and greeting incoming customers. The room buzzes with a white noise that helps quiet me as I read and pray.

The opening sentence in the Daily Office for today reads, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

I sit back and reread these words.

“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

Again.

“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

I keep hearing the words from Pope Benedict XVI in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” He points out that the angel addresses Mary with the Greek word “chaire instead of the Hebrew word “shalom.” This Greek word means “Rejoice.” Benedict writes,

“Joy appears in these texts as the particular gift of the Holy Spirit, the true gift of the Redeemer. So a chord is sounded with the angel’s salutation which then resounds throughout the life of the Church. Its content is also present in the fundamental word that serves to designate the entire Christian message: Gospel— good news.”[1]

I am struck by the immediacy of the address. The angel address Mary and the shepherds with this immediate command. “Rejoice.” Today, this very moment, heaven has broken into earth. Christ is come. The world is changed. Rejoice! In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Today is the day of salvation!” Today.

This word jolts me awake. For the Good News has come to me here, this moment at Starbucks, in the midst of many movements, I am stilled by the Word that raises my soul to life. “Rejoice!” Even as I rejoice, I hear the call to confession.

“Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.”

Here is my feeble confession to the Good News that is too good to be true but still is true:

Lord I confess I am dead to the life-shattering news of Emmanuel.

I confess I my ears have been dulled by the distracting roar of my heart’s strivings for vain pursuits and I have failed to hear the Good News.

I confess that I’ve been blinded by lesser lights and I have failed to behold your Glorious Light and my desperate darkness.

I confess that I’ve reduced the coming of our Lord to a distant event in the ancient past or uncertain future, and I have failed to realize that Christ is come today and today is the day of salvation.

I confess that the Good News fails to echo in my soul with the fire of joy, so my joy dissipates in lesser loves and momentary delights.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Fire my soul, my mind, my heart, my body with the news that is ever New and the Word that is ever Present. In your grace, let me hear and respond to this Word Today, to the birth of Jesus, the One who lived, died and rose again. To the Lord Jesus Christ who ever intercedes for me and all creation before the Father in heaven. To the Savior Who is present by His Spirit and is Filling all things to the Fullness of Your Glory.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI (2012-11-21). Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (Kindle Locations 369-372). Image. Kindle Edition.

Image thanks to Avondale Pattillo UMC via Creative Commons.

Night Divine

winternightbw

During Advent we remember that the darkness of winter’s arrival is pierced with the Light of Life. Advent holds together ending and beginning, death and life, dark and light. Yet, this is not a balance of opposites. It is a living hope in the midst of a dying world.

In winter, the world comes undone. Spring’s blossoms have long died away. Icy dark nights overtake autumn’s afternoon. Snow covers the land and trees. This winter wonderland is beautiful…and deadly. Most of us live insulated from this threatening freeze, but the dark, cold night looms near us all.

I know the fear of waking in the death of night. Darkness presses heavy upon my chest. Sickening dread grips my throat and tightens my stomach. The specters of hopelessness haunt me. This present darkness sometimes escapes the witching hours, creeping into day. I wake to a world cringing in yet another nightmare.

Darkness, darkness, thick darkness covers the face of the earth. Whether it is the rage of war, the horror of violent crime, the suffocating poison of unspeakable speech, or the smothering night that grips the soul, darkness can seem more real than light.

Evil, evil, thick evil catches us unaware. Once I casually reached for a music magazine, flipping through the pages in search of the latest album reviews. A story of torture and violence interrupted the search. My pulse quickened. My body tensed. Night’s dread drowned the music.

Why? Why are humans so evil?

That question is dangerous. The prophet says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”[1] Even as we question and wrestle with the horror of evil in our world, we also walk in darkness. The Apostle John says, “The people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. .”[2]

Those who have choked on darkness know a raging darkness within that terrifies more than the darkness without.

This is the great unspeakable truth that Advent exposes. The darkness within. We run from the light. We hide in the dark. Then we look at the evil in the world and question, “Why?”

The line of evil runs directly through the human heart.

Into this darkness, Light shines. Advent celebrates the night-shattering news that God is with us. Christ has come near. We sing of the blessed birth of the Lord in the Holy Night and Night Divine. He penetrates the dark night of human evil. Even the night is not night to Him. The Psalmist sings,

11 “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.[3]

Jesus the Light of the World entered into the dark night of humanity. He exposed evil in us and around us. In His life, death and resurrection, He also overcame it. We wait for the full unveiling of His Light when death will die and the full Light of day will permanently overtake the night of evil.

Emmanuel, God with us, calls us to reveal the Light of His love in the midst of this dark age. Like Peter on the water, we may grow fearful and sink in dark waters. He is Present and we are safe.

Those dark waters make me think of swimming in the ocean with my dad one summer. On our last day of summer vacation, we went down to the ocean for one last swim. The storm clouds threatened on the horizon. My dad was not afraid. We road the humongous waves together. We played in the dark waters. I was not afraid because my dad was with me.

My mom frantically waved for us to come back to shore. As we headed toward shore, the undertow pulled us back. We struggled against the flow. For a moment, the waves threatened and overwhelmed me. I was not afraid because my dad was with me.

The darkness of our world threatens. Evil rages. We want to rage back. Our own echoing rage cannot stop the dark. Only the Light of His Love can overcome the dark. He is Present in the dark. Even as we wait and watch, He is here. Emmanuel. O Holy Night. O Night Divine.

Though the storms of evil rage, He is Present. We can love and even laugh, knowing that the undertow of evil will not overcome the Light of His Presence.

During these final moments of Advent waiting, during these dark hours of winter’s undoing, let us remember that His Light. He overcomes the evil within and the evil without. We follow Him into the dark waters of our world, into the pain, into the hurt, and into the fear, trusting in His Light of Love, Peace and Life Unconquerable.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Is 9:2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] ibid. (Jn 3:19).
[3] ibid. (Ps 139:11–12).

Note: Image by Sigurd R (used by Creative Commons permission).

Advent Light

light

Keeping Advent time seems rather odd in the middle of blinking lights, dancing Santas, and Christmas parades. The time of Advent is supposed to be a time of watching and waiting, a time to listen and contemplate the coming of the Lord.

It’s a bit tricky to juggle watching and waiting while running to work parties, family gatherings and church events. The season of dark yearning seems overcome by twinkling red and green lights.

Once we learn the rhythms of Advent, this frenzy may frustrate. We may long for a simpler time, a quieter place, a season undefiled by secular intrusions. I’m not sure that time or place ever existed. Every age has its distraction. Every heart has its noise.

The desert fathers entered the wilderness only to encounter the deafening roar of their inner chaos. It seems their own noise followed them into the quiet. During the Middle Ages, many villagers spent the month of December drinking and feasting themselves into a frenzy. The wheels of industry whirred throughout eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, virtually ignoring the entire holiday.

The quiet promise of earlier, simpler days is elusive at best.

The heart is restless, and the world wrestles around it. Our desert, our quiet, our place of calm may be in the middle of an ocean of noises. From crying babies to marching wooden soldiers, we may need ears that hear in the messiness of living.

During this call of Advent don’t worry about the noises, the distractions, and the people who celebrate Christmas in Advent or the people who celebrate Stuff instead of Christ. Don’t fret over trying to have an idealized spiritual encounter

Simply ask Him to open your eyes and ears to His coming. He speaks the Word of Life into the midst of a world of death. In the wasteland of our souls, He comes. He builds a highway of holiness. He creates ears that hear, eyes that see, legs that leap, hands that clap, and tongues that sing. He proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. He declares liberty to our captive hearts. He comes with an avenging sword. He comforts those who mourn. He builds up the ancient ruins. He reveals His glory.

In the messiness and earthiness of our lives, He comes. In our feeble attempts to worship, He comes. In the midst of a distracted and distracting world, He comes. And in His light we see light.

Rise up now and behold. Quickly. For the King is coming and His glory is overshadowing us even now.

* – Image posted by Creative Commons permission from James Jordan (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesjordan/3131235412/)

Advent Calendar

photo

I found an Advent calendar last Saturday. For a brief moment, I breathed the crisp air of a New Jersey morning from my youth. Snowdrifts lined our street. Footprints pounded snow into an icy maze along the sidewalks. Fall vanished beneath the wintry world, and a hidden magic unveiled before my eyes.

The Advent Calendar of my childhood counted down the days to Santa’s appearing. Each window revealed some small token, some promise that Santa would soon be here. Each day, I caught just a glimpse, a flash, a promise that he was coming. And coming soon.

While this may sound strange, I think the Advent calendar functioned in an apocalyptic role. The little windows opened into a promised world, another realm. They revealed something deeper, more wondrous than I could grasp with my eyes or ears.

Apocalypse unveils. Exposes. Reveals. Some times this is good and some times it is bad. Isaiah reveals that Israel is not clothed fine linen but unspeakably dirty rags. Think of Scrooge. The ghosts of Christmas play an apocalyptic role in his life. They open his eye to a world that he has failed to see. They unveil the joys, the suffering, the love, and even the death.

For once, Scrooge sees himself as he truly is: a dead man. The terror drives him to repent.

Advent is a time of apocalypse. As the dark days of December give way to winter’s night, we focus on the light of the coming Son. We are watching and waiting. Like the little windows on an Advent calendar, we are unfolding new surprises of God’s coming each day.

We pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. Like the child searching for magic beneath every Advent window, we are looking for glimpses of glory. Just as Solomon exhorts us to search for wisdom as silver and as hidden treasure, we search for the Son. We look for His unveiling.

The unveiling may be gentle. We might behold our neighbors through the light of His glorious love and realize just a glimpse of the wonder they truly are. We might pause over the simple act of sipping tea and offer thanks for the gracious gifts of our good Lord. We might realize His glorious touch in the people and places all around us. Our hearts might be like a little child as we sense the glory of the Lord drawing near.

But a word of caution: Advent can also be dangerous.

Gentle Jesus also comes with sword. The Prince of Peace may appear in terrifying splendor and a fury of unspeakable glory. When John beholds the wonder, he falls down as though dead.

4 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.[1]

In the middle of the day, in the middle of the hour, in the middle of the moment, the Son appears. When He comes, the sword of His word penetrates our blind eyes and dead ears with the roar of glory.

Opening our blind eyes can be a bit of a jolt. Annie Dillard writes, “If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results.”[2] So be warned.

He may come as a gentle breeze awakening us from a soft sleep. But he may come as a trumpet blast awakening us from a death like oblivion. The Son may pierce with His Word and wound with His love. In beholding Him, we also behold our own broken hearts, our own dirty rags. The light of the Son can burn and heal at the same time.

The days of unveiling have come. Let us pause. Look around. Watch. Wait.

[1] The New King James Version. 1982 (Re 1:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[2] Dillard, Annie (2009-10-13). Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Kindle Locations 341-342). Harper Perennial Modern Classics. Kindle Edition.

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