Advent

The World is Wild! Advent 2

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"The House of Christmas" by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam; 
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home. 
The crazy stable close at hand, 
With shaking timber and shifting sand, 
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome. 

For men are homesick in their homes, 
And strangers under the sun, 
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done. 
Here we have battle and blazing eyes, 
And chance and honour and high surprise, 
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun. 

A Child in a foul stable, 
Where the beasts feed and foam; 
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home; 
We have hands that fashion and heads that know, 
But our hearts we lost - how long ago! 
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome. 

This world is wild as an old wives' tale, 
And strange the plain things are, 
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war; 
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star. 

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come, 
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome. 
To the end of the way of the wandering star, 
To the things that cannot be and that are, 
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home. 

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The Shaking Reality of Advent

Alfred Delp (1907-1945) was Christian condemned for his opposition to Hitler.  He wrote this reflection on Advent shortly before his execution.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. – Luke 1:51

There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, we need to know this, too, and endure it.

We may ask why God sends whirlwinds over the earth, why the chaos where all appears hopeless and dark, and why there seems to be no end to human suffering. Perhaps it is because we have been living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. and now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters: not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one thing – the spirit’s innermost longing.

Many of the things that are happening today would never have happened if we had been living in that longing, that disquiet of heart which comes when we are faced with God, and when we look clearly at things as they really are. If we had done this, God would have withheld his hand from many of the things that now shake and crush our lives. We would have come to terms with and judged the limits of our own competence.

But we have lived in a false confidence, in a delusional security; in our spiritual insanity we really believe we can bring the stars down from heaven and kindle flames of eternity in the world. We believe that with our own forces we can avert the dangers and banish night, switch off and halt the internal quaking of the universe. We believe we can harness everything and fit it into an ultimate scheme that will last.

Here is the message of Advent: faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake. Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see this Last One and get to the bottom of things. Only then will we have the strength to overcome the terrors into which God has let the world sink. God uses these terrors to awaken us from sleep, as Paul says, and to show us that it is time to repent, time to change things. It is time to say, “all right, it was night; but let that be over now and let us get ready for the day.” We must do this with a decision that comes out of the very horrors we experience. Because of this our decision will be unshakable even in uncertainty.

If we want Advent to transform us – our homes and hearts, and even nations – then the great question for us is whether we will come out of the convulsions of our time with this determination: Yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. a waking up must begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God intended them. It is time for each of us to go to work – certain that the Lord will come – to set our life in God’s order wherever we can. Where God’s word is heard, he will not cheat us of the truth; where our life rebels he will reprimand it.

We need people who are moved by the horrific calamities and emerge from them with the knowledge that those who look to the Lord will be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth.

The Advent message comes out of our encounter with God, with the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes – so that in the end the entire world shall be shaken. The fact that the son of man shall come again is more than a historic prophecy; it is also a decree that God’s coming and the shaking up of humanity are somehow connected. If we are inwardly inert, incapable of being genuinely moved, if we become obstinate and hard and superficial and cheap, then God himself will intervene in world events. He will teach us what it means to be placed in turmoil and to be inwardly stirred. Then the great question to us is whether we are still capable of being truly shocked – or whether we will continue to see thousands of things that we know should not be and must not be and yet remain hardened to them. In how many ways have we become indifferent and used to things that ought not to be?

Being shocked, however, out of our pathetic complacency is only part of Advent. There is much more that belongs to it. Advent is blessed with God’s promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened – these are necessary for Advent. In the bitterness of awakening, in the helplessness of “coming to,” in the wretchedness of realizing our limitations, the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth reach us. These threads give the world a taste of the abundance it can have.

We must not shy away from Advent thoughts of this kind. We must let our inner eye see and our hearts range far. Then we will encounter both the seriousness of Advent and its blessings in a different way. We will, if we would but listen, hear the message calling out to us to cheer us, to console us, and to uplift us.

From Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.

On Saint Nicholas

It is common and appropriate to decry the commercialization of the Christmas season. There are fewer voices raised to mourn the trivialization of St. Nicholas. Well does he deserve to be the patron of children, and well might they delight in his name. But he might be remembered not only as the jolly source of toys and treats but also as the protector of those whose lives and innocence remain threatened today, as they were in the time of St. Nicholas, by violence, poverty, and exploitation.

From All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time by Robert Ellsberg

From “Life of Saint Nicholas”  by Michael the Archimandrite, (written between 814 and 842)

Nicholas, the famous champion of those languishing in travails and prophetic high priest, by God's choice, of the metropolis Myra, was born in the city of Patara, one of cities then illustrious in the province of Lycia, although now it is said to scarcely preserve the appearance of a village. His parents were thoroughly noble and well-off, and surpassed many in their reverence toward Christ, on account of which they kept themselves free of worldly glory and were always eager to devote themselves to the works of justice. For the ever-pious understand that the person who touches tar is not free of its stain.

After his parents had gone to the Lord and left him much property and an abundance of money and possessions, he reckoned that he had God as his father. Gazing chastely on Him with the eye of his soul, he firmly begged the good God that he surrender his life and all his possessions, if that seemed good to Him. He said: "Teach me, Lord, to do Your will, because You are my God" (Psalm 143.10) as well as "Make known to me, Lord, the path upon which I am to journey, because to You I have lifted my soul from all triviality and worldly lowliness." (Psalm 143.8). He seemed to hear God, as it were, speaking clearly through the holy prophet David: "Even if wealth abounds, do not surrender your heart" (Psalm 62.11). And similarly the author of Proverbs plainly teaches: "Let almsgiving and acts of faith not abandon you, but fasten them around your neck and you will find grace" (Proverbs 3.3) as well as "That person benefits his soul, who has pity on the destitute and those who happen to be poor in their livelihood." (Proverbs 11.17). Nicholas did not cease to continually hand over his abundance — to store it up in the secure treasure-houses of heaven. So he was repaid in full by the impoverished.

There was a certain man among those who were recently famous and well-born, and he was a neighbor, his home being next to Nicholas'... He had three daughters who were both shapely and very attractive to the eye, and he was willing to station them in a brothel so that he might thereby acquire the necessities of life for himself and his household. For no man among the lordly or powerful deigned to marry them lawfully, and even among the lower-classes and those who owned the least bit of something there was no one well-minded enough to do this. And so the man looked away from his salvation and, as it were, fainted at the thought of prevailing upon God with persistence and prayer. By this logic he came to assent to situating his daughters in the abyss of such dishonor.

But the Lord who loves humankind, who never wishes his own creation to become hostage to sin, sent him a holy angel — I mean the godlike Nicholas — both to rescue him, along with his whole household, from poverty and destruction, and to restore readily his previous prosperity. …By the expenditure and very generous donation of his own money, Nicholas became a most ready resource for their defense, and he saved them, though they were already being led away to a death of profligacy...

The true model of purity and author of sympathy, Nicholas, wishing to use his own money to help the man, and to lead him with his daughters away from the shameful and dishonorable deed which had, in truth, already been decided for them — what does he do? He does not appear to him in person or speak about a gift or any other type of relief, thereby freeing him from shame while at the same time very carefully1 taking the trouble not to trumpet his own charity. After hurling a bag containing a large amount of gold into the house through the window at night, he quickly hastened home...

As Bishop of Myra, Nicholas lived the qualities that caused his fame and popularity to spread throughout the Christian world. His vigorous actions on behalf of his people and in defense of the Christian faith reveal a man who lived his convictions. Nicholas was not timid—he did what was necessary and was not easily intimidated by others' power and position. His concern for the welfare of his flock and his stand for orthodox belief earned him respect as a model for bishops and a defender of the faith.  His active pursuit of justice for his people was demonstrated when he secured grain in time of famine, saved the lives of three men wrongly condemned, and secured lower taxes for Myra. He taught the Gospel simply, so ordinary people understood, and he lived out his faith and devotion to God in helping the poor and all in need.

Welcome, all Wonders! Advent 1

Advent ("arrival")

has been observed by Christians since ancient times. It is a season of inward preparation for God's wondrous coming into our midst: a time of gladness and fear.  This God who came to Bethlehem---and who will come again in glory---conquers darkness, scatters the proud, humbles the mighty, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:51-53).  How will we get ready for such a coming?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us a picture of Advent as "a prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside." The essence of Advent, then, is expectancy and readiness for action: watchfulness for every small opening, and a willingness to risk everything for freedom and a new beginning. 

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Conversion” by Marci Johnson

How can word
become flesh?
Belly. Bone.

Tongue—the feel
in the mouth a word
rolling around. Word,

not a kiss not the thing
itself—a name. The arch
of a foot. Your face

in my hands, just
a name. Blue sky lolling
beyond the window
frame—eyes open.
Just a way of looking.
Begin with a change.
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from Frederick Buechner:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary," and that is the beginning of a story – a time, a place, a set of characters, and the implied promise, which is common to all stories, that something is coming, something interesting or significant or exciting is about to happen. And I would like to start out by reminding you that this is what Christianity is. If we whittle away long enough, it is a story that we come to at last. And if we take even the fanciest and most metaphysical kind of theologian or preacher and keep on questioning him far enough – Why is this so? All right, but why is that so? Yes, but how do we know that it's so? – even he is forced finally to take off his spectacles and push his books off to one side and say, "Once upon a time there was...," and then everybody leans forward a little and starts to listen.

 
We want to know what is coming next. There was a young woman named Mary, and an angel came to her from God, and what did he say? And what did she say? And then how did it all turn out in the end? The story Christianity tells is one that can be so simply told that we can get the whole thing really on a very small Christmas card or into two crossed pieces of wood. Yet in another sense it is so vast and complex that the whole Bible can only hint at it, a story beyond time altogether.  Yet it is also in time, the story of the love between God and humanity. There is a time when it begins, and therefore there is a time before it begins, when it is coming but not yet here, and this is the time Mary was in when Gabriel came to her. It is Advent: the time just before the adventure begins, when everybody is leaning forward to hear what will happen even though they already know what will happen and what will not happen, when they listen hard for meaning, their meaning, and begin to hear, only faintly at first, the beating of unseen wings.  
 

by Richard Crashaw 1612-1649

by Richard Crashaw 1612-1649