Sunday, December 25, 2016

"The Gift of Gifts" {A Christmas Prayer}

O Source of all good,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
   thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
   my redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
   his self-emptying incomprehensible,
   his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
   he came below to raise me above,
   was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love;
   when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
             to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
   when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
   he united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreate and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
   when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
                                     and no intellect to devise recovery,
   he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
               as man to die my death,
                           to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
                           to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind;
   let me hear good tidings of great joy,
        and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
        my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
        my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
   place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
        to look with them upon my redeemer's face,
        and in him account myself delivered from sin;
   let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
        embrace him with undying faith,
        exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

       ~The Valley of Vision, p. 16

Blessed Christmas, dear Crumbles, to you and yours, from us here at Wits' End!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Celebrating the Redeemer

And coming up at that very hour she [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).
And his [John's] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (Luke 1:67-75 ESV).

Once upon a time in a public-school high school French class we sang "O Holy Night" with its original French text. Several years ago I remembered this as Amore and I rehearsed the English translation for a church Christmas concert.

The thing is, I couldn't remember a word of the French lyrics.  So the chase began. Two years ago, I shared my best attempt at translating those words into English and why they are more precious to me than the English interpretation we sing. 

Here is my literal translation, without attention to rhyme or singability, again:

Midnight! Christians, it is the solemn hour
When the man God descended unto us,
To erase original sin
And to stop His Father’s anger:
The whole world trembles with hope
At this night which gives us a Savior.
People, to your knees! Await* your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!

Let the burning light of our faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the Child,
As formerly, when a bright star
Led the chiefs of the East there.
The King of kings is born in a humble manger,
Powerful men of the day, proud of your grandeur—
It is from there [the manger] that a God preaches to your pride,
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken all shackles,
The earth is free and heaven is opened.
He [the Redeemer] sees a brother where was only a slave;
Love unites those whom iron had chained,
Who will tell him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He suffered and died:
People, stand! Sing your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!

(French text, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure; trans., C. Moore)

*alternately "Expect" or "Be ready for"

For this Christmas, coming as it is at the end of a tumultuous and burdened year, let's shift our focus to the concept of Redeemer, which appears in the chorus of each of the 3 verses of the French lyric.

In Greek, as is often preached, the word "redeem" originates in the marketplace and the idea of buying something or someone back. It gives us imagery of paying a price and setting free.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, a redeemer functioned in 4 desperate situations:
  • Loss of land (Lev. 25:23-34): If an Israelite became so poor that he lost his God-given, inherited portion in the land of promise, a relative with means to buy it back could do so and restore it to the original owner. The redeemer provided the remedy to bankruptcy.
  • Loss of life (Num. 35:9-29): If a murder occurred, the redeemer (or kinsman-redeemer) was the Mosaic Law's appointed instrument of capital punishment. The redeemer provided justice for violence against his close relative. (The law also provided a means of protection for the killer in cases of accidental or ambiguous death until a fair trial could be held.)
  • Loss of liberty (Lev. 25:47-55): If an Israelite became so poor that he had no alternative but to sell himself into slavery, the near relative could buy him back, The redeemer freed his enslaved kinsman.
  • Loss of legacy (Deut. 25:5-10 and entirety of Ruth): If an Israelite man died with a wife but no child, the widow was in dire straits. In the ancient near east, a godly son fulfilled the role of a modern 401K, Social Security, and Medicare package. He was his parents' sustenance and protection in their old age. As strange as it seems to 21st-century readers, the husband's brother would temporarily act as a husband to the widow in order to beget a child to care for her when she was advanced in years. The resulting child would be considered the dead husband's, not the brother-in-law's. The redeemer would prevent the dying out of a family line and raise up an heir for the dead father and son to sustain the widow.
The common threads? Hopelessness and close relationship. Someone who can help himself or herself has no need of a redeemer. The redemption principle only comes into play when there is no other option. A stranger with no personal, familial relationship has no qualification to be redeemer.

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. We have no hope in ourselves to regain the inheritance of Eden, to judge wrongdoing righteously and effectively, to free ourselves from slavery to sin and death, or to make ourselves fruitful, let alone fruitful with abundant, lasting, good fruit. We are desperate and hopeless, in need of rescue. The rescuer has to be qualified, though; we need a rescuer who is a near kinsman.

Our Rescuer had to be fully human in order to redeem the children of men; He had to be God to be strong, rich, free, and life-giving, able to help the impoverished, enslaved, dead sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Only Jesus fully qualifies. As the hymn says, "the man God descended unto us,/To erase original sin/And to stop His Father’s anger."

Are you in a desperate, hopeless situation today? Are you carrying more lament than joy in your heart as you walk into Christmas? Beloved, if you are a Christian, your desperation puts you in the perfect place to appreciate the arrival of your Redeemer. May your need and pain turn your heart toward Him in worship and praise today. 

 Christians, "Who will tell him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He suffered and died:
People, stand! Sing your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!"

P.S.  For the inquisitive, here are the best websites I found: story behind the song – English English lyrics as we sing them

Monday, December 19, 2016

Metamorphosis {A Poem}

To watch the process described below, please visit the previous post, Monarch Metamorphosis.

Burgeoning butterfly bursts the bonds of its caterpillar skin,
Writhing and wriggling out of its old creepy-crawly self,
Exposing soft shimmer of green-gold iridescence beneath.

Blind, paralyzed, vulnerable,
Burgeoning butterfly contracts and hardens
In filigreed jade casket.

Days creep. Casket hangs still,
No visible change, no growing girth,
No crutch of evidence upon which faith can lean,
But burgeoning butterfly forms within.

Jade fades to grey, then black as death.
Then shadowed, black-veined rust
Shines through death’s veil
Like first orange gleam of sun in eastern sky.
Hours pass; then
Burgeoning butterfly breaches,
Blooms out backward,
Wings limp and ruffled as hibiscus petals,
Body swollen, a polka-dot capsule.

Carefully it crawls up translucent shards
Of chrysalis casket.
Clinging there, it sways side to side,
Burgeoning butterfly body pumping life
Into wings spreading and filling like a kite
Catching a breeze.

Proboscis furls and unfurls
Like the tongue of a cat as she grooms.
Burgeoning butterfly drips golden tears,
Rocking, rocking its newborn self.

Burgeoning butterfly comes to rest,
Labor-wearied from burst bonds.
Hours harden wings.

Burgeoning butterfly finds a blossom;
Sips nourishing nectar;
Leaves behind shed skin,
Empty tomb;
Presses forward to what lies ahead.

Burgeoning butterfly takes flight.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Monarch Metamorphosis

Click here to view Monarch Metamorphosis in your Web browser.

(The emergence happens slowly enough that you may wish to adjust your YouTube settings to faster playback for the following 2 videos.)




Thursday, December 8, 2016

Come: Prayer for Advent

"Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears & sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

"Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne."
~Charles Wesley

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fairbanks and Home {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post includes many photos (sorry, not sorry), so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Fairbanks and Home.

Our last day in the last frontier was largely spent in a bus, enjoying the beautiful fall color on the drive north from Denali National Park to Fairbanks.

We drove past a government satellite array important during the Cold War for keeping tabs on our northern Pacific neighbors.

We stopped in Nenana and heard the story of Balto, the most famous of a team of sled dogs who managed to navigate through white-out blizzard conditions to deliver precious cargo of diphtheria medication from Anchorage to Nome. The human drivers couldn't find their way, and no planes could fly, but the dogs saved numerous lives and stopped a potential epidemic.

Nenana hillside cemetery

The odd structure below is transferred to the river surface after it freezes over for the winter. People all around the world compete to guess when the ice will thaw enough for it to fall through. (We didn't attempt that.)

These are reindeer kept by a university agriculture program. If the same animals were wild, not domesticated, they would be called caribou. We're not sure if they're Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, or who. I didn't see any red noses among them, though. ('Tis the season!)

When we arrived in Fairbanks, we explored by foot and ate lunch at a local shop. Along the river we found a pretty plaza with a sculpture commemorating the first people of Alaska and their traditions.

Repacking, weighing our suitcases, resting, and showering consumed the rest of the day. We ate a lovely, hearty dinner before our midnight trip to the airport for the long trip home. We were disappointed that the skies were still too overcast to see the Northern Lights, but the Lord gave us a sweet parting gift after our layover in Seattle.

This is Mount Rainier in early morning, as seen from my window seat. My mathematically minded dad observed that from this same flight altitude, we would still have been looking up at Denali.

We returned home that evening to near-100F heat. Due to fatigue and the lateness of the hour, we postponed our reunion with Ebony until the next morning. This journey was the longest he and I have ever been separated since we brought him home. He was beside himself to see us again. (The camera was having trouble focusing with such quick action, but this video makes me happy, so I'm including it anyway.)

In conclusion, dear Crumbles, these are my memorial stones of a great adventure I couldn't have enjoyed without the Lord's power and grace. Is there some hard thing, some God-sized task which you know the Lord is nudging you toward today? If so, I pray that having read the story of His victory for me would give you courage to move forward in faith, giving glory to Him. What He has promised, He is able also to perform (Romans 4:20-21). Where He calls, He enables. Impossibilities are His specialty.