Sunday, December 31, 2017

Good: Retrospective

Gratuitous Ebony photo ;)

A one-word tether to truth:
The storms have raged;
Seismic shifts have shaken our circumstances;
But You are good,
And good you do.[1]

Good Shepherd,
You laid down Your life for me.[2]
No good thing else will You withhold.[3]
Triune God,
You cause all, affliction too,
To cooperate for good
To Your called children who love You.[4]

I say, “Show me Your glory.”
You say, “I will show you My goodness.”[5]
Your goodness carried me through this good, hard year;
If Your presence goes not with me,
Lead me not across the threshold of the next.[6]

May Your goodness be my vanguard, to protect and prepare,
My rear guard, to redeem and restore,
And my Commander beside me to command and encourage.

Not of my own goodness,
But because of the goodness of Christ,
I offer You these crumbs;
In His name I pray.

[1] Ps. 119:68
[2] John 10
[3] Ps. 84:11
[4] Rom. 8:28
[5] Ex. 33:18-19
[6] Ex. 33:15

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Lord Has Come

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the herald,
who proclaims peace,
who brings news of good things,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

The voices of your watchmen—
they lift up their voices,
shouting for joy together;
for every eye will see
when the Lord returns to Zion.

Be joyful, rejoice together,
you ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has displayed his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;

all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Who would have thought that the herald would be an angel,
the watchmen poor shepherds?
Who would have thought that the glow of God's shekinah glory in the night sky
Would lead to a feeding trough in a stable?
That a newborn's cry would be the first utterance of God come to reign?
That when God bared His holy arm
It would be the pudgy, flailing arm of an infant?
That the Word made flesh, come to comfort His people,
Would Himself first need the comfort of His mother's arms
And swaddling clothes?
Who would have thought that the revelation of God's reign to all the nations
Would first mean the worship and gifts of the magi
And not conquest and judgment?

May the majesty and mystery of Christmas fill your hearts with wonder, today and always. Much grace and peace to you and yours in Christ Jesus, from Amore, tinuviel, and the Ebony Dog.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Love Come Down: A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent his only Son into the world,
so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we have loved God
but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:9-10

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
~Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Monday, December 18, 2017

"With": Advent Joy {Steinway Parable}

Saturday morning I dreamed of Steinway, my beloved dog of 16 years, my first dog, the dog the Lord used to help me heal from a season of deep brokenness. In the dream, I was the 2017 me, with my current level of joint pain and limitation; Steinway was the old dog and full of days, circa 2008. He wanted me to lift him onto my lap, but he was too heavy for me. With immense effort, he made the jump and snuggled up between my leg and the arm of the chair. As is usual for me, the dream was in color; as is not so usual for me, I could feel the weight of him and touch his fur. The only other thing I remember of the dream is that we were at my husband's parents' home, and it was full of people, as it was for the two memorial services this year. We had taken Steinway with us because he was too frail to be left with anyone else.

I woke missing him more than I have in a long time.

The memories of his final months came rushing back. This loyal dog, who had awakened in the night with me so many times when illness or jet lag or simple insomnia took me from bed, would wake almost every night between 2 and 3 am. He would find his way to the living room and then start yelping with enough insistence to wake me up.

Sometimes he needed to go outside and was telling me the only way he knew. Most of the time, though, I think he was lonely and afraid. A Bible study friend suggested that dogs could develop dementia like people do, and perhaps his days and nights were mixed up.

Whatever the reason, he was unable to soothe himself and go back to sleep without help. I would pick him up and do the rock-and-bounce walk known to all parents and babysitters until his ragged breathing slowed and he began to calm down. "It's okay. I'm here. You're okay," I would whisper.

When he was calm enough, we would lie down on the sofa, me on my back, Steinway on my chest like an infant, my arms around him, stroking his fur. There we would stay until we both fell asleep. Unaccustomed to sleeping on my back, I would wake after half an hour, give or take, and oh so carefully rise and carry him back to his bed in Amore's and my room.

One night when I was unhappy to be awakened and growing impatient with Steinway's needs, the Lord reminded me that this was the least I could do for the dog who had done so much for me, and that my days with him were numbered. Soon I would long for that middle-of-the-night closeness and the weight of my puppyface in my arms.

And then He showed me the parable in the experience. If I, being evil, sacrificed sleep and came at the sound of my dog's frightened cry, how much more can I trust that the Lord hears and heeds the cries of His blood-bought daughter? How much more will He console and comfort? How much more will He be with me in the dark nights of my soul?

That's where Advent joy comes in. The "good news of great joy" the angel announced to the shepherds was that a Savior, a Rescuer, had been born for them (Luke 2:8-14). Yahweh their God had seen their sins and oppression and heard their cries, and He had come Himself to rescue them. He had entered their affliction as a baby, but this baby was the virgin-born Immanuel whom Isaiah foretold: "God with us" (Matt. 1:22; Isaiah 7:14). In the apostle John's words, this baby was the Word who became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14). This baby was the "consolation of Israel" for whom Simeon waited in the temple (Luke 2:25).

The good news of "God with us," right in the middle of our mess and sin, in the middle of the night, in affliction, in the cries of our hearts--that is the beginning of Advent joy. His presence is the joy and comfort of the people He has redeemed. How shall we respond?

Shout for joy, you heavens!
Earth, rejoice!
Mountains break into joyful shouts!
For the LORD has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones (Isaiah 49:13).

Charles H. Spurgeon's comments on these promises from Isaiah call us to worship and wonder at the Lord's compassion on His afflicted ones:

Isaiah's joy was too great for him to give adequate expression to it with his own solitary tongue, so he called on the great mountainous masses of inanimate nature to express the greatness of God's love and tender mercy in comforting his people. And, when we come to think of it rightly, we see at once that it is a theme for wonder, worthy of the consideration of heaven and earth that the infinite God should stoop so low as to comfort finite and fallible creatures such as we are. Were there no more worlds to be created? Were there no other deeds of power and glory to be performed so that he must come to this poor earth to comfort the sick, the sad, and the sorrowing? The Lord is great in the majesty of his power, but he is equally great in the condescending character of his love and compassion. After Jehovah's great creative works were done, the creation must not be slack in its music when his condescending works are done also--when from the highest heavens he stoops to those in deepest woe to lift them up from their sins and sorrows by the power of his eternal compassion.
Dear Crumbles, does this Advent find you, perhaps, not feeling the joy the carols proclaim? Does the call to rejoice feel like one more burden too heavy to bear?

Then cry out to your Master and Savior. Cry to Him, and keep crying until the Comforter ministers grace to your heart.  Meditate on the wonder that "the infinite God should stoop so low as to comfort finite and fallible creatures such as we are." Consider the greatness of "the condescending character of his love and compassion." Dare to believe the good news of Christmas, that "from the highest heavens he stoops to those in deepest woe to lift them up from their sins and sorrows by the power of his eternal compassion." Seek Him in the Scriptures, in prayer, in His people, and He will be found by you. Lean into Him; lay all the weight of yourself and your concerns on Him, and let Him comfort you. Rest in the reality of "God with us," of "God with you," and let His presence be your joy.

Father of mercies, comfort our afflictions. Amen.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Already-Not Yet Peace

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
For you have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as you did on the day of Midian.
For every trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2-6, CSB

The suffering saints cried out, "How long, O Lord?
How long until You come to reign and judge?
Your covenant with Abraham, is it
Forgotten? Grace depleted? Favor spent?"

Then cried a Babe, God's answer in the flesh:
The Prince of Peace who came to reign and save;
The promises, so many, realized
At last as Yahweh whispers, "I am here."

~crlm, December 2011

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why the Hard Years May Be the Best Time to Celebrate Advent

Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Psalm 123:2, ESV

Yaupon Holly
The Lord has liberally sprinkled this year with blessings: a lovely new home closer to my parents and church, a pool that brought much more time with family during the summer and seemed to soothe my hips, a new home for Amore's mother, a great-nephew on the way, two gatherings of Amore's whole family, a new job Amore is excited about, an online photography class for me, and restoration of small amounts of yarncraft. As consistent readers know, we have also been walking through a number of painful blessings: the loss of Amore's father and eldest sister (which brought about the two family gatherings); the loss of a skilled, close-knit work community when Amore's employer was acquired and his team dispersed; the change of community and routines that even a short-distance move brings; the new challenges and pain of bursitis in both my hips; the departure of more friends from my church community; and the pain of other long-term family burdens which aren't my stories to tell here.

As I have sought to reconcile the hard things with this Advent season, it has occurred to me that the hard years may be the best ones for observing Advent. Advent is the season most characterized by waiting, by longing, by hope. Indeed, in the church of my childhood, the first candle on the Advent wreath was the candle of hope.

What does Paul say about hope?
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25, ESV).
By definition, hope implies lack. If we have all we need or want, hope is superfluous. Impossible, even. Similarly, when we walk through loss, through trials, through the longing for the not yet, we are most aware of the unfulfilled. When we know our lack and God's promises, we are perfectly prepared to learn hope.

Advent hope gleams with the eagerness of the child of loving parents on Christmas morning. But Advent hope is also tinged with melancholy; it is a homesick virtue that recognizes we are strangers and exiles on the earth.

At Advent we look back to the hope of the promised Messiah, placing ourselves in Israel's sandals as she waited with longing for the prophet Moses foretold; for the suffering servant of Isaiah, both priest and sacrifice; for the King in David's line in whom every facet of the covenant would be realized. That retrospective hope prepares us to celebrate the full impact of the birth of Jesus Christ the God-Man, remembered at Christmas.

We look forward to the second Advent of that same Messiah: to the redemption of this groaning creation; to the day we enter the Lord's presence and know fully, as we are fully known; to the redemption of our broken and fading bodies; to our reunion with loved ones who have preceded us into the Lord's presence; to our reception and theirs of our resurrection bodies free of lupus, arthritis, Parkinson's, cancer, mental illness, MS, dysautonomia, heart disease, diabetes, Lyme disease, malnutrition, or anything else that afflicts God's people now.

In hope we look forward out of all this "slight, momentary affliction" to the "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). We recognize our poverty of spirit, soul, and body. We lean into that longing during Advent instead of trying to numb or distract from it. We lean forward with arms outstretched to the new heavens and earth where the Lion-Lamb reigns in glory (Rev. 21). We allow the sorrows and emptiness to grow our longing for God's kingdom to come, for His name to be hallowed.

With Simeon, we wait for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). With Anna, we speak of God with thanksgiving to all who wait for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).

We wait.
We watch.
We groan.
We hope.

If you are grieving this December, may you not grieve without hope. If your now is a season of joy and fruitfulness, may the Lord enlarge your hope to a longing for the not yet. Amen.