Living in the Dark

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Christmas begins in the dark.
Dark
Advent, this season leading up to Christmas, is for us. It is for we who live in the dark.
This season seems to amplify pain. Those who are lonely feel more lonely, those who are grieving feel their grief more deeply, those who are hurting seem to suffer more.
And that’s okay.
It’s okay not to feel happy this time of year.
After all, Christmas doesn’t mean much if we don’t need it.
Mary
Mary understood. Her angel visitation led to a rift between her and her beloved, a painful journey on a donkey, and giving birth next to a chicken.
Even as she clutched her newborn son, she heard the prophecy of a sword piercing her heart and wondered.
Even after her Christmas, her beloved son grew farther and farther away from her, uttering such things as Why would you look for me? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business? and, when she came through the crowds to see him, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.
Yet Mary stayed close. She trusted and held on to her faith in her son no matter how distant he seemed, even when he died. She stayed close. Everywhere we look in the gospels we see Mary, hovering on the outskirts, still showing up, still coming back to her son again and again.
Stay Close
Can we do the same?
Can we hold on to our faith in the Son no matter how distant He seems, even if He seems to be dead?
Light
This world is dark and we live in a continual Advent.
Don’t run away from the bitter-sweetness of this Advent season. You don’t have to pretend to feel joyful.
Colors
Tinsel
Don’t hide behind the tinsel and lights. Neither should you ignore the colors completely.
Linger as you abide with the sorrow and the joy, the hurt and the hope that are woven together in this season. Stay close to the Son however far away He may seem.
Christ
Settle into the knowing of how desperately we need Christmas, how desperately we need God-with-us.
Our Father promised that Christmas would come
Christmas
and it will be all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness of Advent.

Art credit: Pieta by Michelangelo; all other photographs copyrighted by Elizabeth Giger

Longing and Hoping He Will Come

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Advent is a time of waiting. A time of light and of dark, a holy season of expectancy.
Come
Come
Advent means arrival and we are waiting for your arrival, oh Light of the world.
We sing our beautiful songs of longing and of hope and we pray that you will come.
Come
Come
Kings and prophets of old prayed, Come!
All my life, I have prayed, Come!
Yet has humanity gotten any closer to you in these thousands of years of our existence?
Have I gotten any closer to you in my few decades of life?
Or is the distance to you always the same no matter how far we travel?
When our bleeding feet have apparently covered a part of the distance to your eternity, don’t you always retreat twice as far away from us, into the immense reaches filled only by your infinite being?
You tell us that you have already come, once upon a time, as a baby in the straw. You tell us that you have come, have settled in among us and shared our drab and ordinary lives, but to be honest, it is hard to see you in this place.
Come
Come
To be honest, your arrival often feels more like a departure.
You came as you promised, but you did not change our poor and finite sort of life as you lived it. Instead, you became like us in every regard.
You lived every moment carefully, not letting any sort of torment slip from your cupped hands. You felt deeply every drop of this life and suffered it all, right to the bleeding end.
You, too, felt death coming for you, steadily, relentlessly. You, too, when you looked up to the One who is called Father, begging for comfort in your pain and dread, were met with deafening silence.
Is this why you came? Is this birth in Bethlehem and death on Golgotha the coming that is to redeem all of us from our human misery? Are we to be comforted simply because you also wept and met your end?
Come
No, now I begin to understand that we sing and pray this Come of hope and longing because you are still in the process of your coming. Your appearance as part of the very dirt you created was only the beginning of your coming.
You chose to rescue us from our misery by taking on our very misery and bringing it to the triumphant ending we could not have found. You alone are able to take the cross we all bear and change it into a triumphant banner of victory.
It is said you will come again, but again is misleading. It is said that you will appear again, and perhaps this is a better way of understanding because you have never really gone away. In all of our human existence you have never left us.
Come
Behold, you come. Now it is still the one single hour of your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come. O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of your Advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in your forever, in the blissful hour of your eternity.

~ all quotes are from Karl Rahner (1904-1984), German Jesuit priest and theologian. Many of the ideas in this essay are also from him.

Be Still

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

edited from the archives

Mary’s Soul

There is a stillness and a hush.
Stillness
There are words that shred her heart.
It is after the man of light, speaking words of miracle.
It is after the shepherds of dirt, speaking visions of angel army chorales.
It is after the star of God, shining spotlight on her baby.
It is after the scholars of heavens, laying rich treasures down.
Nativity
There is the temple and the sacrifice and the consecration of a baby.
There is a man who raises hands and speaks words of praise to God.
There are words that shred her heart.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
There is a stillness and a hush.
And ever after, she lives and follows Him, trusting that God will keep His promises. She is faithful in her trust.
Three Crosses
And she stands at the foot of a cross, watching her innocent child as He is brutally tortured and murdered. As He is pierced with a sword.
And her own soul is pierced as well.
It cannot have made any sense at all.
The murder of innocents never does. Death itself never does.
There is a cross.
Cross
There is ugliness and pain and sorrow and grief.
There is beauty and rescue and hope and the promise of life for all time.
There is faithfulness and trust in a God Who keeps His promises. Always.
In the stillness and the hush,
Hush
In the joy of angels singing
Joy
as well as in the piercing of your own soul,

Pieta

Trust in our God whose Word never fails.
I pray for a joyful New Year for all of you, worshiping the God who makes all things beautiful in His time.
Beautiful Christmas
art credits: snow photo by Kirk Sewell; The Nativity by Correggio; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Annunciation to the Shepherds by Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem; Pieta by Michaelangelo; Advent wreath photos by Elizabeth Giger

Be Still and Wait

Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

Small is Sacred

These feel like frightening times. The world at large keeps crashing into my small frame of reference.
Burning
Crashing
It doesn’t feel as though I can do anything against the hatred, fear, and violence that keeps cropping up all around us.
Violence
Part of my helpless feeling comes from my own world currently being very small.
My world
Full of littles
My days revolve around nursing babies, napping toddlers, and newly-become elementary students.
What I have to give, what I have to offer to stem this dark tide is small.
Our season in life leaves little room for discretionary income and time.
Hard season
I wonder if anything I do makes much difference.
In this season of Advent, this season of preparing ourselves for the biggest Gift of all, the gifts that I bring to our God, to our world, seem insignificant, tiny.
Leaving my own book to read one more story aloud? Trifling.
Baking cookies to give to our neighbors? Inconsequential.
Giving up a meal out to purchase toys for a toy drive? Insufficient.
Yet as I read still another version of the Christmas Story to my girls I am reminded that an act does not have to be big to be sacred.
Small
Small acts of kindness to those I know, small smiles and gentle words in passing to those who seem different from us, small gifts to strangers are all as sacred and beautiful as the act of preaching to thousands.
Light
You don’t have to have endless resources to be able to change the world.  You don’t have to accomplish something enormous to let a glimpse of light in to the darkness.
After all, what is Advent but the remembrance that it was the smallest, most fragile gift of all that was sacred enough to change our world forever.
Smallest Gift

Breath

All of creation waits with inhaled breath.
Wait
Coming
Advent
We wait as in the space before the upraised baton falls in the darkened symphony hall.
We wait as in the space before stepping over the threshold of home.
We wait as in the space before the first glimmer of dawn sparks into the darkest part of the night.
We wait with inhaled breath for the breath of God to arrive.
Breath
For the breath of God to arrive and breathe in the air of this world and breathe out the grace of heaven.
As we bundle ourselves against the cold and breathe out frost into the air, so we can’t help but breathe in a breath of hope even as we bundle our hearts against disappointment.
But God is a God of hope, so we can breathe easy and unbundle our hearts to the warmth of His love.
Hope
Grace
He did, after all, come once before and draw our air into His lungs and in so doing, foreshadowed the way He will come once again and exhale perfection into the very breath of the fabric of our world.
And so, as we wait with inhaled breath, we breathe out love and grace to those we see around us so that they, too, can breathe in a breath of hope
and wait for the breath of God to arrive in our world once more.
Here

Hold On

Why do we expect a life free from ugliness?
ugliness
Why do we think that we should ease through life surrounded by comforts?
discomfort
Why do we think that we should be exempt from pain?
pain
hurt
God promised, after all, that life will be hard, that life will be full of trouble.
cross
And He promised that it would all be okay in the end.
He didn’t promise that we would see the end while still in this world, but He promised that it would be okay.
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. ~ John Lennon
So many died while still hoping for Messiah, still believing that He would come.
He came
And He did.
So many of us will die while still hoping for God to come and make everything beautiful again.
He is coming
And He will.
But not only that.
If that weren’t promise enough for you.
Not only has He promised that everything will be okay, but He promised that while it is still not okay, He will never leave us.
So hold on. Be still and hold on to those promises with everything in you and you will find that joy and peace that goes beyond anything that is happening around or inside you.
Hold on.
You who are watching her die before your very eyes.
Hold on.
You who are hurt by the one who should protect.
Hold on.
You who are frightened by all you see around the world.
Hold on.
You who feel like your life doesn’t matter.
Hold on.
Hold on.
He will never leave you. And someday it will be okay.

Art credits: dead rose photo by Deb Knoles; Christ on the Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Tulips in sunlight photo by Kirk Sewell Photography

Waiting

It is a time of waiting.
Waiting
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
Darkness
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
Living in waiting
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Living in Advent
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart:  the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
Whisper of light
And then.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
End of the story
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
Light
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
Light for all time
This time to banish all darkness for good.

Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun

Are You Going Home for Christmas?

Are you going home for Christmas?
Christmas Tree
It is, perhaps, a time of year when we most think about home.  Many of us think back to a particular place, a place where we were given gifts of peace and compassion, grace and love.  We think of those people, or perhaps one person in particular, who gave those gifts to us.  Those who were not given such gifts had at least, perhaps, the dream of such a home.
Christmas Home
We try, in our own ways, to create that sort of a home in our adult lives, yet it is difficult sometimes to believe that such a home can exist in this world, this world that makes it hard to believe in much of anything at times.
In every home, however, no matter how full of beauty and love, there is something missing.  Something small but crucial.  Perhaps we can’t fully describe what that something is, but we search for it and long for it our entire lives.  It is something that gives us a sad and lost feeling, something that makes us feel a bit homeless wherever we happen to be.
Snowy Street
This small but crucial missing piece is what the author of Hebrews talks about at the end of that great chapter detailing those who lived by faith.  After naming some of the greatest heroes and heroines of our faith, the author writes,
These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
And so home is, after all, only where Christ is.  Home is at the manger where even the oxen kneel at midnight.  Home is at the foot of the cross and at the door to the empty tomb.  Home is the place we will find when we finally know even as we are fully known.
Home at the manger
I believe that…the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is.  I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it. ~ Frederick Buechner
Home with Christ
Are you going home for Christmas?

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