In the Flesh

These days of Christmas after the Nativity of our Lord remind us that we celebrate more than a birthday. We’ve been told from the beginning that this occasion–this child–is something, someone special. Lest we be too attached to the view of Christmas as an oh-so-sweet birth of a baby, today we get this equally miraculous account of God coming into the world from John’s vantage point. That’s part of the beauty of having four gospels, that we get four perspectives on the singular event that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John’s account is just as important as Luke’s in shaping how we understand God being in this world; it just doesn’t publicity. How we understand God being in this world shapes the lives we lead as Christians.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

Now, I don’t believe John was there at the beginning any more than I think there was a man there to transcribe the accounts of creation offered in Genesis. But as my Old Testament professor said, “We don’t think everything in the Bible is a fact, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t True.”

John offers us an account of the Incarnation that is perhaps more true to the divinity of Jesus than we ever imagined. John’s account hearkens to the one “whose origin if from of old, from ancient days,” (Micah 5:2), one who was there “in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” there when “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” and there when God said, “Let there be light” and “saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:1-4). The Son is at the beginning of all that we can conceive of knowing, not only in Word spoken but also in the Word, in Logos, which for the Greeks was “the divine principle of reason” that not only “gives order to the universe” but also “links the human mind to the mind of God” (Harold Attridge, Harper Collins Study Bible, 1816).

When I was in Salt Lake City this summer, I had the amazing opportunity to gaze upon the St. John’s Bible, which was on display at St. Mark’s Cathedral. In 1970, master calligrapher Donald Jackson had the idea of creating a Bible that was both hand-written and illuminated, in the style of the monastics centuries earlier but more contemporary, complete with marginalia and abundant detail. His idea was commissioned in 1998, introduced to the public in 1999, and in December of 2011 was finally completed, all seven volumes, each one 2 feet by 3 feet wide when opened. With red leather binding and thick cotton pages, my hands wanted to touch these works of art, but the gloved docent had keen, watchful eyes. In the tight space of the side chapel or whatever it was, I devoured as much as I could, but there was so much. I had so little time, yet I was remarkably aware of the vastness of God outside the confines of time and space, yet ever-present within it.

The font, the style of handwriting used, was created for the project; only a select few were trained and had the privileged yet tedious work of writing the sacred text. The layout of the pages is beautiful, the detail incredible, and the colors of the illuminations are nothing if not intense and vibrant, dark and light. I consciously moved my body to get the best angle for the sun to shine on the pages with the gold highlights because that additional touch made the page even more interactive, bringing even more attention to the tremendous skill and creativity captured on paper.

Each gospel has an opening illumination, and the one for the Gospel according to John has a celestial background, with the top mid-center inspired by an image from the Hubble Space Telescope. The vast expanse of space is in the background, with text to the left of the golden figure emerging at the center, a figure crowned with an iconic halo. The bold, distinct golden letters at the top left read, “And the Word became flesh” and continue on the right side of the figure, “and lived among us.”

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

John cannot emphasize enough to us “that Jesus brought divine life into the world”–not only through creation but also through eternal life of salvation (Harold Attridge, Harper Collins Study Bible, 1816). Our being is wholly credited to what our Creator has bestowed upon us not just at the birth of the Christ child but from the beginning of our world. The figure emerging in the image is not a baby but an adult figure, one we might more likely think of as King or Messiah. But there is no distinct face, no identifiable gender, but this magnificent one lived among us, and was the light of all people.

I don’t think John ever says anything about us having to understand the mechanics of the Incarnation. At some point we brush up on our catechesis, but having perfect comprehension of God from God, Light from Light, isn’t what we’re asked to possess, nor are we expected to.

We are asked to believe, to trust in our heart that there is truth here. We are asked to believe in the gift of grace revealed and offered to us–not only in the Christ child but also in this Word made flesh.

And how we shape our lives because of our belief will naturally vary greatly. It is the nature of light to look different from different angles, under different conditions. It is the nature of creativity to portray quirks of the creator, and our free will means the specifics are up to us.

But our belief also makes known to us our common bonds: that we are united in Christ, that our very lives are illuminations revealing God’s presence in the world.

It’s not just the ordained folks who channel the light of Christ in this world–if we were, the world would probably be a darker place. Thankfully, all Christians are ministers in the church; all of us have the ministry of representing Christ and his Church, to bear witness to him wherever we may be (Catechism, BCP 855). So as we wrap up this calendar year, we remain ever-grateful that God emerged into our world so that we might know God through Christ the child and as Word made flesh. As we look forward into the new calendar year, it is worth our while to ponder not only where we see God in our world but how we represent God in our community. There may be times when we are the only Light another person sees, and it is our belief that fuels the light that shines triumphantly in the darkness.

Continue Reading

What is True at Christmas

Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7 | Titus 2:11-14 | Luke 2:1-14

Around the ages of 6 to 10, each of my children in turn have been keen to point out to me in polite whispers that people obviously dressed up as Santa aren’t the real Santa. I meet their earnest eyes with a smile and a wink and mouth, “I know.” They, too, smile in their assurance of finding something true, but I remind them that that person dressed as Santa embodies a symbol of the Spirit of Christmas–the joy we have in sharing gifts with one another, given as tokens of our love. The season of Advent has ideally prepared us to share our intangible gifts of faith and love with one another joyfully and especially prepared us to rejoice in the gift that is Christ our Saviour.

Earlier this week in prayer, a line from Psalm 62 called out a reminder:

“For God alone my soul in silence waits;

from him comes my salvation.”

I had to read it again.

“For God alone my soul in silence waits;

from him comes my salvation.”

Whatever the past four weeks have held for us, in this moment we breathe in sacred stillness and let our bodies, minds, and spirits quiet, leaving outside the door all that would distract us.

Fully present here and now, as the gathered faithful, we have come to adore the blessed babe, come to heed the angel’s declaration, come to witness that God is indeed with us. We’ve come to hear the story of the true spirit of Christmas and to welcome our salvation in the form of the infant Christ.

Our story is set with a backdrop of people of all sorts, some righteous but not all. The world has become thick with social, political, and religious constructs, which further constricts one’s freedom. In a time of expectation, an angel, a messenger of God, visits a young woman, asking if she’s willing to serve God’s will. In Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is guided by an angel in a dream to cooperate with God. And shepherds minding their flocks are interrupted by yet another angel to tell them the “good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). Mary births a baby boy, attended by we know not whom, but God is fully present. The angels are rejoicing and singing, and shepherds come to see if all this is true, for the “child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” has changed everything.

Former Archbishop Rowan Williams said in a recent lecture that God doesn’t rend the heavens open to shower upon us the gift of our salvation; rather, God overflows into the world God created and fills from within, like a spring bubbling up from the earth. God changes things in the world in the world’s own terms, in its own life, within human relationship. In fact, he suggests that God “redefines human nature from within by defenseless love.”

“Redefines human nature” because we are shown our full, previously untapped capacity to be in relationship with others and especially with God. We are not so distinctly separate; God has been within us and remains among us. God redefines human nature because it would soon come to pass that no longer are we bound to this world in fear of death. Jesus lay wrapped in cloths as a babe as he would years later in a tomb, but at no point is he bound by this world. God redefines human nature because the least valued are given the greatest responsibility. Mary in her humility and silence bears her strength as she bore the Son of Man, and the shepherds, well, we can only imagine that the flock came with them. The shepherds who are both obedient to the will of God and able to care for and protect their flocks fill a role that resonates deeply with our Lord.

God doesn’t make a command at this moment in creation. God doesn’t say, “Realize today is the day to love me and do my will!” God offers us God’s self, the greatest gift we never thought to ask for.

Williams says that “God values our humanity beyond all imagining” and that “no risk or gift is too great for any one person.” For God it was never doubted that “humanity is supremely worthwhile.” God in infinite wisdom saw a new way to be among us so that we might once again know freedom and perfect love because on our own, we keep moving farther and farther away. Apparently the only way we could know such love was to experience it in the flesh, in flesh like ours. For that to happen, we had to show a mutual interest, a mutual willingness. We had to listen to what God had to say through the ages and trust that God still speaks in the present, yearning to share light and life with us.

The Christ child was and is the gift. God is the giver of God’s self, our greatest gift. The extraordinary was brought to the ordinary not in diminished form but as light from light. This gift born of Love shows us that the true spirit of Christmas is selfless, gracious Love. It is not forced. As much as God could have forcefully burst open the heavens and commanded obedience and loyalty through great power, God waited for the offer, the invitation to be accepted by an unassuming young woman.

The Spirit of Christmas is about receiving God’s in-breaking Love. Being aware of my own humanity and weaknesses, I realize that I needed Jesus to be born into this world those many years ago. I needed Jesus to be born into this world, to live and breathe among friends and foes, to die as one blameless yet crucified. I needed God to show me that I am beloved, that I am worth everything even if I don’t always believe it myself. And because God showed just how creatively love can be shared, just how beautifully life can grow from relationships, I know that God overflows into our world in immeasurable ways.

We try at Christmas to share our love for others in giving of our abundance. It’s what we do, and most of us enjoy the thoughtful preparation of choosing gifts and delight in the giving. We try to imitate God’s giving and do what we can to share. But the true spirit of Christmas comes from God’s giving and depends upon our receiving. Receiving the good news. Receiving God’s love. Opening our whole life to receive God and thereby receive our salvation, which is our perfect freedom and wholeness. Through this Christ child, we see how God breaks through the chaos, the darkness, and shows us that all shall be well. That there is hope.

We have to be able to recognize what is true, what is real. We have to remember the miracle of Jesus’s birth–that it happened at all–and open our lives to receive God fully, not because we’ve earned it or deserve it but just for the sake of receiving God’s unconditional love. We move about in this world not separate from God. There is no glass nor wall nor space between us. When we smile at a stranger, when we kiss a loved one, when we great one another in peace, we have every reason to overflow with joy at the presence of God in our world, in the face of everyone we meet. This night, we not only marvel and rejoice in the birth of Christ but also humbly bow before the babe at the manger and let our Light be ignited by the one true Light. We can imagine looking over to Mary and saying in excited yet hushed tones, “This, this is real.” And her smiling back at us and saying softly, “I know.”

Continue Reading

Mother Mary

A sweet friend today shared in conversation that a Bible study she and her husband are going to has brought a greater Christ-focus to this Christmas season, an unexpected emotional and spiritual experience.  In turn, I told her that I was nearly overcome with tears at the Gospel processional, so deeply moving did I find the words, the music, and the sentiment.  Whether it’s by the year, season, or hour, the ebb and flow of our Godly focus varies greatly.

This day when the visitation of Mary is shared, I feel the tenderness radiate through the entire service.  The femininity and tenderness intertwine with the strength and reality of what is and is to come.  Mary answered God’s call with a willingness to serve.  As our priest this morning put it, most of us can relate to an “Oh-crap-what-have-I-done” moment when the reality of our servitude sinks in.  No such moments are related in Mary’s tale, but knowing what we do of the society and culture she lived in, her pregnancy and unwed status were scandalous (not entirely unlike today).  Surely even the mother of Christ had doubts.

We are human.  We doubt and question.  Then the pendulum swings, and we rejoice and praise.  I have a feeling that the trajectory isn’t linear.  I imagine the circle being traced again and again, though at different levels.  Sometimes we might stall, but often once we are set in motion, we keep going, following our path.

May we carry on in God’s will with the faith and willingness of Mary, blessed with a good mother’s love.

Continue Reading

Purple for Preparation

For those unfamiliar with the Anglican tradition, the Church calendar is a circle, a cycle, and it has certain colors for every season.  Naturally, there’s a lovely children’s song to teach the season and the meaning for each.

“Purple for preparation.  White for celebration.  Green is for the growing time.  Red is for Pentecost!”

The four weeks of Advent precede Christmas and its twelve days.  Advent is a time of preparing and waiting.  In that time we ponder the Mystery, the Light, Mary, and the other lessons accompanying the season.

In one of my rare solitary moments, I considered what it is that I need to be prepared for, beyond the religious norm.  What I discover, of course, is that my needs parallel with the lessons.

What needs to be done?  What am I required to do as a member of society?  I have to be counted.  I have to pay taxes.  I have to make sure the family is cared and provided for.  My husband and I do this together, the day-to-day, part-of-society requisites.  We have to follow the rules, even if it results in frustration from waiting in lines or finding businesses to be closed due to holiday hours.  We try again.  We do what has to be done.

What is needed of me?  The children need a more compassionate mother (especially this morning).  They need time and attention, which are hard to provide when one is tired and energy levels are low.  Others need the same of me; truthfully, they deserve the same.  Kindness.  I need this of myself, too.

And what might be required from me in this life?  Am I prepared to fulfill my purpose?  I believe that if I’m still alive, I have work to do for the greater Good.  I still don’t know what that work is, but I sense clues.  Ultimately, every moment is an opportunity to change the world for the better.  This is what makes me an optimist, I suppose.  Take the complacency, anger, animosity, even hatred and replace it with awareness and compassion.  It aligns nicely.

The advice given Mary and Joseph works for me, too.  “Do not be afraid.”  Do the work.  Be present to, for, and with others and myself.  Trust the Mystery and live the Magic.  Goodness is here, in every moment, but I have to be prepared if I want to see it.  I have to be prepared to experience it.  I have to be prepared to be surprised, which ironically I am every time I experience true Grace, Light, and Love.

May we all be so blessed.

Continue Reading

What Mary Knew

Of the four children smacking their cocoa-sweet lips and held captive by The Polar Express, one has a birthday this week, two days before Christmas.  Ten years ago I was 40 weeks pregnant, great with child.  But it wasn’t my first.  I had my support in place.  Preparations had been made.  I knew what to expect, more or less.

In this fourth week of Advent, I love that we light a pink candle to honor Mary.  I love remembering that she surrendered to something greater than herself, that she humbled herself to be a servant.  She didn’t know . . . she couldn’t know what was in store.

Every time I picture Mary or try to work with any kind of visualization or exercise of lectio divina, I have a sense of what Mary might have known.

Surrender.

What was happening was beyond her control.  It wasn’t just about Mary the innocent young woman suddenly expecting child.  As with every mother bearing child, from the moment the baby is conceived and grows, the mother can only do her best to keep healthy.  The formation of the child is left to genetics and the miracle of life.  A mother-to-be can seek the wisdom and comfort of other women to learn all that she can, but when it comes time to birth, there is no bringing forth of life without letting go of one’s identity.  Virgin Mary to Holy Mother of Jesus.  Can you imagine what Mary experienced alone in that stable?  Do you think she found in herself the capacity to pity poor Joseph standing helplessly by?  Could there have been a woman from the Inn who had mercy?  Such details are left unaccounted.

Next thing we know is that there’s a baby in a manger.  Mary has a child, a dependent.  This child’s existence depends upon her care and attention.  She knows this.  With her surrender, though, she knows this child she cares for is not hers alone.  She cares for this precious child not only as her own but as one of God’s . . . as God.  Did she know this?

Could she truly sense this from the beginning?  Could she know the heartache that would come?

From the very beginning, this would be beyond her comprehension.  She might never fully understand.  She could only do her best to do what was required of her in every moment.  She would live fully into each moment, keeping her heart as open as possible to live into the will of God.  This would be the best she could do.  It’s the best any of us can do.

Oh, that I have the humility to live into every moment with awareness and true surrender.  May I raise my children so that they will grow into the beings they are meant to be, not what or how I want them to be.  May I have the strength to be a mother of strength, love, and acceptance.

My children are blessings to me.  I am surrounded by abundance, and I understand this mother role . . . more or less.

Continue Reading

Advent Calendar!

Many thanks to my German friend for introducing my family to the advent calendar even before we fully embraced the tradition.  This year, however, I came up with something each day for the children to do before they get their daily treat.  Sundays are busy for us, so I decided to make use of the Christmas cookie sheet molds I received as a gift and make tasty sugar cookies as a treat for all.

Advent is a season of waiting, of preparation.  I also think it’s a time of excitement, merriment to be spent with family and friends, not without consideration of those in need.  Of course, I encourage you to make your own list, but to jump-start your brainstorm, here’s our list, some names removed.

May your December start with a heaping of kindness.

  1. Do a kindness for a sibling.

  2. Donate clothes to shelter.

  3. Send a letter to a friend.

  1. Make sure the house is especially clean.

  2. Be kind to your Dad.

  1. Happy St. Nicholas Day!!!

  2. Make cards for teachers.

  3. Do a chore not on your list.

  4. Help Mom prepare Christmas cards.

  5. Draw a picture for a grandparent.

  6. Spend 5 minutes in prayer before school.

  7. Give thanks outdoors! Play outside if you can.

  8. Enjoy your cookie!

  9. Call Grandma and Uncle.

  10. Mark cards for a nursing home.

  11. Call Grandma and Uncle.

  12. Call Grandpa and Papa.

  13. Call Nana&Papa and Cousin.

  14. Call Godparents.

  15. Enjoy your cookie!

  16. Get thank-you notes ready.

  17. Spend 30 minutes in prayer.

  18. Do something kind for Alexander; it is his birthday.

  19. Help Mom in the kitchen.

  20. Merry Christmas! Rejoice!

  1. Do a kindness for a sibling.

  2. Donate clothes to shelter.

  3. Send a letter to a friend.

  1. Make sure the house is especially clean.

  2. Be kind to your Dad.

  1. Happy St. Nicholas Day!!!

  2. Make cards for teachers.

  3. Do a chore not on your list.

  4. Help Mom prepare Christmas cards.

  5. Draw a picture for a grandparent.

  6. Spend 5 minutes in prayer before school.

  7. Give thanks outdoors! Play outside if you can.

  8. Enjoy your cookie!

  9. Call Grandma Arnold and Uncle Alan.

  10. Mark cards for a nursing home.

  11. Call Grandma Donna and Uncle Wayne.

  12. Call Grandpa Bill and Papa Stan.

  13. Call Nana&Papa and Cousin Angye.

  14. Call Godparents – Bill & Pam and Christine.

  15. Enjoy your cookie!

  16. Get thank-you notes ready.

  17. Spend 30 minutes in prayer.

  18. Do something kind for Alexander.

  19. Help Mom in the kitchen.

  20. Merry Christmas! Rejoice!

Continue Reading

Season of Christmas

Weeks leading to the season of Mystery.  Joyful days of Christmas, living into the heart of the mystery itself.  The Church’s New Year begun.  Days left on the calendar year.

Where to go from here?

Quite obviously, I took time away from the blog-front to finish up the last-minute gifts.  Now I have to deal with the consequences of house neglect and the incoming gift explosion.  But more than that is the continual contemplation of my life as it is.  My husband says this next year is “the” year.  It’s his 30th.  I think I thought the same for my 30th, too, but that has come and gone.  I’m hesitant to say life is what it is with a sort of resigned sigh, but that’s what comes to mind.

Unfortunately for me, I have a hormonal challenge to overcome this week of weeks to bring back the optimist in me.  I hope to make the right lists, the right resolutions and the right choices.  I’m barking at the kids to make the right choices.  They know what is right and wrong (i.e. be kind, put things back,etc.).  I know what is right and wrong, too, supposedly.  Often, though, I don’t make the right choices, either.

So, here’s to getting the funk out of the system, to making the right choices and to living lovingly and simply.  Our T days this week will include lists, lists that I hope will help me in the coming year.  If they help you, consider it a late gift.  🙂

Continue Reading

Not-so-snowy Snow Day

A friend of mine recently said that snow without accumulation is just cruel.  Well, I would add that a snow day without snow is equally cruel.  We don’t have snow, but apparently some areas had enough ice (not our side of town) to cancel school.  We do have frigid temperatures for our area.  Husband said it “hurts” outside.  The kids played outside for all of about seven minutes.

So, the kiddos are home today . . . inside.  Thankfully, one went off for the day with a friend.  A friend of mine joined us for half the day, adding a few more boys to the mix.  We spent the morning cooking and conversing.  As lovely as it was, I have the sense of dread that my sleeping hours are going to become working hours as I struggle to finish these gifts I have planned.  June.  I must start Christmas in June!  There’s a reason for the “Christmas in July” phrase, after all.  Hopefully I’ll remember that, and you will, too, so you can hold me accountable for next year!

But it is a wonderful time of year.  I have lots of materials to work with.  Our heat is fixed.  Slowly, a few gifts are appearing under the tree.  I baked bread and cornbread this morning.  The beans are cooking, and the house smells warm and yummy.  Christmas carols get played every so often, either on the CD player or on the piano.  May my temper subside and let me revel in our abundance of life and love.

May your family be so blessed.

Continue Reading

Angels Around Us

Rush, rush, rush.  After a slow morning, rushing is what we were doing to be out the door in time for my meeting.

“What’s that red thing?” Avery asked as I opened the door and closed it again to unlatch the lock.

What red thing?  I thought in complete disregard, maybe even annoyance, grabbing miscellaneous item and fifteen thousand bags.  That’s what it felt like, anyway.

I opened the door, and there at the doorstep was a drum-like basket, fluffed with red tissue paper, containing oranges and holiday mini-snickers (my favorites!).

I looked around at the other houses.  Did they have baskets, too?  Not that I could tell.  I dropped a few bags and set the basket on our entry table, quickly scanned for a card and decided I didn’t have time to wonder about it now.  Off we went.

When we returned home hours later, the basket still remained.  The kids ran around playing, and I decided to further investigate this holiday mystery.  I felt to the bottom of the basket, below the tasty goodies, and there was paper.  Between red paper was a card for my “sweet” family.  That alone melted my heart.  When I opened the card, hoping to find a name for this kind soul, all I found was money.

I couldn’t cry, for it was too rich a blessing, too kind and good.  I could only smile in disbelief.

Surely the spirit of Saint Nicholas prevails, alive and well.  I only I hope I live to return the blessing to others in the future.  For now, I give thanks to our angel.

Continue Reading