Christmas Day: Let all the earth rejoice

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.

Isaiah 55:12-13

Joy does not come readily to me. I am more comfortable with the solemnity of Lent and Advent than with the rejoicing of Easter and Christmas. I need these seasons to remind me that rejoicing should be part of my story – a significant part – yet I find seasons of waiting and longing easier to digest.

Yet the journey of Advent teaches me that, instead of accepting that this is as good as it gets, I should be longing with creation for all things to be made new. It also teaches me to see in Jesus the object of all our longing coming to make His home among us. And while I do not see Jesus face to face I can see Him in every face transfigured by His presence, and I can catch in everything that is exquisitely joy-inspiring the kind of beauty that He will bring with every footstep when He returns.

If I find it hard to rejoice, Jesus has space for me in His grace. Yet He also teaches me that I should rejoice nonetheless, if nothing else as a declaration that all things are being made new and that the old order of death is slowly dying with Life returning in its stead.

In a year of death, longing and waiting, we need this kind of deep, come-what-may rejoicing. We need it whatever lies ahead, because we need to train our hearts for the Joy that will one day trump everything else that has been.

Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Christmas Eve

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them…
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:7, 9

The book of Jonah finishes with a question: if Jonah is willing to die in anger over the death of a tree he did nothing to nurture, then how much more should God be willing to do for the many He has made who do not know how to save themselves? Jonah is ready to die because of his anger; God is ready to die to end the enmity between us and Him.

We are born into enmity. Babies inherit the conflicts of their families, the age-old divisions between nations. Even those born into relatively peaceful relationships are nonetheless born into a world that is at war with itself. Jonah’s storm may have been orchestrated by God to get his attention but the whole fabric of our world today, glorious though it is, reminds us that even our weather does not function as it should; something is deeply amiss in how all things relate to each other. And in Jonah’s case that stretches to his complete failure to love his neighbour, even his failure to love God as he should.

But tonight we remember that another baby was born, into our enmity, into this rage of being flesh, yet came to end that enmity. A child came not to inherit all these griefs or participate in them but to lead us out of them, to put to rights the world itself and all relationships within it. We do not see all of this as reality yet; we wait in longing for it to be made complete. Yet on Christmas Day the hope is inaugurated; the little child leads us on to the day when we shall see Him as King, shall beat our swords into ploughshares and our flesh will no longer rage against us or God.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Christmas Day: Last Last Thing

After all we have done and left undone,
after joy, after grief, after unbelief,
after wrapping paper scattered on floor,
after food is gone or stashed away,
after conversations thrive or starve,
after bombs are thrown and names are known,
after fire and flood, after duties done,
after every going down of Sun,
the darkness still has not overcome,
the darkness will not overcome.

Christmas 12: Seen (Nathanael’s Story)

through the birth of Immanuel…
(From the Collect of the Day)

He saw me by the fig-tree,
desiring yet resisting,
drawn to know the truth of things
yet not looking for it there.

He heard dismissal from my lips,
saw straight into the heart of things,
called to life the truth in me;
I cannot walk away.

That God Himself should take our scum,
that He should walk right here and see –
nothing else but this remains:
I must follow in His way.

Christmas 11: Becoming

and draw us into your holy life…
(From the Collect of the Day)

At once desiring and resisting:
holiness is an arrival, a fulfilment,
and a flame that sears.
Immanuel comes like a floodlight
and I, at times, prefer to hide.
Yet this is our why; life
occurs for precisely this:
union, the family at the heart of things,
becoming as we were first purposed.

Christmas 10: Sons

gather the nations to be one family…
(From the Collect of the Day)

But we know travail,
know separation,
are well-acquainted with the feeling,
on waking,
that something or someone or somewhere is missing, or wishing,
or losing, is lost.

And we know the gap
between ourselves;
we call the vacuum by first name.
We know division enough to feel
the shock of being brought into a whole.
We know the weight, the wait, delight
to be called sons of God…

Christmas 9: …who lives and reigns with You and the Spirit (For Basil the Great and Gregory Nanzianzen)

…eternal unity of perfect love…

(From the Collect of the Day)

What He left behind we can scarce imagine,
having never known such unity or home.
At best we can only recall
the closest to belonging that we have touched:
glimpses of a womb or a bed or a heart,
footsteps meeting the sand in shared rhythm.
Only if we knew
the radiant, pulsating
glory-to-glory from first, on and on,
only then could we fathom
the depths that He fathomed,
incarnate Word,
before time, found in time,
the stable not knowing His name.

Christmas 8: The Name

Not an unusual name,
though a powerful one.
Many Joshuas down the street no doubt
hoped for some of their hero’s kudos:
if not the power to bring down Jericho, then at least
the nod of approval as if they could if they tried.
Yet this one would be different. No
family lineage dictating the name,
but beating wings and the memory
of a thumping heart at the dining table
as the angel had brought her his news.
He saves. A grand claim
for the eight-day-old lying
half-asleep, half-stirring
while Joseph held the pair of pigeons,
their measly offering, a gift that could
not ever suffice, would have to suffice,
though the rules were soon to change,
as the dozing Saviour surely knew.

Christmas 6: How we grow

And Mary treasured in her heart
the mystery, the sheer
beyondness of what she held and did not hold.
He already moved from her grasp,
wiser than her and Joseph combined,
outsmarting his teachers,
taking himself off for theological talks,
when she had hardly finished feeding him.
Only time stood between her and total loss, only
years before a sword would pierce
her own soul through – and his, and his.
Only ever years, and yet
these years are how we grow (for she
was the one who’d still to grow.)