Day Twenty Four: The Morning After

Psalm 148
Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15
Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-60

It’s the morning after ….

For some that means headaches,
or hangovers,
or a house to clean up;
for others something entirely more dire
as we weigh up what happened last night
and what needs to come next
to get ourselves out of (the mess we have made)
or into (the life we have imagined and planned);
for others, still, it is just another day
in the ongoing and endless cycle
of work and rest,
of play and pray ….

Yet, with the rising of the sun on this new day,
we are reminded that the Light has dawned –
the Light of Life, the Lord of Love;

that just yesterday we received the Good News
of God-with-us:

a light-seed planted within us
that love may rise graciously to life –
both in us and through us.

Our readings this day may seem a little unexpected for the morning after the wonderful proclamation of
“Christ is born!”

Yet both give us clues for holding onto and living out that powerful message long after the Christmas decorations have been packed away and life has resumed its usual routine.

Through the prophet Jeremiah comes the warning that if we fail to listen to the words of the Servant who he has sent to us so urgently, our lives will become places of desolation and despair (Jeremiah 26:9).

He makes it clear to us that in order for the light-seed that we have been given through Christ’s coming to bloom and burst forth in the deepest places,
we need to:
change the way we’re living;
mend our deeds;
listen obediently to the Message of God
(Jeremiah 26:13).

I must point out that this message was preached in the court of the Lord’s house to all who had come to worship and not to the unbelievers!

For Stephen, full of Love-inspired grace and power, the message found expression in the miracles and wonders that he was able to perform among people desperate for a little love, a little light;
in a countenance as radiant as an angel’s;
in the imitation of God’s all-embracing love even at the moment of excruciating death as he beseeches God on behalf of those that he had just named a stiff-necked people – resistant to the Holy Spirit:

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” (Acts 8:60).

As we move towards a new year with its usual resolutions to lose weight, spend less,
spend more time with family, stop smoking, learn a new skill etc., today’s word is both encouragement and caution:

to consider carefully, prayerfully, that which truly needs to change in our lives; that, rather than relying on our will or self-discipline, we may move with the Spirit and grow with the Message that we have received –
a Message of affirmation
rather than criticism,
a Message of belonging
rather than the need to perform/conform,
a Message of joy in every moment rather than the vague pursuit of “happiness,”
a Message from God rather than the promotion of another personal brand ….

Where might the Spirit be moving you in the days that lie ahead,
that the light-seed planted in you may grow and bloom?

Day Twenty Three: Light Dawns

Isaiah 62:6-12
Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:8-20

As we embarked on our Advent journey, I offered the simple story of how my children used to mark their birthdays with the words:

The earth goes round the sun,
The earth goes round the sun,
Three hundred and sixty five days a year
the earth goes round the sun. 

Well, three hundred and sixty five days have passed since we last remembered the story of God entering our story; our life, our days, our death in human form.

For three hundred and sixty five days, the sun has come up each morning; banishing the darkness and offering the gift of a new day – full of new opportunities, new beginnings.

But this is the morning, the day that we celebrate the angel greetings: “Don’t be afraid.
I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide:
A Saviour has just been born in David’s town,
a Saviour who is Messiah and Master.
This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger”
(Luke 2:10-11).

Light dawns …

the Light
from which all life dawned:
the Great Let-It-Be
who christened the vast expanse of space
with millions upon millions upon millions
of stars
as signs of God’s strength
to do the impossible
for us
and with us
and through us

now nestled
in a manager,
in a stable,
in an obscure town;
too busy and too full to notice
the Great I AM
whose hands laid the earth’s foundation,
gripping tightly to his mother’s finger –

a reflex
– surprisingly solid, firm –
rehearsed within the virgin’s womb;

Dependable God
now dependent
on a nothing, from no-where really,
who gazed in wide-eyed wonder
at those who came to see
and marvel
at how God completes God’s promises.

Light dawns …

… the light of our salvation.

Named Jesus (God saves),
Immanuel – God with us
that we might be re-named:
Holy People,
God-Redeemed,
Sought-Out,
City-Not-Forsaken
.

Light dawns …

… the light of realisation:
such mystery,
such wonder,
such love,
such joy,
such peace,
such promise,
such hope of eternal life
is too much for us to make sense of

yet,
through the Christ-child,
within our grasp.

This Christmas,
may light-seeds be planted
in us,
and in all people;
the Light of Life
alive in us.

Light dawns ….

From Advent to Epiphany

For many, Christmas has – at best – a tenuous connection to the Christ child.

Some Christians refuse to celebrate the season because of the pagan practices that have influenced it and/or its historical inaccuracy. Others really struggle with how to keep the season centred around the coming of Immanuel in the midst of our frenetic, consumer-driver world in which the perfect present is more important than our simple presence.

Yet I am amazed each year at how, in spite of declining membership in most parts of the world, churches fill up on Christmas Day with people for whom hearing the remarkable story of God entering into our life in the vulnerable form of a baby boy is an essential part of their family tradition.

It’s a special time; a moving story about the unimaginable love that God has for the world finding expression in the the fragile relationship between a young virgin and a carpenter who are far away from the support and shelter of home in the days before a miracle is birthed – all under the threat of a jealous king who will do anything to solidify his power.

It’s a story best understood in the context of those dangerous times, and within the seasons of Advent and Epiphany in which we express our commitment as Christians to watch and to wait for the Coming King in the midst of our own struggles and difficulties.

When the mountains tremble is a contemplative journey through this season which seeks to open our eyes to the power and presence of God – not in spite of the trouble and the tumult all around us, but in the very midst of it.

Based on the daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary which we often shy away from (who doesn’t prefer stories of bemused shepherds and worshipping angels to warnings of judgement and destruction?), each day offers the invitation to remember where we’ve come from, give voice to how we’re really feeling, wrestle with some of the deep questions we may not often ask, and wonder with God about where we’re headed.

Some weeks – the first in particular – are more cognitive; while others are more experiential. Some are structured around becoming still; others around getting moving in a particular way. Some of the meditations may feel incomplete and will be returned to in a new way a little further on in the journey, while those left open may be the beginning of a new journey of wonder for you entirely.

It would be helpful to keep a journal over this time; not so much to record the answer to every question you may encounter in the readings (which is not at all necessary), but to jot down a summary of each day’s experience or a particular line or verse that stood out for you, to write out a prayer response to God, to return to your own questions and wonderings as the old year makes way for the new.

If you have subscribed to this blog, you will receive notification of each day’s post beginning on Sunday, the 3rd of December 2017, and concluding on Saturday, the 6th of January 2018. If not, you can do so on the home page or visit as you’re able.

May the One for Whom we Wait
bring us rest and restoration
in what is so often a worn and wearying season
and open our eyes to the signs of His-Her Presence with us,
always and in all things.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne

 

incarnation: tangible God

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
    light! sunbursts of light!
For a child has been born—for us!
    the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
    the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
    Strong God,
Eternal Father,
    Prince of Wholeness.

Isaiah 9:2, 6 (The Message)

God of Beloved’s heart and Creator’s hands,
of rainbow-coloured covenant
with we who:
~ give in to delusions of deity,
~ grumble in times of scarcity,
~ grasp for power and prosperity,
~ gauge the worth of others by their vulnerability,
~ garnish spiritual life with religious legality;
~ grovel when faced with calamity –

amazing Counselor,
  strong God,
    eternal Father,
      prince of Wholeness,
Shalom in the world promised, prophesied,
personified,
within the virgin’s womb.

The cries of your milked creation –
a land of deep darkness,
a vast sea of desolation –
coalesce with the wails
~ of endangered wildlife,
~ of widows and orphans,
~ of refugees and prisoners,
~ of the outcast and the lonely,
~ of the abused and oppressed –

amazing Counselor,
  strong God,
    eternal Father,
      prince of Wholeness,
Love for the world made flesh
through the mixed miracle and mess
of Mary’s lonely* labour.

Tangible God
whose ten fingers and ten toes
Mary touched in wide-eyed wonder,
substantiate this mindful day
the gift of God-with-us.
Flare forth in the gloomy shadows
~ of hatred and suspicion,
~ of violence and war,
~ of poverty and illness,
~ of sin and death –

amazing Counselor,
  strong God,
    eternal Father,
      prince of Wholeness,
Hope of the world made manifest
in the majesty of heaven cradled
against the virgin’s chest.

Christ-Child – born for us!
Son of God – gifted to us!
~ Shalom epitomized;
~ Love personalized;
~ Hope realized.
God-with-us.

 

 

*lonely – remote, secluded

Beyond Christmas

Over this season we celebrate not some distant, historical event, but the recurring truth through which we live each day with hope and courage:
God is with us!
In the midst of our joys and our triumphs:
God is with us!
In bread broken with family and friends, and stories shared of the good times – and the hard times that we have come through –
God is with us!
In the quiet longing of homes in which children do not play because of fertility issues or custody arrangements,
God is with us!
In boisterous celebrations centered more around booze and food and presents than Christ’s coming,
God is with us!
In disheartening table-talk about corruption and governance and the falling Rand and the unfallen rain,
God is with us!
In bushes and under overhangs where a table is an unaffordable luxury and the ground makes a welcome bed at the end of each day,
God is with us!
In the rising rays of sunlight that break the dark of night and begin a new morning with new possibility,
God is with us!
In the valley of the shadow of loss and death and inconsolable grief and utter aloneness,
God is with us!
 
This is the true gift of Christmas-time; a gift that endures beyond a single day!
In a tiny city, in a dim and grimy “stable,” a faithful girl and a devout man participated in God’s great plan to show us that we are never alone: that God is never far from our circumstances nor our cries.
May the preciousness of this great gift and the sense of God’s nearness be an abiding one – this day and every other day.

Watchmen on the wall

It’s an old fear. One which countless children eventually grow out of. One which few adults will ever admit to having. Fear of the dark – and of the unknown, the unseen, that lurks within it. A fear so common that an entire movie genre has spawned from it – horrors – which some people avoid at all costs because they know that they will be terrified to close their eyes for the next few days, and some people can’t get enough of because of the thrill of adrenaline that pumps through their veins with each beat of their pounding heart.

At the heart of a horror is something we subconsciously believe to be true: bad things happen at night.

Maybe that is why the last thing we do before we go to sleep is to check that all the doors are locked and windows are closed before we turn off the lights and shut our eyes against the heavy darkness – sleeping away the hours in which visibility is poor and the world is still and horrors happen.

But amongst those who lived in days of old, there were those who were not allowed to sleep; whose duty it was to watch and to wait for morning, to ensure the safety of all who slumbered under their care. Much like modern day security guards, there were watchmen who stood on Bethlehem’s walls making sure that no enemy, no danger, could sneak into the snoring city to cause hurt and harm.

I wonder what they would have made of the events that unfolded in their humble city in those weeks and months surrounding Jesus’ birth: the new star that brightened the familiar night sky, the arrival of a heavily pregnant woman on the back of a donkey at an unsafe hour when doors were closed and inns were full, the over-excited shepherds who babbled on about an angel visiting them in the hills with good news, the caravan of wealthy wise men who left a palace in search of a king.

What would they have made of this flurry of nighttime activity? Would they have let these travellers pass without a challenge or told their unexpected visitors to come back at a more appropriate time? Would they even have known, in the dark of night, that something amazing was happening? Would you?

What happened that night was that Life came into existence, and that Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light we know as Christ Jesus blazed out of the darkness; and the darkness couldn’t put it out – not the darkness of night, not the darkness of sin, not even the darkness of death.

Yet how many people noticed?

Only a handful were part of the remarkable story unfolding. Some watched and waited for the light to appear on the tops of the mountains – a symbol of a new day dawning, a promise of rest and safety. But most, well, most missed out; slept right through it. And some even shut the door and sent the light away.

Friends, we live in fearful times. We don’t want to think about them; we don’t want to talk about them – especially not in our moment of celebration on Christmas Day.

But war is rife within the world. Hatred and intolerance of the other has stripped away our ability to walk in another’s shoes, to extend a hand in compassion and solidarity. The Laws of love are subject to the law of the land – and the law of the land is used to exploit and oppress and subdue. People starve while others die of obesity-related illnesses. Drought and corruption ravage our future and our security. Foreigners are looked at with suspicion and resentment whenever our resources dwindle. Struggling children are passed from one grade to the next to hand them a certificate but no future of meaningful employment.

People pass each other without a smile or a greeting, wrapped up in their own busyness, heartache, disappointment.

Yet we continue to deal with this spiritual darkness in the same way that we deal with physical darkness: we shut the windows, lock the doors, and close our eyes in the hope of waking up to a new day. As good Christians some of us may even pray, “Lord, send your Angel-armies to watch over us and keep us safe this night.”

But what the world really needs from the God-begotten, from you and I, this day – and every day – are watchmen on the wall, voices that proclaim: there’s a light upon the mountain, a future and a hope that blazes through the darkness; eternal and inextinguishable; accessible to all who notice, to all who want it; capable of turning the horrors of night into a new day.

This Christmas morning may you receive the Life-Light in a way that helps you to be your true self, your child-of-God-self, your bright and radiant and brave and truthful and wide-awake self. And as your life-light shines to the glory of God may the hope and the light and the love celebrated on this new day spread from the mountains to every heart and home.

There’s a Light upon the mountains

Each Christmas our lectionary readings take us into familiar territory with its inherent danger of boredom and stagnation. Yet as I skimmed the oft-thumbed pages, two songs of my childhood emerged and merged within my imagination bringing a forth a new song of praise and wonder reflected in the liturgy for the day which should flow rhythmically between the speaking and singing:

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness:
Our God reigns, our God reigns!

There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and
the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and
we hail it with a song.

Our familiar readings are:

  • Isaiah 52:7-10 – the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem shout in wonder the Good News of God’s return and eternal reign;
  • Psalm 98 – the new song of God’s salvation resounds through human hands and voices, as well as ocean roar and mountain rumble;
  • Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) – the Son is introduced as the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being; as He who laid the earth’s foundations and will steadfastly endure;
  • John 1:1-14 – the true Light comes into the world – sometimes unwelcome, sometimes unwanted, sometimes unacknowledged – but unlimited and inextinguishable.

***

Through darkest night, with dimming sight,
and hearts in need of rest,
we have watched and we have waited
for Your day to dawn, O Rising Sun.

*the Advent Candle is lit*

Let the sea and everything in it roar;
Let the world and everyone on it shout and sing;
Let the rivers gurgle in delight;
Let the mountains rumble together for joy:
The Sun-maker has come to set the whole world right.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!” 

O Hope-Bringer,
Inextinguishable and Eternal Son,
Sweetest Giver of Gifts,
who comes to us even while we sleep,
even while we are sinners,
with the Good News of God with and within us
no matter whether we have been bad or good;
like shepherds fresh from the fields,
and wise men weary from many months of travel,
we gather this day to worship and adore you.

O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

You are beautiful.
You are radiant.
You are marvellous to behold –
the shining Light of God’s glory,
the imprint of God’s being
on fragile human form,
cradled in human arms;
Emmanuel – God-with-us
that we might see the possibility
for peace and love and justice
to be borne in the midst of human hearts,
and human hurts, this day.

Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Kom buig nou in aanbidding
Voor Jesus die Heer

O Untiring, Unchanging One,
You started it all, laying the earth’s foundations,
crafting the stars in the sky,
knitting us together so carefully, so tenderly,
within a mother’s womb.
Sometimes we have been ignorant of Your great gifts.
Sometimes we have been ungrateful.
Sometimes we have been unfaithful.
Sometimes we have been unwelcoming.

*a moment of silence for confession*

Our Costly Treasure,
who took on our death that we might know life,
remind us this day that we are Your beloved children,
Sons and Daughters of the Most High God.
Show us how to welcome Your light
and walk upon the paths of peace
that the whole world might see Your grace,
Your victory,
and worship He-Who-Holds-Everything-Together.

Wozani Simdumise
Wozani Simdumise
Wozani Simdumise
U Krist’ inkosi

John 1:1-14 (The Message)
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life,

and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

There once was a man, his name John,
sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light.
He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in.
John was not himself the Light;
he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.

He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.

But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

*a reflection is offered*

O Come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of Angels:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

True God, of true God,
Light of light eternal,
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father,
Begotten, not created:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
“Glory to God
In the highest:”
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning.
Jesus, to thee be glory given:
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Once we were watchmen upon the walls,
longing and praying for Your coming, O Christ.
Now we are lights upon the mountain,
full of Your light,
for You are born
and Your Spirit blazes deep within.

Be with all in need of rest and restoration,
Comfort and consolation.
May our lives shine like candles in their darkness,
A beacon of hope in their brokenness,
this day, and forevermore.
Amen.

There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting,
and the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking,
and we hail it with a song.

There’s a hush of expectation,
and a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving
in the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus
is the Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit
is the travail of His own.

He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels
to build up the gates of day;
But His angels here are human,
not the shining hosts above,
For the drum-beats of His army
are the heart-beats of our love.

Hark! we hear a distant music,
and it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus,
of our King Emmanuel;
Zion, go ye forth to meet Him,
and my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest
for the triumph of our King.