Monthly Archives: December 2019

O Holy Night

December 24, Christmas Eve

“For the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken; for a child is born to us… the Prince of Peace.”—Isaiah 9:4

It’s the O holy night, the silent night, the all is calm all is bright evening of our dear savior’s birth. 

In the realm of heavenly peace, jittery angels wait for God’s signal to depart.

In the midnight sky, the Star positions itself over the manger, dimming its light until the big reveal.

Around fires in the hills, shepherds swap bawdy stories, scratch at fleas, glad for quiet, no wolf or thief. 

In the little town of Bethlehem, strangers who came to be counted lie four to a bed in bad motels, grateful for any bed at all. Innkeepers and beggars count the bonus coins of these last days, a temporary gladness. Crouching at corners, hard soldiers familiar with blood are tossing dice, muttering curses, ears cocked for trouble. 

In Jerusalem, Herod sleeps in a velvet chamber, sheets of Egyptian cotton tucked under his chin, digesting a dinner of lamb and mint, dreaming of music and wine. 

In a nasty shed, Mary labors, Joseph is silent, the cattle are lowing, and little Lord Jesus will soon be asleep on the hay.

Then the angels will sing and the shepherds will run and see and the Star will explode and people in town will wonder why there’s so much noise in that back alley, ‘though not enough to call the soldiers, who are still tossing the dice, muttering and cursing, waiting for much bigger trouble.

It will come.

Sleep on, all you Herods. It will come.

Prayer

Truly he taught us to love one another;
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,  And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his holy name. (“O Holy Night”, v. 3)

Missing

December 24, Christmas Eve

“This will be a sign for you …a child, lying in a manger.”—Luke 2:12 

We know all we know about the first Christmas Eve from a few gospel stories, all written decades after the fact, all different in detail. They have this in common, ‘though—no animals are mentioned at Jesus’ birth. No lowing cattle, no braying donkey, no stamping sheep, no droopy-eyed dromedaries parked outside. 

Which is why, when it comes to Christmas, imagination is more reliable than Holy Writ. Christians know what to do with the bare bones of a good story: add flesh. 

No animals? But there’s a manger, so there must’ve been animals! The evangelists probably just forgot. Surely God wants this corrected. Henceforth, then, let us sing about the donkey in the corner stall, paint loveable lambkins into the scene, arrange cattle in crèches where they belong and, while we’re at it, throw in Godzilla and a cat. 

Thus have animals become gospel. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

I once got a card showing Little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. An ox muzzles at it, stink-eyeing the babe, as if to say, “You’re cute, little boy, but you’re lying on my dinner.” Ugh, I moralized, there it is on a Christmas card—humans monopolizing all the space, making life hard for every animal but us. 

But I also felt glad. Glad the ox was even there. Glad that we humans, so self-centered most of the time, noticed for once that a vital part was missing and rushed to paint, write, and sing it back in. Glad, too, more than I can say, that tonight is born for us the One in whose bright realm no one is ever missing, no creature great or small left out of Love.

Prayer

Newborn Child, give us imagination to see who’s missing and bring them right back in.

"And All The Merry-Hearted Sigh"

From the UCC StillSpeaking Writers Group Advent Devotional 2019

The earth dries up and withers…
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore…the wine dries up, the vine languishes, and all the merry-hearted sigh.”—Isaiah 24:4-7

Not everyone can drink safely. Alcohol is deadly for some people. So not everyone responds well to the use of wine as an image of earthly wellbeing. Still, for as long as humans have cultivated grapes and drunk wine, imagination has made the metaphorical link: fat grapes heavy on the vine, free-flowing wine in ample supply, merry-hearted people singing—all’s right with the world. 

So when a poet speaks instead of withering vines, shriveling grapes, and wine in short supply, we stop in our tracks. When erstwhile flushed consumers sigh, when all they do is sigh, our blood runs cold. 

The trouble is moral before it is ecological: breathtaking human fecklessness has sickened everything. Our arrogance, greed, and violence have us in a death spiral. All creation is swept into the vortex with us. There is no wine.

In Advent, we kneel in this devastated wasteland of our own making and thirst and thirst for want of wine until we finally feel how much we need a savior; until our hoarse sighs turn Heaven towards us with the gift of a joy-maker who knows we have no wine and comes earthward anyway.

He will soon be arriving to our sagging feast. When he appears, he will take immense jars of countless bitter tears and turn them into song. He will draw out wondrous drink and re-start the wedding. It will be safe for all, and he will consume it with us, merry-hearted. He will make us well, the Earth well, and all manner of thing well.

Prayer Marantha! Come, Lord Jesus!