Thursday, December 18, 2014

In the Bleak Midwinter

A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook today and I realized that if I had to pick a favorite Christmas song, this would be it.  I always forget about it, but it is so beautiful!

I am particularly drawn to this song right now because of the occasions of sorrow and injustice that keep swirling around us.  It's so easy to turn on the news and feel nothing but despair.  "In the bleak midwinter..."  That's us, that's now.

And so we wait for our Savior to come.  Every Advent, this is what we long for--the coming of the Christ anew in our lives.  The coming of the Saving One into our wounded world.  When we are surrounded by suffering and pain, it is easy to wonder why God hasn't rushed in to heal all that is broken.  Pakistan, Ferguson, Iraq, cancer, hurting marriages, hungry families...

The wisdom of the Church and God's Word tell us that all things work for his glory and for the good of the Kingdom.  And I'm confident that suffering is one of those mysteries that I will never fully comprehend this side of Heaven.  But in the face of pain, pure theology doesn't always offer the comfort that we wish it could.

The mystery that we long for in Advent, the one that we rejoice over at Christmas is the mystery of the Incarnation--a tiny, helpless baby laid in a manger.  Son of the Most High, made one of us. Perhaps that is where we can find the comfort that we seek.  If we didn't know any better, we might look at that scene and find it ordinary.  Another woman, bringing her child into the world.  And yet we know that birth, humble and un-extraordinary as it may have seemed, changed the world.  And because our God is outside of time, we get to experience that incarnational mystery anew even today.  Not just remember it, but truly experience it: Christ, coming to dwell with us.

So what do we learn from this Christmas story that we know so well?  I don't really think about those familiar stories as much as I should.  But as I was listening to In the Bleak Midwinter, I was thinking about the Christmas story characters.  Shepherds, Wise Men, Mary and Joseph...  If it were me, and I sought and found Jesus, I would probably approach him with a list of things that needed fixing.  But in the Christmas story, everyone comes and gives to Jesus.  Mary and Joseph presumably spend their lives raising and giving to him, as all parents do.  The wise men came with gifts.  And that's what struck me about the last stanza of the song:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part, 
Yet what can I give him?  Give him my heart. 

I think we all feel a little bleak this Advent.  Our hearts are hardened by the sin and sadness in our world today.  And we want God to come down and fix it.  But just as the world was changed infinitely and almost undetectably in that moment of Christ's birth, so it is when Christ comes to birth in our hearts.  We might not feel it or see it.  And it might be hard to understand God's timing or purpose.  But our inability to see it does not mean it doesn't exist.  Instead of asking and pleading for God to fix it, we could take a lesson from the Christmas story.  We can ask ourselves, "What can I give him?"  Because by asking ourselves that question, that is how God brings about his work on this earth. 

Emmanuel: God with us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sump Pumps and Advent

This week we got a sump pump installed.  Rain, do your worst!  I can't wait to see how our basement fares in wet weather...I'm looking forward to a carefree spring--one where I won't be tied to my shop vac!  In order for the sump pump to be installed, however, we had to clear out our utility room.  That was feat in and of itself.  We have only lived here for a year and some change, but our utility room is where everything goes.  Toys that are out of "rotation," seasonal decorations, laundry, extra coats, items for donation, trash, empty laundry detergent bottles, old chairs that I keep meaning to fix, maybe some kids that I don't know about...

It is also Advent, which is the liturgical season that I most look forward to.  It always arrives with the hope of renewal and spiritual refreshment.  Even amidst the craziness of the secular season, I still cling to the idea of waiting and preparing our hearts.  But I must admit, I haven't really been "feeling it" lately.  It just sort of seems like I'm on one never-ending train of crazy and this train isn't making any stops.  I think that feeling is inevitable with kids, especially when you have a nursing baby.  There really isn't any time to get away.  The longest I've been away is a mere few hours and usually that ends with me coming home to a screaming little person.  And even at night, he still wakes about every 45 minutes until I just put him in bed with me.  My own faith life hasn't felt refreshing.  Not in Advent or otherwise.  It is the same.  I keep on, plugging away at life as a mom and wife.  Some moments are beautiful and wonderful and some are awful and many are just mundane. 

I had a meeting the other night at church and I was there (by myself!) early so I stole a few moments in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  As per usual when I am in the chapel, I just kind of sit there and wait.  I generally begin with a prayer like "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening" and then just kind of wait for God to say something.  If I am patient and really trying to listen, usually I can "hear" him speak to me.  And this time his word to me was "repentance."  He kind of hit me over the head with it a few times, until I actually said out loud, "Ok, ok, I get it."

With that in the back of my mind, today I was reading an online reflection and I started thinking about the often-used Advent phrase, "make space in your heart for the coming of Christ."  I have heard that a ba-million times.  "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!"  We hear those words from Isaiah read to us in the Sunday readings.  We sing songs about preparing the way.  So then I sat for a moment and asked myself, what does it even mean to make space in my heart for Jesus?  What does it even mean to prepare the way?

And again, God said, "Hey you!  Dummy!  Pay attention--REPENTANCE."

My heart is like our utility room.  It is the place where everything goes.  Every joy and sadness.  Every misunderstanding and inconsideration.  Every un-confessed sin.  It's all just hanging out in there together, waiting for somebody to do something about it.  To sift through and sort out the good from the bad.  And it seems that without that beautiful sacrament of Reconciliation, it is harder for me to make space in there for the One who wants to come in.  I think I forget to make it a priority when there isn't some huge sin hanging over my head.  But the little things pile up junk on a shelf.  I might have forgotten about it for now, but it's still taking up space.  And just like with our utility room, we have to spend time cleaning it out in order for the Worker to get in and work in our lives.  We can't just expect him to muscle his way through all the crap that we leave in the way.

I spend an awful lot of time praying, "Come Lord Jesus."  But it seems that before the arrival comes the preparation.  Lord, help us to prepare.  

Prepare the way of the Lord, 
make straight his paths.