Category Archives: Advent

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Theological Remix!

img_4331At our Christmas Eve services this year, we shared the wonderful poem/carol by Cheryl Lavornia. She captures the familiar cadence of a cultural classic but re-forms it into a beautiful re-telling of the Greatest Story Ever Told!  Enjoy!


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the manger,

Not a creature was stirring, not even the strangers.

The cattle were lowing, waiting with the mare,

In hopes that a baby soon would be there.

 

See it all started some nine months back

When an angel appeared to Mary announcing the fact

That she would conceive and be found with child

He would be God’s Son, so meek and so mild.

 

And Joseph, Mary’s spouse, not wanting to make a clatter,

Vowed to divorce her quietly and settle the matter.

But an angel appeared and flew like a flash,

Into his dreams – stopping his fear in a dash.

 

The angel told Joseph the News he should know,

Gave the plans of our God to His creatures below.

“Do not be afraid, for soon shall appear,

God’s Word become flesh, and a light to all near.”

 

This baby they’d been waiting on, now seemed so quick,

So Joseph believed and took Mary, his pick

Off to Bethlehem for the census they came,

To be claimed as David’s descent; called by his name!

 

“Now Adam, now, Seth, now Abram and Isaac,

On Jacob, On Judah, on Boaz and David!

To the top of God’s family, to those answering His call,

Now make a way! Prepare the way! Here’s a way for all!”

 

As angels before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the mountain-top the messengers flew,

To some shepherds…. and their little sheep too !

 

And then, in a twinkling the sky was their roof

And the host of angels offered some proof.

“Fear not, for behold, good tidings abound,

Good news for all people in Bethlehem’s found.”

 

“He’s dressed in swaddling cloths, from his head to his foot,

In a manger, this small baby lay put.”

The angels sang, as to heaven went back,

“Glory to God! Peace on earth; now get up and pack.”

 

Their eyes, how they twinkled, those shepherds so merry!

So they left the sheep sleeping, taking what they could carry!

The outcast, the child, the old women low,

The leper, the stranger, and all who had woe.

 

They hurried to the manger, they barely could breathe,

Their hearts were encircled with hope like a wreath.

As they spied Mary & Joseph,  they slowed down their run,

What did peace look like;  the Christ child, God’s own Son?

 

He wasn’t chubby or plump, but a real human babe,

How odd that a king be born in a stabe.

A wink of Mary’s eye and a twist of her head,

Soon gave them to know – they had nothing to dread.

 

They spoke not a word, but marveled at God’s plan,

To save humankind through Jesus, the Son of Man.

This babe would be hung up, pierced hands and toes,

But would soon conquer death, when he arose!

 

So Mary and Joseph, shepherds and kings,

All testify to the joy  that this night of nights brings!

Jesus came to stop death and sin’s dark plight,

So we can exclaim, “Happy Christmas to all,

Jesus is setting things right!”

                                             _Cheryl Lavornia, Copyright 2010

How do you cultivate JOY?

grumpy-15057374_1847734315513758_1077785814882058240_nJoy to the world, the Lord is come! Being a joyless Christian is a contradiction in terms! Yet we all go through drought or letting people and things “rob” our joy.  My short definition of joy is Gladness in God!  Jesus offers a joy that no one can take from us! (John 15:7-11) For the third Sunday in Advent, I preached on how God With Us brings JOY.  You can listen to the sermon here. I explain 5 ways we can cultivate joy – listed below.


Cultivate Joy!

1.  Repent and believe the Good News
Repentance (turning back toward God and putting all trust in Christ) is the starting point for real Joy and Hope.) Luke 15; Psalm 51 (especially vv. 8-12)

2.  “See Christ everywhere;” “Find God in all things”
Kalistos Ware summarized a life of prayer and experiencing God with the first phrase. “Find God in everything” is a central teaching of Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit tradition. These both remind us that God is constantly speaking and using every experience to transform us and use us to embody the faith in every arena of our lives. There is joy in experiencing God!

3.  Stretch yourself to serve.
“The way out of the dungeon of self, is in service to others.”  Luke 10:17-21

4. Contemplate Beauty and the Life of the World to Come
Hebrews 12:1-3 – Jesus endured suffering because of the joy set before Him.
Psalm 16 – “In Your presence there is fullness of joy!”

5. Fight being “too easily pleased.”
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

 

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit who produces Love, Joy, Peace… to make us people of JOY!

 

 

Annunciation, some further thoughts in art and poetry

12th Century Russian icon of the Annunciation
12th Century Russian icon of the Annunciation
Fra Angelico, the Annunciation, 15th Century Italy
Fra Angelico, the Annunciation, 15th Century Italy

The arts help us slow down, and like Mary,
“ponder these things” in our hearts.
Above is a famous Western painting,
along with an Eastern icon.
Below are two poems from two of my favorite poets,
Denise Levertov and Scott Cairns.

 

Annunciation, by Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
(From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc)

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.

The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.

God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

____________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.

More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,

only asked

a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–
but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,

when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

Spirit,

suspended,

waiting.
____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

She did not submit with gritted teeth,

raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,

consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,

the lily glowed in it,

and the iridescent wings.

Consent,

courage unparalleled,

opened her utterly.

_ from The Stream and the Sapphire


 

Annunciation, by Scott Cairns

Deep within the clay and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the tinder of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew lights gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a king whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

_ from Slow Pilgrim, The Collected Poems 

Mary: Mother of Jesus; Disciple!

Hopelogo2In Advent and Christmas this year we are teaching in Luke 1 and 2 around the theme of Hope for Everyone. Week one was Zechariah: Despite All Odds. Week two was a fresh look at the announcement to young Mary: Let it Be! (You can listen here.) Our view of Mary is one of those places where the history of the church is again afflicted with the peril of the pendulum – swinging from the extreme of overstated or excess devotion to outright neglect and understatement. I suggest that the biblical balance comes from seeing Mary as Honored Mother and Model Disciple. Mary was originally given the title, Theotokos (God-bearer or “the one who bore the one who is God.”) This was not to draw attention primarily to her, but to defend the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ! We have much to learn from Mary about what a devoted disciple looks like. In the sermon, I suggest 5 ways that Mary models being a devoted disciple of Jesus:


  1. Mary was ‘ordinary’ but chosen.
  2. Mary responded to Grace (“…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”)
  3. Mary was an obedient, humble servant (“I am the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be to me according to Your Word.”)
  4. Mary was a worshipper (“she pondered all these things in her heart;” “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”)
  5. Mary overflowed with hope her whole life (“a sword will pierce your own soul;” she was at the cross and  with the disciples waiting for the Holy Spirit launching the mission of the church.

 

Some resources for further study:  Two books, one by Scot McKnight, The Real Mary; and Frederica Matthewes – Green, Mary As the Early Christians Knew Herlooking at well known early writings in the church that suggest traditions beyond the biblical narrative.)

Imagine it Whole! Lament and Advent

Dump-Children8You’ll want to listen to Josh Danielson’s  sermon that closed out our Lament series. It’s called Is Restoration Possible? I’ve also been eager to share this poem below. It is by Tania Runyan and captures the tension of the “Already, but Not Yet” of our fallen world – a world that will one day be restored in the completion of Jesus’ Coming. The poem is from Runyan’s volume, Second Sky. In a unique way, she takes passages from the Apostle Paul and responds in strong and honest ways that illuminate, though with a “slant!”

God’s Folly
1 Cor. 1:25  (For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.)

A dozen children pose on a hill of garbage in Indonesia,
gap-toothed little girls in sundresses linking arms in the front,
boys with hair in their eyes waving peace fingers in the back.
It’s hard to accept their smiling in the sludge midway
through a twelve-hour shift picking for cans and cardboard.
We want the smudged faces, the flies swarming around crying mouths.
We want to save them from the feces and gristle steaming
in the sun, the syringes and carcasses under their bare feet.
Oh, to swoop them from the bulldozers and wrap
their rat bites and rashes, to give them bowls of spaghetti
and tuck them in lavender sheets! But for now, this boy will have
none of it. A few pieces of scrap metal in his burlap sack,
he takes a moment to celebrate, kicking a rotten grapefruit
through two table legs. Goooal! His brother tags him
with blackened fingers, and they run off, their tattered shirts
flying like kite tails. Behind a truck, a little girl bounces as she pokes
through a fresh heap with a stick. She unearthed the arm of a doll
this morning — the best find in four years of scavenging.
She keeps it in her pocket and all afternoon strokes its melted
plastic fingers. As the sun goes down, she takes it out
and rests it in the crook of her arm, imagines it whole.

 

Let yourself be moved!

Advent Lessons and Carols @ Community of Jesus
Advent Lessons and Carols @ Community of Jesus

Advent ushers us into a feast for the senses that CAN lead to “spiritual ecstasy,”  (instead of  just sensory overload!)

I’ve been working through a wonderful book of poems by Luci Shaw called Scape. I came back today to this one called Ec-stasis. It’s from a Greek word from which we get the word “ecstasy” or literally being “beside oneself.”

Read the poem over more than once and let it sink in. I’m struck with how all our senses are conduits that God built in: to “move” us; to displace us from our ruts; to transform us. In Shaw’s words, we are “engineered for transformation!

from Ec-stasis

The music…
is described by the announcer as
moving, touching, powerful. As if
even as we listen, we’ll get shoved
around, displaced, our senses
turning us to another orientation.

So, maybe this is what is meant for us –
to be ready to be unsteady, unhinged,
beside ourselves, constrained by magic
to know the world new, to be
transposed, dislodged, ready for
realignment, reintegration.

Bring whatever it takes – for sight,
for hearing, touch, taste, sense
of smell, spirited imagination, any of
the ways we’re engineered
for transformation.


I hope that if you are local, you will join with us at Christ Church this Advent and Christmas. We are exploring the tensions of living where God has brought – and brings – A Light in the Darkness.

Here are the details for All Things Christmas.

Advent – A Light in the Darkness!

light_bannerIn him was life, and the life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John’s Gospel 1:5)

We do not believe in a God who is absent. We believe in a God who came as the Light so we might not remain in darkness! This Advent and Christmas at Christ Church, we will explore in sermon, in song, in our own stories, and in outreach to our neighbors… 4 life-transforming themes:

* Love amid Fear  (Nov. 30)

* Peace amid Distress  (Dec. 7)

* Joy amid Sorrow  (Dec. 14)

* Hope amid Despair  (Dec. 21)


Everyone should hear that there is a light in the midst of the darkness.
So let’s spread the Good News!

 

NOTE: A Daily email Devotional for Advent, Journey to the Manger, is available from the faculty of Gordon-Conwell seminary. You can sign up here.  They will begin Nov. 30.