Christmas and I have a few checkers in our past… just ask the Puritans… on both counts. And, in all honesty, it’s not the date Jesus was born. So, for most of my life, I’ve observed the day as a celebration of union around our common life-light and the only right object of adoration. Unity? A common belief and will? Yessir… in, through, and by Jesus as Lone Lord. ‘Word up,’ let us ‘blaze out of the darkness as the darkness can’t put us out!’
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 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.
John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”
We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.
Today the Lord is born, the life and salvation of mankind; today a reconciliation is made of Divinity to humanity, and of humanity to Divinity; today all creation has leapt for joy; those above sent toward those below; and those below towards those above; today occurred the death of darkness and the life of humanity; today a way was made toward God for man and a way for God into the soul. –St. Macarius the Great
Jesus Christ, radiant center of glory, image of our God, the invisible Father, revealer of His eternal designs, prince of peace; Father of the world to come. For our sake he took the likeness of a slave, becoming flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for our sake, wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger adored by the shepherds and hymned by the angelic powers, who sang: Glory to God in the heavens and on earth peace and good to men. Make us worthy, Lord, to celebrate and to conclude in peace the feast which magnifies the rising of Thy light, by avoiding empty words, working with justice, fleeing from the passions, and raising up the spirit above earthly goods. Bless Thy Church, formed long ago to be united with Thou through Thy life-giving blood. Come to the aid of Thy faithful shepherds, of the priests and the teachers of the Gospel. Bless Thy faithful whose only hope is in Thy mercy; Christian souls, the sick, those who are tormented in spirit, and those who have asked us to pray for them. Have pity, in Thy infinite clemency, and preserve us in fitness to receive the future, endless, good things. We celebrate Thy glorious Nativity with the Father who sent thee for our redemption, with the life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and through all ages. Amen –an ancient Syriac liturgy
He comes not as a fierce man of war, threatening all things living with death, but as a newly born babe, bringing the hope of rebirth and life into the entire realm of death; He comes–but the land of destruction does not meet, does not embrace, does not praise, does not even see its Saviour, and does not hear the Word of God keeping silence in a manger. Virtually in vain does the glory which Jesus Christ had with God the Father before the world was on the lips of the angels, follow Him descending into the world and pursuing Him, attain even unto the earth.-Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow
After the requisite fear and trembling, Mary may have been young, frightened, and lacking in knowledge but she was not blind, foolish, or proud. She knew just what to pray and to do… Yes, carrying a child to term and giving birth is a great work that no man will ever understand. I praise her labor of love in pleasing a God she couldn’t yet fully understand.
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
I am not sure how many of scriptures she knew, but a few folks who make a living off insightful speculation make an educated guess that she was reciting a bit of Hannah’s song because she knew how that response turned out, the proper gift response. She took great comfort in some old family folklore. If only the men folk would have responded as well…
I’m bursting with God-news!
I’m walking on air.
I’m laughing at my rivals.
I’m dancing my salvation. Nothing and no one is holy like God,
no rock mountain like our God.
Don’t dare talk pretentiously—
not a word of boasting, ever!
For God knows what’s going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens.
The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces,
while the weak are infused with fresh strength.
The well-fed are out begging in the streets for crusts,
while the hungry are getting second helpings.
The barren woman has a houseful of children,
while the mother of many is bereft. God brings death and God brings life,
brings down to the grave and raises up.
God brings poverty and God brings wealth;
he lowers, he also lifts up.
He puts poor people on their feet again;
he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—
a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are God’s;
he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!
God’s enemies will be blasted out of the sky,
crashed in a heap and burned.
God will set things right all over the earth,
he’ll give strength to his king,
he’ll set his anointed on top of the world!
Two witnesses who spoke and the Spirit felt either Etta James’ “At Last” or the euphoric phrase quoth by the theologian, Michael Singletary, “Hey baby… we’re gonna be here all day baby… I like that kinda party baby… bring it baby.” Merry Christmas!
Take your pick of gifts to the Spirit, romantic or realistic, light or flame, shine or blaze, candle or star… In the same way that a single wink has a thousand possible meanings, so too there are many, many, many expressions for the right response to God’s Word (“Thy will be done”), which all lead to the same unbridled enthusiasm and effort by his Spirit.
However you chose to express your response to God’s gift, I encourage all to ask the Spirit to remake your heart like their’s. Jesus’ heart is the goal but he’s God too. Mary’s heart, like Hannah’s, was all human, like ours and their’s didn’t fall too short of his own. When he does transform we people, glorious things occur through our labors, life, now and forever in every direction. And another, personal miracle happens in the interim, while God remains the same, our perspective, our understanding of him above all things, grows. This growth is vital for every believer, not just now, but forever. Jesus himself makes it clear that not all estates are the same in eternity. I don’t know about you, but I’d at least like to be able to visit neighborhoods like Mary’s and Hannah’s on Christmases in eternity, even if my assignment keeps me poking the devil with a stick or cleaning up gum in the parking lot above.
For me, maybe just for me, I’ve never been hungry, innocent, or the least in the world. By my teens, I was stuffed, wicked, and affluent to conviction. So I tried to die a martyr’s death. Vain glories were I, and making it to my 30’s was an unwelcome shock. Since then, I try and do whatever, however my Lord commands or askes to the best of my abilities. Many are called to die for His cause, but I haven’t yet. In the interim, I was taught that I didn’t have to risk my life to help captives survive, bring medicine to remote peoples, or comfort the stigmatized in an alien world just like Jesus does. Some others are lucky to get those assignments now, while I do very little. But I learned that I still might spiffy-up things about my poor estate.
I might become more like Jesus, a wiser steward in all things that belong to God. I can reach across the equation to resolve, in light, if only for a moment, some of the inequity, indignity, and suffering in this world that the dark powers have wrought. In time, I hope that I may do more. But this year, all He asked me to do (about the time this posts on Christmas) is pack gift boxes for a few hours, with some friends, for 3rd parties that the coming of God always lifts up, like Mary and Hannah said. That’s my gift. That’s it, and then my fat keister will support all the work my wife does for everybody. Before that we’ll get cozy, watch some sappy Hallmark movies (all with the same plot), and I’ll thank God that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my life today. Maybe I am not blazing today, but my heart is full, so that my soul might shine a little more, if need be. And need always be. We hope you can too.
Melchizadek anticipated Him, he the vicar was watching to see priesthood’s Lord Whose hyssop cleanses creation… Aaron anticipated Him, he who saw that if his staff swallowed reptiles, His cross would swallow the Reptile that swallowed Adam and Eve. Moses saw the fixed serpent that healed the stings of basilisks, and he anticipated he would see the Healer of the first Serpent’s wound. Moses saw that he alone received the brightness of God, and he anticipated the One to come – by His teaching, the Multiplier of the godlike. –St. Ephrem the Syria
He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter at the inn, that He may for us prepare many mansions in the house of His heavenly Father … He was born, not in the house of His parents, but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the Incarnation He is become the Way, by which He guides us to our home. He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter at the inn, that He may for us prepare many mansions in the house of His heavenly Father …. He was born, not in the house of His parents, but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the Incarnation He is become the Way, by which He guides us to our home.-Venerable Bede
He became a servant on earth; He was Lord on high. Inheritor of the height and depth, Who became a stranger. But the One Who was judged wrongly will judge in truth, and He in Whose face they spat, breathed the spirit into the face. He Who held a weak reed was the scepter for the world that grows old and leans on Him. He Who stood [and] served His servants, sitting, will be worshipped. He Whom the Scribes scorned — the Seraphim sang “holy” before Him. –St. Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity
Well Jesus isn’t a baby anymore in our timeline. No, at this point in the Story he’s something else, and he’s looking down to us intently from North to South. The last time I descended in Spirit and soul from speaking with our Father below the crystal sea to the middle ground where Angel City is blowing and going, Jesus, not Mel, walked me from the meeting place across the living sands to the edge. I was tense because I was supposed to be keeping somethings secret. So while I was all stressed out, he smiled and told me to look down and I saw the earth clothed in souls like twinkling stars. Some were strong and bright, others flickered but wanted to be bright, while still others were dark voids that actually drew in light but reflected nothing. It was all-in-one like a dimmer sky, breathing and moving about the world. Then I saw something I’ve never see before. Jesus began to light up brighter and brighter until even my soul glowed more in His aurorean field. And the souls below, on earth, grew in brilliant refection of Jesus’ Light too, while the stars about us sang louder, and space groaned. But I kept looking at him, even though he told me to look down repeatedly. I never want to leave, but that time it was really hard to even look away.
Now, I don’t know what all that means. Perhaps it isn’t for me to say. It has taken months to unpack it for words. But I remember how it made me feel. I always remember how He makes me feel. Since I read Dante in high school the first time, I always wondered how it felt when, from above, Virgil showed him the mess that lie below, the need and pain in the fiery chaos. So, I thanked my spotless and full-grown Lord of Glory for the gift of that feeling, as tense and intense as it was. As now, I know why Dante wrote that ‘the only just answer comes in the doing of the right deed’ and ‘grim realities await those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’ Some of my people put it more simply, ‘the greatest liberty a person can know is doing the right thing, not because they are told to, but because they want to.’ I can’t do much but I want to do anything more. I can want that because great saints like Hannah and Mary have taught me how and what to want, to be a soul free and blessed in Reality, not in a disintergrating world view. We hope you are willing to receive and respond to that gift honestly as well, the gift of Jesus for liberating and blessed service to others, from our Father, through Christ Jesus. Joy and peace to all this Christmas tide!
Jesus’ Prayer for His Followers
Jesus said these things. Then, lowering his eyes in prayer, he said: “Father, it’s time.
Display the bright splendor of your Son
So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
You put him in charge of everything human
So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
I glorified you on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What you assigned me to do.
And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
The very splendor I had in your presence
Before there was a world. I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.”
Jesus prayed this in summation to what he told us before:
The Spirit of Truth
“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you. The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself intimately to him… Because a loveless world is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood! Not loving me means not keeping my words. The message you are hearing isn’t mine. It’s the message of the Father who sent me. I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make all things known to you. He will remind you of all things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life. I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. I’ll not be talking with you much more like this because the chief of this godless world is about to attack. But don’t worry—he has nothing on me, no claim on me. But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail. Arise, let’s go from here.”
(sunrise 17.2.21 for my favorite, the season of soul-burnishing, believers’ bootcamp, or Lent)