Advent, the Nativity, and Forgetting Christ

In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.

So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).

For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.

Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world.  I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?

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In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear.  And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.

We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.

Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night. download

It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.

Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.

Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. images These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.

That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty.  But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.

The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.

Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.

We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world.  And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.

And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.

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If You Can Do Anything

They were getting worse.

Staring at the broken furniture next to him, he wondered how long this one would last. The blood was already smeared on the floor from his son’s head, but he knew he had to wait until this was finished before he could try to patch the wound.

The shaking and moaning was frightening his wife and other children, he knew, but what could he do about it? Last time he tried to hold the boy down, he’d nearly broken his arm.

So he waited. And he hoped that he wasn’t disturbing his neighbors again. The shouts and tears were hard enough without everyone else involved. The questions tomorrow would be embarrassing for him, but his wife would cry herself to sleep with hidden shame tonight.

And he was still shaking. Oh, God! How long would this one last?


Each one of us is burdened with hidden shames, hidden pains, and hidden worries. Some of them are brought on by our own sins, by our own weaknesses. Others are beyond our control.

I have often tried, fruitlessly, to hide my pains, my sorrows, my brokenness  from those around me. My kids think the pain is normal, my wife, bless her, has endured more than any woman should have to. And I try to hide it from my friends and family, playing off my falls as if I’m being silly, and just need to sit down. I try to hide the panic attacks, and play them off as mild distractions. My kids know better, they’ve come to watch the grown man huddled in the corner, weeping like a child, with only mild interest, knowing that the best they can do is wait it out. I try to pretend that my pain is just “discomfort.” My 8 year old has come to gently ask “do you want me to get your cane, or your medicine?” And my 4 year old, “are you happy now, dad?” while worry wells up in his eyes.

What are your hidden pains? What do you fear the world will see?


He heard them before he saw them. His son was walking with him, no sign of the previous night’s fit but the healing cut on his head. These men always drew a crowd now. He knew why: they had made a lot of friends, and probably more enemies.

When the drew close enough, he meant to shout out to them, to offer payment for them to help, of even beg if he must. He didn’t have any pride left, what was it to beg?

But when they came near, his son looked dead. Here he stood, as calm as a summer breeze, but his eyes were gone. This wasn’t his son anymore. He knew this look. It was too soon! They weren’t inside, everyone would see! There would be no secrets remaining! “Please, wait,” he  thought to himself. “Please, not here!” And then his son fell.

The shouts of startled fear and derision parted the crowd like Moses and the Red Sea. As the foam fell from his son’s lips, the throng surrounded him: there was no escape now!


Sooner or later, all things come to light. Every secret, every shame, will be known as if it was shouted from the rooftops. Are you prepared for that moment? Most of us aren’t. For years, I’ve tried to behave normally, but it only takes one breakdown in public for everyone to look at you differently, to doubt you, to doubt the reality that you’ve come to accept.


Now he found himself surrounded by the judgmental sea of people, drowning in his shame. His son, oblivious to the stares of those around, continued to convulse. Tears in his eyes, the broken man begged the men: “please, can’t you see what it does to him? Drive out the devil that is doing this to my son! I know you can, I’ve seen you heal others!”

Confidently, the men approached his thrashing son. As they did, the attack began to subside. It was almost as if whatever demon had seized him for so many years, was preparing to leave! What joy! What hope! His son would be whole again!

As they placed their hands on him, their enemies in the crowd started to shout: he couldn’t hear what the healers were saying over the shouts, but he had no doubt in his mind that they would heal him.

For a moment, it looked like they had! The foam stopped dribbling from his mouth, and his body relaxed: and then as the angry men around him began to quiet, the boy started shaking harder then ever! His nose began to bleed, and his bowels released.

In terror, the devastated father ran to his son, trying to stop the terrible trembling that looked like they would kill his son. He ignored the jeering of the crowd, both to him, and to the healers. It took what felt like an eternity,  but the attack finally stopped. His son was unconscious, and trembling now, he cradled the head of his oldest son, weeping tears of despair onto his son’s neck.


Healing can be hard. For those who have had their spirits and minds broken by some great and terrible event, the healing can feel like it never comes.

Sometimes we place our trust in others, expecting that they can help carry, or even relive us of our burdens completely.

And if they fail, the hurt to our soul can be worse than if they had never tried to begin with. The darkness is greatest at these times. The burdens the heaviest. When hope is gone, we begin to doubt even the faith that we cherish.


He didn’t know how long the men had argued with their critics. He didn’t know how long his son had lain there. If it weren’t for the weak rising and falling of his chest, he would be sure the boy had died. He wished they would leave him, allow him to maintain some dignity. But they wouldn’t.

And then, after a few hushed shouts, the crowd went silent.

“What were you arguing with them about?” He heard the Man ask the critics. But no one answered.

With tears still on his cheeks, his eyes red, and his voice weak and horse, he spoke in reply: “Teacher,” he addressed the man, “I brought you my son who is possessed by a spirit that robs him of his speech.” His voice broke, but through the sob, he continued “whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.” He showed the Man his son, as if he couldn’t see for himself. “He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid.” Looking at the healers, he continued, “I asked your followers to drive out the spirit…” his voice broke again, “but they could not!” And the tears began in earnest again.

Looking to the crowd, and with… was it despair of his own? Anger? He couldn’t tell, but the  Teacher spoke. “You unbelieving generation'” that part was almost under his breath. His followers cowered in shame, and the opposing leaders squared their shoulders, defiant to his challenge. “How long will I stay with you? How long will I put up with you?”

And looking at the the father, the Man said “bring the boy to me.”

Gently, the weeping father picked up his unconscious son, and carried him to the Teacher.

Before he even got to the teacher, the boy started shaking again. So severely that his father  lost his grip. The boy fell to the ground, shaking, and rolling. The foam started again.

“How long has he been like this?” The teacher asked

“Since he was a child,” the father replied, looking around to see who had heard him admit it.


It is in these moments of darkest despair that we must turn ourselves again to the Teacher. We must muster what strength and faith remains and turn to He who bore our burdens.


With almost a whisper, he continued, “it has often tried to throw him into the fire, or into the water, to destroy him.”

The tears came again, unbidden. He looked to the Teacher and, summoning what faith for healing he could, he begged, “if you can do anything,” the bitterness returned now, and he wondered why he was even bothering to ask, “take pity on us, and help us!”


Sometimes, in our moment of despair, we fail to notice those around us who despair, who toil, who are working with us. It is hard to see those who have made our struggles their own.


The Teacher spoke now, his tone lovingly chastising now, “if you can just believe.” He said to the father as then to the crowd around, “anything is possible to one who believes.”

“Lord!” The man exclaimed, “oh, I believe!” Hadn’t he brought his son here to be healed? Hadn’t he loved his trust in the healers? But in that moment, the introspective and humble father realized his own doubt; “help me overcome my disbelief.”


In these dark times, when we have relied on the faith we once had, it is easy to forget to do the thinks we need to do in order to grow faith. Faith is either growing, or diminishing, it never remains stagnant. In your moments of darkness, have you ever stopped growing your faith? Do you have the gift of introspection enough to see the strength of your testimony?

The story could almost end here, why? Because the miracle that follows is less important than the faith that predicated it. While the Teacher will always lift our burdens, it isn’t always on our timetable. It isn’t always even in this lifetime. While all things are possible to those who believe, the belief must be in God, and in his will; not our own.


After looking around, the Teacher spoke: “you deaf and mute spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.”

There was fierceness in the Teacher’s voice that the man had never heard before.

And his son began to retch. A horrible gurgling sound burst from his son’s lips. Then the boy was still and pale.

The crowd began to whisper, quietly at first, then louder, “he’s dead. He killed him.”

And the Teacher reached out, taking the boy’s hand, and helped him to his feet. The color was coming back to him now.

And the boy smiled.

Reconciliation, Reparations, and Seeing Each Other as People Again

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

-Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inagrial Address
As a graybeard millennial, I don’t have the anecdotal experience to back up the following claim, but I still think it’s accurate:

This is the most divisive campaign in living memory!

Not only is right fighting left, republican against democrat, but we have brother fighting g brother: the split of the conservative right is nearly complete. A similar, though not as extensive, split can be found in the liberal left.

There are proTrumpers and NeverTrumpers, PrincipleOverParty and AnyoneButHer, ImWithHer and FeelTheBurn. Regardless of how you vote, the next week will bring a close to the campaign season.

But can it bring a close to the divide in our Republic?  

The country has seen great division before, whether it be the claims of a hermaphroditic claims against Adams or the warning that ‘your young daughters will all be raped’ against Jefferson; be it the blue coats or the grey coats; we’ve seen division before.

So the question, the call for debate: Can we heal as a nation? If not, why not? If so, how do we bring this healing wind about?

What action do we, as a people, do to restore unity and peace to our country?
Does the method change depending on who next week’s winner is? Why? How?