Inspired by Numbers 6:24-26, Sherry Roscoe offers this poem, “After Weeks of Snow, Rain. & Ice.” This is Day 24 of Lent.
On Christmas Eve, we light the Christ candle signifying the birth of Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke
The Christmas Story
The Birth of Jesus
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
GLORY TO GOD
IN THE HIGHEST
AND ON EARTH
WHOM HE FAVORS
By Debora Buerk
Editor, Here & Now
Today is the last day of Advent, and our Advent series also concludes. On behalf of all of the writers, our executive director Mary Pandiani, and myself, thank you for following this special edition of the Here & Now blog. Look for us as we return to our once-weekly posting.
We’d love your thoughts about this grown-up Advent Calendar and the Here & Now blog. If you’d like to stay in touch with the blog, then I recommend you “follow” this blog or, with your email, receive an email from us when a blog posts.
I pray your Christmas is holy and joyous and joy-filled. May you find time today and on Christmas to pause and know that you are also part of the Christmas story. Now that’s a gift worth savoring, better than chocolate!
Look for a new post for New Year’s. Until then, Christmas blessings.
By Beth Griffith
Hitting the snooze button
Sun rising behind the peaks.
Snow falling softly
Turning back the covers
Head resting on a pillow
A Child is born
By Mary Pandiani
…Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you….
A Blessing for Loneliness
About thirty years ago, a new tradition began at Christmas time. In the Western Hemisphere, the night of the Winter Solstice, Blue Christmas becomes a time to honor the sadness that accompanies the season. On this day, we acknowledge those who no longer celebrate the Christmas season with us in person. Entering into a ritual of quietness, we light candles in remembrance. It’s a time to grieve amid celebration for the season.
This year, Blue Christmas touches close to my heart. Several deaths in the last few months have impacted me, most significantly a dear friend of thirty-two years and my mother-in-law of my late husband. I celebrate this Christmas without them, and it’s not easy to do so. While I can still enter the joy of the season, my heart is heavy with grief upon grief. This realization holds my attention nearly every day. Tears well up from deep inside.
I use the word “honor” in sadness purposefully. Sadness does not take away the joy from the season. Just as Mary and Joseph experienced joy and sorrow on their journey, from hearing from the angels, trying to find a place to stay for the night, and giving birth to baby Jesus. Holding both is a paradox. And I am reminded there is sadness and joy in the life story. I want to make a note of this reality and honor it.
The poem by John O’Donohue, A Blessing for Loneliness, invites me into what the darkness of grief and sadness offers. Ending with the “blue flower” in this blessing, he captures my imagination with mystical allure. In Romantic poetry, the blue flower symbolizes the artistic and emotional striving for the infinite. Connecting to Blue Christmas, I remember my longing for the infinite, even amid my sadness. Can I trust that what emerges, whether in the grief or the joy of the season, will be a gift from God? I find solace in knowing the pain I feel is equal to my love for those I miss. And could it be, from the darkness, I might know light?
This is the hope of the season and our lives; a light has been brought into the world. I celebrate the light while honoring the darkness. My prayer on the longest night of the year is to continue to learn what it means to trust God in whatever happens, whether sadness or joy.
By Sandy Shipman
I understand the waiting of Advent, the wanting, the waning hope. Aching for justice, mercy, and love while experiencing division, judgment, and hate. We pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” like the Jews of Mary’s time praying for the Messiah. We pray and wait for the powerful and mighty to save us. Who would have thought that God would deliver the Messiah not from the mountaintop but from inside a human? That was unexpected.
Now, we have this annual practice of the whole church waiting expectantly for Jesus to come from inside Mary during the Advent season. Candles and choirs and scripture readings. But back then, most people didn’t know the Messiah was coming so soon. They had work and oppression and Laws on their mind. They had hope for the Messiah in the same way we do. Perhaps thy kingdom come, someday, later, in the future. But today, we have work to do, battles to fight, and morality to uphold and defend.
Mary was another teenager who got pregnant before marriage. I imagine she was shunned and judged and deemed less than. Few suspected the Spirit had entered her, that Jesus was alive within her. How might the conversations, the interactions have changed if the neighbors had known that God was so near?
I recently created art with a teenage girl, an amazing artist. She was kind, inquisitive, protective, and she made me laugh. She was also a six-year veteran of the juvenile justice system. And pregnant. I imagine she is shunned, judged, and deemed less than. I can hear the neighbors discussing virtue and choices and patterns of behavior. What if we knew the Holy Spirit was living inside her? What if we believed Jesus was alive within her? Would our conversations and interactions change with God so near?
Would we travel great distances and bring the child gifts? Do we?
What if, in all our conversations and interactions, we behaved as if we believed God was alive in each of us? What if we kept the Law and loved one another?
Anyway. I understand the waiting. The wanting. The waning hope.
Let’s surprise everyone with God’s Love delivered once more from inside a human. You. Me. Thy Kingdom Come.
The Presence of Mystery
By Beth Griffith
Today, I hiked to a mountain peak that I would usually reserve for one of those Washington “bluebird days” so as not to miss the 360 degree mountain peak view. In spite of a forecast of “party sunny,” I gave in to the nudge to make the climb. Once at the top, the sun and peaks were shrouded in clouds and mist.
As the wind shifted the clouds and mist, inviting the peaks into a game of peek-a-boo, I was drawn to the Presence of Mystery. Rather than feeling disappointed that there were no stellar views, I found myself settling deep within me, knowing that behind the clouds, there was “More.” I found both comfort and excitement in this. And hope.
This strikes me as the way of God sometimes. Maybe even much of the time. Quite often, we can only see what is right in front of us, even though we know (or at least hope) that there is more to unfold.
I wonder if this is what the Magi and Shepherds felt as they looked upon the baby Jesus.
Did they sense the Presence of Mystery? Did they know deep within that there was “More” than could be seen in this baby lying in a manger? Surely, they must have. After all, they made their own long journeys to see this baby.
And then Mary, we read, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She, too, seemed to have a knowing that there was “More” to this baby in her arms than she could see.
Where do you experience the Presence of Mystery? Where are you drawn to wonder and the knowing that there is “More” than what you see at first look? Where are you being invited into that first step, knowing that there is more to unfold, hidden in the mysterious ways of God? What does this stir in you? Perhaps excitement? Or maybe fear? Or does it settle you deep within?
IF THIS IS
Photos by Beth Griffith
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, DAY 22
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
The Revised Common Lectionary
We light the fourth candle representing love on this final week of Advent.
GOD SHOWS UP
By Mary Pandiani
The Emmanuel Story
The Christmas story isn’t only about Jesus’ birth. It also involves all the other characters who make up the narrative of God’s story of Emmanuel – “God with Us.”
Zechariah, a priest for the Israelites, is one of those people. His story includes not believing God when his wife, Elizabeth, tells him after years of trying that she is pregnant with their son. As a result, he is struck mute and cannot communicate again until his son is born, and he names his son John (as in John the Baptist), the cousin of Jesus.
In Luke 1:68-79, the words of adoration and praise come from Zechariah in response to the birth of his son. Zechariah sees the faithfulness of God’s promise as a “new day is dawning” in verse 78. In the darkest places, God breaks through so that we might find ways of peace and freedom.
While I wouldn’t say I was struck mute in 2008 after a difficult decision to leave a position I enjoyed for a number of years. I did lose the voice I once had in people’s lives. I was in a dark place, searching for identity and worth, apart from the vocation that once defined me.
Eventually, I recognized God’s invitation to live into a “new day” of freedom only God provides, not other people or positions. In that place, I began to name the life God has always held for me. My Emmanuel story continues to encourage me today. I have a voice because of the God who is with me, not for any other reason.
God shows up in light and dark places of our life, whether we recognize God or not. So whatever place you might find yourself during this Advent season, know that the Emmanuel story is part of your story just as it is for me and as it was for Zechariah.
God is with you. Emmanuel.
UP IN LIGHT
Caleb, the Shepherd
By Zoanna Pearson
It was an ordinary star-filled night. Jesse, Levi, and me, Caleb, three poor shepherds, were minding our own business keeping our flock safe from wolves. We were sitting around the campfire listening to Jesse play his flute, Levi was dozing, and it was my watch. I was lulled between the music, the warm fire, and a cup of hot wine. We were wrapped in sheepskins and huddled close to the fire because the night was cold.
Suddenly, the sky became as light as day. No, that’s wrong, it was the brightest light I had ever seen; a thousand full moons would be dim in comparison. Startled, we jumped up, tripping over each other. What was happening, was the world ending? (We were later to discover that our world was beginning.)
The sky was filled with…you won’t believe this, but the sky was filled with angels. You might wonder how I knew they were angels; it’s not like I’ve seen one before.
I am telling you that these beings were bright and shimmered with gold and silver, they had wings and flowing gowns. Some played what looked like golden horns and sang, “Hallelujah, Glory to God, Praise the Majestic Creator, Gloria.”
What else could they be but angels? It was loud but joyful, like a heavenly party! Their light and voices fell on us like warm fog, and we were transfixed. Oh, how I wish you could have been there. We stood in wonder, our mouths open, holding on to each other. I confess we were scared to death.
Without taking my eyes off what I saw, I whispered to Jesse and Levi, “Do you see what I see?” They both nodded but couldn’t speak.
Then an angel stood before us and told us to go immediately into town and find a stable with a baby in a manger. The angel said that the baby was Christ, the Lord and that we had been chosen by Yahweh to be the first to see this child. Chosen! While I am telling you this, it sounds crazy and unbelievable. See the Lord? We stood dropped-jaw, I mean, who would argue with an angel?
We ran over the hills into town without a backward glance and trusting that the flock would be safe. We raced around town, checking stable after stable.
And then, near an inn, it was just as we were told. This stable was filled with a light as if all the candles in the synagog were lit, and the light fell upon us. In the manger wrapped in a soft cloth lay a baby, not just a baby, but the most beautiful, radiant child I’d ever seen. His parents called him Jesus. We didn’t know if we should close our eyes or gaze at him. The three of us fell on our knees in awe and worship.
I, Caleb, a shepherd boy,
was looking on the
the face of the Messiah!
I realized that just being in the presence of this child was changing me. I am not ashamed to say that tears ran down my face, I sobbed prayers of praise, and words I’d never spoken before left my lips. I, Caleb, a shepherd boy, was looking at the face of the Messiah! I was in the presence of the Holy One.
We wanted to stay forever, but we were concerned about the sheep. As you would imagine, all night and nights forever after, the three of us told and retold this story, each time remembering what could not be explained. We would always wonder, why us? We were three young boys, shepherds, outcasts, despised by many. We told our story to others, some believed us, and others thought we had been out in the fields too long.
As I tell this story to Ari, the scribe, I wish I could say that I went on to learn Hebrew and become a scholar and a teacher. But I knew in my heart that because I had met my Messiah, my job was to be the best shepherd I could be. I was called to tell my story that once on an ordinary, star-filled night in a field near Bethlehem, I, Caleb, a shepherd, looked at the face of Jesus and was transformed.
—Caleb, the shepherd
as told Ari Israel, the scribe
By Wendy Bryant
from the Selah Community
A breath, an opening, constant movement
lungs open, close, pause
another breath, another opening… and another, pause
astounding ministry is offered again and again
when will i consent? to bring to birth
God’s Spirit…suspended…waiting…for my “yes!”
The Annunciation is a painting widely attributed to the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, dated to c. 1472–1476. Leonardo’s earliest extant major work was completed in Florence while he was an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio. The painting was made in oil and tempera on a large poplar panel and depicts the Annunciation, a popular biblical subject in 15th-century Florence. Since 1867 it has been housed in the Uffizi in Florence, the city where it was created. Though the work has been criticized for inaccuracies in its composition, it is among the best-known portrayals of the Annunciation in Christian art. Source: Wikipedia
Editor’s Note: Annunciation, also called Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus (Luke 1:26–38). Debora Buerk, editor
By Lisa Veitenhans,
The afternoon sun fades shadows to shadows
No electricity to brighten the late day.
Collect the candles.
Strike the matches.
How feeble they look in the deepening gloom!
Moment by moment the shadows reach their depth and disappear
Branches against the sky no longer seen.
Back toward the house,
Alive in the darkness.
With welcoming warmth,
Long leaps of light dance against the walls.
What could not be seen in half-light
Came alive in the night.
After the gloomy shadows,
In the pure darkness—
Light! Leaping about laughing.
By Beth Griffith
I recently spent two nights alone on a solo backpacking trip. I camped above 6,000 feet and was more than 10 miles from the trailhead. I was the only person out there for more than 24 hours. I have often prided myself in my ability to sit in silence and solitude. And I even thought I did well with stillness. These first 24 hours humbled me with new awareness as I began to notice that stillness was hard in the face of such intense quiet and solitude. This was a quiet and solitude unlike any I’d experienced before. It was a loud silence, almost deafening. I longed to sit still and relax into it, and yet I found myself wandering restlessly, both physically and mentally. My entire being wanted to embrace each moment while simultaneously wanting to be anywhere but there as I wrestled with the discomfort that took me away from Presence.
I wrote this in the dark hours of that first night:
Leaves me wondering
Is there something out there?
…and vast (the landscape is enormous,
expansive, high, wide, deep)
Waiting to be startled
Is this how it is with God?
This silence feels alive
I can’t see anything
I can’t hear anything
A million stars, Light
Light years away
And also right here
God, is this you?
Are you coming?
Are you already here?
Now, as I sit down and consider this Advent season, I am drawn back to this experience and what I wrote that night. I find myself back in touch with the restlessness. What does it mean to “wait” for the birth of Jesus? What pulls me—us—out of waiting in stillness and into restless wandering and busyness? What is it that I—you—don’t want to see reflected if we still ourselves long enough for the water to settle and clear and show us a reflection of ourselves? What if I don’t like what I am shown? What if I am invited to change or grow? Or what if it is a beauty that feels vulnerable and exposed? What if we see Jesus reflected? What if we are embraced and quieted by Love? Even this is sometimes terrifying.
Amid life’s busyness—and all of its good and hard things—I want to rediscover this silence and find a stillness that becomes my way of being in the world, with others, reflecting Love. A Love that finds its way through any obstacle and is born despite any darkness that tries to keep it away.
Featured photo by Andrew Larsen Photography
By Kathleen Heppell
As men who study the heavens, believing they foretell what will happen on earth, they ask what does the appearance of this Star mean?
Close to journey’s end the Star grows brighter… larger… brilliant in the cloudless night sky. Hot sun rests low on the horizon. We break camp. Efficient. Deliberate. Though the outsider might believe all is chaos.
Ready, our anticipation growing, we look up to the vastness of the sky filled with stars. We gasp as one. Where is the Star? Despite the multitude of stars, the Star we’ve studied, and followed for these many months is gone!
How can this be? The Star we’ve studied is gone!
How can this be? It has been close to two years since we first saw this new brilliant Star in the western sky, larger than any planet. As men who study the heavens, believing they foretell what will happen on earth, we asked what does the appearance of this Star mean?
Searching wisdom literature of many countries, we found in Jewish writings Daniel’s prophecy. This captive from the tribe of Judah, honored by our Babylonian ancestors, prophesied the coming of Messiah.
We, too, believe…
We, too, believe in a Messiah coming to bring the end of time as we know it. Studying these writings, we understand this Star announces the birth of the Jewish Messiah. He will change the world.
Our hearts quicken with awe and excitement. We must do whatever is necessary to see this Jewish King and Messiah. We will follow the Star to find him to worship and bring gifts to honor him.
We watch for bandits. Dressed as any traveler, nothing indicates our status.
It took much to prepare for this journey: camels to carry food, water, tents, and many men to keep us safe. They lead the animals, set up and take down camp. Traveling in the cooler air of darkness to see the Star, we watch for bandits. Dressed as any traveler, nothing indicates our status or gifts to be given to the Jewish King.
Now, with no Star visible we are confused, discouraged. We have come too far to give up. Entering Jerusalem, we ask the men we pass, Do you know where the King of the Jews has been born? Their faces show shock, fear, and heads turning to see who might have heard our question. No words spoken, heads move from side to side. They almost run from us.
Certainly, the King must have been born here.
We come to the palace. Certainly the King must have been born here. When we ask the guard, he orders us to enter through the gate. Long is the wait before we meet King Herod. We explain our quest. Treated with great respect, food is set before us. We wait again as he calls for priests and religious leaders.
The Messiah’s birthplace is Bethlehem.
Finally, in a private room, we learn the Jewish King, Messiah’s birthplace, is Bethlehem. So close! Another night’s journey! King Herod tells us to return and report where the King resides expressing his desire to worship. His face shows no joy. How curious King Herod and the people we met did not know of his birth. Profusely we thank the King for his hospitality and direction.
We depart to the out skirts of Jerusalem to camp, rest, sleep, as we wait with excitement. Tomorrow we will meet this new King! Taking down the camp at sunset, we await the darkness praying for the star’s appearance to locate the exact place in Bethlehem. There… The Star… Such beauty… Dawn’s edges peak over the eastern horizon. Leaving all but a few to set up camp, we walk to a simple home, the star directly overhead.
Holding our breath, we enter a room dimly lit.
Servants take our gifts from sacks, handing them to us. We are at the door. It is open. Holding our breath. Hard to believe we have reached our destination. We enter into a room dimly lit. There is a young woman dressed in peasant clothes, dark hair, questioning eyes, and no fear of us: strangers entering her home. A child, not yet two, sits quietly on her lap, her son with the same dark hair and eyes.
Our only thought to bow down. Worship pours from our hearts, out of mouths to the Almighty God. After a pause of reverent silence, we explain how we have come to her door: the Star, the search leading to Daniel’s prophecy, our long journey, and priests at Jerusalem’s palace telling us of Bethlehem.
Our hearts burst with joy, tears of gratitude flow down our cheeks.
We present our gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. This young boy toddles to us smiles, touches us, curious… We smile, reach out to him, our hearts bursting with joy, tears of gratitude flow down our cheeks.
We depart before the village awakes. Returning quickly to our camp, we wonder if sleep will come. Awakening, we share what we have dreamed. We all had the same dream! We are not to return to Jerusalem or Herod. Departing as quickly as possible, we take another route not equipped to face battle with palace guards, be taken captive, or required to tell Herod where the child lives. Boundless joy in our hearts mingles with foreboding. Herod intends evil.
Boundless joy in our hearts mingles with foreboding.
Long will be our journey home. Our hearts lightened and filled with unshakeable hope. God, who we have known as Mystery, has spent thousands of years preparing for this day and the days to come. We will wait and watch filled with awe and reverence; he will bring his plan to fruition for the Jewish people and the world!