Sunday, December 27, 2015

Return to Bethlehem?

Shall we return to Bethlehem
And take again the narrowed way
Descending through the dark of things
Toward that distant, alien day?

Shall we put off our modern cloth,
Our blithe superiority
The arrogance that laughs too loud
At yesterday’s antiquity?

Shall we become like kids again
Discard our adult heresy
That we were made the measurers,
And what we know is what must be?

Shall we be willing to let go
Of the braced walls of human pride
Sophistication’s coolest front
Behind which prop we cower, hide?

Shall we return? Oh let it be,
We trace our footsteps back again
To where the Lord God writhed in hay,
That busy night in Bethlehem.

Shall we in being be renewed
By learning to kneel in the dirt
Believing that this child alone
Is the lone healer of our hurt?

Can we believe? Do we believe,
Who cannot see or taste or hear
That in the darkness of that night
Did light beyond all worlds appear?

And do we know (for we can know).
The one whose birth made angels sing
Has walked our darkest human hells
And now is conqueror and King?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent is pregnancy

It begins with hope.
Life-hope joining life
Life flutters in darkness,
Little understood,
And there is waiting.

The full-bellied moon waxes
And wanes
And waxes once again.
The stars move slowly in their courses;
And the words of life are spoken.
And the weary times begin.

Hope deferred can make us sick.

The burden of the wanting
And the weightiness of time
Bear down on us.
And we cry out in our longing and our weight
And wait.

We await the child,
And bear the weight
Of the world the child must enter.
And the darkness is within.

Time stretches
Stars slow
And we enter the world of our groaning
As the world has groaned so long.
And with agony the child comes
Into our stretched worn world

And we tremble in our joy.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The King of Paradox

Memory, they say, fades as you age, but I think it is truer to say, at least for those of us who have kept our minds in working order, that what we really do is refocus; the insignificant melds into the background of our daily living, and the things that mattered most, that touched and changed our hearts, stand out in stark relief. So, as I sit (for in age there is time for sitting) I remember the Star, and the paradoxical king we found at journey’s end.

Yes, we must have been crazy, as the world measures craziness. I can understand now, why the people around us kept saying we were mad. But I have learned that there is a madness that is saner than all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and I have no regrets. Life is so much more than a careful balance sheet. I have heard that He, Himself, said that (when He grew to be a man, I mean) – that a man must lose his life in order to find it. That is truth of the highest, deepest order.

So we did it, following a star that blazed like no other star has ever blazed, and moving like no other star we know has ever moved. The Jews tell how, long ago, when they were exiles in the wilderness, they followed a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. That star was our pillar of fire, and it lent an exotic gladness to our weary, sometimes frustrating, miles.

Then we made a mistake, a mistake that came from the fact that, while we strove to understand the star, we had not striven to understand the king that it heralded. So we went to King Herod’s palace, and spoke to that greedy, paranoid, treacherous old man, who only wanted to know about our quest so that he could intervene to destroy a potential rival. I still cannot recall him without shuddering. Such a king knew nothing of the one we sought.

But then we found him, and our world turned upside down. Here was no palace, here were no insignia of power. The sheer ordinariness of it all stunned and confused us. We did what we had come to do: we brought our gifts and we offered our homage. We went through the motions, and we wondered much. So we stayed a while and we asked our questions, and we answered theirs, for it is not every day that men arrive from a far kingdom bearing princely gifts to an ordinary village. We learnt of his supernatural conception, of angels and strange prophecies, and how even the decrees of distant Caesar were woven into God’s plan. We learned that there was no inn, no guest room for them, and how they had been offered shelter with the beasts, and there she had given birth and laid the child in a manger, whilst the skies outside were bursting with the song of angels. And we wondered even more.

We returned home another way, for we were warned in a dream of Herod’s intentions, but we did not lose touch. Rome is not the only place where information can be bought. And years later, after he had grown to manhood, died, and risen again to claim his everlasting kingdom, one of his followers came here, and I learned the rest of the story, and thanked the God of Heaven that I had lived to hear it all. It is my privilege and my joy to remember, it is my privilege and my joy to look forward to meeting Him again, this time in the glory of His own kingdom. And I marvel at the King of Paradox: that He, far outranking any earthly king, needed none of their panoply or pomp, but instead was enthroned in rough-hewn wood, from the manger to the cross. And now He reigns in a glory no petty little Herod, or Caesar with all his raw power, could imagine in their wildest dreams.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

He went down

He went down into the water. It was not his first descent, or his greatest. He had already descended from heaven to earth, put off his immortality and infinity to share our finite mortal state: creator reduced to creature. And he would go down further, into unimaginable horror: darkness and death and separation and damnation. He who was everything, from whom all things take their being, would become nobody and nothing, a dehumanised thing from which men turn away their eyes. This was not that day, but it was a decisive step towards that day. For this purpose he had been born. So he went down.

He went down into the water. His cousin, who had known him for what he truly was when they were both still in the womb, hailed him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”; but in that clamorous throng, who listened, who understood? He was just another man come to hear the strange prophet who had emerged from the wilderness, one of the many in the dusty, milling, jostling crowd. He was just another man seemingly answering the call to repentance, lining up to go down into the water and be baptised.

He went down into the water. He had nothing to repent of, for he was without sin. He wore no shame, for when he took on human flesh there was no shame in being material finite. He had no shame, he had no sin, but we did. He had never walked away from God, but we have. He had never tried to build a righteousness of his own based on empty works, for he was righteousness incarnate. He had never constructed a hollow fa├žade of religious practices, for he was the one who fulfilled the law and the prophets. He had never done any of these things, but we had, and we still do, and he carried it for us, down into the water.

He went down into the water. And his cousin was shocked. This was the wrong way round. John knew who stood before him, and he knew he, a mere man, wasn’t worthy to so much as tie his shoes, let alone baptise him. But Jesus said that this was fitting, to fulfil all righteousness. John did not know what that meant, but how could he refuse the one he had been born to serve? So Jesus went down.

He went down into the water. And as he came up again. And the Spirit of God descended on him in the form of a dove, and a voice spoke to him from the thunder of heaven, saying, “This is my Son, my beloved, and I am well –pleased with him.” It was done, he was accepted to be the True Israel and the Second Adam. And so, wrapped in the Father’s love, he went down, into the desert, to face the bitter temptations of humankind, and resist them to the uttermost

.He went down so that, when he had descended to the uttermost, we might be raised with him.