Wilderness ways

God’s Word comes today
Through brave voices speaking
In hard places
Wilderness people
Ginkgo people

Lectionary readings for the second week in Advent feature Luke’s telling of the story of John the Baptist. These reflections for our times emerged from that ancient story:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’          Luke 3:1-2

God’s Word came
To the wilderness.
Through an unfamiliar voice
In an uncertain place.
God’s Word came
To the wilderness.

Not to Emperor Tiberius
Or Pontius Pilate
Or Herod
Or regional rulers
Or even priests—
God’s Word came
To an unknown wilderness wanderer
A path-clearer and way-maker
A rabble-rousing outsider.

God’s Word came
To the wilderness.
Through an unfamiliar voice
In an uncertain place.
God’s Word came
To the wilderness.

God’s Word comes today
Through brave voices speaking
In hard places
Wilderness people
Ginkgo people

God’s Word comes today
To our wilderness places
Hopes and fears of all the years
Meeting in us;
Through our voices.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

A Prayer for people who seek hope amid tumultuous fears:

God of Advent Longings,

Prophet bards of old foretold it—
Give us courage
to embody the promise.
Give us courage
to journey into wilderness places,
Believing that in the most unexpected
Faces and voices—
The hopes and fears of all our years
Meet—learn to dance—together
Weave a cradle to birth again
Your ancient-new song of life and love.  Amen.

The hopes and fears of all the years. . .

Old Salem Bridge, by Sheila G. Hunter

Advent is here. We are called by Advent liturgies to watch. Wait. Hope.

And yet—“the world is too much with us” (Wordsworth)—as our earth’s most vulnerable ones weep at the border…from tear gas. As too many of God’s Beloved Community fall asleep at night unsafe or uncertain even about surviving another day.

Advent is here, and what I think I fear most about the season within myself is waking up on that first Sunday in Advent to discover that I’ve stopped believing. Faltered at hoping. Lost my nerve for standing strong in faith against what I know is unjust in our world. I fear that fear is chasing away my confidence in hope. 

So an ancient carol calls to me—maybe to many of us—across the years and from a war torn West Bank city: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee…

 

hope journeys from bethlehem by starlight
night creatures singing what they’ve heard

a woman wails then weeps then coos
her own heart birthed and beat-
beating in a straw-lined cradle

the baby is here

fear crouches at the border watching surveillance spotlights
dip and weave wind bruising itself on unmusical concertina wire

a woman wails then runs choking smoke licking at her feet
her own heart cradled
in a patch of tear-soaked blanket

the baby is here

“so we finally meet” hope reaches out a hand 
fear looks up “i am lonely and the hour is late”

a child cries forsaken into the night “i want to go home”
fear and hope be—hold each other and an almost-
forgotten lullaby falls from their lips 

the baby is here



The hopes and fears of all the years meet wherever we are most vulnerable. At borders. In killing streets. In our own hearts. In the manger. Perhaps Advent—and whatever possibilities for healing and renewal live within us—begins at these meeting places. . .

 

 

 

 

 

Cedars in Snowy Places

Winter is coming. But even in winter-dead forests, cedars are green forever. Not boisterous or extravagant. Steady. Green in every season.

Advent Reflections for Winter Solstice

Winter
Solstice.
Gyroscopic dance choreographed by Earth’s axial tilt.
Sun stand still
Longest night,
shortest day
Yule
Midwinter
The land is vulnerable now,
sometimes covered by snowflakes
that have let go of something
somewhere
up there
and pirouetted down
down,
down
from the heavens
to enchant rooftops
and leaning-over farm fences
and autumn-tarnished grass.
And while tulip bulbs repose
in unseen silence
beneath the austere earth,
cedars in snowy places
fragrance the cold air
with emerald stillness
and praise the December moonlight.

Winter is coming. Soon, cold will blow up on our doorsteps and clamor to get in through our windows. Winter is coming. But even in winter-dead forests, cedars are green forever. Even when all other creation colors hibernate. Cedars remain. Not boisterous or extravagant. Steady. Green in every season.

On this longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I am grateful for cedars in life’s winter place. Cedars perfume the air with God’s evergreen promises during a Christmas season when so many hearts are broken and so much about our world causes spirits to ache. Thanks be to God for people who are “home” to us in every season, for places that cultivate our best selves, and for Gospel promises with deep roots that even in wintry times know how to live on.

**Note: Winter Solstice happens in the Northern Hemisphere in late December (11:48 p.m. ET, 10:48 p.m. CT, 9:48 p.m. MT and 8:48 p.m. PT on December 21 and on December 22 in other places in the Northern Hemisphere).

Photograph, “Cedars in Snowy Places,” by Sheila G. Hunter, all rights reserved.

Advent 1: Longing

Waxing Eloquent

In my church this Sunday, we will begin the Advent season by hearing biblical texts crafted by writers who longed for God’s presence. The Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent this year, Luke 21:25-36, speaks of “distress among the nations.” Jeremiah imagines justice, righteousness, and safety in hurting lands (33:14-16). These texts speak to us across the years with great urgency. Almost daily in my newsfeed, I read of distress among nations and peoples, and along with Jeremiah I imagine—hope for—justice and safety for people whose fearful eyes search the skies not for stars but for bombs. So the season of Advent begins–with too many people across the globe seeking refuge from the symbolic and literal “roaring of sea and waves” (Lk. 21:25). Advent begins.

Bright flames dance in the distance
somewhere on down the path.
We are eager for the light,
for toes warmed up
by a friendly fire
after walking
too many wintry miles.

But for now, one candle only,
an illuminating snippet
to see us through
until the spark catches and the fire grows.

God of First Light,
Stir in us a yearning
to hear with gentle ears
the stories of others
who stumble with us
upon this just-lit Advent fire.

Send to us for these dim days
flashes of insight.
Light a new torch
to animate humanity’s treacherous search
for this thing we call truth.

Keep us from harboring
evidence of things not seen
in the limited glow of a single flame.
Arouse longing for wisdom and beauty
that await recognition
beyond the boundaries of what we can see
in the partial light of our mind’s eye.

If anything about this old world is to end in fire,
let it be our hatred and fear
that are burned away in the weeks ahead
as Advent’s blaze sparks and intensifies,
magnifies
provokes and inflames
peace on earth,
goodwill to all people.

 

 

Magnificat: Christmas Eve Thoughts

magnificat_

Snow falls. Gently. Lights twinkle in houses festive with welcoming wreathes. Santa and his eight tiny reindeer land on a snow-covered roof. Enchanted. Perfect. Bah Humbug!

Those were Robin’s words as she opened the Christmas gift to discover–the snow globe. A holiday scene trapped in a watery sphere. What does a 50 year old woman do with a snow globe? You look at it, and then what? She had no room for one more thing to look at. Her house is too full. Her life too complicated. Her time too cluttered with grown-up worries…

But don’t we sometimes long for a snow globe Christmas? Smiling people on festive streets. Enough snow to cover up imperfections—not so much to make streets unsafe. A lovely Christmas contained in a predictable scene. Oh, the extremes we go to create that idyllic Christmas, and what disappointments do befall us…

We are also perhaps too quick to see the Nativity story as snow globe scenes. Shepherds on a hillside. Joseph in an uncluttered carpentry shop working with well-maintained tools. A baby born in a barn touched by the glow of the brightest star in the heavens. But what about this scene in Luke 1? Mary. Young. Poor. Unmarried. Luke 1? This is no snow globe scene. Things get shook up, but by a message that sends Mary’s life into disarray and unsettles even more an already uncertain future. Mary says “yes” to God’s call but then flees to the mountains. To Elizabeth. And there in the safe space of friendship—can we see her? It is as if Mary holds up a snow globe and in the light of community glimpses God’s vision for the world. A vision that is being birthed in her. A song rises up within her: “My soul magnifies the Lord. God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things.” In me? Through me?

To magnify. In Greek: “to enlarge.” How does a human soul magnify God? In ancient Rome, people used a bowl of water to magnify things. A bowl of water. A snow globe’s watery sphere. Mary’s soul, her life, magnifying a truth about God. And looking through her soul, we see a radical Christmas scene. God’s vision. Where justice and grace replace fear and violence.

Many have imagined a different kind of world—Hallmark, the creator of Rudolph and other Christmas stories, songwriters. But Mary? Mary’s soul magnifies not a snow globe hope for a momentary, seasonal change of hearts and minds. Mary’s soul magnifies a radical vision: God birthing hope in to human life—God breaking through the glassy domes we put around who and what we think God and humanity are—breaking through cynicism and pain—to ignite justice and hope.

Robin decides to donate the snow globe every year. But she never does. Maybe the child inside of her won’t let her give up her hope for a joyful Christmas scene where all is right with the world. We want to believe too. We pray. Protest. March. Cry out to God. We long for a world where hope replaces despair. Where children don’t fear violence or hunger. Robin takes a last look at the snow globe. She will really donate it this year. She shakes it. Watches silver snow fall on Santa and the reindeer. She loved the magic of it all when she was a child. She believed something about it was true. But then she grew up.

Ready to put the globe in its box and take it to the donation center, Robin notices on its side a key she has never seen before. Music too? Probably “Here Comes Santa Claus” or another Santa song. Notes tinkle out. “Away in a Manger.” Oh my. Then something stirs within her. An ancient hope, perhaps? Lost childhood wonder? Or the unexpected belief that what God promises in these Advent stories is real. Maybe the peculiar snow globe scene and music combination isn’t as crazy as it seems. After all, God didn’t come to visit an idyllic scene. God came to earth. God came to the mixed up mess that is human living. God comes to turn our lives upside down, to transform, redeem, heal, restore. Robin put the snow globe on her windowsill and looked through it out into her neighborhood. Out there—in the ordinariness and brokenness of human lives—God comes. The scene is not idyllic. We have much yet to do to see justice done in our world. But the promise is real. God works through you and me to bring hope. What vision does the world see through our lives?

“My soul magnifies the Lord. The lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled with good things. From generation to generation.” Oh God, may your song live in us today.