Somewhere in Our Silent Night

God is waiting to come home, home to our lives.

Note: I wrote the following for my church’s Advent choir and music Sunday. One of the pieces is titled “Somewhere in Your Silent Night,” arranged by Joseph M. Martin. That song inspired much of what I wrote and threaded through the music Sunday. Photo is by Sheila G. Hunter.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found
favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and
you will name him Jesus.”

It’s right there in Luke.
Mary says “yes” to God’s call,
and then she flees to the mountains.
To Elizabeth.
To home.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill
country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Listen. Do you hear the sounds? 
People in the mountain house,
that house whose porch light we have been following?
That house where Mary goes to find Elizabeth?
People in the mountain house are laughing.
Singing.

Yes, it could happen. She could birth a child.
At home with Elizabeth.
Her friend.
Her kindred.
At home with Elizabeth, Mary could imagine it.
And later, when she looked out upon a silent night,
she would remember it.
Birthing a dream.
A promise.
A hope.

The mountain house surprises weary eyes.
Mary and Elizabeth dance a wild dream of justice and grace
while the porch light flickers–
beckons
invites us to remember
turn and return
imagine in hope–

I guess that’s what Elizabeth and Mary talked about in the mountain house.

The Creating One–
Breaking through our resolve
Our logic
our best-laid plans.
The Unexpected One–
Breaking through all of our defenses
With love and light
to be cradled in our arms
And in our hearts—

And Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

At home with Elizabeth,
a song finds Mary.
A survival song.
A justice song.
A song of hope and light.

Mary sings. 
She sings to the night.
Even though she can’t be certain what tomorrow holds.

At home with Elizabeth–
on the mountain with her kindred–
a song of belief 
beyond belief finds her.

“And Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.”

Mary returned home,
carrying light from the mountain in her eyes,
the song of promise in her heart,
a drumbeat of new life in her feet.

Traveling alone, like every prophet before her, Mary sets out on her first journey, to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, to share her truth.  There will be more journeys: to Bethlehem; to Egypt and back; to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve; to Jerusalem when he is crucified, to a tomb—

God is waiting
to come home, home
to our lives.
To our world.
Let us join Mary on the journey home–
in the name of God who calls to us
somewhere in our silent night—Amen


beginnings and endings

We begin at the end—or do we end at the beginning?

This is advent

Isaiah 11 offers a peculiar vision of wolves and lambs and leopards and goats frolicking together on God’s mountain of peculiar peace. All of this year’s Advent lectionary texts turn expectations upside down. Sprigs grow from dead stumps. Crocuses blossom in desert places. And a little child leads God’s people into a peace-land of radical love. That is a gift of Advent—God invites us to see life in new ways, and I, for one, am eager to encounter the new way of God’s upside down, inside out peace and love.

The shortest distance
between two points?

a straight line—
begin here;
end there.

But the straight way?
Not the only way.

Beginnings cradle endings—
​first drop of rain
page one of a favorite novel
hello

Endings are the womb of beginnings—
last line of a poem
one lingering summer tomato
amen

​This is incarnation.

Sharp sword edges
learn to plow fertile soil.
Lions and lambs 
choreograph a dance of peace.
Green sprigs grow from
axe-worn roots.
Tender crocus shoulders push
up through winter ground—

This is Advent. 

We begin at the end—
Or do we end at the beginning?

Or do we pause just now
held in a promise— 
God with us.

Grow, Green Sprig of Jesse, Grow

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse,
 and a branch shall grow out of his roots. . .

Another Advent Porch light poem based on Isaiah 11:1-10

PHOTO BY SHEILA HUNTER, USED BY PERMISSION

We have followed the porch light
to the house on the mountain
See the plowshares and pruning hooks?

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

“Sow life into rocky ground;
trust what is tender to be tenacious;
trust new life to shoulder up
through hard ground,
roses to break through concrete walls. 

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

The mountain house surprises weary eyes.
We gather around a stump to dine together,
to savor the sweet fruit of God’s wild hope
while wolves and lambs choreograph a song of peace.

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

God calls us to tend an unexpected root, one that emerges from life-stories that have felt the sharp cut of the axe. God calls us to see in unexpected places, God’s promises of justice and peace. 

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

Advent Porch Light

Turn on a porch light and welcome somebody home.

Where is the porch light?
We long for its steady promise
to appear somewhere out there
as we journey wintry roads.

Longing for light, we wander.

Someone has lit a lamp.
An obligato flame dances,
comforts aching eyes,
choreographs bone-tired feet.

Seeing the light, we follow.

The mountain house keeps vigil,
Watches through the night.
Waits up for heart-weary travelers
to find their way home.

Sharing the light, we wonder.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah offers our first image for Advent this year (see Isaiah 2:1-5):

2The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. . .[C]ome let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Isaiah 2

In the prophet’s vision, we see a mountain in the distance and crowds of people streaming toward a house on the mountain. A lush garden surrounds the house (at least as I imagine it). The garden has been cultivated by swords and spears that have been refashioned into plowshares and ruining hooks.

What does this mountain house image mean for the 2019 Advent season?

I am always glad when I come home after dark and Sheila has turned on the porch light. When I drive up and the light is on, I know that someone is waiting for me. Watching for me. When I drive up and the porch light is on, I know I am home.

I hope this year’s Advent waiting includes a porch light liturgy for those whose hearts and bodies ache for home. What do I mean by this? I hear a double call to action in Isaiah. We are called to keep seeking home—God’s home where the walls are built of justice, love, and peace. We cannot settle down and abide anything less than this. We are also called to keep vigil. We are called to watch through the night for homesick travelers who need for-now dwelling places.

We are approaching the winter solstice—the longest night of the year. People in our lives—people in our world—are bone-tired from wandering uncertain roads. One part of our Advent liturgy—of our work as God’s people—may just be to turn on a porch light and welcome somebody home.

Coming Home

Advent calls us to work together to create and be for each other home for now until all of God’s children–wandering people that we are–can rest in the fullness of God’s promised home.

Reflections on Advent 2019, Year A

Advent is about comings. In a sense, Advent is about “home”-comings. 

  • Jesus comes to earth–to God’s home? to our home? 
  • God comes into our lives–to abide with us.
  • We await a future “home”-going or “home”-coming–when people stream create a home of justice and peace together on God’s holy mountain. 

An overarching biblical theme of yearning for home enlivens our theologies. We seek what is already but not yet. We journey relentlessly to earthly home-spaces that are not quite home because we remain in both tangible and intangible ways “away” from God. As people of faith, we join biblical ancestors in seeking a Promised Land, a land where there is no weeping or crying or pain. In the meanwhile—until we arrive in that sought-after place—God calls us to do what we can to create God’s home here on earth, in our cities and towns, schools and churches, workplaces and homes.

Some are too much at home in the role of wanderer,

watcher, listener; who, by lamplit doors

that open only to another’s knock,

commune with shadows and are happier

with ghosts than living guests in a warm house.

****

The undertone of all their solitude

is the unceasing question, Who am I?

Denise Levertov


Poet Denise Levertov (1923-2007) writes in a 1946 poem about solitude of being “too much at home in the role of wanderer.” I love Levertov’s poem, though I tend to see faith as calling us to the opposite of what she describes. I hear faith calling us to be at home in the role of wanderer. Never settling for less than justice for all of God’s people. Restless for peace. Always searching for healing, hope, grace. In other words, faith calls us to be at home in the role of wanderer until we one day cross the border into God’s not yet commonplace home.

That, perhaps, is the power of Advent wisdom. Jesus’ followers can never stop seeking. Not until all of the hungry are fed and violence has been stopped and no one feels the sting of exclusion. Not until all have opened themselves to God’s love and are empowered to go out into the world and love others, freed both from arrogance and shame.

But Levertov’s poem says that we risk being too much at home in the role of wanderers. Sounds like a conundrum, doesn’t it? We are called to be justice-seeking wanderers. We are also called to be at home in God’s love. Whew!

I think God’s call to people of faith in the midst of this conundrum is to pray and work together to imagine and create home—welcoming, non-judging, nourishing—home-for-now for all people who are seeking after God’s resting places of justice, grace, and peace.

What does this have to do with Advent? The texts in Year A paint a picture of “home” that is as bizarre as any we might imagine:

  • Lions and lambs nap together.
  • Swords become plowshares and spears pruning hooks.
  • Desert soil blossoms with crocuses.
  • Weak hands and feeble knees are made strong.
  • A dead stump births new life.
  • God is born in a barn.

Advent invites–perhaps even urges–us to watch for the unexpected ways that God is with us. Advent also urges us to imagine how we can be home-for-now for those whose lives are broken, how we can be home for our communities’ strangers, how we can be home for those whose stories have left them isolated, alone, without hope.

Advent calls us to work together to create and be for each other home for now until all of God’s children–wandering people that we are–can rest in the fullness of God’s promised home.

This year’s Advent season–called Year A in the Revised Common Lectionary–immerses worshipers in what we might call “impossible possibilities” that take us beyond the world as we know it to a world of Shalom. I hear in this year’s four weeks of Advent four verbs of expectancy, and I am excited to reflect on these four verbs each week as the Advent journey unfolds.

Watch

Turn

Imagine

Be

Advent 2019

**Note: Featured image is by Sheila Hunter and is used by permission. Thank you, Sheila!

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. . .