Shattering Snowglobes

Neither triumphal nor cozy, the Story is powerful and prophetic in its truth-telling.

Reflections for the First Week of Christmas

shattered globe
womb-water gushes out
mingles with sacrificed innocence
in war-wilderness streets
mama and daddy
smuggle their baby
across jagged borders
feet pierced by fractured pieces
of heart-pondered dreams
escape into broken reality
birth half-remembered blessings
beneath the light of a new moon

Anna and Simeon. Their faces map all that they have seen of life. Luke tells us Anna is 84 years old. People have come and gone in her life. Life and death have danced together and then danced some more as the earth has spun and spun again on its axis. Yes, Anna and Simeon have seen and heard and felt in their bones the hopes and fears of many years. Then, when Mary and Joseph appear in the Jerusalem temple with Jesus, Anna and Simeon burst forth in a Spirit-seasoned duet of praise.

After everything they have encountered over many decades—after all that has gone awry in their lives and world—how do they know that this stable-born child is “destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34)? What recognition stirs in Simeon to release from his spirit letting-go lyrics about his own mortality, his world-weary soul settling into a serene certainty about the future as he looks into the untested face of Jesus? What story still to be sung does Anna hear in the rhythms of Mary’s pondering heart? What truth does she imagine that baby holding in those tender, tiny hands?

Perhaps many of us ask questions like these during that space betwixt-and-between December 25 and January 1. What does it mean—the Advent waiting and Christmas caroling? Because the stories we hear in the Gospels after Jesus’ birth and before Anna’s song of delight in the temple? They fracture nostalgic Christmas dreams.

The Gospel stories just after Christmas unfold as Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to be blessed. The image is moving. Anna and Simeon have waited many years to see the sacred promise they glimpse in this child’s eyes. But we cannot delight in this hope-filled encounter in the temple—or see its prophetic truth—without journeying through the nightmarish readings for December 28.

In the Fifth Century, the Latin church instituted a day (observed on December 28 in the West) to remember and lament the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. The refrain of this remembrance? “A voice goes up in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children” (Matthew 2:13-23). Herod, wanting to protect his political power and fearing that the people would embrace Jesus as their king, orders the genocide of all baby boys under two years old. Jesus “grew and became strong”(Luke 2:40); Rachel wept (Matthew 2).

Rachel still weeps today, her inconsolable cries piercing our Christmas cradlesongs. Too many mamas and daddies today groan in travail for wounded sons and daughters. Too many children risk tender feet and hearts on streets littered by violence-shattered reflections of who they can—could—yearn to—be, if only…

The Gospel’s stories just after Jesus is born remind us. This is where Nativity happens—in an uncertain world where people face danger at the hands of death-dealing forces everyday—just as Mary and Joseph and Jesus did. Just as Rachel and her children did. This is where we see the live Nativity—in those half-remembered places just beyond the glow of the crèche where nightmares haunt innocent dreams.

So, the question again: what did it mean, the birth of the Christ child? What does it mean for our world today?

Perhaps Rachel’s counterpointing lament joins with Anna’s and Simeon’s duet and the three ancient voices together urge us to see the whole raw-edged arc of the Nativity. The snow globe is shattered, and Mary and Joseph and Jesus seek refuge in a real and dangerous world. Neither triumphal nor cozy, the Story is powerful and prophetic in its truth-telling. And this unabridged Nativity tale is relentless in calling us—the body of Christ—to break through life-limiting membranes to birth anew each day God’s grace and peace.

Twelfth Night: Reflections on Epiphany 2016

Note: the above photo is “Bethlehem’s Orb” by Sheila Hunter and is used by permission.

Tonight is Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany when we remember how magi from Persia followed to Jesus’ birthing place an unusual God-flung orb of light that appeared in the heavens. The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “a striking appearance.”

(The remainder of this post, including an Epiphany poem, is published on the Patheos Unfundamentalist Christian site linked below.)

Source: Twelfth Night: Reflections on Epiphany 2016

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.

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.