Receiving Christmas

A simple “be it unto me” is not easy when God’s will is not birth but death.

As I sang the carols at our Christmas Eve service last night, I realized Christmas is not something you can make. It has to be given to you. All my baking and cleaning and even self-reflection mean nothing unless I hear the Christmas tidings echoed back to me from the voice of another. What connects me to the nativity is the chain of people who followed the shepherds and magi to worship, allowing me to walk the advent path and follow their footsteps to the manger. I hear their whispers from the past, faint strains from their songs. I hear them now, clear voices in the candlelit church, coming to adore Him together. I see them now, across the dinner table, hands passing and giving and loving. They give the story to me, wrapping it in laughter and tears and layers of packing tape. I receive the holy child through the hands of his children, some hands young and smooth, others worn and weary.

I must open my hands, my heart, the womb of my soul. I must receive Christ Himself, whatever His coming may bring.

This Christmas, we who love each other most have a difficult gift to bear – that of caring for a dying father, husband, grandpa. We cannot make this Christmas anything else than what it is. We receive the day with its joy and sorrow. For Christ is born here too, into a dying man’s fragile arms. We wrap him in blankets and place him in a homemade hospital bed, because we have made room for him here.

And somehow we manage to pray, “be it unto us,” knowing that God’s will always brings life, that the peace and gloria of the angels never grows dim even in our darkness. We have indeed seen a great light. We know peace in death, and that is not of our own making. Glory to God in the highest.

Elizabeth

She shares my middle name, but not much else. She was the daughter of priests and the wife of one. Most of her life’s years were behind her, though she had no child to take care of her and her aging husband Zacharias. The first thing you know after being introduced to her is that she is righteous in the sight of God, a blameless keeper of all the commands and requirements of the Lord. So it wasn’t her sin that kept her barren, though that’s what most of the market women said. What a shock to have your husband come home from work unable to speak, and then a few weeks later to realize the impossible had happened – pregnancy! But Elizabeth did not question, as Zacharias had, paying for his doubt with silence. She did not laugh, as Sarah had, hiding behind the tent folds. She simply knew he had seen a vision there in the temple. Something, or someone, had appeared in the clouds of incense, and now there was life bulging within her. Of course she could not help but think of the women of the Torah and Writings, women whose empty disgrace had been removed by a miracle. But there were few miracles from God in these days. What could be the occasion of such favour? For five months she kept the secret in seclusion. They were quiet months, anticipating months.

And then in her sixth month, when she could no longer hide the life within, she had a visitor. She had sent word to one of her young relatives that she was pregnant. Mary had always held a special place in her heart. Elizabeth had invited Mary to visit her in her seclusion, but Mary was busy with preparations for life as a married woman. Elizabeth remembered well the days of her own betrothal, sewing for her dowry and dreaming of a home full of children. But then she received a troubled message from Mary, saying her betrothed was threatening to divorce her. Strange things were happening in the family…

When Mary visited as a child, she would always call out a greeting from the gate below the house. This time, when Mary called out, Elizabeth felt a great and sudden movement in her womb, as if the child were leaping up to open the door for Mary. Elizabeth felt the rush of a breeze sweep past her, almost through her when Mary entered. Suddenly she felt like shouting, like dancing for joy. She ran to Mary, grasping her hands and then her flat belly. The words spilled out of her mouth as quickly as her husband’s had been sealed – “Blessed are you among women! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how is it that I am so blessed that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”

And with these words, it is Elizabeth who becomes the first prophet of the New Testament, years before her son would prepare the way. It is Elizabeth who is doubly favoured and doubly filled, first with a child in her barrenness and then with the Holy Spirit. In her the first stirrings and kickings of prophecy are felt in Israel, after hundreds of years without the Word of the Lord. She is the first to confess Jesus as Lord, the first to recognize the divine Word in the fleshy womb of Mary. In the flurry of prophetic activity surrounding Jesus’ birth, Elizabeth is singled out, not only as the mother of John the Baptist, but as a prophet in her own right.

Elizabeth. With faith and joy you accepted the work of God in your own life, and were the first to recognize it in others. There are days when my doubt silences me. When I am mute to the call of God at my own gate. I feel my own barrenness, but I fear it is of sin.

Holy Spirit, awaken my heart to the wonders of God’s birth among us. May I be as quick to rejoice at the coming of my Lord.

intercessions – december 14

God,

I pray, not for, but against. I pray against the enemies of our souls who would destroy the life of the young. I pray against loneliness and despair. I pray against the evil which sets itself as a rival to your love. I pray your love would charge in with banners blazing, would show itself victorious, would show itself to those in doubt and darkness. Be quick to save, God of hosts.
Amen.

intercessions – december 11

God of comfort,
Be near to all those who are sick and dying. Only You can truly comfort those who are facing death, but thank you for letting us participate in your comforting presence. Surround the frail ones with your peace and ease their loneliness. Bring human hands close by to touch and tend to them. Make the arms of the caregivers strong, but do not let their hearts grow hard in the sight of another’s pain. Assure them all of your love which is stronger than death, and steady them in the many rushing waters of uncertain days. We look to the restoration of all things in Christ, in Your time.
Amen.

prophets of Christmas

When you think of prophets at Christmastime, you likely remember those Old Testament sages, like Isaiah and Malachi, who foretold the birth of Christ hundreds of years before the angel’s appearance to Mary. The prophecies are true! It is a miracle, we say, and rightly so. But the birth story has its own prophets, people who recognize and bear and declare the Word of the Lord to others. They are miraculous in their time, for they are women. Before John the Baptist prepares the way in the wilderness, his mother Elizabeth is the first to call Jesus Lord. Before the shepherds run to spread the good news in the towns, Mary gives a magnificent oracle of prophetic praise. Before Jesus preaches in Jerusalem, the old prophetess Anna tells all who are looking for Jerusalem’s redemption that the Redeemer is here.

Luke gives us the names and stories of these unlikely prophets in his gospel. They are among the first to participate in the Spirit’s work surrounding Christ. They are among the first to tell us who this Child is, and why He has come. They speak into the future, to all who open their hearts to the advent of Christ saying “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.”

In the days leading up to Christmas, I plan to post glimpses of each of their stories. In all the noise and busyness of our Decembers, may we hear and receive again God’s word to us in Christ.