Posts tagged advent
Attributed to Carel Fabritius

Attributed to Carel Fabritius

I've seen a lot of great baby announcements. Families are becoming increasingly creative, setting the bar high for future parents-to-be. Yet. None of have been able to top this:

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" Luke 2:8-14 

Now that is a baby announcement! In the darkness. On just another day. During business as usual. Something miraculous happens. An announcement is made. It is so glorious that one angel is simply not enough to deliver it. A host an angels fill the sky worshipping God- proclaiming peace on earth. Even though it is in the darkness on just another day during business as usual. 

The shepherds react. Who wouldn't?! How will they find the baby? Not by seeking the fanciest home. Not by asking directions to the path of the rich and famous. Not by finding the most impressive, most expansive, most expensive of anything. A manger. Swaddling clothes. Seems a little anti-climatic doesn't it? Host of angels. Manger. Its a rather unexpected place to find Christ the Lord in the darkness on just another day during business as usual. 

But they do. They find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, just as the angels declared. Incredibly moved, they must tell everyone. This is good news. News of good tidings. News of great joy. News that is desperately needed in the darkness on just another day during business as usual. 

And once they finish declaring it. Once they have told everyone they can think of- anyone who will listen... they return. They return to the darkness, to the day, to the work. 

This Advent season has been filled with the violent darkness of every day- of unarmed killings of black people, of no indictment decisions, the stark divisions and racial warring. We do the work of activism and protest, of writing and speaking, of artistry and teaching, of reading and witnessing, of studying and producing. In the darkness this is just another day, business as usual.  But we know the good news of Christ who saves. And in a few days we celebrate this Christ with intention and purpose. This Christ who made himself low, who came into the world with the sound of angels only to be wrapped in bands of cloth. We will pause. We will celebrate. 

And then we will return to our work. Remembering the good news. Faces still turned toward the heavens. We will keep work toward peace on earth till the Christ makes makes a second grand entrance. 

Merry Christmas, Everyone. 


Song to my Sisters

"But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19

In just two chapters, much as happened in the life of Mary. When the book of Luke opens the focus is on Mary's cousin Elizabeth and her husband. God is doing a lot of speaking but Elizabeth's husband Zechariah is having a hard time believing. Nonetheless Elizabeth does conceive, but for 5 months she keeps her pregnancy hidden. Then the story shifts to Mary. She is visited by an angel and agrees to participate in this great conspiracy to birth a King. She visits Elizabeth, only to discover that she is now 6 months pregnant! Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth prophesies over Mary. The pair stay together for 3 months. When Mary returns home, she and Joseph hear the decree that they must travel to Bethlehem, and set out on their journey. During the journey, Mary goes into labor and delivers her little boy, wrapping him in swaddling clothes and laying him in a manger. While she watches him, a group of shepherds descend on the little family, declaring that a host of angels told them a Savior was born on this night. Then the shepherds left to spread the word about the newborn Savior. "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart."

2013 has been a tough and beautiful year for me, and I wonder if Mary would have used the same description for herself in this moment. There is little question that Mary had a tough year. As she faced pregnancy, an unwed woman, she must have been the talk of the town, an easy target, ostracized, and feeling very unloved. We can hardly blame Joseph for trying to determine what to do with this new development in their relationship, but that, too, must have weighed on Mary's heart. In the early days of conceiving, where does she go?

To Elizabeth.

She spends three months in the safety of her female cousin and friend. As soon as the two meet there is rejoicing. Elizabeth does not condemn her, does not berate her, does not look at her sideways, does not ask her to outline her future plans…

Elizabeth exclaims to her, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!" That alone makes me tear up, but Elizabeth continues, "But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!" 

And when Elizabeth finishes, Mary launches into her own song!

Isn't that the beauty of what women can do for one another? In the midst of confusion and heartache, uncertainty and pain, women sing songs of affirmation, of presence, of joy, of hope and suddenly the way we see ourselves and our God changes. Suddenly we are favored. We can make it. God's promises can be true. I wonder how often Mary repeated the words of Elizabeth during her journey to Bethlehem and in the midst of her labor. The words of women carry us so far. 

This Christmas I decided to ponder in my heart all that has transpired over the year. As I thought about the many women who carried me through the year I resolved to finally, for the first time in my life, send Christmas cards. These cards went to 20 women who sang songs of hope to me this year. 

Before the year ends, will you join me on Twitter in singing songs to the women in our lives? Use #SongtomySisters and lets sing all that we mean to each other. 

A Gritty Nativity

They are everywhere during the Christmas season… Nativity Scenes. They are on our shelves, sitting on mantels, outside churches, playing out on church stages and in Christian school dramas. But always they are a little sanitized, pristine, cute if you will. 

(Consider these to see what I mean) 

This advent season I am trying really hard not to sanitize all that is Christmas. I don't want to sanitize this Jesus who came crashing into a real world, in real skin, with a real family, and navigated real issues. I want to honor the messiness. Perhaps in honoring the messiness, I will stop assuming that my life is supposed to somehow fly above the messy, dirty, complicated work that is humanity. 

So with this in mind I present to you an unsanitary nativity scene. I present to you a real journey, with real fears and real pain. This piece was written by one of my bestest friends in the world, Jessica Rock. (yes, bestest) Many of you will want to share this in your small groups, Bible studies and maybe even in your advent sermons- all I ask is that you give my girl credit for writing it :) You can also find Jessica selling the cutest little animals on Etsy

Through this piece she helps us put language to our own fears as we patiently await the promised King. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

She was so tired. The traveling was a chore and a burden and not as exciting as she wished it was. Her back ached so much. She did not ride the camel very much. Getting on it was too cumbersome with her distended belly. Her legs and thighs ached because of its heavy gait. Camels stomp. So she walked. Her back had a deep ache and the ache was getting deeper and deeper.

On all fours she rocked back and forth on her hands and knees. The woman that the property owner had brought to help her, a midwife, wanted her to try to get up and squat with a birth stool, but the squatting hurt too much. Even with the midwife offering her own body as support- Miryam refused. She was just fine on her knees. The contractions were too close together for her to move between them anyway. As each one came and crashed against her body, she breathed as deeply as she could and involuntarily swayed her hips. Her body was simultaneously grasping for relief and working hard to move a baby out. The midwife rubbed Miryam’s back and a young girl, no more than 9 years old, stood rigidly against the wooden wall, eyes wide. The child was ready with the birthing stool, a pile of sun dried rags, oil, and a wool blanket that was clean enough. It was all they had had time to bring. The midwife had her bag and barked orders at the sleepy girl to assist her.

The laboring mother groaned loudly and tears streamed down her face. Her back and bottom burned from the contractions and she wished her mother and cousin were there to be her midwives. She did not cry from the physical pain. She cried because the young wide-eyed girl reminded her of her former self. It was only a few years ago that she was 9 and old women barked orders at her. So many things had happened in the span of a few years. She was not ready to be a mother and a wife no matter how wonderful the child could be. Miryam was not sure, but she had been laboring since before sunset, and it was going to be morning soon. She did not feel favored during these hours. In this hour she was utterly alone and unseen.

She wept and dropped her head to the rough blanket they had given her on the dirt floor. Her blanket was less than clean, but she did not care or notice. It was dark in the stall and she was glad they could not see her cry. She labored quietly, mind the groans and deep sighs. She did not want to worry Yossef. He was within earshot. Or maybe he wouldn’t worry if she screamed and if she died. If she were to die in labor, he would be free of her as his obligation. He could start again. He was a generous man. He had kept his promises to her even when her belly swelled with child after she had been gone for months- living with her cousin. People talked. He stood by her and his promise. She shook her head as if to shake the thoughts out. If she survived this birth, she needed to prove herself strong and brave.

Miryam would not scream yet. She swallowed them with the next contraction. She had torn her dress off an hour ago and thankfully the midwife was unalarmed to see a naked laboring mother, bottom up, sweaty, and mooing like her stall mates. The dress was filthy from the walk and smelled of camel. It was better that it was off.

The pain was unbearable. Miryam wanted to rewind her life 40 weeks and say no to her blessing. She wanted to crawl out of her skin and be back in the arms of her mother. If she had the strength, she would have run away from the filthy stall. She hadn’t forseen her life looking like this. This was not how kings were born.

Miryam didn’t know what she believed anymore.

“You are getting close,” the midwife said and firmly pressed on Miryam’s lower back. She poured warmed oil on her fingers and massaged the laboring mother. Miryam was so relieved to have the midwife touch her. She felt momentarily less alone and the pressure on her back was a distraction. No one had touched her in so long. Yossef was- well- he was afraid of her. He was distant. She felt utterly alone. Sometimes there were bouts of relief and she felt reassured that he trusted her. She was glad to be his betrothed. He had saved her. But he kept his distance and expected her to be the model wife. She was humble, diligent, and obedient.

She let out a cry and the midwife knew she was transitioning.

“I can see the head!” The midwife shouted and used her fingers to make sure it was the top of the head she was feeling. She motioned for the young girl to come to her. Every birth was a new opportunity to learn. The midwife would not tell her helper until later that she was glad to not feel an infant’s face, bottom, or feet. The midwife was pleased that the soft spot of the infant’s head had a strong pulse. Delivering dead babies was something she did often, but it never got easier. Early in the labor, when the contractions were getting closer together, Miryam had nonsensically repeated that everything would be fine and that she was favored, but she also had a slight fever at that point. The midwife didn’t mind a delirious laboring mother- she also didn’t mind if she did have a mother that was favored. Uneventful births were happy births.

Miryam continued to rock and her head was on the ground now. She grasped the blanket tightly and pushed with every contraction. The pushing helped bring small moments of relief. But she was so very tired. She had been having contractions as they walked into town. She was able to walk through most of them. As they got closer and closer to town, she had to stop walking for the duration of each contraction. Yossef was clueless and frightened. Miryam was clueless and frightened. She boldly threw her arms around him for the longer ones, which took them both by surprise.

She yelled out as she pushed. She could not hear herself and she did not hear the commotion about her. The young girl brought the rags and knelt down behind Miryam. Newly born babies were slippery and the rags would help her catch the infant. The young girl would catch the babe, the midwife would continue to rub the warm oil to sooth the burning that came with crowning. All the women were knelt there together, taking up space on the modest blanket that was covering a filthy floor.

Miryam’s back slouched and the midwife knew the young woman was exhausted.

“You told me you would be fine and you are doing exceptional. Maybe you are favored.” Miryam’s head nodded slightly even as she rested it upon the scratchy blanket. The stall they were in glowed dimly with the light of two meager lanterns. Dawn was coming, but it was still very dark. None of the women felt the chill in the air because they were working tremendously hard to birth a baby.

“Now on this next one, take the biggest breath and push with everything you have and you can be done. Prove to me you are favored,” The midwife was both scolding her and encouraging her. Miryam mustered all the strength she had left and lifted her head up off the blanket. She inhaled and the midwife could see her back and ribs expand with air.

“That’s a good girl. Now push!”

And as the midwife yelled at her to push Miryam groaned loudly until her body heaved with sobs. The young girl caught the baby. The midwife relaxed back on her heels. Miryam collapsed forward on her side and before she knew it the 9 year old girl had already placed the baby on the mother’s sweaty chest. Her hair was tangled and dirty and matted. The baby cried out with life in her arms and she swept her hair away from her face to get a look at her child. The midwife tied a string around the umbilical cord and wrapped the pair in the larger blanket. They helped Miryam to sit up and nurse the baby.

Her contractions continued and they would continue until she delivered the after birth. Miryam felt them and she was aware of the discomfort but it did not matter to her. Her body hummed and glowed with the warmth of her healthy baby. Her betrothed was not there, and she was unclean, so he would not come too close. She would be tended to by her family, if she was at home. But for now, she was all alone and in place that was not her home, in a room that was barely fit for animals. She wept softly, overcome, but she did not feel sorry for herself.

Maybe she was favored after all.

Austin BrownadventComment
Dwelt Among Us

Ask me for the most compelling Bible verse that sets my heart a flutter for issues of social justice and the answer may surprise you. There are a number of verses in the Bible which promote giving to the poor. caring for the orphan, setting the captive free. There is no shortage of verses about crossing cultures, welcoming strangers, and honoring the humanity of our enemies. While I commit myself to studying and living out these important instances of loving others, there is one passage of Scripture that really lights my flame for its beauty and revelation: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was nothing made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:1-4,14

Can we first pause at the beauty of this passage? "In the beginning was the Word" … "and the darkness did not comprehend it" … "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" … "full of grace and truth." Ah… I could revel in the beauty all day.

But its also the revelation that keeps my fire for justice issues flaming.  The imagery of the Divine, of words stretching as they wrap themselves into the confining space of human flesh and squeezing through a physical labor of blood, sweat and other fluids, I'm sure. All to enter this world of humanity, of dirt, of messiness, of division, of heartbreak, of rejection. How must it have been for the Divine to look on the world not from a holy place above the fray, but eye to eye, quite literally with skin in the game, watching the ways we treat each other, divide ourselves up, create hierarchies, build towers of babel unto ourselves. How different it must have felt from home, from golden walkways and angelic beings, from hallelujah all the time.

But the Word didn't turn away. Didn't turn away from that ragtag group of disciples, passionate but often completely misunderstanding the mission. Didn't turn away from men or women. Didn't turn away from Jews or Gentiles, even those most unholy Samaritans or those oppressive Romans. Didn't turn away from the sick or the afflicted. Even the dead received an audience with the Divine. The Word crashed through social barriers, religious convention, and everyone's expectations.

Thats why I fight for justice issues. Because the Divine modeled for me far beyond words, even words that I love, that I can't turn away from the messiness. The Word chose to dwell among us, but far from building an impressive throne right here, the Word wept, and experienced a range of emotions, rejections, disappointments and awe known to the human condition. The Word made flesh full of grace and truth, right here in our midst, wrestling with the issues of that day. Thats why I must wrestle with the issues of today. If the Divine didn't turn away, how could I?   

God incarnate. God with us. God among us. What better reason could my heart desire?