Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality

The seventh day of Christmas comes on the cusp of the secular new year. Here is a quote from Sydney Carter:

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality.

One of my favorite Christmas carols plays with the image of Jesus dancing:

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
 I would my true love did so chance
 To see the legend of my play,
 To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
 This have I done for my true love1

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,2
 Of her I took fleshly substance
 Thus was I knit to man's nature
 To call my true love to my dance.


3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
 So very poor, this was my chance
 Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
 To call my true love to my dance.


And Sydney Carter himself wrote this familiar song of Jesus, the ‘Lord of the Dance’:


And here is one more song the plays with the image:


May your  2014 be full of the Dance.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The undefeated heart of weakness

In the Incarnation God comes to us in humility and simplicity searching for an answering gaze. For the sixth day of Christmas, here is a poem by J. V. Taylor:
Let not my humble presence affront and stumble
 your hardened hearts that have not known my ways
 nor seen my tracks converge to this uniqueness.
 Mine is the strength of the hills that endure and crumble,
 bleeding slow fertile dust to the valley floor.
 I am the fire in the leaf that crisps and falls
 and rots into the roots of the rioting trees.
 I am the mystery, rising, surfacing
 out of the seas into these infant eyes
 that offer openness only and the unfocusing
 search for an answering gaze. O recognize,
 I am the undefeated heart of weakness.
 Kneel and adore, fall down to pour your praise:
 you cannot lie so low as I have been always.
“Christmas Venite”, A Christmas Sequence and Other Poems (Oxford: The Amate Press 1989) p.15.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish

On the fifth day of Christmas, something from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Scandal of Christmas

The fourth day of Christmas is the Feast of Holy Innocents which reminds us that the world into which Jesus was born was marked by violence and injustice. Those who, like Herod, had power and privilege took advantage of those who had neither. And they would tolerate no threat to that power and privilege.

Sadly, the world is still marked by violence and injustice. The weak and poor are still taken advantage of by those with power and privilege. The innocent are still slaughtered.

The scandal of Christmas is not the virgin birth but that God’s redemptive work defies the Herods of this world – not just kings and presidents, but anyone who clings to power and privilege at the expense of love.
– Charles Moore, The Scandal of Christmas

Friday, December 27, 2013

God's way of being human

For the third day of Christmas here is a portion of Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby's Christmas sermon:

God's way of being human shows us what being human means. According to the gospel of Jesus Christ to be human means being vulnerable, not safe. Our pride is humbled by God needing swaddling. Our wisdom is confounded by the foolishness of God's baby cries. Love is demonstrated not by grasping power but by lowering yourself so you can raise the fallen.  The humility of God provokes us to seek to awaken what is best, in every person we meet, every group that we encounter.

God's vulnerability is seen in overwhelming self giving. When as individuals or societies we grab for power, compete for resources and neglect the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us we neglect Christ himself. Where people are measured in their worth only by what they can produce, what economic value they have, then Christ is denied and our own humanity corrupted.

The great ikons of Christ for us are all those of vulnerability; a baby, a man dying abandoned on a cross, bread and wine that can be crushed and spilt. Yet from the  vulnerability we get life complete, eternal.
The full sermon can be found here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ye who now will bless the poor

The second day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen. One of my favorite Christmas carols is Good King Wenceslas which is set on this feast day. It reflects what it means to live out the implications of the Incarnate God coming to us among the poor and humble.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,

shall yourselves find blessing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

God with an umbilical cord

Merry Christmas! The consumer Christmas season ends today. But, on the church calendar Christmas season begins today. As I have done the last couple of years, I will post a quote each of the twelve days of Christmas expressing some aspect of the joy and wonder of the Incarnation. For the first day of Christmas there is this reflection by mid-wife, Lois Williams which I received via email at the beginning of Advent:
It was mid-December and I was driving to a birth in the Pocono Mountains. It was late and light snow was falling. I searched for a radio station and found one playing Christmas carols. As is my habit on the way to a birth, I began to pray for a smooth, uncomplicated labor and a healthy baby.

As the carols played in the background, I prayed aloud, “Please, Lord, let the baby be born without any cord complications; let the placenta come out without difficulty; please, no extra bleeding…”

As I prayed, the words of the carols and my thoughts about the very real process of childbirth merged in my mind. I found myself imagining the birth of Jesus, his tiny head squeezing through Mary’s birth canal, his fragile body still warm from Mary’s, the way he must have “rooted” at her breast, the umbilical cord reaching from his body back up inside his mother, connecting his life to hers. God with an umbilical cord. I pulled over to the side of the road as my eyes filled with tears.

God with an umbilical cord. That is the Incarnation. That is Christmas. Our Christmas cards are so unlike real childbirth. Mary is clothed, serene. She looks as if she never even broke into a sweat. The infant Jesus appears to be about 6 months old. There is no blood. No placenta. No umbilical cord. None of the pain of Incarnation.

But God really did make his way into the world by squeezing through the narrow doorway of a woman’s bones. And when we can pause in wonder and worship of that fact, we have come close to comprehending the real meaning of Christmas.