I think December 24th is a bridge, a passageway, a threshold. In “Being Home”, poet Gunilla Norris encourages us to live a sacramental life using reminders around the house. Simply standing in a doorway, a threshold, can be a reminder that,
“On the threshold the present breaks all boundaries.
It is a convergence,
a fellowship with all time and space.
We find You there.
And we are found by You there.”
Tonight, God is crossing the ultimate threshold: a woman and a man wait in a manger so that God can become Immanuel, God With Us. The light that casts away all shadows, that breaks all boundaries, is here at last. Standing in the threshold with light streaming in, we have the opportunity for examination, as Martin Luther (in Watch for the Light) would have us do: Where are the gaps between my body, heart and mind? How can I bridge the gaps between my neighbor and myself? Are there broken bonds that need repair? And, how can I walk with Jesus and bridge the gap between the broken world and the kingdom of God? How can I make disciples?
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who risks her life to speak out for educating girls in Pakistan. (See an interview with her here: http://tinyurl.com/n5og3ju ) When I learned her story, it was a threshold moment for me, an opportunity to act and connect. Because of Malala, I made a connection and a commitment to a little baby girl named Rolly who lives in Malala’s part of the world through World Vision. I think that in movement, through connection, we find our always moving, always loving, relational Triune God. In moments of true connection, we speak the holy language of love and expect nothing less than miracles, nothing less than an ultimate bridge delivered to our hearts and in the form of a tiny baby in Bethlehem.
The beautiful thing about thresholds is that we cross them all the time, in buildings, on roads, when we pass a person on the street. They are reminders of possibility for connection. Today I encourage you to “Watch for the Light,” and join God and each other, crossing thresholds to increase Light in the world.
Just as the Holy Family approaches the cave, let us come expectant and vulnerable. Knowing that our God, King and Creator of the Universe is with us. Emmanuel.
As the poor and young maid and the confused but constant husband, we come to the Nativity in our full humanity.
They have only the cave to keep them warm, the lowing of the livestock to comfort them, the reassuring presence of the simple shepherds, the smell of the good earth and the beauty of the dark sacred skies. This is the way Mary and Joseph come to Bethlehem to await their great adventure. Can we come to this most miraculous incarnation in such an appropriate way?
We come with all our luxuries. How can we possibly be fit to share this night? We ask, “What does God require of us?” He answers, “A humble and a contrite heart”, and “To act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”
But what about the hustle-bustle, the right clothes, the parties, the carefully chosen gifts for our loved ones, the beautiful sights and sounds that make Christmas so special? We have need of these things!
Is this what our hearts really yearn for? Is this what feeds our deepest longings? Is this what brings us closer to our Creator? God understands our humanity and our need for the tangible, but He calls us to more. He calls us with the simple words, “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall have life everlasting”.
The Advent Meditation for today looks at Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Our Journey group at St. David’s with Peter Techmanski studied Mary a few years ago. These are some of the points that we discussed, as well as those mentioned in the meditation:
1. Mary knew all along that her baby Jesus was the “Holy One”.
2. Mary did not know why she was selected as a young teenager to be the mother of Jesus, but she took her job seriously and reverently.
3. Her faith was great.
4. Her destiny was shaped by her child.
5. She was nearby at many important events, such as the Wedding at Cana.
6. She had such patience.
7. She was there until Jesus’ end on this earth.
8. She was there as he emerged from the tomb.
9. She felt helpless that she could not prevent his death, but she kept her faith.
10. Mary was a wonderful example for mothers everywhere…patient, faithful, loving, trusting, gentle, thankful, and joyful.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Bonhoeffer’s meditation on this passage from Revelation discusses an unfamiliar, and perhaps very un-Christmas!, approach to Advent for our culture. Advent calls us to prepare our hearts for the arrival of Christ in the world. He reminds us that early Christians experienced fear mixed with their anticipation. Fear! At Christmas! We may fear that our carefully considered gifts are not perfect or that our Christmas cookies may burn, but fear the arrival of Christ? What could be scary about that beautiful baby in the manger? Bonhoeffer reminds us that our culture’s emphasis on the beautiful and pleasant has separated us from a healthy sense of fear and given us a willingness to ignore the ugly and unpleasant. Are we truly prepared for the arrival of God in the world? A world in which not everyone is invited to the party, not everyone hears the cheery “come in” in response to their knock at the door. Everyone with a conscience, he states, should be terrified.
My family and I have struggled with how best to respond to the homeless we encounter in Austin. We’ve supported Trinity Center, we’ve made snack bags with the Amigos to hand out our car window at intersections….but is it, we wonder, enough? What does the call to radical hospitality demanded by the Revelation passage mean for us? Bonhoeffer answers that question by reminding us that it is in the “least of these” that we encounter Jesus and that we will be judged by our treatment of those less fortunate than us. Will we open our doors to our neighbors? Will we open our doors to Jesus?
The good news Bonhoeffer reminds us, however, is that God loves us unconditionally — that in the midst of this broken and sinful world, we are loved and accepted by God. If we live in anticipation of God’s coming, of the judgment but also of the assurance of God’s grace, then we can act more bravely and generously in the world.
In the past weeks of preparing this mediation I have found myself reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s conclusion that our entire life is an Advent. How does my life, how do our lives, change if we accept that we cannot enjoy the beautiful and pleasant if we do not also confront the ugly and unpleasant? He encourages us to wait in anticipation, in joy and in fear, for the time when heaven and earth shall be joined and we can answer God’s call, as we have been practicing: “Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!”.
One of the real hallmarks of Christmas is its predictability. Not that it always meets my expectations; most years I probably could say that I wished it would have snowed or that I was too busy to really enjoy it. But it does come, every year, and with the same smells, sounds, sights, and sentiments that make it “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Then there’s Advent, Christmas’s unpredictable, wild-eyed cousin. Like John the Baptist, often I don’t quite to know what to make of Advent. Some years I find it full of time and space for preparation; others, a dry and desolate time where promise of coming light is a mirage.
Similarly, this where I first found myself when reading Brennan Manning’s “Shipwrecked At The Stable,” not quite knowing what to make of his mixed-metaphor of a title, one that stuck me strangely between the anxiety of a stranded survivor and the solace of a warm stable.
But being stranded is perhaps one of the ways I can make sense of Advent’s seeming capriciousness. Liturgically, Advent dashes Ordinary Time against the rocks with little warning and thrusts us into a new year. The familiar week-to-week rhythm since Ascension Day is gone and replaced by the message to wait, watch, and prepare for something truly earth-shattering. Until then, I seek an Advent that shatters my complacency with the usual and ordinary, forcing me to jump ship and pray for rescue.
So I cling to my wet piece of broken hull, knowing something has dramatically and irrevocably changed. Yet I still hope to be saved, somehow, just in time to be at the stable.
This is that, then is now.
Dorothy Day has a way of hacking into our sophisticated means of cushioning the incarnation, doesn’t she? There is little that we, including me, would love more than to believe that Christmas is something that we simply need to remember. Wouldn’t it be nice to say that Christmas was a thing that happened in a different era; “The Bible Times,” as we like to say. It was a thing that happened and it has meaning for us today. And isn’t that lovely and worth commemorating with pageantry and especially crafts and baking. We have quite literally domesticated Christmas in the tamest and most disappointing sense of that word.
But remembering Christmas doesn’t seem to be at all what Dorothy Day is calling us to do. “It is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late.” For Dorothy, the mystery of the incarnation is that it is always about to happen if we are to make room for it, especially in the form of those who are poor or suffering. Christmas is hardly something to be remembered. It is a thing we are to do in our time, and with our time, and it will always be a possibility in front of us. Dorothy Day seems to be under the impression that making room for Christ is a task in perpetual need of being fulfilled, and that we are the people to do it.
It is no wonder she seems to think this way. Dorothy Days is a woman whose life was spent fighting off cheap grace and soft metaphors. For her the Shepherds do not represent the humblest part of our souls or an aspect of spirituality, they represent migrant livestock workers who are poor and are kept on the margins of society. The Innkeeper does not represent some abstract part of our spiritual journey. The Innkeeper was a man who had to make choices about whether he should kick paying guests out of their beds to make room for a woman who was doomed to ruin his mattress. And for Dorothy Day, those are the same kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves today.
I know this kind of Christian talk may seem extreme. It is. “We have no room in the Inn,” we say. “What does Jesus expect us to do? Kick people out of the beds in which they are sleeping and have already paid for? Must we take a financial loss to prepare a space for the Son of God? The bills still show up Monday and we still have to pay them…Let us be practical about this.”
Except, nothing of the Gospels ever speaks of being practical, at least not in that manner. Instead the gospels always call us to live in the Kingdom-come, the World-as-God-meant-it. We are to be the clear confrontation of the unnecessary competition, violence and suffering in this world.
In Advent we realize that Jesus did in fact come to earth, but in a very real sense never stopped coming. Jesus is perpetually standing at the door and knocking… and it isn’t just the door of our hearts, it is the door of our house, duplex and apartment. If we answer he say that there are a couple million Jesus-es out here ready to ruin your mattress and He asks, “What are you going to do about it?”
Back then he came as a homeless child who was born into filth. “But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, “ Day writes, “with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.” There is no metaphor here. The poor are Christ.
Jesus has never stopped showing up at our doorstep. Not then and not now. She writes: “If we hadn’t got Christ’s own words for it, it would seem raving lunacy to believe that if I offer a bed and food and hospitality for Christmas–or any other time, for that matter–to some man, woman or child, I am replaying the part of Lazarus or Martha or Mary and that my guest is Christ. There is nothing to show it, perhaps. There are no halos already glowing round their heads–at least none that human eyes can see.”
I remember when my favorite and best teacher of theology, Jim McClendon, tried to sum up his radical theological position. He would say it is a simple matter of discipleship, of believing that, “This is That, Then is Now.”
What he meant was that it is not merely enough for Christians to make metaphors of all the characters who encountered Christ. Not everything is a metaphor. The world Jesus was born into is in some way the same world Jesus is trying to be born in to today…through the witness and lives of the whole body of Christ. We live in the same circumstance of Jesus’ life. The struggle of discipleship is to see how and then to act accordingly. Then is the same predicament as the predicament we are in now. We just have to learn to side with the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Lord. We are not meant to simply remember Christmas, we are to recognize it, re-present it , and be it every day of our Christian lives.
I get it. This is rough because I am not quite ready to be as exactly compassionate as Dorothy Day was at the end of her life. I am clearly not already a Mother Teresa or a Jean Vanier. Not Yet. Neither are you…. yet. And I don’t think Dorothy Day has any interest in drumming up a new legalism… Just how poor does one have to be before one counts as the poor that God favors? This is not at all the right question.
But if I listen to her well at least I am moving in the right direction. I am hearing the call of Jesus who stands at my front door and knocks. I am thinking critically about how radical good news for all people would be. I can pray as the man in the Gospel of Mark chapter 9 prayed, “ I believe, now help my unbelief.” Help me, Jesus, to make actual room for you in my house, in my wallet, in my car when I pull up to a stop sign, in my friendships, and in my budget. You are Lord. Be born here in me… today.
“It is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late,” said Dorothy Day. “Do you have room for Christ?” she asks plainly. “Great, then scoot over because he is here… hiding in the poor, now act accordingly.”
A few months ago, I was running around the house like a crazy person. It seemed important then, though of course now I can’t remember why. My two-and-a-half year old daughter – who had recently delved deep into imaginative play – tugged on my skirt and said, “Mama, this is your food!” I wiped the dishwater from my hands and reached down to pretend to eat whatever odd object she had found this time. In her hands she held a tiny nativity scene.
Of course, my first reaction was to grab my phone and get a picture, because that is Instagram GOLD. As I fumbled with the phone, trying to get the camera focused properly, my daughter dropped the nativity scene and it broke in several places.
As today’s reading tells us, “Human things can be holy, very full of God”. I find it is easy to see a world full of God’s holiness and glory on a cool quiet morning. It’s a bit harder in traffic or when my schedule is way overbooked or with toddlers destroying the house faster than I can clean.
Of course God comes to us a baby. A baby is, in its own way, equal parts demanding and unassuming; everyone around her is forever changed. A baby takes up real estate in your heart and mind and consciousness, changing the way you see and do and encounter the everyday.
Baby Jesus breaks through the busyness and the frustration and the never-ending to do list. It is easy to see the things of this world taking up space and time that we wish we could fill with God. And then the angels (sometimes in toddler form) appear and urge us, “Behold!” Advent is our invitation to make space in our hearts and minds and lives, so that we may see that this life already is holy and full of God.