Thursday, December 25, 2014

God With Us; or, He Loves Us, He Really Loves Us. . .

This is a conflation of a couple of Christmas meditations I wrote in my 'paper journal' back in the day (20 years ago and more. . .), and a partial re-post of what I posted here a few years back. . .


"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
     and they will call his name Emmanuel - 'God With Us'."
          - The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 1, verse 23
              (ref. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 7:14)

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
          - The Gospel According to John, chapter 1, verse 14

"In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets
     at many times and in various ways;
But in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. . ."
          - The Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verses 1-2

I recall a sermon I heard once, in which the preacher made the point that, in the Incarnation God, who is greater than the Universe, willingly confined Himself in human flesh.  The One who created the Universe, who called it into being and sustains it by His merciful love, emptied Himself of his infinite Divine prerogatives and lived among us, as one of us, knowing in His own body our finitude, our weakness.  It's as though I, in my compassion for worm-kind, became a worm, to live as a worm among the worms, to understand in my own life and experience, what worm-hood is like.  Except that God taking on human flesh is a bigger existential 'leap' than me becoming a worm; I already know what it's like to live in a body, for one example. . .

So then - God is no longer remote from us; He has come to us - God is with us.  He's One of Us (I think of the Joan Osborne song from the 90s; she asked a better question than perhaps she knew. . .)

How differently would we understand our lives if we were more consciously aware of this foundational truth - God is with us.

How differently would we relate to our minor trials (or our major ones, for that matter) if we knew - really knew - that God is with us.

How different would our sins look to us if we really understood that God is with us?

What a privilege, what an awesome possibility is laid before us - God has become one of us, that we might become like God.  And yet how little do we - do I - take hold of it and venture so bold as to live by means of God's grace?

And then this -

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - 
     how will He not also graciously give us all things?"
          - The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 32

God didn't have to send His Son, the Eternal Word, to be incarnate, but he did.  And if He did that, what won't he do for us?  Can I even grasp what this - the Incarnation - means, in terms of how God wants to relate to me?  With what gracious favor, what kindliness, what gratuitous, extravagant, profligate love, He regards me/us?  The 'plans He has for us, plans for good and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope?' (ref. Jeremiah 29:11)

It reminds me of what CS Lewis said in 'The Weight of Glory' - "We muck about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us."  We just don't get it. . .


O God, have mercy on us; help us to see clearly, and to know, really know, the lavishness of your love for us.  Let it change us, purify us, make us holy, make us more like you created us to be in the beginning, to be your presence in the world, to shine as lights in the darkness. . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Please Pray, Won't You?

I've only got about 4 or 5 more-or-less regular readers left here in The Yard, and one of 'em, Buck Pennington, the Exile in Portales, is pretty seriously ill just lately, enough to be in an ICU one state over from home.  Would you please take a moment to offer a prayer for his recovery?  (Buck, who I believe has Buddhist leanings, likes to make reference to The Deity At Hand; I'm quite sure, at any rate, that The Deity At Hand knows Who He Is, whether we do or not. . .)  Buck has become a good friend over the blog-years (even if he is a fancier of Notre Dame; we hold the Red Wings in common, though), and I would hate to lose him just yet. . .


(update, 20 December)

Buck's sons posted of his passing yesterday.  Clearly, the Deity At Hand has His own inscrutable plans for Buck. . .

I will miss him.

Requiescat In Pace, Buck

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Pair of Heart-Warming Vignettes. . .

Or at least, so they seem to me. . .


One night recently, Jenn and I were in our bedroom, preparing to retire for the night, when she looked at me, grinning broadly.

"We're doing it!" she said, enthusiastically.

Um, doing what, Sweetheart?

"We always said we wanted to grow old together, and we're doing it!  We're growing old!  Together!"

What could I say to that?  Yes, we are.  And there's no-one I'd rather grow old with than you, dear. . .


I was a recent visitor to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn (a very cool place, if you're at all into historical machinery).  At one point, I was walking across an open space past a group of a half-dozen or so girls, who were, I would guess, around seven or eight years of age.  One of the girls, bolder than the others, perhaps noting my, um, girthiness, combined with my mostly-white beard and graying hair, approached me to ask, "Are you Santa Claus?"

I smiled at her benignly.  "No," I replied. "I'm his brother."

As I walked away, I heard behind me a chatter of excited voices - "That guy is Santa Claus' brother!"  "Really?!?"  "No, he's not!"  "Uh-HUH!  He told me!"

And I smiled. . .


The weather around these parts has been unseasonably warm/dry for December.  High 30s/low 40s, and aside from a couple inches the week before Thanksgiving, we really haven't had any snow to speak of.  And thus, I've gotten in two rides, for 27 miles, so far in December (and 1063 for the year).  I've also flatted three of the last four times I've gone out on my bike (*aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh*).  My working hypothesis is that, the roads being just slightly damp this time of year, stones stick to the surface of the tire, and slowly get pounded through to eventually puncture the inner tube.  But. . . December miles.  I'll take all I can get. . .

(*update, 17 December*)

I finally took my bike in to the shop to see if he could figure out any hidden causes of my recent rash of flats.  Turns out, I had three pieces of glass lodged in my tire, none of 'em so deeply that I could discover 'em with the standard run of my fingers across the inside of the tire (I always do that because, you know, if you leave the cause of the flat in place, you're gonna get repeated flats. . .) (D'oh!)  So, when I'd go out and ride for 20 miles or so, the little sharp edges would keep poking at the inner tube until, Voila! a complete puncture occurred.  So, one new tire later, I'm (I hope) back in business. . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent, One More Time. . .

In recent years, in solidarity with my friend Suldog and his Thanksgiving Comes First campaign, I've re-posted a piece on Advent that I originally ran eight years ago.  This year, I offer it to you once again, lightly edited. . .


This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent - the beginning of the Christian season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and the beginning of a new liturgical year (so hey, Happy New Year!). Over the years, I've really come to love Advent, imperfectly though I may observe it. In rough terms, Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, with a bit more low-key emphasis on the whole 'penitential' thing. Rightly done, Advent is a time of contemplation, a time to step back from the normal frenzy of daily life, take a few deep breaths, and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas. One of the old traditional Advent hymns bids us

Make your house fair, as you are able,

in preparation to welcome God in human flesh four weeks hence.  So, Advent is pretty much the polar opposite of 'consumer Christmas'. Pausing for contemplation is not a thing we Americans are terribly inclined to do (perhaps I should rather say it's a thing that we're inclined to do terribly).

In the larger American culture, the 'Christmas season' runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, but in traditional Christian circles, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and runs until Epiphany (January 6) - thus, the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' - and Advent is marked out by the four Sundays immediately preceeding Christmas. So, when most of our neighbors are finished with Christmas (sometime in the late afternoon or evening of December 25th), we're just getting started. It always perplexes me just a bit to see all the Christmas trees out on the curb on the 26th; when Jenn was a kid, Catholics didn't even put their Christmas trees up until Christmas Eve. And, just as I'm getting pumped to finally be singing 'Joy to the World' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', most of my neighbors are sick of the whole 'Christmas thing'.

Maybe I should blame it on the Magi - they started the whole giving-gifts-at-Christmas thing. I doubt they had any clue how far it would get out-of-hand, though.

When it comes right down to it, though, I've got to admit that my spiritual preparation for Christmas is my own responsibility. It's not up to American culture to get me spiritually prepared. It might be nice if the culture were more supportive (or even just less disruptive) of what I'm trying to accomplish, but it is what it is.

So, our family is setting out on Advent. If, over the next few weeks, I seem a little reticent and low-key about Christmas, you'll understand, won't you? And then, if I'm getting all Christmas-y just when you're getting tired of it all, you'd be very kind to indulge me. In the meantime, I'll be over here, singing 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel', in a minor key. . .