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Love Is With Us… Always!

December 17, 2016

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You just never know who is going to show up in our neighborhood! That is one of the many things that we love about living in Estes Park with the Rocky Mountain National Park literally  being our back yard. Over the course of the year, I have watched this Bull Elk go from velvet antlers and hanging out solo to being right at our front door grazing with his harem. When I took this picture, he was hanging out across the street at our neighbors. He was just chilling, grazing, and putting up with the photographer who was across the street.

As I sit back and reflect on the past three months, I realize how busy we have been and how much we have been on the move. Between classes at Montreat and Columbia Seminary for our Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation program (two papers still left to write between now and mid-January… ugh) and two trips to help out my folks in Minnesota six weeks apart, I am, to be honest, exhausted! With all of the comings and goings in the midst of Advent preparations, it would be easy to get lost and miss the intent of this holy season.

Today we spent a few hours shoveling snow at home and at the church. Even though it was a lot of work (ask me tomorrow how badly my body is aching!), it was absolutely beautiful outside. The sun was shining and it was hard to believe that the temperature was hovering in the single digits above zero. As if on cue this morning, my friend above was with his herd on the hillside across the road from us.

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While I didn’t see my friend the Bull Elk, the herd seemed to be content hanging about on the hillside grazing and chilling (which is easy when the ground is covered with snow!). Our four legged neighbors seem to appear with a certain reminder to me. They remind me that our Creator, the one who loves us and wants us to share that love with others is present.

Sunday is the last Sunday in Advent. We will light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath which is the candle of Love. In 1885, Christina Rossetti penned the poem that would be set to music and become the song, “Love Came Down at Christmas”. Here are the words of the original poem:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Interestingly enough, the Scripture readings for this Sunday (Matthew 1:18-25 and Psalm 80:1-7) have a bit of an edge to them. They aren’t exactly the warm and fuzzy thoughts one would expect this close to Christmas. Perhaps the problem is with what we have turned Advent and Christmas into? Somewhere in our consumer driven frenzy (fed I might add by big companies who want to make more and more money) we have forgotten what this time of year is supposed to be about.

No, I am not talking about the made-up “war on Christmas” that some christians (lower case is intentional) have dreamed up because they don’t want to be aware of or respect the variety of cultures and religions other than their own who just might have holy days during this season. I am talking about what has happened in the US where after supposedly giving thanks for God’s blessings, we turn around and beat the snot out of each other on Thanksgiving evening or Black Friday to “get bargains” at any cost, including the cost of human decency!

Like I have said before in this blog, dear reader, perhaps we need to reexamine what this season means deep down in our soul. The readings for this fourth Sunday offer us a window into reexamining what Advent and even Christmas itself truly means. In good Ignatian fashion (the practice of Lectio Divina), let’s put ourselves into the Scripture readings and see what they say to us.

Psalm 80:1-7 is a desperate cry to God. In verses three and four we read: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” Yikes! Restore us, Lord? How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? All this on the Sunday before Christmas? Perhaps this prayer is itself a warning to us this time of year.

What I find interesting (thanks to Denise’s comment which made me start thinking about the psalm) is the fact that the people seem to be blaming GOD for their misfortunes! In verses five through six we read: “You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.”

If you remember way back in 1 Samuel, God gives in to the whining of the people and gives them a king just like everyone else in the neighborhood has. They couldn’t keep it together when Moses was leading them… under Joshua and the Judges? Nope! With a King? How long did that last before the people and their kings lost the plot?

So who’s fault was it? Today I look around at the mess that we have made of this world (ecologically, politically, financially, spiritually, and emotionally) and I don’t see room to blame God. God gave us freedom to choose, and as the old knight in the closing chapter of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” said, “we chose poorly”! In verse seven, I can almost  imagine the people throwing up their hands in desperation and crying out to God: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

God did hear that prayer and, as Christina Rossetti wrote long ago, “Love came down at Christmas… Love was born at Christmas!” But the adventure in missing the point continued. Did our salvation come down in the form of a mighty warrior? Was our salvation one who would kick butt and take names (as we used to say in the military)? Nope… our salvation came in an amazing and surprising way.

An older man who was a carpenter named Joseph fell in love with a young lass named Mary. It wasn’t a typical betrothal at all. Can you imagine having an angel come to you in the middle of the night (by the way, Mary got the shock of a daytime visit!) and telling you that your betrothed was with child and you weren’t the father? And to boot, being told to name him Jesus… or as the prophet foretold, Emmanuel, which means God with us! Well, that is exactly what Joseph and Mary were told!

To be honest, your Padre has been struggling this Advent season with the sanitized and watered down version of Advent and Christmas. Instead of a time of penitential preparation, Advent is the insanity that is consumerism at its finest (read worst). I have to wade through daily emails from advertisers telling me what I need and how they can “give me a deal” just for me! And the crush of hatred that surrounds us in this country is overwhelming. There are plenty of days when its all I can do to simply mutter a prayer, “even so, come Lord Jesus, come!”

But I know deep within my heart that there is a different answer. Joseph could have tucked tail and run away from Mary and the entire situation. He chose to stay, despite all the harassment and gossip he would face. He chose to stand by Mary, his partner in love/faith/life and do what the Lord asked of him. Yes, dear reader, as we will see in the weeks ahead, he believed that Love was indeed breaking into the world in a way he didn’t understand. In the words of Micah the prophet, he did justice (stayed with Mary despite the attitudes of his neighbors), loved kindness/mercy (just as he loved Mary), and most of all… he and Mary walked humbly with God.

Jesus came into the world a bastard child in the eyes of many. Jesus was a refugee who had to flee with his family before his first birthday to Egypt to avoid the slaughter that the people’s psychotic and paranoid “king” would initiate to kill off his competition. He wasn’t high-born… he didn’t have a lot of money… he wasn’t a power broker who thought nothing of taking advantage of others for his own gain… no, he was the humble son of Joseph the Carpenter and Mary.

Jesus was, and is, and will continue to be God’s promise to us. Jesus is the promise of God with us. God is with us, even in the midst of terrible darkness. Dear reader, Jesus is God’s love poured out upon us as sweet anointing oil! Will you join with me as I seek to share the love of Christ in this time of darkness? Remember, love is with us… always!

4 Comments
  1. A lovely reminder. Thank you Michael.

  2. A beautiful post, Michael. I love the way you drew out Joseph’s side of the story, something that can often get sidelined. Yes, in such an amazing, humbling way, Love came down, God came down to dwell among us, to show us the way to relate to Him and to others.
    So much THIS: “Jesus is the promise of God with us. God is with us, even in the midst of terrible darkness.” Yes and Amen, brother! Thank you for this insightful word. The deer photos are a delightful bonus! 🙂

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