from here to Epiphany
I took a break from blogging for about a month. I didn’t intend to do that – the busyness of the season forced my hand. I had wanted to write about each week of Advent. Instead, I sensed God saying to me, just pay attention. So, I did. Here are some thoughts from this time.
Advent means coming, and it is traditionally observed as a time of expectancy and preparation of our hearts for the birth of the long-expected Jesus, as the hymn says. I felt particularly drawn to the songs of longing, especially the old Christmas hymn, O Come Emmanuel:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The song speaks of things such as tyranny, death’s dark shadows, gloomy clouds of night and misery, while calling out for God to rescue. In the refrain I saw the faces of a couple of single moms who are each raising a large family alone after abandonment by their respective husbands and fathers, the young woman in a group home who is panicking upon receiving unconditional love consistently for the first time in her life and who desperately wants to flee, the lonely old man on the phone who lives in subsidized housing, who has no family, doesn’t know how to socialize and who dreads Christmas alone, the gay man whose family turned their backs en masse, the divorced woman who feels love and life has passed her by. There are also the ones filled with self-hatred to the point where they live unaware of their own existence, swimming in fantasy or dissociation. And those who are living under the pain of deep regret, or whose lives have literally been stolen from them through abuse, trafficking or cruel laws. Aching, longing hearts. I don’t mean to be such a downer but these were actual people in my December. That may sound burdensome and depressing but I also saw the body of Christ come around them and sustain them in beautiful ways – often at great cost to themselves and their own Christmas celebrations.
So Jesus has been born. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. The Light not only shines into but transforms darkness. But what does this really mean?
Last night I saw the movie Invictus, which is the story of the struggle of South Africa to redefine itself post-apartheid. It centers around the national rugby team which had been the darling of the apartheid-era whites. The blacks had cheered for whatever team opposed them. But under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, the team became the symbol of his deep passion to bring reconciliation and oneness to a spilt and wounded nation.
True reconciliation is startling. It seems illogical, even stupid. Mandela added to his security team some guards who had protected the previous President, F. W. de Clerk. They were some of the same people who had treated blacks so cruelly and unfairly under apartheid. Needless to say, the black bodyguards were uncomfortable and suspicious of their loyalty. Nevertheless, Mandela exhorted them, “Reconciliation begins now. Forgiveness begins now.” He put to rest white fears that he would exact revenge and punish them under his government. That is always the danger of being freed from oppression – resentment and bitterness rise up and we are revealed to have the very same heart as that of the oppressor, full of vengeance and the same capacity for cruelty. Yet, through choosing to honor and love his enemy, Mandela won their hearts. During the big game in the movie, Mandela walked onto the field to greet the team dressed in their apartheid-era colors of green and gold. The huge crowd of mostly white South Africans had previously called Mandela a terrorist and an enemy of the state. Now, they begin to shout in unison, “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” Mandela’s work towards reconciliation is nothing short of stunning. It’s the most truly Christian thing I’ve ever seen.
I’ve come to believe that reconciliation is the deepest longing of the human heart. We long to be at one with God, with each other and within ourselves. We long to belong, to have a sense of “home” and to be part of a “we”. Author/Prof. Jim Houston says that it is in relationships that we are wounded, so it is in relationships that we are healed. We long for walls to be broken down and for friendship and trust to birth love. Without this, we remain broken shards of ourselves, always less than we are meant to be, less than fully human. To become awakened to this ache within our hearts is the great gift of God’s reconciliatory act of coming into this world. God-with-us intensifies and births our passion to create something better with and for each other.
I don’t know about you but during this first week of Christmas I am longing for a deeper drink of Jesus and for the at-one-ment that He brings in everything from the public square to the broken places in our own hearts. This month Ecclesia Denver writes in the Denver Book of Prayer that “our busted parts are really bursting parts – full of sacred beauty and possibility”. These are such hopeful words for a hurting people! An Epiphany. May we have eyes to see.