During the Twelve Days of Christmas, just as in the Advent season, I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to.
Merry Fifth Day of Christmas! Yesterday was another wonderful day of celebrating with family, and I am sure today will be yet another. At the same time though, I have to admit that my day has started off somewhat somberly reading news and headlines.
I have read that:
- There was a major deadly apartment fire in New York over night that was started by a child playing with an oven or stove. What a horrible and tragic accident.
- Record or near record below zero temperatures are forecast for much of the country this weekend, and I worry about anyone who might not have warm shelter.
- Countless young American leaders (also known as “Dreamers”) have been effectively threatened by the President for their immigration status, and are being held hostage over funding for a wall that will arguably do little or nothing to promote safety and security.
All of this is somber news. All of this reiterates why one of the readings for the Twelve Days of Christmas is about the story of the “Death of the Innocents,” where a fearful leader and government authority, Herod, ordered the death of children. It’s not a happy story. But it points to how Christmas is not a panacea set apart from the world. No. Christ’s coming into the world, is very much an act of God breaking into the world- into all of its, good, bad, and ugly. Yet, in the midst of the thorns, a rose grows.
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming as seers of old have sung,
it came, a flower so bright, amid the cold of winter,
when half-spent was the night.
When I look at the forecast that I have to look forward to over the next few days or week, it certainly looks like it will be “the cold of winter.” I am grateful for the shelter we have, for all that keeps us warm and safe. I am grateful for the fireplace that provides comfort knowing it will be there in case the power goes out. I also pray for and worry about anyone who might not be able to have warm shelter.
Isaiah had foretold it, the rose I have in mind;
with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
when half-spent was the night.
This flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, from sin and death he saves us
and lightens every load.
The verses of this carol are really speaking to me today in light of the news I have read and seen. “This flower… dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.” In the midst of the bad and ugly of life, God is there. God is there with us. God is there with anyone who finds themselves on “the other side” of any wall. God is there.
God is here. Just as God has always been and always will, and just as God promised through Isaiah and all the prophets. This is good news. That “from sin and death he saves us and lightens every load.” When the doubts and anxieties of life creep in, remembering God’s presence and promises can help calm. I am hopeful that I can remember this myself in the months and years ahead in the adventure of being a parent.
O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe;
O Savior, king of glory, who dost our weakness know:
bring us at length, we pray, to the bright courts of heaven
and into endless day.
In the incarnation and birth of Jesus, God comes to us as one of us. God knows us. And God too feels with us. On this Fifth Day of Christmas, I hope that we can name the good, bad, and ugly of life. I hope we not only feel called to pray, but to act and respond to help heal, restore, and welcome all neighbors and strangers, fellow Children of God. But, most importantly, I hope that in the midst of all the darker parts of life, we can all find, see, and point to the light of Christ. The light of God incarnate shows us another way. It is a light that shines and one that the darkness cannot overcome.
Credit/Reference: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” German carol; tr. Theodore Baker; Harriet R. Krauth; John C. Mattes, Alte catholische geistliche Kirchengesange, Koln, arr. Michael Praetorius; found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 272.