“Down From His Glory” – Condescension

     I remember the crazy rocking of the plastic flowers on top of the little pump organ in response to Aunty Patsy’s efforts.  She coaxed the Christmas carol through its ancient fittings, pressing the pedals below with exuberance. Continue reading ““Down From His Glory” – Condescension”

FIRST SIGHTING

It was one of those moments in Bible reading —the words of John 10:22 arrested my attention and I could not move past them. In fact, I did not want to. The words had unveiled Jesus to me so poignantly I did not want to let go —

“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.”

The picture of the Lord, draped, perhaps, in a lambskin throw, (it was Winter!) walking among the columns of Solomon’s Colonnade, with the light of the great oil lamps flickering, casting warm shadows about the Lord of glory, drew a blanket of comfort over my heart for the approaching Advent season that would not quit.

I found it impossible to press past these verses in my reading through John. So I turned to the Old Testament passage, which I had also recently commenced, and realized that there I was being similarly arrested; I saw a heart-wrenching parallel,

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”  – Genesis 3:8 NKJV

trees-columns1-croppedBoth passages record eternally significant moments — in the Old Testament, God, searching out Adam and Eve in pursuit of fellowship with Mankind’s heart, among the trees of Eden, in the cool of that dreadful day. Death had descended in the wake of their rebellion and its dark chill had made them flee to shadows and grasp at anything, in their futile effort to cover themselves.

Then in the New Testament: God, the long-expected Jesus, Redeemer, walking in Holy reflection among the columns of Jerusalem’s temple in the Winter, at the Feast of Dedication, as He prepared Himself to be given, to restore Mankind’s fellowship with the Father.

There, through the Apostle John’s recounting, we find the Jewish leaders breaking Jesus’ holy reverie, hounding Him to prove His Messiahship.  Jesus had engaged them earlier in discourse, figuratively outlining the fact of their own spiritual blindness, in shepherd-sheep illustrations, as they had plied their upset with him for His Sabbath healing of a man born blind.  Here, He patiently reinvokes that illustration, emphasizing that their blindness was due to their not being His sheep since only His sheep listen to His voice.

Temple hannakah Menorah1Did the light of the Hanukkah oil lamps, flickering around them in that moment romp in the tufts of the lambskin throw that may have draped the shoulders of the Lamb of God? Did earthly light struggle vainly to compete with the Light of the world Himself? If it did, the Jewish leaders missed it, for their response was to look for stones to slay Him before the appointed time—

My heart throbbed with fresh understanding of the heart of the composer of the Negro Spiritual,

“Di worl‘ treat You mean Lawd,

Treat me mean too,

But dat’s ‘ow t’ings is down ‘ere

WE DID’N KNOW WHO YOU WAS”

Just as the Heavenly Father walked the natural colonnade of Eden seeking His frightened children, so God, in Christ, seeks us in every season and is perhaps nearest, walking among the inner spaces of our hearts, where we hide, especially in our Winter seasons. Did the faithful praying for a way out of dark circumstances sense a lightening of their darkness that day? Did the tossed and torn sense a holy hush as He brushed by? Did hungry hearts feel satisfaction settling unexplainably on them as the Lord of Life hovered over them?

Whether it was a Hannah, or a David or any of the multitudes of Israel’s lost and scattered sheep, from past centuries to ours, the Great Shepherd is found walking among the weak and broken in the courts of prayer, in hearts of brokenness — quickening barren wombs, forgiving repentant sinners, comforting the grieving and gathering the wandering flock into His Fold.

In Divine self-revelation, He is offering to open our eyes to God’s new day, ever breaking upon the night of Man. He is staking His claim of Lordship over every circumstance that could ever face us.

That Great Shepherd of the sheep is wordlessly calling out to His own. The Great Creator God strolls, available wherever we are willing to admit our blindness.  He is willing to not only cover our sin but to wash us clean in His own sacrificial flow, and sweep us up into His greater plan.

trees-columns2-cropHe has come to reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This Advent may we allow our brokenness to push us from the shadows to encounter the One who has come Himself, calling our name, lighting the way, this Winter.

“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.”  – John 10:22

This Advent, see Him in the temple.  Amen.

 

My Heart, His Manger

The first nativity set I bought for our fledgling family, did not have a manger with the baby Jesus, or so it was thought. Ten dollars provided this bargain because someone did not search through all the packaging sufficiently before labeling it defective, for re-sale. Imagine my delight when, upon unpacking and trying to figure where I would find a ‘manger-and-Jesus-in-porcelain’ to match my new set, I found it neatly wrapped and buried at the bottom corner of the emaciated box, the fact that the characters were all cast in Euro-centric features not even vaguely being an issue.
That experience is something akin to the emotions that prompted my writing the poem, ‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’*. It was my first piece, written in verse, that sought to be faithful to the rhythm, idioms and phonology of Jamaican Creole speech. Still primarily an oral language at the time that I studied it, at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, the Jamaican patois reflects the geo-political history of our island, using English words yet employing West African syntax (grammar), and seasoned liberally  with vocabulary and idioms reflecting our rich cultural mix. Despite the national treasure that it is, those who know the Jamaican Creole as their only language are often looked down on, as it marks one as uneducated, as standard English is Jamaica’s official language.
‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’ found me determined to celebrate all Christ had made me to be, stirred up as I was at that time, by the storms that accompany cross-cultural marriage and migration. Writing it afforded me a chance to explore some of the ideas with which every non-Caucasian ethnicity, introduced to Christianity in context of white Western culture, has had to grapple: Raising questions such as, Does God look like me? If He doesn’t, does He still care as much? If He does care, am I a sample of my type worthy of His regard and of significance in His Kingdom? And, an even more daunting  query, Though I might be counted among the Redeemed, can He really be reflected as well through ‘me’? Me unedited by society’s or my own sharp, re-defining pen? The answer to this last, I found to my great relief, is an eternally resounding ‘Yes!’.
It is the message of the place of the Nativity—Bethlehem, ‘the least among the cities of Judah’ , the animal shelter, the rejected, the devalued, the set aside—the manger. This is the place The Eternal delights to reveal His glory, to proclaim and parade His Redemption plan, among the least of these. But the ‘least’ also need to embrace and walk out what He has worked in, living incarnationally.
The phrase ‘incarnational living’ might be fairly new terminology on the evangelical Christian landscape, but is an idea at least  as old as the Creation itself. God’s willingness  to not only dwell with mankind, but also in us, requires our participation. It is Biblically sound Christian doctrine that regeneration happens immediately,  at the point of conversion. Yet how we struggle to believe it, between the now and the not yet, as we confront ourselves daily in the Mirror of the Scriptures, the mirrors provided by society  and even in our physical mirrors. Yes, the one on the bathroom wall.
It is amazing, the meaning with which we load the shape of head and eyes, texture and length of hair,  prominence or breadth of nose, height, weight and yes,  skin tone or shade, seeking to assay each other’s value by external features. The conclusions we draw or transmit can help or hinder our progress in sanctification. Wrestling in prayer through some of these issues this Advent, the words of Watermark’s  song ‘Come and make my heart Your home’, flooded in;
“Come and make my heart Your home; 
Come and be everything I am and all I’ve known; 
Search me through and through 
‘til my heart becomes a home for you…
Let everything I do open up a door for You to come through..”
Twenty years ago I had gratefully, but with some anxious doubt, taken home what I thought was an incomplete Nativity set but God was in it. Jesus was nestled down, wrapped securely in a corner of the buffeted packaging. It took just a little careful unwrapping. Just as His coming was prophesied, He wrote about us in His book, before even one of our members was formed, said the Psalmist -Ps.139. 
The intricacies of our make up were given expression and boundaries by Him. Yes, our forms also evidence the brokenness of sin, yet even those become fodder for His glory as they are yielded to Him in trust. As the light at Advent searches  through the wood, hay and stubble of our hearts this year, and as we look in all the mirrors, may we know truth—He did not purchase us by accident. When He paid the price, He knew what He was getting, and considered the manger of our heart a fitting place for His abiding. May we allow His Spirit to carefully unwrap us this season and reveal Jesus, ‘Pretty in us’.
* See blog post by the same name, ‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’, on this site, along with audio performance and translation.

Father’s Coming

The massive white marble statue of Mary, with the lifeless body of Christ draped over her lap, came immediately to mind in response to Susan Forshey’s  Advent chart invitation to 
“Spend time with a favorite piece of art”.
Michelangelo Buonarotti’s famous sculpture, Pieta, (pee-ay-tah) intrigued me the moment I stumbled on it  in my college years. As a student of African-American Literature, I had found it useful as a metaphor for  the burden of  motherhood and the pain of fatherlessness. My reflections then, had inspired a triad of poems titled ‘Pieta in Black’ which captures  these themes.*
Revisiting Pieta this Advent, however, has me appreciating the promise ‘of the Father’ coming ‘through the Son’, ‘by the Spirit’ – Trinity. In considering the Incarnation, my focus had always only been on the second person of the Godhead, Jesus. But it was the Father whose power overshadowed the Virgin Mary, and it was the Holy Spirit who came upon her  in order for Jesus, our Hero, to arrive. Lk 1:35
 So rightly, Advent should also be a time to celebrate the Father’s initiative in our redemption story. He authored the whole thing, bringing and delivering His greatest Gift to us through the Virgin’s womb – let’s make room in the Nativity for the Father!
 The ‘coming of father’, in any language, can evoke diametrically opposed emotions : dread, guilt and fear, on one hand, and joy, exultation and expectation of blessings – gifts! – on the other. Many a child has been brought up short, from inappropriate behavior, by the threat “When your father comes …”. Yet I find myself wondering if the longing for Father-presence ( no disrespect to Joseph) in the Christmas story, is not what birthed and feeds the spirit of Santa – a longing to please father and be rewarded for it, motivated to be nice by the threat of the twice-checked list – a striving to earn grace.
Several years ago, FourSquare pastor and founder of The King’s College & Seminary, in Los Angeles,  Jack Hayford, cautioned  church leaders in a Christmas message, to not be exceedingly disparaging of the idea of Santa, as it speaks to the longing for pleasant associations with fatherhood at a time of year when fatherlessness can be most painful – a longing that just might lead many a wounded ‘child’ home. My meditations this season compel me to agree.
So palpable was the pain of fatherlessness, as I experienced it in the Literature of my college days, I was tempted to put it aside – to reject its pain for more romantic (idyllic) and beautifully themed material, but somehow the martyr in me won. I felt an odd responsibility, having seen the wound, to do something about it, even if only to make others aware. My conscience, shaped no doubt by memories of the persona in Christina Rossetti’s children’s poem ‘The Snare’,  dictates that if I can hear that ‘there is a rabbit in a  snare’ then  I must ‘search everywhere’ or else communicate the dreadful fact to as many as I can, who may be able to help search and rescue. In Pieta, Mary, by her  fixed gaze,  bids  everyone make eye contact with the pain born of sinfulness, if we would also behold the Innocent One sacrificed for us.
Her slightly upturned left hand was also a new focus for me this season of Advent meditation: was she intended to be gesturing accusingly to the world whose sins had slain him? Or was she offering Him, surrendering Him a substitute for our propitiation?- fulfillment of that same gesture when, as her younger self, freshly delivered of her Holy Burden, she had offered him to shepherds and Kings alike. Only, then, it was for their adoration of Him in His infancy. Or maybe, just maybe, the gesture is  intended as a re-presentation of Jesus back to the Omnipresent  Father, who, having  so prodigally  given, waited  in readiness, for the appointed time, to turn again, and raise Him back to life.
 In this, Pieta is the picture of Ultimate Hope! Let every faithful mother-heart, surrendered, like Mary’s, wait expectantly this Advent for the coming of the Father who alone can raise up sons, however badly wounded, to life again. 🙏🏿
* ( Pieta and other of my poems will be posted in the new year with accompanying audio – Deo Volente – as the Lord allows)