Possessing Our Souls in Patience at Advent

Scripture Reading: Luke 21:5-19

    Believers in Jesus Christ have had several centuries to touch, taste and handle the glorious reality and ultimate Truth of Jesus’ first Advent; but not so much His Second. In fact, the proclamation of His imminent return has fallen on hard times as church’s shy away from a focus on what has been known throughout the ages as “The Believers’ Glorious Hope”.

nativity2.jpg

     I love the Christmas cards and nativity scenery artistically portraying the shining face of the Christ-Child in the manger, and that light reflecting from those gathered around the Holy family to adore Him. Yet, the historical facts and events, soon to follow that scene, record a brutal, ugly, God-hating world, in the not so distant backdrop. Yet those who gazed and received His Light were forever transformed; going out from that space, proclaimed, preserved and stewarded the Best News the World has ever received and ever will.

   Jesus, in Luke 21:5-19, sought to prepare His followers for the unpleasant circumstances that would also attend His second advent—the destruction of Jerusalem, wars at home and abroad, worldwide cataclysmic events, chaos and disruptions in society and the created order, cosmic phenomena and, in it all, persecution of believers in Him. His admonition to them in verse 19 is to ‘possess their souls in patience’, promising that they would be imbued with supernaturally supplied responses and powerful testimonies of Him for their persecutors and captors and that not a hair on their heads would be lost.

    In this ‘now and not yet’ prophetic passage we, today, can testify that the disciples, just like the faithful shepherds and the holy family, did ‘possess their souls in patience’, in their time. The light of the Glory of God in the Face of Christ had burst forth from a Middle-Eastern tomb, and they had beheld His Glory, even of the only begotten of the Eternal Father! They waited in prayer and worship till the Spirit fell and filled them, then they faithfully delivered the Gospel to successive generations, sustained even up until our day.

How will we do in our time?

Prayer:
“Father, as our quaking world holds the prospect of Christ’s second Advent in derision, help us choose to ‘look up’ in joyful anticipation of His appearing, as Jesus told us to while working the works of Him who sent us while it is still day; knowing that He who promised us supernatural testimony of You, by His Spirit, will also supply the joyful vision to sustain and enable us to ‘possess our souls in patience’ till that Day of days.”

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)