In Him, Life

The Incarnation is one of the most joyous, miraculous, and astounding events to happen in all of human history. Easily trivialized to little more than a sentimental gesture towards the birth of Christ, it represents with unreserved nakedness the love of God towards a people alienated from his presence.

A Fall and a promise

The Scriptures document thoroughly the fall of mankind. From the first sin when “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6) to the first curse:

So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.” (Gen 3)

The subsequent pages of scripture outlining man’s rebellion against his creator demonstrate man’s utter sinfulness in light of God’s complete holiness. However, almost as soon as man’s rebellion is revealed -a more powerful good is made known. Even as he is cursing the serpent, God makes a promise -the first of many -that culminate the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ:

15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel. (Gen. 3)

And down through the ages His promises continued. To Abraham, ” in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3) and David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Sam 7:16).

When Everything Became as Nothing

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1)

The incarnation is diametrically opposed to the way of the world: in a culture where success is measured by upward mobility in work, family, influence, power, etc -humbling oneself from a position of affluence seems unreasonable, if not unthinkable. After all, even Adam and Eve, in the fall, sought only their own elevation and glory. Not only that, but the incarnation represents a condescension of such magnitude that it cannot be fully understood or appreciated -no equivalent comparison exists within the observable cosmos. Returning to the quote from John 1, the implications are quite stark: Christ has been and will always be; he is the one who spoke and brought ALL things into existence -every star, galaxy, planet, creature, and atom. This is who it is who became a cold, poor, crying baby. The following passage from one of Augustine’s sermons is quite helpful thinking about God becoming man:

“Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.”
– Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

In Him, life

The Incarnation only makes sense inside the context of fall, promise, and redemption. As Paul says in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” So this Christmas, as we consider the meaning of the day, let us wonder at God’s love for those who rejected him: that he would become one of them, suffer as one of them, be humiliated by them, and murdered by them -all so that “He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29).

A Prayer of Thanks

Christians are called to rejoice and give thanks at all times, and in all situations -and how can we not if indeed the Gospel is true? As Paul says,

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~1 Thess. 5:16-18

This Thanksgiving, the holiday can merely be a break from routine, a time eating lots of good food with family (not a bad thing!) -but it can also be more. While Christians are called to give thanks always, this day provides an opportunity to intentionally praise God for the ways he has worked during the past year. There are any number of ways this can look -but the following from the Book of Common Prayer has helped me as I’ve contemplated God’s working in the past year, and maybe it will be beneficial to you as well:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

~Book of Common Prayer -Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

By and By

Mature we rest in natural mooring,

By a stream, dirt and water mingling;

Boughs cumbered with clinging moss, often sighing:

Memories of darkened wood, time breaking.

Neighbors are gone, felled by axe and age,

Leaving impressions on nearby earthage;

But in their shadow grow new tender leaves,

sunward rising, growing from what below lies.

And with each morn – dew returns, and we find

Solace from broken trunk, doleful mind:

Like salve that succors the green leaf tender

Against sun that would it poorer render,

And with relieved voice windy branches cry,

in hope of a better dawn by and by.

Hymns and new songs

It is not everyday that you find new or interesting takes on classic Christian hymns, and while there have been a plethora of covers in various styles (bluegrass, country, etc) -some quite good, an artist who takes a distinct stylistic road is hard to find. Enter JG Hymns, out of Edinburgh, UK. Combining instrumentation with solo male vocals, he weaves the lyrics of classic hymns to a new and unique sound. While certainly not a style aimed at congregational singing, his musical interpretation of well known songs it quite interesting and insightful, and some of his original works are quite good as well.

Just as I am, without one plea

Vocabulary in Old Books

While surfing the internet looking at t-shirts one day, I came across a shirt with an image of a raven spelling the word “nevermore.” Immediately recognizing the reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem The Raven, I went and grabbed my copy off of the shelf and began to read. However, upon opening the book, a small piece of paper fell out, and upon looking closer I realized it contained a bunch of words on it meant for further research in the dictionary.
One of the great advantages of reading older books is the expansive use of vocabulary found in them. While by no means a universal truth, many older authors (especially the ones who have lasted the test of time) maintained a much stronger mastery of the English language than people do today. This makes old books a great way to learn new (old) English words. However, like just about anything, vocabulary growth cannot be obtained in a desultory manner, because then we just end up writing words down to reference later and stick them in a book.
After rediscovering my list of vocabulary from Poe’s book, I continued on to reread The Raven, it took me all of 5 minutes, but in the process I had discovered several more words to add to my small paper. So, find a good book, and whenever you get a chance – read and learn. There’s a whole wealth of words out there that the majority of people do not know, a whole treasure chest just waiting to be discovered. Here are some of the words that I found through reading Poe:

  1. Quiescence –adj. in a state or period of inactivity or dormancy
  2. Asphodel –n. an immortal flower said to grow in the Elysian fields
  3. Desultory –adj. lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm
  4. Nepenthe –n. any drug or potion bringing welcome forgetfulness
  5. Castellated –adj. having battlements
  6. Surcease –n. cessation; relief or consolation

The Eagle and the Hawk

Seeing a career peak during the 1970’s, John Denver wrote songs with signature acoustic accompaniment and subjects dealing with nature and relationships. Songs such as ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads‘, ‘Rocky Mountain High‘, and ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders‘ put Denver on the charts during the 70’s and remain classics to the present. Characterized by optimism in his music, even more serious songs contain hopeful timbres, and make for excellent easy listening music.

Take Me Home, Country Roads
Rocky Mountain High
Sunshine on My Shoulders
The Eagle and the Hawk

Sandpipers and the Seashore

A biting wind blustered across the pebbled and loosely packed path—causing Bartley to shiver under his wool coat. Folding the collar up, he braced as a particularly strong gust threatened to take his feet out from under him. After a brief recovery of balance, he resumed walking briskly against the cold, neither looking west toward the riotous green-gray sea, nor east toward the lush green hills that towered above him—but straight ahead as many do who have a goal in sight.

The sun had been up for some hours, but the grey haze that blanketed the heavens dispersed its piercing rays and created an ambiance that seemed to be from nowhere, and yet everywhere, casting a muted light evenly across the landscape. Bartley found the overcast sky oddly cathartic—in the sort of way that a joyful person finds the sunny day invigorating, or a raging storm feels like home to an angry man. He had been away from home for some time, living out of the pack on his back, doing business wherever the company had sent him. Now, at last, he was coming home.

He used to work in a small store, an establishment run by his father-in-law, located in the same town where he had spent his youth. Years of repeating the same tasks had begun to wear on him, however, and wondering if he had misspent the best years of his life—he dreamed of what might have been. Soon thereafter a bank opened an office down the street and advertised a position for a man of ‘business sense’ to travel up and down the western seaboard (all for good pay of course), reclaiming properties in which the residents had defaulted on their loans. Now, a job described as such does not sound very heartwarming or appealing to most, but Bartley was determined to live out his ‘missed years of adventure’ as he described them, and telling his wife and children goodbye, began trekking down the rocky coast.

The job was great at first, lots of days on the road followed by nights at a local pub or inn. Working with his fellow evictors, Bartley would spend a day or two in a region, making the rounds for the bank on various households; however, evicting people is not a pleasant business, and soon he found the faces of the poor families he saw day after day staring back at him from his glass of ale in the evenings. At the start he had begun each morning spryly, wondering what new place, conversation, or town lay around the next bend, but now he dreaded the rising of the sun—for each new day brought fresh grief to his conscience. While he had once only briefly replied to the letters of his wife and children, giving them barely a thought, he now looked forward to the evening hour to see if a labeled envelope awaited him upon the completion of his daily rigor.

Bartley tucked his hands more deeply into his coat pockets—clenching cold fingers into fists. Watery eyes scanned the rocks in front of him and upon seeing a small dirt detour down to the beach, he turned aside to eat his lunch. Sandpipers darted on nimble legs through the vestiges of waves as Bartley walked along the shoreline. The birds’ feet left trails in the coarse sand, like snapshots of the progress of each little life, until a wave would come rolling across the beach and mask over the tracks as if nothing had disturbed that shore before. “If only life were that simple,” murmured Bartley to himself, thinking about his own footsteps during the preceding months—footprints he would much like to have expunged. Footprints right back to the door of his house with his wife and children waving him away as he disappeared into the dark night. Sometimes forgetfulness is a blessing, but there on the beach, as the sandpipers darted to and fro amidst the foamy water, he knew that he had to remember where he came from to know where he was going.