Those Who Dream — Advent 2020

THOSE WHO DREAM

That’s the problem, isn’t it, that the Angel Gabriel departed from her!

It happens to us, too.

Our angel departs
Leaves us

Goes away
Just when the deepest shadow of fear hovers over us.

Goes away
Just when grief has shattered our hearts.

Goes away
Just when our deep, deep life losses have left us disconsolate.

Our angel goes away.
Just at the moment of our most profound impoverishment,
Just at the moment when we know, beyond doubt,
That we will never dream again.

As for the dreams we long held hidden in our hearts . . .

Well, those dreams disappeared!

Vanished!

The dreams we held so closely are not in us anymore
Can not be dreamed anymore.

Suddenly, our angel left
And we were no longer those who dream.

Yet, we moved headlong into Mary’s story and Elizabeth’s;
Life growing in their wombs;
Holy Life growing in their wombs.
Both of them holding the dreams God gave them
Both dreaming into an unknown and unknowable journey

As women often do.


And on that journey, as we follow these two dreaming women, we see it!
The Star in the East!
The Bethlehem Star sparkling in night sky!

Our angel left us
But courage and hope still courses inside us.

We lift our gaze still and we see Bethlehem’s star

And the dark indigo sky sparkles
Brilliance incarnate!
Manifested before us in human form!

The Word Made Flesh who would never leave us like our angel did.

We follow that holy star
Determined.
Undaunted.
Unrestrained.

Because we know what we hold deeply in our souls;

We know exactly who we are —

Those who dream!

We are those who dream!

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Advent 2020

 

In your sacred pauses during this Advent season, may you find peace, knowing all is calm. Listen to this music in your contemplative time.

 

MARY, THE MOTHER OF THE CHRIST CHILD — WHAT DID SHE FEEL?

6EDE6870-F150-4879-84F1-73E63CE8A5E4 In these day following the Sunday of Advent that brings us Mary’s Magnificat, I cannot help but think of Mary this week, pondering how she must have felt to be specially and unexpectedly chosen by God to bear the Christ Child. In these days, we celebrate Mary as God-Bearer, Mother, Theotokos, solemnly. What might her innermost reflections have been? Was she afraid, confused, bewildered? My imagination of her makes me think she felt all of those emotions, and more. She was, after all, a young girl with dreams for her life, dreams that the angel who came to her might have shattered. This morning, my quiet time brought to mind a plethora of prose and poetry reflecting on Mary. I recently read a lovely three-pronged reflection on Mary written by Madeleine L’Engle in which she explores the inner experience of Mary within the context of the Incarnation-Christmas Mystery.  May Mary and Joseph accompany and guide you to the places you need to be this year so that your spirit may encounter the Word made flesh.

Three Songs Of Mary

O Simplicitas

An angel came to me and I was unprepared to be what God was using.

Mother I was to be.

A moment I despaired, thought briefly of refusing.

The angel knew I heard according to God’s Word, I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been the birthplace of a king (I had no way of knowing).

We went to Bethlehem; it was so strange a thing.

The wind was cold, and blowing, my cloak was old, and thin.

They turned us from the inn; the town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small who still must learn to speak lay in humiliation.

Joseph stood, strong and tall.

The beasts were warm and meek and moved in hesitation.

The Child born in a stall?

I understood it: all.

Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd; a stable set apart, the sleeping cattle lowing; and the incarnate Word resting against my heart.

My joy was overflowing.

The shepherds came, adored the folly of the Lord, wiser than all men’s knowing.


O Oriens

O come, O come Emmanuel within this fragile vessel here to dwell. O Child conceived by heaven’s power give me thy strength: it is the hour.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high; like any babe at life you cry; for me, like any mother, birth Was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might, whose birth came hastily at night, born in a stable, in blood and pain is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem, the stars will be thy diadem. How can the infinite finite be? Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come, open the door to my heart-home. I cannot love thee as a king – so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high: I saw the signs that marked the sky. I heard the beat of angels’ wings I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, Desire of nations, be simply a human child to me. Let me not weep that you are born. The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, God’s Son, God’s Self, with us to dwell.


O Sapientia

It was from Joseph first I learned of love. Like me he was dismayed. How easily he could have turned me from his house; but, unafraid, he put me not away from him (O God-sent angel, pray for him). Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child’s first cry came like a bell: God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed. The angel spoke: so it befell, and Joseph with me in my need.

O Child whose father came from heaven, to you another gift was given, your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed and cherished. Even in the stable I knew that I would not be harmed.

And, thou above the angels swarmed, man’s love it was that made me able to bear God’s love, wild, formidable, to bear God’s will, through me performed.

I have always been mesmerized with the striking lyrics of the hymn, “Some Children See Him,” and the way it poignantly describes the way children all over the world see the Christ Child. “Some children see Him lily white, the baby Jesus born this night,” the song says to us, “Some children see Him bronzed and brown . . . Some children see Him almond eyed . . . Some children see Him dark as they.” In the same way, every person in the world sees Mary from the unique perspective of the world they know. 57166E30-65EE-4439-9C38-1C55AB9B82F0 I hope these words written about Mary bless your day and lead you gently through your Advent days. 

May Advent’s hope, peace, joy and love touch your heart even if it is broken, calm your spirit even if it is in chaos, caress your soul even if it is grieving. Amen.

MARY’S SONG OF JOY FOR A WORLD THAT’SNOT SO JOYFUL

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The angel visit left Mary confused. And so — in a haze — she runs away, seeking refuge in the hill country with a family that would keep her safe and help her make sense of her world turned upside down . . . As soon as she fell into Elizabeth’s arms, Elizabeth knows and feels it to be true . . . “Yes, I feel it too. We are pregnant with promise . . . a dream that will birth joy.”


My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

He has exalted me and, humbly, His servant I will be.
All generations, henceforth, shall call be blessed.
For He has done great things for me and holy is His name.

I will probably always remember those words penned by a lyricist whose name I cannot remember. (Apologies to John W. Peterson, Anna Laura Page, Ragan Courtney or whoever helped create this arrangement. I remember the tune and every word, but I can’t remember you.)

I have sung, in my short lifetime, dozens of versions of Mary’s song that we know from the Gospel of Luke. We often call it Mary’s Magnificat. I sang the version quoted above many, many years ago as a part of my church’s Advent music. I looked through the music in our first Advent choir rehearsal and immediately turned the pages to this one that was called “Mary’s Song.” I knew I would sing it since the churches we served seldom had willing sopranos.

As November and December moved along, I rehearsed Mary’s Song over and over again, not to enunciate all the lyrics clearly or to sing all the notes correctly. I sang it again and again because the act of getting into Mary’s skin brought me to tears every time I sang it. Tears were okay, but being unable to sing because I was weeping was not okay with me. And yet, I didn’t want to rehearse the emotion out of it. I wanted to “be” Mary for just those moments and I wanted the hearers in the sanctuary to emotionally connect with her.

In the end, I prayed and left it in God’s hands, because in the end, that’s what people of faith  do. Today, as we do every year, we lit the Advent candle of joy — the pink candle, Mary’s candle — hoping that the sheer joy of her news to Elizabeth would ring true enough in us to bring us joy. How? “How can this be?” as Mary said to the angel.

I suppose that in these Advent days, in this particular year, many of us have asked “How?” How will we get through this bewildering time? How can joy fill us, enter into our souls and enliven our spirits, as we bury our loved ones? As we wait for word by phone about the person we love who is hospitalized? As we touch the hand of our grandmother through the window of her nursing home? As health care professionals become almost too weary to go on while people with the virus keep coming? As we know we will not see our family this Christmas — to keep them safe, to keep us safe?

How can we sing, this year, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” — Mary’s magnificat? Joy is a hard thing this year, for 2020 has brought us grief upon grief, fear upon fear and uncertainty upon uncertainty. Yet, we have held one another close, even over Zoom, because together we have found strength to go on. Over the senseless racially motivated violence we saw on our televisions this year, we saw also a people languishing in a pandemic that took so much.

We saw politicians fighting each other over what some of them see as truth and others see as deliberate, hurtful lies. We saw children who wondered about where school would be and parents agonizing over hard decisions. We saw congregations gathering in parking lots and sanctuaries still, silent, without voices. We saw devastating unemployment and small businesses closing their doors. We saw medically vulnerable or immunosuppressed people locked in their homes. We saw people struggling to pay their bills — very poor people wanting and the very rich, as always, continuing their lavish lifestyles. We saw the rich continuing to oppress the poor, if not in their direct actions, then in their greed that, at least indirectly, deprives those among them who are poor.

The young girl Mary spoke about that, too, in the words of her Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Luke 1:51-53 (NRSV)

The young girl we have called the Virgin Mary, the holy one that accepted the strange and frightening mission from God to bear God’s Son — this Mary is also the subversive one who called out the rich, the powerful and the proud. In her Magnificat? Oh yes, Mary said that God would scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bring down the powerful from their thrones and send the rich away empty.

Subversive! Courageous! Defiant! Bold! Audacious! Wise! She was all those things when she spoke the kind of subversive truth no young girl in those days would have dared to speak. The miracle of it is that God chose a young girl who possessed the tenderness to nurture a newborn, the wisdom to raise him to live into his mission and the courage to help him stand in a world that would both adore him and hate him — worship him at a manger and then crucify him on a hill. Dr. Marcia Riggs described Mary’s Magnificat like this: “The song sows joy that is the seed of a social revolution.” Indeed!

This was the Mary of our pink candle, the Mary who would be submissive enough to agree to a holy life of chaos and the Mary whose inner strength enabled her to look up and watch her son die.

To be sure, her Magnificat has been read and sung in millions of voices, with thousands of tunes, in cathedral-like sanctuaries and in mud huts. The words have been translated into various versions of the Bible and composers have woven paraphrases of her words into hundreds of melodies and rhythms. Still to this day, one phrase remains . . .

Holy! Holy! Holy is His name.

May Mary’s joy find us on this day and in our own worlds — wherever we are, however we feel, whatever sadness we hold. Amen.

For your quiet, meditative time — one version of Mary’s song:

My Place at the Stable

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In this detail from de la Tour’s moving portrayal of the birth of Jesus, we see Joseph’s hand tenderly guiding the candle’s light to illuminate the Christ-child’s face. 
In the Isaiah passage for this day, the prophet foretells the coming of Christ with the language, “Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In this peaceful painting, Joseph’s first gesture tells of his own fatherly love.
Georges de la Tour, painting in France in the early 17th century, was deeply affected by a religious revival based upon the teachings of the 12th century mystic, Francis of Assisi.  

— Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt

The Seventeenth Day of Advent
December 17, 2019

I have been thinking throughout this Advent season about my place at the stable. On the idea that many people gathered around the stable took various positions — some in the front or at the back, some directly facing the manger, some viewing the Child from a point farther away, angels hovering above — I wonder where my place might have been or, more importantly, where do I stand around the stable today?

Joseph, it seems, is often seen standing at the back of the stable, non- obtrusive, taking a back seat to Mary and the Christ Child. Ann Weems writes about Joseph standing at the back of the stable:

GETTING TO THE FRONT OF THE STABLE

Who put Joseph in the back of the stable?
Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand,
and told him to stand in the back of the crèche,
background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?

God-chosen, this man, Joseph, was faithful
in spite of the gossip in Nazareth,
in spite of the danger from Herod.

This man, Joseph, listened to angels
and it was he who named the Child
Emmanuel.

Is this a man to be stuck for centuries
in the back of a stable?

Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway
guarding the mother and child
or greeting shepherds and kings. . .

Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms
and walked him in the night,
patting him lovingly
until he closed his eyes.

This Christmas, let us give thanks to God
for this man of incredible faith
into whose care God placed
the Christ Child.

As a gesture of gratitude,
let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable
where he can guard and greet
and cast an occasional glance
at this Child
who brought us life.

— Ann Weems

Not much more can be said about Joseph’s place at the stable, for indeed, he was the man chosen by God to be the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph managed his own emotions about Mary’s extraordinary and unexpected pregnancy with the help of an angel. He moved beyond his fears, his bewilderment, his concerns, perhaps even his mistrust or anger towards Mary and, certainly, his shattered reputation and his need to maintain his morality and his righteousness.

After pondering the angel’s visit, and his options, a slightly confused Joseph took a God-risk and moved into that bewildering relationship. He did it with courage and because of his trust in God’s word brought by an angel. And then he embraced his relationship with Mary, took her to Bethlehem, created a sheltering place, attended the birth of the Infant Christ and waited by faith for another angel message, or a star, or whatever else might burst into their lives.

Joseph’s story is a bit like ours — our stories of bewilderment, confusion, reluctance and, finally, our holy resolve to accept God’s plan for our lives and follow the journey God lays before us. And isn’t that a picture of Advent’s journey? Where is our place at the stable?Don’t we need to find our place near the Child this Advent and for all Advents to come? Doesn’t this season lead us steadily through the sacred path that leads us to the holy Child of Bethlehem . . .

So that we can, once again, experience the joy of his birth?

So that we can feel more deeply the emotions of Mary and Joseph?

So that we can, once again, hear angel voices?

So that Bethlehem’s star seems so near that we can almost touch it?B3E09502-8AB9-46F0-BB97-2C135F651B24

And so that our destinies will be fulfilled and our lives will be highly favored by God?

For all of these graces of Advent,
thanks be to God. Amen.

Joy!

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The Third Sunday in Advent
The Sunday of Joy
December 15, 2019

How I love the pink candle on this day of joy! We light the purple ones each week until today, and then there is this surprising burst of color — lighter, brighter, pink — that proclaims to us that life for us is joy.  Always! 

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And joy is ever-present within us. No matter the circumstances we face, joy is waiting to emerge from our deep-down place. Joy was a part of the package that entered our lives when we professed our faith in Christ, and joy was there when we received grace, acceptance and God’s abiding presence. And so today we reflect on that joy and, like Mary, we treasure it and ponder it in our hearts. (Luke 2:19)

Now about Mary, God-chosen Mary — her joy must have been overwhelming when the surprise from out of nowhere was delivered by an angel! And yet, other emotions came along with that joy — fear, confusion, bewilderment, concern. And questions! Many questions like “How could this happen?”

I do not need to tell you that questions, fears, concerns are always a part of our lives, but underneath them in our inner soul, joy abides. Consistent, continual joy that hides until we really need it and then bursts upon us to remind us that the troubles of the day are superseded. Then we know the truth of what we heard from the beginning: “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Mary sang of deep joy in her devotion to God —“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.” But there was for her a barrage of other emotions. The poetry of Ann Weems explores that:

MARY, NAZARETH GIRL

Mary,
Nazareth girl:
What did you know of ethereal beings
with messages from God?

What did you know of men
when you found yourself with child?

What did you know of babies,
you, barely out of childhood yourself?

God-chosen girl:
What did you know of God
that brought you to this stable
blessed among women?

Could it be that you had been ready
waiting
listening
for the footsteps
of an angel?

Could it be there are messages for us
if we have the faith to listen?

—Ann Weems

Maybe, just maybe, Mary “had been ready, waiting, listening for the footsteps of an angel?” And in that holy visitation, I imagine that the emotion she felt most deeply in her soul was joy. She was destined to be the mother of the Christ Child, the mother who would lead him and teach him and prepare him.

Emulating the young girl, Mary, let us face the obstacles and surprises that come our way, knowing that our deepest, abiding joy will arise in us when we most need it. D1528A68-0B1C-4D2C-83F9-D0AD87481E1C

Our message for this Sunday of Joy sings to us the words of a beloved carol:

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;
Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.

Today’s good word — and the lighting of the pink candle — urges us to never forget the promise: “Tidings of comfort and joy!”

We probably won’t hear the flutter of angel wings or the footsteps of an angel coming to us when our joy shows up. But with God, who knows?