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Living in His Largesse

Largesse is not a word we use often. In fact, most of us have no clue that it means, “generosity in bestowing gifts upon others.” While the word is distant, it bears great relevance to the life of a Christ follower.

Largesse

I was reintroduced to the word and its accompanying concept when I recently reread A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I probably read this book twelve times as a child, but the story struck me in different places as an adult.

Sara, a formerly doted-upon and beloved daughter now orphaned, fights to remember her identity even as she lives as a starving maid in a decrepit attic.

“If I was a princess – a real princess, ” she murmured, “I could scatter largess to the populace. But even if I am only a pretend princess, I can invent little things to do for people…I’ll pretend that to do things people like is like scattering largess. I’ve scattered largess.”

Sara lives faithfully scattering her largess despite her poverty. After she is adopted by a wealthy neighbor, she continues to show largess.

The Largesse of the Lord

Long before the 12th century when the word became popularly used, the Triune God has been living with largesse.

Creation itself is an incredible act of largesse, an overflow of the fullness of love and creativity within the three persons of the Trinity (Gen. 1:27-28).

God’s early act of sacrificing an animal to clothe our fig-laden forebears is an act of largesse (Gen. 3: 21).

God’s promise-pregnant initiation toward Abram who lived in a city of moon-worshippers was an act of largesse (Gen. 12: 1-3).

God’s continued covenant keeping toward a continually covenant-breaking people was largesse (Ex. 34: 6-9).

I could go on and on about the Lord’s acts of largesse, as his every interaction with his fallen humanity is an act of mercy. However, his largesse culminates in his lowering of himself to us in the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God emptied himself of the glory that enabled his largesse (John 17:1-2). He became a servant and did exactly what the little princess Sara Crews sought to do (Phil. 2: 1-11). He lived with largesse out of perfect obedience to the Father. Even when he was starving in the wilderness and being tempted by his Father’s sworn enemy, he responded as one who knew his true identity as the Son of God, the prince of peace (Luke 4).

God, the Father, showed largesse in sending God, the Son. God, the Son showed largesse in sending God, the Holy Spirit to be with us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (John 14: 15-21).

Learning to Live in His Largesse

I know these realities factually and theologically (clearly, I just spouted out a few examples). But I have still often lived like an orphaned pauper. I have forgotten that I have full access to the abundance of God (which is intended not to be hoarded selfishly but rather to shed abroad in smaller acts of largesse).

I am learning that I don’t look like the Lord in his tendencies towards largesse because I am wildly uncomfortable with receiving his largesse. It’s hard to let him hold my gaze. It’s exposing to sit under such a steady and powerful stream of love. It feels vulnerable to be delighted in without protective layers of self-justification or merit to shield me from the warmth of such love.

But he keeps pulling me in, gently and patiently. He keeps loving me an everlasting love, and such love is slowly shaping me. I am more aware of my entitlement which arrogantly sees his acts of largesse as a form of payment I think I have earned.I am more aware of the small little acts of largesse I used to not notice (a particularly beautiful flower, a sweet smile from one of my sons, a hawk soaring overhead).

Lately, I am blown away by this act of his largesse: he is helping me live in his largesse. And it is a spacious place, no matter how tightening or trying circumstances.

On Sending Sons

Everyone goes out of their way to prepare you for parenthood. At baby showers, new parents gratefully receive all the necessary supplies (and some precious, though unnecessary accoutrements). In countless conversations, new parents have to pick through loads of unsolicited advice to mine out the gems. But few people prepare you for the sending season.

If I had to whittle down the innumerable stages of parenting into three seasons, I would choose receiving, shaping, sending. The receiving season is poignant and powerful whether it happens suddenly and seemingly effortlessly or is a painful and involved process of waiting. The sending stage seems to come suddenly even though it’s out there lingering all along. We know that one day, these children we have received and have spent decades intentionally shaping (and being shaped by) will likely be independent in some form or fashion. But the shaping season is so involved, so time-consuming, so all-encompassing, that it rarely allows us to look up as the far-off sending point approaches with haste.

Lately, the Lord has been lifting my eyes often to the sending season. I have found myself as weepy and thin-souled as I did during those early days of receiving these sons. We will be doing something normal and necessary in the shaping season (chores, driving to sports practices, eating dinner) and my soul and sight will suddenly shoot out back to the receiving and then forward to the sending season.

I’ll be folding huge, mens-sized sweatpants. Suddenly, I am remembering the days when their entire wardrobes fit into one small basket. Then, I am imagining them avoiding laundry in college and wearing one pair of sweatpants ad nauseam. Then I am crying and treasuring up the days.

Or, I’ll be driving them to school, listening to their silly banter or helping them with vocabulary. Suddenly, I am remembering the days when they learned a new word. Then, I am thinking of how quiet (and clean) my car will be one day. Next, I am a puddle.

Yesterday, at church, my husband (who is also my pastor), mentioned John 20:21 in passing: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” It was a passing point, not even a tertiary point of his sermon; however, it is looming large on my heart and in my mind.

I know there are dangers of forcing human experience onto the godhead. I know that God speaks anthropomorphically as a concession and condescension to our limited natures. I know that God exists outside the constraints of time. But I keep thinking of that interchange. The Father sent the Son. The son leaves the Father.

Realities of Sending

  1. The sending informs the shaping. Before creation was spoken into existence, God knew Christ would take the path of the Cross. Jesus needed no shaping, as he was and is and will be as he is. We, however, as adopted children of God, require unthinkable amounts of shaping. God’s shaping of his people hinged upon the sending of his Son. My shaping of my sons is informed by the reality that they are to be sent out. I am shaping my spouse to stay and my children to be sent. Keeping the sending (and the Sent One, Christ) on the forefront allows me to enjoy the days I have with them and to invest intentionally and sacrificially in this shaping season.
  2. The sending involves sacrifice. The eternal status quo was shaken up when God sent the Son to become a man who stepped into time and space. I don’t know much about time/space continuum, but I know a little about the heart of a father. Fathers loves the presence of their children, and they are pained when their children are not near to them. When I send these boys out, there will be pain and discomfort on both sides. We will be shaken, things will shift, and we will experience sadness and sacrifice. But if it doesn’t bleed, it is not a sacrifice. And there are purposes to be fulfilled for both parents and sent sons.
  3. The sending is also a receiving. God sent his Son so that he would receive many sons. God allowed his Son to be slaughtered for our sin because he wanted to receive back to his lap his once-wayward, now-adopted sons and daughters. I love listening in to the conversation Jesus had with his Father in the high priestly prayer (John 17). You can feel not only the impending agony, but also the eager anticipation of being reunited with the Father having done the work he was sent to accomplish. When these sons are sent out, there will be new receiving to be done (by them and their parents). Seasons change, but the Savior who ushers them in stands unchanging (Heb. 13:8).

I am almost the mother sending out sons even though I feel like I just received them. I long for our shaping to be informed by the sending. The end bathes the means in fresh light. I long for our sending to accomplish deeper shaping in our lives. I long for our sending to be centered on and sustained by the Sent One. One day, we will be gathered back to him. Then, we will be the satisfied ones. Until then, there is much receiving and shaping and sending to be done.

Everyday Eschatology

My eschatology keeps showing up in seemingly strange places. Recently, I’ve caught myself thinking of eschatological matters in the Magnolia section of Target. Last week, it showed up on my living room couch. I’m thankful that my eschatology is showing up in my everyday life, as it belongs there more than merely in a theological paper or ivory-tower discussion.

Even those who may be wondering what eschatology means have a lived eschatology. Eschatology, coming from two Greek words meaning study and last things, is the theological term for the study of end things. Eschatology thinks deeply about the end of an individual’s life but also the ultimate end of all earthly things through death and final judgement. Far from being bookish, boring topics to be tackled by intellectual elites, eschatological matters affect the way we as everyday people live our lives every day.

Eschatological conversations often come up when people are discussing the book of Revelation; however, they should show up far more frequently in the lives of believers. When we think eschatologically, we think with God’s ultimate aims and the end in mind. We reverse engineer our days so that our today lines with up the tomorrow upon which we are hanging all our hope.

Though the Israelites who walked by faith did not have the term eschatology, they modeled eschatological living and thinking, as seen in the book of Hebrews. Abraham, who was to be the father of many nations and who trusted God to lead him to a city he knew not, spent all his money to buy a tiny plot of land on which to bury his wife (Genesis 23). He was able to do so without giving in to despair and defeat only because he “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 12:10).

Peter and Paul, along with the other Apostles, were constantly reminding me the early church to think with the end in mind. While they did not use the word eschatology, they swam in the concept. Peter wrote, “The end of all things is at hand: therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (1 Pet. 4:7)” Similarly, Paul constantly urged his disciples to keep their eyes on the ultimate finish line so that they might run the race with integrity and purpose (1 Tim. 6: 12; Titus 2:11-14).

Lived vs. Spoken Eschatology

I think it is important to spend time not only studying and thinking deeply about eschatology but also learning to speak of it in a winsome way to others. But, of late, I have been more concerned lately with my lived eschatology than my spoken eschatology. I am seeing gaps in the way I spend my time and my money, places where my lived eschatology looks much more like an unbeliever than a follower of Christ.

When I am in Target and I’m deeply tempted to spend money we don’t need to spend to make my house look like a Pinterest board or a Magnolia Silo, my eschatology matters. I have to remind myself that this world is not my ultimate home. I have to think about standing in the presence of God and giving an account for my choices and the way I spent my time, my talent, my tears, and my treasures. Then, and only then, do the cute BoHo-styled housewares lose their hold on my heart.

When I am sitting on my couch and listening to a believing friend share about her suffering, my lived eschatology shows up beside us. I realize that I am quick to offer tissues and to remind her of the coming day when there will be no more tears, no more sin, no more suffering. And those things are right and good, but I am quicker to offer them than to remind her that the presence of Christ is the centerpiece of that day. In the age of therapy, it is easier to offer the kingdom of God and its benefits while minimizing the King.

As D.A. Carson wrote, “The supreme hope of the church has always been the return of Jesus Christ. But in contemplating that happy prospect, we must never lose sight of the fact that the goal is to be with Christ.”

Longing & Labor in Eschatology

I am forcing myself to ask two important questions about my lived eschatology: Is there room for longing in my eschatology? Am I laboring toward my eschatology?

In the already/not yet of the kingdom of God, it is hard to live balanced amid its accompanying tensions. There will be a day when tears will be no more, but that does not mean that we grow callous or flippant about the tears we experience here and now (Rev. 21:4). God will come and make all things new, and we will never experience perfection on this side of glory (Rev. 21: 5). Yes and amen. But there is also room in our eschatology to labor as we long. There is work to be done now that matters to help alleviate some of the tears.

On the other hand, it can be easy to get so busy working to help do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven that we forget that part of our work on earth is to look and long expectantly for the return of Christ (Matt. 6:10). We can do all the “right” things, but suffering will still show up and wreak havoc in the havens we are working so hard to create.

While we labor, we long. While we long, we labor. We fight to live out our spoken eschatology until it is our lived reality. Come, Lord, Jesus. Your church longs for your appearing!

Control, Care, and Christ: Teenage Edition

When my oldest two children were beginning to eat solid food, I was that momma who ground her own brown rice and millet to make rice cereal. I pureed fruits and vegetables that I honestly would not want to eat myself. I was never going to raise picky eaters.

My facade of food control was quickly shattered. For a good solid three or four years, my kids survived on Dino Nuggets, quesadillas, and various pastas with butter.

I would like to say that this was the watershed moment of me releasing the idol of control in regards to my children. Alas, I cannot. At nearly every new season or stage of parenting, my attempts to grab on even to the illusion of control come back with a vengeance.

Care & Control

The more we care about someone, the more we tend to want to control outcomes for them. And there are few people I love on earth more than the children God entrusted to me.

When our children were younger, it was easier to feel like we were in control. I picked out their clothes, arranged their playdates, and curated their learning experiences. As they have grown older and more mature, there are no more illusions of control. They have their own tastes of clothes (which changes quicker than the weather in South Carolina). They are making their own choices of friends. They make and remake plans with said friends every other minute.

Their feet, their hair, and their worlds are becoming larger. There are great joys that come with this enlarging world, but there are also accompanying risks. I have had multiple mentors tell me, “Small children, small problem. Big children, bigger problems.” At first I did not like this advice, but I am beginning to understand the bits of wisdom it contains.

Care and control have become buzzwords on my daily walks with my husband as we continue to walk through the teenage years alongside our older boys. My deep, motherly care for my boys has only grown while my ability to pretend control over their lives has shrunk. This tension between care and control presses us back to the only One who holds perfect care and total control simultaneously.

The Care-full Controller of All Things

While on the earth, Christ continually taught his disciples about the constant, attentive, intimate care of God. Into a culture that, out of respect for God, would not even write his name, he brought the image of God as “our father” (Matthew 6:9). He pointed out flora and fauna, explaining God’s delighted, detailed care for even them (Matthew 6:26-30). He assured them they were more precious than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31). He was aware of and attuned to even the slightest touch of his garment (Mark 5: 24-34). Christ was always full of care.

Yet, he simultaneously revealed God as the One in control of all things. He knew the thoughts and words of his disciples and even strangers like the woman at the well (John 1:43-51; John 4). He went toe to toe with the rulers of the time and was absolutely clear that he was in the one making the choices (John 18:28-38). Most significantly, he showed us that God controlled even death itself in his resurrection (John 20).

I find myself walking multiple times a day in this season (and not to reach my steps). As I walk, I wrestle my worried, helpless heart into the presence of the God of all care and control. Things I have claimed and believed for myself I am learning to claim and believe again over their lives.

I daily set my overwhelming, sometimes paralyzing love for my boys on the scale of his love for them to remind myself that his love far outweighs mine forever. And then, I remind myself that this God who cares for them is ordering all things for their good (Romans 8:28-32). He has an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure (2 Samuel 23:5). He is the blessed and only sovereign who is both immortal and unapproachably full of light (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

In view of the care-full controller of all things, I am freed to care for these boys. When they get cut from the team or don’t get invited to the gathering, when they are laughed out for living for Christ, when their hearts ache with loneliness or disappointment, I can place them in the hands of the One who is faithful in all his word and kind in all his works (Psalm 145:13; 17). By day, he commands his steadfast love on their behalf, and at night, he sings his song of deliverance over them (Psalm 42:8).

These are not new truths, but they are meeting me in new ways in this new season as a mother of teenagers.

Displaced

Confession: I spent a few weeks avoiding dropping off gifts for three families I love. The members of our small church each sponsored various family members from three Afghan families we have come to know and love. The gifts collected in a corner of my bedroom while guilt collected in the corners of my heart.

When our displaced friends first arrived about a year or so ago, it was easier to prioritize setting aside longer periods of time to visit with them or serve them. The urgency was felt on all sides as news reports continually reminded me of the trying circumstances that led them to flee. Their needs were obvious: They needed food; they needed apartments; they needed beds; they needed shots; they needed to get into schools.

A year later, the news has largely moved on. Our families are more settled. They know bus routes and have licenses. They have rugs on their floor. Their children are in school and learning the language well. But they are still displaced.

Displaced

Displaced.
Dislocated.
Shuffled.
Temporarily housed in a tent.
Relocated.
Placed.
Housed but still not home.
I haven’t moved, but your courage moves me.

Now that their physical needs are largely met, it is actually harder for me to see them still experiencing homesickness and the lingering effects of having left everything they knew. Their needs are more relational. They need time. And, as I am realizing, my heart is quicker to buy clothes than to sit for conversation. It costs emotional energy to listen to their stories of trauma which are often redundant because healing requires repetition. To love their kids often means time away from my own. Thus, my avoidance during this busy holiday season.

Delivering gifts to two families and attending the zoo with another in the past few days, I am freshly reminded of God’s command to his people in Deuteronomy 10. Before Moses reminds his people of a list of significant commands (the imperative), he spends time reminding them of the very nature of their God and all he has done on their behalf (the indicative).

“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day…He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10: 14-15 & 18).

While I have read these verses many times, the Spirit made the word love stand out in technicolor this time. God does not call us to merely serve the sojourner. Rather, he invites us to love the stranger. The service flows from the love. The offering of clothes and food is a natural outpouring when we love people. But love goes beyond the offering of such things. Love offers the self.

The only way I will ever do this in a sustained way is by remembering God’s love for me when I was displaced – without hope and without God in this world (Eph. 2:12-13). God set his love on me and attached himself to my cause not on the basis of any merit in me. He did not do that for a moment and then move on. He continually sets his love on me and attaches himself to my cause. And he asks me to model my love for others on his love for me.

His love for me is costly. It is patient. It is time-consuming. It enters into my messes. It perseveres. It does not simply leave a provision at the doorstep and proceed to peace out. It offers presence. It keeps showing up.

I have so much to learn from my displaced friends. They remind that me that my ultimate home is not a place, but a person: the person of Jesus Christ.

Lord, help me to love those who are displaced in my life the way you have loved me. In a year in which 103 million people have been displaced by war, persecution, climate crises, and other unthinkable realities, may you attach each individual to one of your people as you attached your love to us. May your body live out the love that we have received in sacrificial ways. May those we love connect acts of mercy and justice to the God of all mercy and justice. May they find their permanent place in you. Amen.



The King Tide & The King of Tides

In the midst of the holiday season, there is an event that has become its own quiet holiday in my heart: the king tide.

Once a year, the sun and moon align perfectly, thus combining their gravitational pull on the tides. The king tide is the pairing of the highest and lowest tides of the entire year. For the past five or six years, I have looked forward to this tide like a child looks forward to Christmas.

In the quiet, salty air, you get to poke around to see what happens all the time in the tide pools beyond our gaze. There are whole worlds down there in small crevices that the Lord constantly sees and enjoys but we get to see a few times a year.

Simply by reading the tide charts, you can pinpoint the absolute lowest and highest points of the year down to the minute and the meter. Doing so made me wish the weather and tides of souls were so precisely predicted.

Madeline L’Engle’s poem “To a Long Loved Love 3” talks about the peculiarities of the weather of the soul.

“I know why a star gives light
Shining quietly in the night;
Arithmetic helps me unravel
The hours and years this light must travel
To penetrate our atmosphere.
I count the craters on the moon
With telescopes to make them clear.
With delicate instruments I measure
Secrets of barometric pressure.

Therefore I find it inexpressibly queer
That with my own soul I am out of tune,
That I have not stumbled on the art
Of forecasting the weather of the heart.”

L’Engle’s wishing for instruments that can solve and predict the mysterious weather of her own soul resonates with me, especially during the holiday season, especially when I think of the king tides.

If only we could read a chart to discern our souls’ yearly king tides, we might find the strong pull back and the powerful push forward exhilarating rather than exhausting and scary. We could brace for them; we could count and celebrate each demarcation line.

But God has not seen fit to give us such a chart. He prefers we live by faith and in dependence day by day. We don’t know when the a storm will settle in our souls; we don’t know the peaks until we reach them; we don’t know how long we must sit in low tide before recession reverses to procession.

If I don’t know this about my own soul, I most assuredly cannot predict or understand the mysterious weather of the souls who share my household. Yet, so often, I try. I feel such pressure during the holidays and on breaks to have all our high tides align in glorious evenings together. I want to know their low tide times so I can prepare to love and serve them well.

But neither I nor they are so predictable. This reality forces me to move from attempts at control to a posture of care for all the distinct soul atmospheres in my family.

God did not task me as their mother with being the regulator of their moods and tides, as if sentient souls could be directed with an air traffic controller. Thank goodness! If he had there would be wreckage everywhere. I am not qualified for such a role. Only God can go to those sacred spaces (1 Corinthians 2:10-11; Romans 8: 26-27).

God invites me to step toward the weather of their souls (and my own) with what Eugene Peterson calls, “a stance of wonderment.”

The physical practice of enjoying the king tide this year reminded me that God alone is the King of tides, both physically and spiritually.

He is not scared by the storms that come upon me or them. He speaks into such chaos, calming soul storms just as spoke over the squalls on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41).

It is his to control and mine to yield, wonder, and trust.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

He comes to make His blessings flow/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as, far as the curse is found. 

Few Christmas carols have had the staying power of Isaac Watt’s Joy to the World. Even those who don’t practice the Christian faith loudly belt out its chorus at candle-lighting ceremonies and holiday gatherings. We hum to it while shopping for stocking stuffers. Its tune floods our kitchens as we make cookies enough for a small nation.

The catchy, well-known tune is undergirded by a bedrock of rich theological realities meant to inform our living well beyond the holiday season. The Coming of Christ as an infant into time and space left eternal ripples that changed the very fabric of human  existence. The song reminds us that the ripples of His coming are to reach to the farthermost places where the curse has been wreaking its havoc.

When Adam and Eve first distrusted and then quickly disobeyed the Lord’s protective commands, shalom was shattered. Devastating fissures were fixed between God and man, within mankind  both inter-personally and intra-personally, and between mankind and nature.The Son born in Bethlehem of Judea was the beginning of shalom being restored.

I know this theologically; however, I deeply struggle to believe this personally and experientially.  Sometimes I am overcome and overwhelmed with the darkness out there in the world. Other times, I am completely paralyzed and appalled at the darkness in here, within me. This past few weeks have been the latter.

joshua-sortino-rAqzj79GUmA-unsplash.jpg

Despite the innumerable blessings around me, I find complaining and discontentment squatting in my heart. Even though I am attempting to fight the consumerism that marks Christmas, my heart gets distracted by the siren songs of the Dollar Zone. Even though I want to live intentionally, I still find myself frittering time away on screens or through an  instinctive desire to keep busy. In these patterns, I realize just how deeply the curse has dug into the caverns of my soul.

I need to know that Christ came not only to make his blessings known far as the curse is found, but to let them drip as deep as the curse has dug.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

You came to make mercy known
As far as the curse is found;
But can it be possibly drip
Into dungeons underground?

The curse has crept into crevices,
Pooling in pockets of my soul.
I’ve so grown used to its effects,
It’s hard to imagine being whole.

Deep as the curse has dug
Can Your love descend?
It seems unthinkable that you
My damaged heart could mend.

May Your Triune Presence
Pervade both far and deep.
Let Your Agape love into
My deep darknesses creep.

Son of God Most High
Who descended into Hell,
With Your power permeate
This my soul’s murky well. 

Change me into Your image,
As Your love casts out fear.
It is cold, damp and dark,
But there’s room for you here.

Contrary to the popular notion of a barn, our Christ was most likely born in a cave. The custom of the time was to keep one’s animals sheltered in caves underground, as barns as we think of them were not common. As such, it seems fitting that Spirit would descend to make His home among the caverns of the human heart. There, He does His work of applying the gospel deep as the curse has dug.

Growing Backwards towards Bethlehem

In a culture that loves ascending ladders, hitting milestones, and surging forward toward progress, I often feel like one who is moving backwards. Not only am I not where I thought I would be, I sometimes feel like I am regressing in confidence, purpose, and direction. 

One of Flannery O’Connor’s most memorable protagonists, Haze Motes, is described as “going backwards to Bethlehem.” The phrase resonates with me and serves as a reminder that God’s growth cycle for his children does not follow organizational charts or ten-year plans. As I approach forty, I feel less sure what I want to do with my life than I did at twenty-four. I feel more certain of my weaknesses and foibles and silent vetoes than I do of my abilities. 

In her book The Coming of God, Maria Boulding wisely notes “Our strength can sometimes be a greater obstacle to God than our weakness.” If this is the case (and countless biblical stories verify such a reality; just ask Gideon what God did to his strong armies and false confidence), then maybe what I have felt like as regression is actually progression, the walking backwards to Bethlehem that O’Connor mentions. 

After all, who was available enough to put their own agendas aside to move toward the infant who was God incarnate? The shepherds shivering in the cold of night, apart from the bustling of the town, were quiet enough to hear the angelic herald. Their agendas were not so full of networking meetings to advance their own plan for self-actualization that they missed the chance to have a glimpse at the invisible God made visible. 

And the wise men from the East? They were dissatisfied enough with all their studies and knowledge to set out on a cockamamie plan to follow a star. I wonder what their peers thought as they began their journey, laden with food for the wandering and gifts for an obscurely-prophesied nascent king. They certainly did not appear as those who were moving forward on a straight line to progress. 

If I am uncomfortably honest, in the past, I trusted in my own intelligence, orienteering, and intuition to get me to more of Christ (sheer willpower and a steady diet of spiritual discipline). While I remain committed to the spiritual disciplines as ways of posturing myself for more of Christ, I am also learning more deeply that God cannot be approached even with pious spiritual transactions. 

In this season, I don’t even feel capable of walking myself to Bethlehem. On the surface, I am keeping up with the tasks and enjoying the sweetness of this season of life. Yet, simultaneously, I feel like the Lord has my soul in a bit of a chrysalis. (Initially, it felt more like a straight-jacket that I tried to escape to no avail; the Spirit has softened the imagery to a chrysalis as I have settled down into weakness and stillness). I feel stuck and quite swollen. Stuck and swollen don’t fit well in a society of beauty and blazing speed. I feel like the world is rushing around me and leaving me behind. 

As I woke up this morning, God gave me the sweetest image to console my heart which, yet again, felt a bit aimless in such an arrow-sharp culture of progress. 

I may be a chrysalis (which don’t really have any mobility on their own). However, if I am held in his hand or even to be found safety resting for renewal somewhere in the expansive space of his royal robe, I can be still yet still moving. He is the mover; I the immobile. He is the active initiator; I am the dependent one. 

I am learning this is what growing backwards to Bethlehem feels like. To be safely carried in weakness and dependence to the God who became weak and vulnerable to secure my safety in him, this is a good place to be during the Advent season. Waiting. Longing. Submitting. Staying. 

He is worth the wait. One day, we will vigorously join Isaiah in saying, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9). 

Simeon Bears the Burden Bearer

Simeon was a story gatherer. As an elderly man, he carried the weight of the stories of his people, both collective and individual.  Every time someone came and shared with him his or her story of loss or loneliness, a child born or a child lost, he surely felt the weight of his role.

He would do all he could under the Old Covenant to  bring those weights to God; yet, I imagine the cumulative effect of his job as an elder in a flock who had been waiting under 400 years of divine silence weighed his soul down.

Luke, whose gospel gives the most detailed accounts of the events surrounding and emanating from the birth of Christ, tells us the following:

Now there was a man Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
Luke 2: 25.

A short sentence that clues us in to significant details of this man’s life. He was the ideal Jew, the best you could get under the Old Covenant. The Holy Spirit would come upon him and guide him, which was a rare occurrence. And he was waiting for the comfort of his people, for the One who could fully bear the weight of the stories that sagged down his soul.

The Greek word translated waiting is prosdechomai, an incredibly active word in the Greek middle voice which, according to HELPS Word Studies, signifies high personal involvement. It gives the image of someone leaning in towards something, actively ready to receive it warmly, or on tip toes looking for expected thing.

The word translated consolation, paraklésis,  is actually the same root word used to describe the Holy Spirit later in Luke’s gospel and the sequel Acts, in which the Holy Spirit plays a prominent role. This word means encouragement and comfort from close beside. When my son was in incredible pain after rupturing his ear drum, I spent the night curled up beside him whispering comfort to him as I rubbed his back.  This image is close to the idea portrayed by the word translated consolation in the above verse.

Elderly Simeon was leaning in, eagerly awaiting the Messiah whom the Holy Spirit had told him would arrive before his death. He longed to see his people consoled, to lay eyes on the One who would be able to bear the weight of their stories and console them from close beside in a way he knew he never could.  We have no indication that he knew to expect a baby.

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In walks a poor couple, most likely exhausted from traveling all the way to Jerusalem with their baby. They had come to consecrate their firstborn to the Lord, as the Law commanded. They could not afford the expensive offerings, so they had to settle for the pair of pigeons.

Simeon picks up the child and knows.

And he came in the Spirit into the Temple, and when the parents bought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Luke 2:27-32.

The Greek word, dechomai, translated into the phrase took up the child, is the same root as the word chosen for Simeon waiting eagerly for the Promised One.

All those years of eagerly waiting to warmly receive the promised one culminate in this one moment of him actually warmly welcoming an infant into his elderly arms. In a surprising moment, Simeon warmly received the Messiah that he can been eagerly, actively waiting for his whole life.

I imagine that as lifted up the promised Child, physically bearing the One who would bear the weight of the sins of the world once for all, the burdens of the stories he held lifted. This fragile, little, squirmy child, so frail and small he had to be held, could and would bear the weights that had been too much for Simeon.

With the weight of the world transferred to the One who could bear it, Simeon could depart in peace. The old man of the Old Covenant warmly welcomed the New child who would usher in the New Covenant of grace. All would be well.

Simeon

His weary eyes were tired, but even more so was his heart,
Longing to see the Lord’s anointed and then in peace depart.

Had he heard it wrong? Was the promise merely hopeful delusion?
Had decades of faithful service and waiting led only to confusion?

Interrupting his wrestling, two simple Nazarenes drew near,
Carrying their newborn son, filled with deep and reverent fear.

They came to obey the custom, but for a lamb they could not pay.
For the firstborn’s consecration, two pigeons would be offered today.

Simeon saw the approaching family and knew without a doubt,
This was the Christ, the Chosen One, Who the Word had told about.

At once his eyes glittered and his tense heart founds its  rest,
As he held the fragile baby so close to his shaking chest.

Looking to God, as tears streamed down his wrinkled cheek,
He praised the One, who being strong had willfully become weak.

God sent the promised salvation; He had been true to His word;
This child would open His kingdom to Gentiles who had not heard.

By grace Simeon was able to understand what so few others could;
This child’s perfect life would bring him to a shameful cross of wood.

Though they would make a sacrifice to consecrate him that day,
He would be the final sacrifice; the price of our sin he would pay.

They stood holding Him in the Temple, a building firm and sound,
Yet His body was the true temple razed to be raised from the ground.

Simeon’s frail hands lifted up the One who would be lifted high,
The One who would live a perfect life only our death to die.

The Redeemed hugged the Redeemer in an embrace of humble love,
For this was Jesus, God come down, the Provision of Peace from above.

Hope deferred may make the heart sick, this Simeon could tell,
But Desire coming is the tree of life; Jesus makes all things well.

Light Pollution & God’s Power in the Darkness

I know. I know. I sound like Scrooge talking about light pollution just as people are going to great lengths to hang little twinkly lights all over their homes and hearths (I see you on your ladders and applaud your efforts!).

At first, Advent may seem a strange season to talk about darkness; however, the deep and persistent darkness set the backdrop on which the brilliant star pointed to the more brilliant Savior.

Four hundred years of prophetic silence. No fresh “Thus says the Lord” upon which to hang their hope. Even a recent correction proves the presence of the loving Father, but there was not even that for four hundred years.

The famous Isaiah 9 passage that we love to hear children quote in their precious voices begins with “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them light has shone” (Isa. 9:2). It seems a prerequisite to enjoying the light is understanding and experiencing the darkness. As much as I want to rush the process, the Lord has been covering me with his hand and holding me in what feels like darkness.

I’ve been wrestling with God’s goodness even though I know deep-down that He is altogether good. My mind knows it, but my heart often struggles to keep pace. I’ve been doing my part, dragging my doubts and questions and stubborn struggles into his presence. I’ve been digging deeply into the Word, asking for my community to pray for me. I was beginning to get frustrated with the Lord until he gave me an image that has helped me.

He reminded me that we pay great amounts of money and expend great energy as city-dwellers to get away from the distractions, the light pollution, the busy pace. We rent cabins and drive to far-away trail heads. Our family literally did this last week with a few other pastor friends and their families!

Sometimes, in order to show us the brilliance of his light, our gracious God willingly and wisely leads us into dark places and spaces.

Light Pollution

When we are surrounded by scores of other lesser light sources, we don’t appreciate the sun by day and the moon by night. My life is so busy with so many illuminative blessings that, sometimes, they obscure my hunger and need for the Light of the world.

How sweet and intimate of the Lord to lead my soul into dark places and hold me there. My eyes are beginning to adjust to the darkness and are beginning to see the outlines of glories and graces even in a dark cave.

David, who literally dwelt in dark caves for a good season of his life, understood the light of the Lord’s presence even in darkness. Countless psalms he wrote attest to the light of goodness of God seen even in the darkest of circumstances.

“If I say, ‘Surely, the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me night.’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as day, for darkness is as light with you” (Ps. 139:11-12).

The minor prophet Micah, who served Israel during one of its distinctly darker seasons, wrote along the same lines:

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in the darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).

The Lord allowed me to stumble upon the following quote from Alexander MacLaren which expresses beautifully what I have been experiencing.

“He who patiently endures without despondency or the desire to ‘recompense evil for evil,’ and to whom by faith even ‘the night is light about him,’ is far on the way to perfection. God is always near us, but never nearer than when our hearts are heavy and our way rough and dark. Our sorrows make rents through which His strength flows. We can see more of heaven when the leaves are off the trees. It is a law of the Divine dealings that His strength is ‘made perfect in weakness.’ God leads us in to a darkened room to show us His wonders.”

When the Lord sees fit to draw my soul out of these caverns, what a gloriously blinding light I will see! If you find yourself in dark circumstances, may you know God’s power even in the darkness!

The Light of the World will return in his glory. Until then, let us hold fast to His promises!