“Those who believe in God can never, in a way, be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of humankind. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart, because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.”
Excerpt from “The Face in the Sky,” by Frederick Buechner
Advent is officially here! Many of us have experienced our first snow fall of the year, and the days don’t seem like they can get any shorter. We now eat our dinner in the dark and perhaps yearn for the lengthy days of summer. For my wife and many others, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing—perhaps this year more than ever.
But Advent also provides the opportunity of hope and reprieve from the darkness. The waiting that comes with Advent has an almost visceral feel to it.
During COVID times,
we also wait. For vaccines, for large gatherings, for our normal lives that may
never return, but most of all, for the peasant’s child who has come and is
coming again. It is our own vulnerability that makes the coming of Christ as a defenseless
infant all the more significant. Especially this COVID Advent, look to him to
make sense of your own feelings of weakness. If you’re like me, your living
room has also had to serve as your Sunday sanctuary. And that hasn’t been all
bad, although I do ache to be with my church community in person. Still
waiting. In the meantime, perhaps our Advent and Christmas preparations take on
all the more sacred significance. Of all years, this is the year to pull out
the little miniature nativity scene and reverently set it up on your mantle or
living room table. Of all years, this is the year to let the contrast of
candles in darkness illuminate your dinner table and evenings. This is the year
to take quiet night walks, looking at the stars, searching for answers, just as
the Wise Men did.
Like Mary and
Joseph in the stable, let’s also take the time during our forced domestication
to create holy spaces in our homes. Buechner tells us, “there is no place or
time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.” It
reminds me of the book of Zechariah, in which the Israelites, having just
returned to Jerusalem after exile—a crisis much worse than COVID I assume—are
looking for a sense of hope and God’s presence among the ruins of the temple.
And, in both a terrifying and beautiful vision of God’s kingdom, at the end of
the book Zechariah reveals that the coming of the Messiah will usher in a day
when all things are suffused with holiness: “On that day, HOLY
TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots
in the house of the LORD will be like the sprinkling bowls before the altar” (Zechariah
And now we celebrate the coming of that incredible prophecy!
The Servant King reveals to us that His
Presence is most felt in moments of weakness, not moments of earthly power. So,
with Advent comes hope that not only our homes, but also our classrooms, and
even our banal selves become suffused with significance, just like that
Bethlehem barn and that baby.
If we embrace a visceral Advent, we can set up our homes for holiness by not only seeing, but also tasting, smelling, and hearing his presence. Your cooking pots, diffusers, and playlists matter. Find music that most powerfully invites you into a reverent waiting. My kids’ Christmas playlist would include Pentatonix, but for me, it is the quiet folk trio Ordinary Time’s Christmas album In the Town of David. Track 5 is written by the famous hymnist Isaac Watts. Although he is better known for songs like “O God our Help in Ages Past” and even the Christmas favourite “Joy to the World,” my preference for Advent is Ordinary Time’s quiet version of “A Cradle Hymn.” The hymn helps me to see the “ludicrous depths” of God’s love by comparing my life, the lives of my children and the students we serve with Christ’s harsh arrival. If you’re still with me, listen to the song as you read the lyrics below, and see if you don’t feel a bit of His Presence, even as you sit in your classroom, at your desk, or your kitchen table.
We, at Edvance, pray that all of you, with your colleagues, students, and families, may also experience the “wild pursuit” of Christ born in a stable for you, for me, for the entire cosmos. May Christ’s holiness enter your homes and small gatherings over the next weeks, just as shockingly as when He appeared in that Bethlehem stable.
A Cradle Hymn by Isaac Watts
HUSH! my dear, lie still and
Holy angels guard thy bed!
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently falling on thy head.
Sleep, my babe; thy food and raiment,
House and home, thy friends provide;
All without thy care or payment:
All thy wants are well supplied.
How much better thou art attended
Than the Son of God could be,
When from heaven He descended
And became a child like thee!
Soft and easy is thy cradle:
Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay,
When His birthplace was a stable
And His softest bed was hay.
Was there nothing but a manger
Cursèd sinners could afford
To receive the heavenly stranger?
Did they thus affront their Lord?
Soft, my child: I did not chide thee,
Though my song might sound too hard;
'Tis thy mother sits beside thee,
And her arms shall be thy guard.
Lo, He slumbers in His manger,
Where the hornèd oxen fed:
Peace, my darling; here's no danger,
Here's no oxen near thy bed.
'Twas to save thee, child, from dying,
Save my dear from burning flame,
Bitter groans and endless crying,
That thy blest Redeemer came.
May you live to know and fear Him,
Trust and love Him all thy days;
Then go dwell for ever near Him,
See His face, and sing His praise!