Be Merry: The Tide Has Turned

Galaxy sky star with trees sillouette

In 1948, C.S. Lewis published a poem called, “The Turn of the Tide.” In it, he imagines the cosmic significance of Christ’s birth.

Rest assured, the tide has turned. It might not feel like it, but feelings lie. Oh sure, we’re still in these long last days and I’m still one of the poor orn’ry people—but about 2020 years ago the tide turned.

Because what happened in Bethlehem did not stay in Bethlehem.

It was never intended to stay there. In fact, it reached the highest heavens. Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. When the Virgin gave birth to a son the galaxies tingled and rocked.

But it also reached the lowest shepherds keeping watch over their flocks that night and it penetrates into our little house in some big Wisconsin woods in these Covid-19 days.

The Turn of the Tide

I read the poem aloud to three teenage boys in that little house this afternoon. At least two out of three at half-listened. I hope you enjoy it at least twice as much as one of three did.

Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. Black and bare
Were the fields; hard as granite the clods;
Hedges stiff with ice; the sedge in the vice
Of the pool, like pointed iron rods.
And the deathly stillness spread from Bethlehem. It was shed
Wider each moment on the land;
Through rampart and wall into camp and into hall
Stole the hush; all tongues were at a stand.
At the Procurator’s feast the jocular freedman ceased
His story, and gaped. All were glum
Travellers at their beer in a tavern turned to hear
The landlord; their oracle was dumb.
But the silence flowed forth to the islands and the North
And smoothed the unquiet river bars
And levelled out the waves from their revelling and paved
The sea with cold reflected stars.

Where the Caesar on Palatine sat at ease to sign,
Without anger, signatures of death,
There stole into his room and on his soul a gloom,
And his pen faltered, and his breath.
Then to Carthage and the Gauls, past Parthia and the Falls
Of Nile and Mount Amara it crept;
The romp and war of beast in swamp and jungle ceased,
The forest grew still as though it slept.
So it ran about the girth of the planet. From the Earth
A signal, a warning, went out
And away behind the air. Her neighbours were aware
Of change. They were troubled with a doubt.

Salamanders in the Sun that brandish as they run
Tails like the Americas in size
Were stunned by it and dazed; wondering, they gazed
Up at Earth, misgiving in their eyes.
In Houses and Signs Ousiarchs* divine
Grew pale and questioned what it meant;
Great Galactal lords stood back to back with swords
Half-drawn, awaiting the event,
And a whisper among them passed, ‘Is this perhaps the last
Of our story and the glories of our crown?
–The entropy worked out?–The central redoubt
Abandoned? The world-spring running down?
Then they could speak no more. Weakness overbore
Even them. They were as flies in a web,
In their lethargy stone-dumb. The death had almost come;
The tide lay motionless at ebb.

Like a stab at that moment, over Crab and Bowman,
Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock
Of returning life, the start and burning pang at heart,
Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock;
And the Lords dared to breathe, and swords were sheathed
And a rustling, a relaxing began,
With a rumour and noise of the resuming of joys,
On the nerves of the universe it ran.
Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace
Came a music, infinitely small
And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held
All worlds in the sharpness of its call.
And now divinely deep, and louder, with the sweep
and quiver of inebriating sound,
The vibrant dithyramb** shook Libra and the Ram,
The brains of Aquarius spun round;
Such a note as neither Throne nor Potentate had known
Since the Word first founded the abyss,
But this time it was changed in a mystery, estranged,
A paradox, an ambiguous bliss.

Heaven danced to it and burned. Such answer was returned
To the hush, the Favete, the fear
That Earth had sent out; revel, mirth and shout
Descended to her, sphere below sphere.
Saturn laughed and lost his latter age’s frost,
His beard, Niagara-like, unfroze;
Monsters in the Sun rejoiced; the Inconstant One,
The unwedded Moon, forgot her woes.
A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth
went gliding. Her bonds were released.
Into broken light a breeze rippled and woke the seas,
In the forest it startled every beast.
Capripods fell to dance from Taproban to France,
Leprechauns from Down to Labrador,
In his green Asian dell the Phoenix from his shell
Burst forth and was the Phoenix once more.

So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the bless’d
Nothing greater could be heard
Than a dry wind in the thorn, the cry of the One new-born,
And cattle in stall as they stirred.

C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper, 1992, pp. 49-51.

The After Effects

I’ve never imagined how it would feel to be a galaxy—Bowman or Crab, Libra or Ram— or even a planet of moon. But I’m glad Lewis did.

Because there must have been a ripple effect—a pulsing sound into space and even into forest and seas—when One babe was born. Maybe a shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth.

It’s easier for me to imagine that- the after effects on earth. Because a shiver sounds a lot like a thrill of hope and a weary world rejoicing though, doesn’t it?

And because every single day I feel the after-effects of the Babe born, the Son given. I live and love, I confess and forgive, and whenever I joyfully press on, it’s because of the coming of the One. It’s all because of the birth that arrested death.

Oh, yes. All these pulses and ripples and shivers and thrills and all this joyful music must mean the tide has turned.

The Tide Has Turned

A few years later, another famous Inkling, was also writing about the turn of the tide.  

‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.’ He stepped down from the rock, and picking up his grey cloak wrapped it about him: it seemed as if the sun had been shining, but now was hid in a cloud again. ‘Yes, you may still call me Gandalf,’ he said, and the voice was the voice of their old friend and guide. ‘Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.’

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 1956

The Child was born and the Son was given—unto us. The tide turned when the majestic glory of the King of the Universe was revealed in a Babe laying in a manger in Bethlehem.

And I’d be surprised if the galaxies didn’t dance.

So feel free. Be merry!

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

We await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

Titus 2:13

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    and turns deep darkness into the morning
    and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name…

Amos 5:8

 *metaphysical ruler

**a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece

Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness ackknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.


The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

WHITE HORSE: An Advent Song For Harassed Hearts

I’d like a white horse for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind some Florida sunshine, strong coffee and a stronger back rub, but a white horse tops my list.

Bring me a white horse for Christmas
We’ll ride him through the town
Out into the snowy woods
Where we will both lie down

Underneath white birches
Our faces toward the sky
We will make snow angels
With our white horse standing by

Hush now, baby
One day we’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Our white horse through the sky

Bring me a white horse for Christmas
We’ll ride him through the snow
All the way to Bethlehem
Two thousand years ago

I wanna speak with the angel
Who said do not be afraid
I wanna kneel where the oxen knelt
Where the little child was laid

Hush now, baby
One day you’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Your white horse through the sky

No bridle will he be wearing
His unshod hoofs they will fly
Keep a watch this Christmas
For that white horse in the sky

Hush now, baby
One day we’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Our white horse through the sky

Hush now, baby
Let every angel sing
Hush now, baby
One day we’ll ride again

Over The Rhine, “Snow Angels”

Keep looking up. The baby of Bethlehem will ride.

Is this white horse on your Christmas list?

Advent Darkness

It’s only the first week of Advent, but 2020 has had feel of an eternal Advent with all the waiting for relief and cries for peace and longing for right.

White horse face

I feel the ache. This week left me second guessing a lot of things I thought I sort of knew. About how to love like Jesus loved and live not by lies and walk in the truth. About the right times to tear and to sew, to keep silence and speak, to love and hate, for war and for peace. In darkness.

This first Advent week my convictions are getting all muddled and despite seeking God’s will, I was the more befuddled.

Because relationships are messy business. So is love. When love is feels cruel it makes you wonder, is the lover deceived or the beloved blinded by feelings? Or are both or neither true?

I don’t know.

A White Horse Comes

But the darkness in the world, in my mind makes me wait more. And that’s what Advent’s about, right? The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

I know Jesus is coming. And I want to be one of those looking up, like Paul was, longing for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). Longing for Him. While I don’t always know how to love His world, I know that I love Him and He loves me. And I know the Baby of Bethlehem will come again and take his children to be where He is (John 14:3).

And that knowledge is hushing my harassed and burdened heart this week. Will you join me in these long last days and short three weeks and bear the weight of sin until He brings his peace to reign?

Will you lift up your head and be on the lookout and get yourself ready for the coming of the King?

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Revelation 19:11-12, 16

The Coming Has Come: Why We Need Advent

Why Advent? Why celebrate a coming that’s already done?

It’s upon us.  Advent is here. And Advent means coming. So we could say, the coming has come.

Has it ever struck you as a wee bit strange that we prepare for the coming of something that’s already come?

But that Something was what Dr, Luke called in his Gospel, “the Holy Thing which shall be born” of Mary and called the Son of God. And so beyond, or better, in  the stockings and candles and chocolates and Legos (thank you, friends) behind each little numbered door, behind the Shepherd on the Search  and nightly excursions on Jotham’s Journey, is the Holy One who came into our world from outside.

Oswald Chambers. wrote that His coming was “the Highest and Holiest entering at the Lowliest door.” Jesus Christ, the Holy One- Son of God and Son of man- was born.

So this is Christmas.

But what’s the big deal about Advent?

We get Christmas. We celebrate all manner of birthdays, so of course we pick a day to celebrate our Savior’s birth.  But why stretch it across four Sundays?  Why four weeks leading up?

Because this birthday is way to big for one day to contain. We need more time to stir ourselves up for this one. We need these extra weeks to remember why Christmas is such a big deal. It’s when we, Church, ask ourselves all over again, What do we think of Christ? 

In “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” Dorothy Sayers says our answer to that is categorical. and uncompromising: 

Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God “by whom all things were made.” He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God”- he was God.

Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is- limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death- he [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself.

C.S. Lewis simply said,  The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God. No, It’s not commonplace at all. 

How would you like to become a slug?

But Lewis wasn’t done,

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

Before him, 19th century Scottish pastor Horatius Bonar explained,

God’s desire is to bless us, not to curse; to save, not to destroy. He seeks reconciliation with us; nay, He has brought about the reconciliation. He has not merely made proposals of peace and sent the to us by the hand of an ambassador; but He has Himself come to us, bearing His own message and presenting Himself to us in our nature, as His own ambassador…God Himself is both the speaker and the maker of peace. 

We need more than a day to let this truth sink in.  Hence all this Advent todo. It is much ado- but maybe not nearly enough ado- about the greatest event ever.

How can this be?

Because, The creation of the world was a very great thing, but not so great as the incarnation of Christ, wrote another 19th century pastor William Plumer, It was a great thing for God to make the creature, but not so great as for the Creator to become a creature. 

Can such a impossible thing be true? How can God, who is spirit, take on flesh and blood? Can very God become very Man via a virgin’s womb?

The virgin wondered too.

When Mary asks how she could conceive God’s Son, the angel Gabriel gave an answer that “must be one of the most important statements that has ever been made in any book in all of history.” Gabriel answered Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God,”  ( Luke 1:35 ).

God  broke into the universe by doing the impossible.

Enough time to wrap your head around impossible?

Probably not. But at least for me, wreaths and hymns and candles and readings and 24-door calendars force the impossible issue.

“For nothing will be impossible with God,” (Luke 1:37). That’s what Gabriel says to Mary as the bottom line answer for how Christmas would happen.

In a sermon on Luke 1:26-38, John Piper explains,

[W]hen all our objections have spent themselves, this truth remains: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” God had been preparing the world for this impossibility for thousands of years. Listen to the testimonies: Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” And the time has come for the most impossible thing to be done: God enters his creation as part of it, and without ceasing to be the uncreated God.

He came and did the impossible. That first coming is done.

Or, time to worship the God for whom nothing is impossible?

So, that’s why guys. That’s why this family celebrates the Coming that’s come.

Because it takes a while to wrap our minds around the impossible thing that was done- around a Coming that came. Around a Coming that’s already done.  That’s what those 24 funny little doors on our Advent Calendars- yes, even the chocolate and Legos behind them- and our Sunday night adventures in dripping candle wax and our singing seven verses (or at least four) of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel are all about.

All for love. We bring up the bins and set up all this stuff because God took the initiative in his great love to restore us to Him. Because God so loved the world He sent his only begotten Son.  We remember in these three Advent weeks that people living in darkness have seen a great light. That God has visited his people.  And, yes, that He will come again.

We  remember that God did the impossible and the Holy One has come. And Advent isn’t nearly enough time to wrap our minds around it.

But we can worship Him while we try.

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shuts in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

-John Donne,  “Annunciation”