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

Ponder: After Good News of Great Joy & a Savior is Born

Mary ponders as she holds baby Jesus

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Do you ever ponder? I mean, do you take time to think about and reflect on a thing, what Miriam-Webster defines as, “to weigh in the mind”?

Pondering isn’t the same as drifting. It’s not the same as what occupies your mind those 90 seconds that come around every other fifth month when you’re alone for the night and your phone is off. That’s not pondering. Pondering means prolonged, intentional thinking over. It may start as a wisp, but when it comes, you hold it in a mind and weigh it a while.

Pondering is effortful for some of us. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as, say, to my husband. He is content to drive for hours with no music, no screens, no talk- content with just his thoughts. Just pondering.

Which is precisely what Mary did after the shepherds returned to their sheep that first Christmas night. Mary pondered.

What Mary Pondered

What did Mary ponder?

All these things. Yes, you appalled English teachers, Mary pondered things. The Greek cuts it a tad tighter with the word rhēma, which refers to a thing spoken. And that “thing” is probably the message announced to the shepherds, recorded in Luke 2:10-11,

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

So the shepherds probably told those things to Mary who treasured them up as precious things. Maybe Mary sang again. But certainly she pondered.

Pondering Ponder

Taking cues from the Blessed Mother, I’ve been pondering pondering lately. In Greek, it’s symballō. It means to throw together or to bring together in one’s mind, to confer with one’s self.

It is formed from sum- with, ballo- to put into. Symballō is used five other time in the New Testament. It’s used in Luke 14:31, when Jesus asks, What king, going out to meet another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate? It’s what the Jewish leaders did after they forced Peter and John to leave the council in Acts 4:15, they conferred with one another. And it’s what happened in Acts 20:14, when Paul met the ship at Assos, and went aboard.

We don’t ponder enough these days. We don’t let thoughts meet up and confer with them. Maybe because we’re out of practice; to reflect and meditate and think long on the same thing is hard work. So distractedly we drift and rush. Screens train our brains this way.

So with the culture, we wade in the shallows.

If Mary, How Much More I?

But we’re not off the hook. If anyone could have been exempted from taking time to ponder the reality of her Savior Son, it would have been Mary. She nursed him, held him, bathed him. And pondered him.

No one can absolve himself from the duty of spiritual thought... Shall we, with our restless, distracted lives, with our feeble and imperfect grasp on Truth, be content to repeat with indolent assent a traditional confession? Can we suppose that the highest knowledge alone… is to be gained without effort, without preparation, without discipline? Is it credible that the law of our nature, which adds capacity to experience and joy to quest, is suddenly suspended when we reach the loftiest field of man’s activity?

Bishop Westcott, “The Incarnation a Subject for Devout Study

Westcott’s words challenge, maybe even incriminate us. Because we know that the more we learn about an artist, the more we savor the art and that the more we read a good writer, the more we enjoy his work,

If in all other realms this is true, then why- when it comes to knowing Jesus- do we think that if we’ve sung a few carols and prayed a few prayers, “we’re good”?

Why would we think that knowing him and enjoying him a little is enough?

Be Not as the Swallow: Ponder

C.H. Spurgeon calls us to the “holy work” of pondering.

Let your intellect be exercised concerning the Lord Jesus. Turn over and over by meditation what you read. Do not…stop at the surface; dive into the depths! Be not as the swallow, which touches the brook with her wing, but as the fish, which penetrates the lowest wave. Drink deep draughts of love; do not sip and go away, but dwell at the well…

Ponder him. Think on him. Let your intellect be exercised. Come to think of it, that happens to be what Christ himself called “the first and greatest commandment“: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

And the command is not without promise. Because the more you do, the more you’ll love him and the more you’ll know his love. Spurgeon again: Certain persons are best esteemed at a distance, but not the Savior; when you shall have known Him to the very fullest, then shall you love Him with the love which passes knowledge…

We can’t love, trust, or adore someone we hardly know. If we’re content to ponder the Lord Jesus for a few minutes on Christmas Eve by candlelight we won’t know his love, or love him, well. For that we must ponder.

Ponder like Mary pondered.

Ponder the “Complex Beauty” of Christ

I don’t ponder enough. I’m so often running and doing. But I can take more time in 2020 to keep Christ in mind, to ponder Jesus, strong and kind.

I may ponder the complex beauty that John Piper describes as “coming together in one person of the perfect balance of extremely diverse qualities.” It’s like what we see in a man with bulging biceps cradling a baby in his hands and gentle woman standing immovable for the cause of truth.

That’s our Lord Jesus. He is tough and tender, lion and lamb, mighty and meek. He held the children in his arms and put his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and sat to chat with the woman who’d had five husbands and lived with another who wasn’t. Jesus, who spoke to the raging sea and it was still and wept before he raised his friend Lazarus to life. The Savior, who spoke to his disciples, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe and to us, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

I’ve pondered this- this beautiful, complex Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

On Us To Know Him More

We sing about the beautiful name of Jesus, but to see more of his beauty, we must know him more. In her humility and trust, Mary somehow got that.

[She] grasped what much more sophisticated people have often failed to understand: that Jesus is to be treasured and pondered… that there is something so deep and wonderful about the person of Jesus that a lifetime of pondering will not suffice. We can both know him deeply and marvel that we cannot comprehend him totally.

Christopher Ash, “Repeat the Sounding Joy,” p. 109

But it’s on us to ponder these things. Because to us also a Child was born, to us also a Son was given.

And to us also comes the news: a Savior has been born and he is Christ the Lord.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee!
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Joachim Neander, 1680

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Luke 2:14

A Measure of Love: On Christmas Eve (at 1 AM) in the Morning

christmas-1812692__340.jpg

Whom God loves, he loves to the end:

And not to their end, and to their death

But to his end.

And his end is that he might love them more.

John Donne

Mom! Oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, my 13 year-old moaned. My stomach hurts so much. Mama, please come. 

I wished he’d called for Papa instead. Because Mama was nestled and snuggled in bed. The heat was set low and she didn’t want to go.

After a week of short nights, this, I’d hoped, would be her night for a long winter’s nap.

Love Rolls Out of Bed

Mom, please come, he cried again.

I rolled over. It was 1:04. I’d been with him at 9 and 10 and checked in again with meds at 11. Then to bed and sugarplums.

Coming, I called with a sigh.

“So this is Christmas,” I thought as I lay in the dark, groping about for glasses and socks.

I forced myself out of my snuggly, warm bed and shivering, stumbled my way toward the groans. Then halfway down the hall, it hit me.

That this IS Christmas. That this might actually be closer to the “real meaning of Christmas” than cozy and comfy and Silent Night by candlelight.

That, really, Christmas is more like leaving the warmth to show love in the cold.

This is love come down.

Love Came Down At Christmas

The creed says, “For us and for our salvation he came down.” Paul put it like this to the Philippians,

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself to death, even death on a cross.

I left my warm bed to care for my sick, pitiful child. The Son left the glories of heaven at his Father’s side- the bosom of the Father some translations say- to care for his sin-sick children.

Choosing discomfort to serve another: this is one measure of love.

A Measure of Love

Comfort is overrated. And when it comes to love comfort might not rate at all. In fact, our own discomfort might be a much more accurate indicator of our love for others.

When I weigh my love on this measure, I’m not very loving. Honestly, if Sam’s moans had not been so loud, I might have ignored them. Because I’m a master of excuses for staying in my comfort zones: I deserve this sleep. Jim can go. I warned this son about all that soda and candy and cake.

But God loves us too much to leave us as we are. He calls us to deny ourselves and prefer others and gives us the grace to do it. Christ gives us victory over our selfish, comfort-loving hearts.

We’re more than conquerors through him who loved us and more than conquerors don’t stay stuck in comfort zones. They step into discomfort for love’s sake.

They move into cold driveways and hard conversations.

Discomfort For Love’s Sake

Mom, will you come out and play PIG with me? Please? 

That from the 11 year-old who invited me out for a game of PIG in the driveway. Who called me out of the a cozy house on a 29° day.

Sure Gabe, I’ll come. This time, love won.

It happened again when love pushed me to talk to a relative to whom talking didn’t come naturally.

So Mike, how is it going with work?  I asked. It wasn’t easy, but it was good.

By the measure of choosing others’ “interests” over my comfort, my love is low. The fact that these events are memorable at all shows how vast the room for my love to grow.

Think how you would like to become a slug.

Puritan Anthony Burgess marveled too, at “discomfort” the Incarnation must have been for the Son.

He that was in the bosom of His Father- an expressing showing the intimate, close and secret delight and love He had from the Father. How unspeakable is it that He should deprive Himself of the sense of it? To put himself, as it were out of heaven and into hell? This is deeper love than ever we can imagine or conceive: no wonder the apostle calls it “the unsearchable riches of grace.” 

This is deeper love than we mere mortals who dread to get out of bed in the cold middle of the night can imagine. The Son left the warmth of the heavenly Father for our sakes.

For our sake, Love left heaven for sick, cold earth. This is unsearchably rich grace.

C.S. Lewis made the comparison, too, in more graphic terms than Burgess.

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. 

Yes, real love is humble and comes down and goes out into the cold. Out of warm beds and warm homes and comfortable conversation zones.

How Love Came Down

Love came out of heaven’s bright glory and was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, because there was no place…in the inn. 

My Bible footnote on Luke 2:7 says that Christ could have been born in a stable or cave, but that “mangers were often outdoors, so it’s possible that Jesus was born in the open air.”

Open air or stable or cave- they all sound uncomfortable and cold.

But that is how Love came down.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

1 John 4:9-11