Love Comes Down, At 1 O’Clock Christmas Morning

Empty bed love comes down
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Mama. 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, all snuggled in bed. The heat was turned low and she didn’t want to go.

After a week of late nights, I’d set this Christmas Eve to be my long winter’s sleep.

Mama, please come, he cried again. I rolled over. It was 1:04 a.m. I’d knelt beside his bed at 9 p.m., rubbed his head at 10, and given meds at 11. After which I finished wrapping the gifts—yes, I am that mom—arranged them under the tree, then settled myself in bed.

But I couldn’t ignore his pitiful cry.

So This Is Christmas

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 stumbled shivering toward my son’s groans. 

Then it hit me—this is Christmas. Rolling out of a warm bed to help a sick child is closer to the “real meaning of Christmas” than cozy and comfy and Silent Night by candlelight.

Christmas is a lot like leaving a warm bed to love in the cold. 

The creed says, “For us and for our salvation he came down.” The King of the Universe condescended. Almighty God came down.

Love Came Down

Paul told the Philippians, 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. 

I crawled out of my warm bed to care for a sick, pitiful child. The Son of left the glories of heaven and the warmth of his Father’s side to care for his sin-sick, pitiful children. For our sake, God the Son left heaven for sick, cold earth.

I love how C.S. Lewis explains that.

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but 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

A Measure Of Love

Leaving aside our comfort for the sake of others is one measure of love. 

Jesus Christ 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 he could have been born in a stable or cave, but since mangers were often outdoors, “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.

2 Things Great Lovers Do

Baby Jesus in manger love come down
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Love is spelled T-I-M-E but that’s not the only way to sound love out. It’s also spelled I-N-I-T-I-A-T-E. Initiate.

1. Great Lovers Initiate

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Initiate. There’s not much zing to this 4-syllable, 8-letter ‘i’ word. Love is spelled time has a better ring.

Don’t get me wrong. Love is spelled time. But sometimes we get it best and feel it most when love comes in other languages like gifts or touch or kind words or service. Love is spelled a lot of ways.

But great lovers initiate. They forgive first and confess first. They invite you before you invite them.

Great lovers take the lead.

When Love Goes First

If you remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go be reconciled. Matthew 5:23b-24

This is a very hard thing. It takes supernatural strength and superhuman love to go to an offended brother or sister and initiate peace.

First, be reconciled. Go to her. Don’t wait for her to come to you. Initiate.

The best lovers go first to make peace.

I know this because Love came down at Christmas. For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God sent. He went first to seek peace, to bring life.

Because of his great love, God being rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ when we were dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:4). That is the only place in the New Testament when God’s love is called great love.

Great love brings life. Eternal life is peace with God. Great lovers seek peace. He loved us to life when there was nothing lovable in us. We were dead.

So the Great Lover took the lead and made dry bones live and stone hearts soft as flesh.

Because the best lovers don’t wait. They peace make. They initiate.

2. Great Lovers Risk Rejection 

He came to his own and his own received him not. John 1:11

I can barely face the risk of my own favorite books being unloved, rejected. If you don’t like this book, would you please give it back? I’ll find you a better one.

One year, I actually did jot that note and slap it on the front of the book. Talk about tacky.

But I fear bigger rejections too. I fear the rejection of my invites, children, writing, ideas, and efforts. I grow weary of going first. Confessing first and forgiving first, clearing awkward air and making peace are risky. They’re all rife with the risk of rejection. And there’s a real chance we’ll be misunderstood.

Jesus faced rejection. The Man of Sorrows was despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3). His great love would be misunderstood and spurned.

But for Love Himself, it was beyond risk. In sure and certain omniscience, he knew some would not receive his gift.

He knew some would reject His love. His life. Him.

Follow Love’s Lead

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Relationships are risky. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Jesus was rejected. If we’re reflect his light, we will be too. The old carol says, To Show God’s love aright, She bore to men a Savior when halfspent was the night.

Lovers take risks. Friends take risks. Parents take risks. To show his love aright, God’s kids take risks.

You’re invited! Aren’t those about two of the most happy-making words ever? It was only November 13th and there it was. An Evite Invite to the Greene’s New Year’s Eve party. Their early invite showed love.

I got it covered! Or how about when your husband not only cleared his schedule, made the reservation, but also arranged childcare so he could take you away for a night? His initiative spelled love.

Want to walk in an hour? Christin texted me to ask for a walk before I asked her. It’s risky to invite because you might be rejected. What if I already had another walking date? Her text expressed love.

These are little risks. We can only love like this because he first loved us.

But he did love us first. So we can follow his lead.

Know This Love

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who he has given us…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:5, 8 

Initiate and risk rejection for God’s sake.

That’s what’s ringing in these ears this Christmastime. It’s two sides of love I hadn’t much seen. Maybe I’m feeling it now as I ache for someone to initiate, to invite, to take a chance on me.

Then I remember.

A Great Lover did.

Come; see the place where the young child lay. Look at the manger: there is Lamb for the burnt-offering,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

These little tender hands shall yet be torn. These feet that have not yet trod this rough earth shall be nailed to the tree. That side shall yet be pierced by a Roman spear; that back shall be scourged; that cheek shall be buffeted and spat upon; that brow shall be crowned with thorns—and all for sinners!

Is this not love? Is it not the great love of God? 

Horatius Bonar

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

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 a white horse on your Christmas list? Here’s why he’s on mine.

Advent Darkness

White horse face

We’re only one week into Advent, but 2021 has had feel of an eternal Advent with all the longing for justice and waiting for answers and fights for peace.

I feel the ache. This week left me second guessing a lot of things I thought knew. About how to love like Jesus loved and live not by lies and walk in grace and truth.

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

Because relationships are messy business. Sometimes loving feels like dying and sometimes hope meets with sighing.

Jesus knows. He came to his own, but his own received him not. Sorrow and joy comingle.

A White Horse Comes

The darkness in the world and the murkiness in my mind makes me ache for Jesus to come back. Which is what Advent’s all about anyway, 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 again. 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 do know He loves me and calls me his child.

But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to be called children of God.

And I know the Baby of Bethlehem will come again and take his children to be where He is (John 14:3). That knowledge is calming my heavy heart this week.

Is your heart heavy or you mind a bit muddled too? Are you troubled by many things, by all your Christmas to-do’s?

If so, will you join me in these long last days and patiently wait until Jesus Christ 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