Sunday, December 11, 2016

Encounter at the Stable

I woke up this morning, grabbed some coffee and set myself before Psalm 80 as I prepared to enter silence and solitude. The repeated refrain was not lost on my slowly waking consciousness:
Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.
(Ps 80: 3, 7, 19 NIV)
 As I entered silence I was thinking of all that's been lost, broken, corrupted and ruined in my life. I felt the weight of all that still waits to be restored and redeemed. My automatic response to what's wrong and broken in my life has historically manifested itself in a sadness that overwhelms and stifles the soul. This "lethargic sadness" was heavy and covered everything.

Like black snow, lethargic sadness covers the landscape, sapping joy, hindering movement and choking the lungs. It's actually more like ash than snow. I experienced this "for real" when I was 10 years old. In May 1980 nearby Mt. St. Helens exploded and covered our Oregon neighborhood with 3-4 inches of ash. We had to wear masks outside for weeks, and the fire department had to come through to clean the streets with their fire hoses. The ash was so thick at times that mid-day was as black as night.

Two specific losses are close to my awareness. I think of the joy I used to experience as a young Christian in reading and study; now I can read only a few pages at a time without feeling weary, and only the "devotional" type of writing that helps me present myself to God. I also think of the joy and wonder I once felt in seeing snow fall; now my vision is too often clouded with overwhelming fear at having to drive in the stuff, after having repeatedly traumatic work experiences in having to drive in the stuff alone in the dark, without support.

Advent has been working on me, bringing my awareness before the stable and the wonder of a God-baby, and so this is what I brought to the stable this morning. I felt led to engage in an imaginary conversation, allowing my thoughts to fill the stable with symbolic meaning.

I finally stumble into the cave they call a stable, summoned by God-knows-what. All I see is a baby in a manger, with a few unimpressive people hovering over it.
"I have come, Lord. I have brought everything I have - all that's been broken, lost and corrupted. I am laden down with darkness, Lord, and I have 12 camels outside with knees buckling with the rest of the bulk."
"I don't get it, Lord. A baby? How in the world can this be the redemption that I seek? How can this one restore all that's been lost? The locusts have eaten all the grass and all that's left in my life are barren brown hills, cloaked with ash."
I ask those nearby about the name of this child.

"Jesus," they answer, a common name which means "The Lord saves."
"Immanuel," which means "God-with us."
"This one, Lord? This one is to save us? I don't understand, but since I have no where else to take my caravan, I will wait and trust with what little trust I have left."
"I have heard the story of the three strange looking men who brought offerings fit for a King; my offering is much larger and far fouler! I have no other hope though, so I leave my entourage of corruption at your doorstep, little one, and I will wait."
As I wait, unable to really rest, I watch as the child grows and becomes a man with a tender and fierce face. He comes back to the stable and lays a hand on my tired and bent shoulder and says with a tear in his eyes,
"Thank you for your gift - you honor me beyond words!"
To my confusion and dismay, he speaks even more:
"Most people bring me their 'best' but their hearts remain far from me and I can do little for them. You have brought me your deepest heart, and so for you I can -and will- do much!"
"I will redeem what is broken, will restore what's been lost. I will do this by bringing your life - the life that is charred, torn and lost - into my Life. In my Life you will find peace, joy and lightness again. You can become a child again! You shall be whole and holy again, reigning at my side." 
"Continue to bring these offerings to me and we will live them together. I will then be able to immerse them - and increasingly, you - into the Life I share with my Father, who makes all things new!" 
"Look at your story, dear one. You will see that this is the case - much has already been redeemed, healed and restored! Don't lose heart over what remains broken, corrupt and lost. I and my Father will finish our work in you - restoring and redeeming everything - everything! that has been lost."
My response, trained by the wisdom of Mary:

"Yes, Lord, let it be to me as you say, according to your word. I belong to you."

As I left the scene, with tears in my eyes, I turned to my first Advent reading of the day (Isaiah 61:1-4 which beautifully completed the experience:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.