by Michelle Bickers
December 11, Friday – Psalms 31, 35; Haggai 1:1–15; Rev. 2:18–29; Matt. 23:27–39
(ESV Daily Office Readings Online)
Trudging up the leaf-covered driveway, trying to avoid stepping on the rain-soaked sod, I flip through the mail. “Well, it’s obviously December,” I say to myself, after discovering that magazines and catalogs comprised the bulk of my mail. Tossing the mail on the table, the glossy magazines and catalogs slide across, fanning out like oversized playing cards on the black jack table.
Within the covers of these shiny books, somebody’s dream of the perfect Christmas is captured in photos and articles. Perfectly decorated homes with homemade garlands and decorated trees, perfectly prepared meals of family recipes and the latest methods for delighting your family and friends with a Christmas dinner they will never forget. Perfect traditions to make this the most magical Christmas ever. Perfect gifts to delight everyone on your Christmas list. These marketers are good, they have identified my longing for beauty, memory making, and thoughtful gifting. Their slick spreads have me salivating, reading the magazine articles and making mental notes, looking through the catalogs and wishing I could afford half of what I pick out to give people on my list. “If only,” I find myself thinking as I close the back cover on each book. My longings quickly turn to anxiety as I realize this will not be a perfect Christmas by the definition of these pages and the tightness in my chest is crushing as I think of all I must do to usher in this season of Joy.
Sorting through the daily emails, I delete my way through the borage of ads before coming to an email with the day’s scriptures for my assigned Advent writing. I am struck by the contrast to the slick pages I stared at just moments ago as I read the passages in Psalm, Haggai, Matthew, and Revelation.
“Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.” -Psalm 31
“Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over.
You have spent a lot of money,
but you haven’t much to show for it.
You keep filling your plates,
but you never get filled up.
You keep drinking and drinking and drinking,
but you’re always thirsty.
You put on layer after layer of clothes,
but you can’t get warm.
And the people who work for you,
what are they getting out of it?
a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what.
That’s why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said:
“Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over.”
Then God said:
“Here’s what I want you to do:
Climb into the hills and cut some timber.
Bring it down and rebuild the Temple.
Do it just for me. Honor me.
You’ve had great ambitions for yourselves,
but nothing has come of it.
The little you have brought to my Temple
I’ve blown away—there was nothing to it.” -Haggai 2
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.”-Matthew 23
“But why do you let that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet mislead my dear servants into Cross-denying, self-indulging religion? I gave her a chance to change her ways, but she has no intention of giving up a career in the god-business. I’m about to lay her low, along with her partners, as they play their sex-and-religion games. The bastard offspring of their idol-whoring I’ll kill. Then every church will know that appearances don’t impress me. I x-ray every motive and make sure you get what’s coming to you.”-Revelation 2
Through the next couple of days the Holy Spirit begins helping me understand the way in which I have entered this season. I’ve always come to this season with longing, that’s for sure, I long for real meaning and the significance of marking this season well, but I’ve told myself a Christmas tale that goes like this:
The best Christmas happens by attending meaningful church services, enjoying seasonal music, giving generous, beautifully wrapped gifts, baking delicious home baked goodies, having a clean and decorated house and offering the best hospitality I can muster. I will feel happy and satisfied that we marked the season well and everyone’s hope was fulfilled.
With this story in mind, each year, I wait for the warmth of the season to send me into a full-blown, post ghost, Ebenezer Scrooge joy, exclaiming, “God bless us, everyone!” But each year I spend most of the season feeling like quoting from Ecclesiastes rather than Luke two. I have missed a very important element to this time of waiting for God: by working hard to fill my longing by myself – with my Christmas tale. I have become like the Jews after exile, endlessly working on their homes for perfection, rather than obeying God and building the temple. Like the Pharisees who looked like perfection on the outside, following every rule, but reveal their putrid insides by their inability to see God in their midst. Caught up in their own tale of good, they missed God, just as my Christmas tale causes me to miss the truth and beauty of Emanuel. May Christ have mercy, may he give me eyes to see and ears to hear the unexpected joy of Jesus in my midst.
by John O’Donohue
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging -in love, creativity, and friendship-
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
Image by Natalie Schmid (used by permission via Creative Commons).