Ring Out Wild Bells

Well, it is officially the Christmas season now, I suppose. I’ve been doing my Christmas shopping, baking Christmassy treats, and planning festivities. And yet it isn’t Christmas yet. It’s still Advent. Technically Advent is the time leading up to the arrival of Christ on Christmas day – but it also allegorically follows the suffering of the people of God who have been waiting for the coming of their salvation. The four weeks leading up to Christmas serve as a reminder of the difficulties of this life while waiting for the coming of the Messiah – the consolation.

I think I’ve been living in my own personal advent season for the past several months. It’s like an ‘almost winter but never Christmas’ feeling that comes when hope is deferred. I guess it happens to everyone now and again – that feeling of being constantly in a waiting-mode and unable (or, at least, too afraid) to get out of the cycle. All the Advent carols are in minor keys. Perhaps it’s just me, but it’s so much more fun to play songs with minor chords.

But I can’t live life like that – constantly playing a mournful melody and scraping the ice off my car with no Christmassy reward. Eventually I need to change key – eventually Christmas day will come. Eventually the winter will end.

I suppose what I am trying to say here is that Christmas is a promise – that life can have peace to end the suffering, that joy will come in the morning, and that “Aslan is on the move.” Maybe my own advent season will not end this Christmas day, but the promise of Christmas is that this time will end – that there is never a winter without the promise of Christmas for the Child of God.  And so, for this reason, there is a thaw in my winter – a major chord thrown in my minor melody – Christmas is a reminder that our suffering will end, that it has been portioned out, that it has been borne by another.

So, child of Christ, if you are like me and feel the weight of the world – the longing for relief – do not despair. Despite the rampant commercialization of Christmas, the cheesy song-lyrics, and the over-abundance of shoppers on the streets, let each sparkle of this season remind you that we do not suffer as those without hope – for Christ is coming, and He has come, and someday soon your Christmas morning will dawn – bright, new, and filled with hope.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Advertisements

On Thankfulness

Thanksgiving is my favorite American Invention. What a great idea: a day to think of all the good things that you have, a day to spend with your family, and a day to eat great food. Does it really get much better than that?

Often I take my blessings for granted. Well, I am always thankful, I think. I hope. I just don’t usually think about it. So, I thought that it would be profitable to make a list of some things that I love – things that I am thankful to have. Perhaps this will encourage you, reader, to think of your own blessings and remember them as we go into the Thanksgiving season.

Anyhow. Here is my list of thinks I am thankful for. Things I love:

  • Gotta start this list with the glorious redemption that I have in Christ – without Him this list would be impossible
  • My wonderful family – who love me all the time regardless of all the super-stress that I’m sure I cause them on a regular basis
  • Friends who love to talk, encourage, and never give up on me
  • Chocolate (is it possible that I haven’t mentioned chocolate on my blog yet? – this needs to be remedied)
  • That moment when it is raining and the sun comes out and shines through the rain-leaden trees and glistens on the leaves
  • The ability to get out of bed in the morning and look forward to what is going to happen during the day
  • The inexplicable confidence I have that there is always something good coming around the next life-corner
  • Pearls
  • A really great key change for the final verse of an ancient hymn
  • The really stunning pale shade of green that is only found in a hill of Pine Trees in Maine
  • Long conversations
  • That He is making everything beautiful in His time (Ecc 3:11)
  • When the moon is out and the sun is still setting and the leaves are golden and the sky is pink
  • Funny moments around the dinner table, or driving with the boys in the car
  • Dusty Pink Roses
  • Good books, preferably hardcover, smelling like second-hand bookstore or pipe smoke
  • That sanctification is a work of God’s Free Grace and I don’t have to figure out how to do it all by myself

Well. These are by no means all the things that I am thankful for – and I’m sure that I will come up with a lot more things, but if I saved this post until I’d finished my list I think I’d be writing forever. And that is an encouraging thought, is it not?

Because I haven’t talked about the weather recently . . .

Waiting for the first snow of the season is very difficult — it’s talked about in the news for days in advance — people that come into work say things like, “have you got your snow boots out?” and children start praying for snow days (heck — I start praying for snow days!). Then (as we saw this past week) the long-awaited day arrives with blue skies — not really the Nor’ Easter they were all shouting about, huh? We resign ourselves to the chilly wind and sharp cold with no soft, frosting-like sheen to take the edge off. We hunker down, roll our eyes, and get on with our work. It’s cold.

Sometimes this happens and the snow never arrives — it turns into rain or falls farther out to sea. Those are the sad days, when all waiting seems futile and hopes are dashed. And somedays the snow comes, and falls, and it is glorious.

I think that waiting for snow is like waiting on God. It’s not an inactive “finger-drumming” wait, it’s a time of preparation for what He will do. Just as we put on the storm door and split the wood, so too do we put on love and good deeds as we wait on the Lord for His next work, or for guidance. Sometimes we prepare for a long time — its seems that God will never reveal His will or give His gifts. But the Lord, unlike the snow, is always coming. He is always working out His plan of redemption in the hearts and minds of His children. He is always working to bring His grace to bear in their lives — practically and wholly. he is always working to bring His peace and joy in the lives of those who are in pain. Sometimes, as when the sky is clear, we can’t see God’s creative hands at work — but we trust that He is there, and that he is active.

And, when the snow falls, it is both beautiful and treacherous. Beautiful in its design — its perfection, its prevalence, its purity. Treacherous in its blinding-light, its hidden-bumps, and its uncontrollable-swirling.

Let us then wait on the Lord who will prepare for us a destination of soft landings and warm fires, and let us trust that He will hold our hands as we walk through the blinding storm of this life.

The first snow came on Saturday night. And it was glorious in its power. In His power.

Common?

I really like weather. It’s one of those things that can never be called common. No one ever rolls their eyes at a sunset, or is nonchalant at the sight of the fresh-fallen snow on the fence-posts. But why not? Doesn’t weather happen every day? True, it often seems a bit different, but after a while one snowstorm looks pretty much like the last one. So why isn’t weather considered kind of boring in its repetitions?

Weather, along with other things like food, comfort, rest, family, friends, health, intelligence, desires, and many other things are all the same – common. We all either have, or at least appreciate, these things. What is it about them that makes them special? Aren’t they just common, ordinary things?

Well, yes. These things are simply common, but there’s nothing simple about them. They are common graces and, as such, they are the things that we are created to enjoy – they are, in fact, some of the things that help make us human. God has given these things to us and we enjoy them because we find our greatest fulfillment in enjoying Him. His common grace, or the grace that He has bestowed upon all people in common, is the grace that gives us life, comprehension, and all of the aforementioned blessings.

If the enjoyment of these things is the natural reaction we have to the common grace of God; how much more so should be our response to God in gratitude for the special and specific grace that he has given to His children through His Son. Christ, when He came to earth as a human gave up all of His heavenly glory. Then, at the crucifixion, he gave up even the most basic of the common graces as well – his own life. Christ gave up all of these things so that he could offer to His children so much more – the special grace of redemption that comes through his death and resurrection. This covenant grace is never common, indeed it is always new, always renewing, and always special.

So. Next time you see the waves crashing on the rocky coastline, the trees flowering in the spring, or the sun setting in a fiery blaze, don’t just thank God for this common grace – thank Him for His special grace, the gift of His Son who is altogether more beautiful, more powerful, and more transfixing than the most stunning of thunderstorms, the most romantic of sunsets, and the most delicate of flowers.

The Morning After Rain

A few days ago, while I was at camp, it rained all day and all night. Heavily. That night I climbed out of bed and pulled sweat pants and socks and a sweater over my pajamas. I put my hood up and snuggled down in my blanket. It was freezing. It took me hours to go to sleep and when I eventually did fall asleep it was in a weird curled-up position. I had creepy dreams and kept jerking awake every time the wind blew against the building.

I woke up early and in a bad mood.

I forced myself to get up, get dressed, and dragged myself to the nearest cup of coffee. After about an hour of seeing only the bottom of my coffee cup and letting the voices of the campers swirl around me I finally woke up. I looked out the window.

It was a beautiful morning.

The sun through the clouds was magnificent, the light was almost blinding, and the dew on the grass glistened. I had walked through this brilliance to breakfast without even seeing it – in fact all I could see was my lack of sleep, my wet flip-flops, and my humidity-induced poufy hair – I hadn’t even lifted up my head to look at the sky.

Every night is like that rainy night, and every day is like that morning afterwards for the Christian. We are still sinners, and so we still have those cold nights of temptation, sin, and confusion, and we have many mornings when we are stuck looking at our guilt, fear, and the results of what we’ve done. Yet all the while the light of God’s grace and redemption shines through the clouds – we need only look up and see it. Sometimes the sun of grace shines on our faces for hours, days even, before we realize that it is there. Thanks be to God that He will not leave us looking at our wet feet and poufy hair, but that He raises our faces to see the beauty of His creation and the redemption He brings with each new morning.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” – Isaiah 58:8