Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When you can't hear the angels singing above the world's weeping

It's less than two days before Christmas and it has yet to "feel" like Christmas. This week is passing, looking and feeling much the same as most weeks, except my husband is in California with his family, so I'm in no hurry to get home. That, and traffic has been exceptionally bad, a maze of clogged cars snaking through the city streets and highways. 

At times this season, I've sat in our living room with the lights off, except for the twinkling tree, listening to Nat King Cole croon Christmas tunes, pensively willing anything to feel the same as it once did. It didn't, really. Most of the time, I restlessly changed the station to one of my favorites, Gregorian chants, and the voices would settle on me as the striking of a brass bowl does at the beginning and end of silences in the contemplative service I enjoy on Sunday evenings, reminding me this is where I am now.

The bowl rings. An invitation to inward reflection. Pause. The bowl rings again. A call to unfurl outward once more.

And to be perfectly honest, I'm relieved it doesn't "feel" like Christmas this year. Somehow, this lack of festive feeling, this feeling instead like any other day, carves out space in my soul to hear and see beyond feeling, placing me right at the feet of this ancient, still-unfolding Story. 

With my husband absent, I sit criscross in the place we've sat every night through December, in front of our nativity, reading daily snatches of the Advent story. Taking deep breaths, I imagine the resonant call to silence. Instead of reaching right away to light the candles, I wait, and pick up a paper printed with a prayer I've fallen in love with. Here, I tread quietly into the Presence.

O God, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.

Deep breath. Release.

It is night after a long day.

Not only my long day, but the world's long day. I let the weight of this sink in slowly.

What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done.

Images from the news flash across my mind, all that has been "done" this day and days before this day, that cannot be undone. The killings, the sickness and disease, the natural disasters, the court rulings, the violent protests, the wars. And all that has not been done - justice, peace, mercy, healing, reconciliation, brotherly love. 

The tears spring from what has seemed of late a desert. I stare blurry-eyed at the ridiculous, cartoonish tiny creche of baby Jesus, thinking, What kind of world is this?

The thought of grieving each and every sorrow born this night is unbearable, crushing, impossible. 

Where are you, Jesus? The cry echoes this dark room.

This is no world I'd want to bring a child into, I confess.

There's no telling if this was a world Mary wanted to bring a child into, either, let alone this child. And yet, he came. Into the womb of a world no less dark and tormented two thousand years ago, while the cries of grieving mothers also pierced the shroud of night, he came.

He came. And you know what? Most of the time, I can't tell that he did. Things look and feel and sound, so often, like a savior has yet to be born. Like our hopes were in vain.  Like light, in fact, did get swallowed up in darkness.

I would be a liar to say otherwise. To not admit that, so much of the time, declarations of "Emmanuel, God with us," fall shallow on the ears, dull on the heart. 

Even so. When I can't see the difference it makes on a day that feels like any other day - that, in reality, is any other - some part of my soul is that brass bowl, resonant and bright, ringing out that this birth changed everything. Seen and unseen, known and unknown, felt and unfelt, heard and unheard.

Another deep, shuddering, wet breath - Let it be.

The words that shift me from seeing and feeling, to faith in the company of doubt. There is nothing more I can do this night, but let it be.

The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

I let it all roll off at the imagined base of a feeding trough which cradles a baby born to be a sacrifice. 

The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

I speak this slow, a blessing over all that lives and moves outside my door. Peace.

The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities. 

I close my eyes and pray to open wider the door of my heart to this hope. Hope for me, for you, for us - for the whole earth and all living things. Maybe it was every bit as hard to imagine for the ancient Israelites listening to half-crazed prophets proclaim a distant promise of a God-Messiah, as it is for me to imagine a new day for this old, weary, heartsick world. 

Most nights, I can't imagine it. The best I can do is utter these words - 

In your holy name we pray.

I let my hand mark the sign of the cross as I whisper, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Picking up the lighter, I watch the candles flicker to life, reflections of my faint hope in the darkness.

Amen, let it be.

* * * * * 

Linking up at Beth's for the last Unforced Rhythms of 2014. 

For more Advent reflections this season, you may read here and here and here.



  1. I'm so thankful that I stopped here tonight - honestly, I hadn't intended to as I had other work to do. Yet, I'm convinced the Spirit led me.. I've spent the last hour with tears running down my face wondering how I've allowed the burdens of my little world rob me of "Christmas Joy". Though wrestling with my thoughts and emotions, your words have calmed my spirit a bit. . And as I say, "In your holy name we pray", I exhale my worries and peace washes over me. Thank you, Amber.

    1. Oh Laurie, truly, I speak this to you tonight - peace be with you, sister. It is hard to let it be. To let us be where we are. Grace abounds. Sleep well. xo

  2. Amber, as always, your words touch somewhere deep in my soul. I feel them. I also find it rather depressing to look at the world. I also shed tears over the sorry state of affairs, and at all the brokenness. Sometimes I feel so hopeless.

    And yet...and YET. There came a rescue once upon a time so long ago. And in the quiet and humble beginnings of a life, came Life.

    HE is the only hope that matters, the only hope that lasts.

    Praying for a revival of His love and grace and joy in each and every heart. Even mine.