In the Bleak Midwinter

For as long as I can remember, I have lived in places between 37º and 44º N latitude.  That means that Christmas has always been accompanied by cold temperatures, and usually snow.  I savor the change of seasons and I especially like having white Christmases.

It's no secret that Jesus probably was not born in December, and there almost certainly wasn't any snow falling that night in Bethlehem.  But there's something so apropos about celebrating Christmas "in the bleak midwinter" because it reflects mankind's condition.  It is not the weather that was bleak when Christ was born, but our hearts.  Cold, hopeless, lonely, miserable.  Into this bleakness Life and Light came!

But Christina Rossetti said it far better than I.  Her poem came to mind as I took a chilly Christmas Eve jog with this in view:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago. 
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ. 
Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore. 
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss. 
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.


Shocker (an Advent Rumination)

"It's official," a friend posted online yesterday, "Dick Cheney is evil."

He linked to an article titled, "Dick Cheney Defends the Torture of Innocents" about interrogation techniques used by the CIA.  I didn't read the article.  I just sighed at the shocking-but-not-so-shocking mention of more accusations and inhumanity.  And then I closed my laptop and climbed the stairs for bed.

For some reason I awoke at 4:34 AM, and those six words sprang to mind again: It's official.  Dick Cheney is evil.

Only this time, it was not a sigh that followed but the memory of a jarring indictment from Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked."  Then John 3:19, "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."  And Psalm 53, "Together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."

All of a sudden I was wide awake and forced to admit it: I am Dick Cheney.  My friend could have just as well broadcast to the world, "It's official.  Karisa Clark is evil."  And it would have been true.  Utterly, undeniably true.

The shocker in all of this is not that man is evil.  A thirty-second dose of any evening news show is proof enough.  Wars, greed, degrading speech, the careless snuffing out of human life.

The shocker is not even that I am (and you are) evil.  Probe the corners of your heart with even a small measure of honesty and you'll be forced to admit with me that the dark stuff of sin is, on an individual level, very, very real.

No, the shocker is not the darkness around us or the darkness inside us.  The real shocker is the Light.

It is this: "The Light shines in the darkness" (John 1:5).

And it is this: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

And it is gloriously this: "God sent forth his Son... so that he might redeem" (Gal. 4:4-5).

This Redeemer did not leave us without hope, caught in the reverseless spiral down into our own wretchedness.  He did not wait for us to come to him, for we could not.  He came to us.

He who is holy, he who is wholly Other, emptied himself of his glory and took the form of a servant.  He dwelled with us, he died for us, and he raised us with himself.  This is what should stagger us.

If you do not shake your head in utter disbelief at least once every Christmas, I'm afraid you are missing the whole point.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor, ornery people like you and like I?
This Christmas, I wish peace for the world; I wish goodwill and compassion to replace accusations and inhumanity.  But for you, my friend, I wish you most of all: complete astonishment at Jesus, Emmanuel.